For some reason, I assumed all east coast cities would look something like New York. I expected our train ride away from the city to be a serene meander through valleys and sun-kissed hills. Instead, I returned to my seat with a sandwich, only to witness some of the most devastating towns I could’ve imagined.

Some were rough, but some looked downright war-torn. I passed more than one house with an exterior wall completely collapsed, exposing the inside, littered with trash and tarps. I munched on my ten-dollar turkey sandwich in awe as I watched how deeply the recession cut into these communities. Of course, I knew there were towns like this in America, but I didn’t know how prevalent they are. In my luxurious nest of trees, mist, and mountains, I had a hard time believing a recession of this severity had even really happened. At times I had even thought, “people are just complaining because money’s a bit tight right now”, with no knowledge of the hurricane-like forces that literally tore some of these towns to shreds. Municipal services vanished, jobs disappeared, whole communities came to a halt– leaving behind a wake of thousands in need.

As I rode the massive escalator out of the station, I couldn’t help but feel like I was being “chosen” by the claw from Toy Story. I immediately noticed something different once I finally emerged. After being in New York for a week, I had gotten rather used to the streets, mysterious liquids, and smells. After a pensive train ride, coming out of the subway station was like coming out of a movie theater, except instead of being surrounded by blinding light, I was surrounded by…nothing. No trash in the streets, the sidewalks are very wide, and there’s tons of places to park. There seemed to be an abundance of air– and I wasn’t taken aback by any “exotic” smells. There were no tour guides to lean in toward me and offer drugs, nor did I get brushed by every stranger on the walkway– a stark and instantly noticeable difference.

I felt culture shocked, like I’d been dunked in boiling water only to be dropped into a bath of ice.


  1. #1 by Laura on January 20, 2015 - 11:12 pm

    I completely agree with you on the culture shock. I think it’s funny though because coming to DC is much more similar to home than New York is but the difference between the two cities is what’s shocking. I had the same feeling though when we came up out of the metro station and my first breath of air was so much cleaner than the air in New York. I think most of us have also done a lot more walking here in DC whereas we spent a lot of time on the subway in New York and for that reason I am very thankful to have such clear air.

    I also found it really powerful what you said about the rundown cities we traveled through on the train. Although I did sleep through most of the train ride, I saw some of what you are talking about but honestly, didn’t really give it a second thought. Reading your post however, made me think back to some of what I saw and I also didn’t realize how bad some people had it after the recession. It really makes me appreciate a lot more of where I come from and makes me hurt for those who were so badly impacted.

  2. #2 by mforchemer on January 23, 2015 - 3:46 pm

    It was crazy to look out the window and see how some of these cities and towns look. Coming from Spokane, I have felt like I’ve witnessed some of the worst effects of the recession, but that train ride did give a lot of perspective. Nice writing.

  3. #3 by enikssarian15 on January 27, 2015 - 6:34 pm

    This is a great piece of writing. I can relate to the surprising differences that you noted between New York and Washington D.C. considering it was also my first time in either city. What’s important to me, especially early in my career, is expanding my horizons and going places that push me outside my comfort zone. We live in a vast country that experiences very differently the economic peaks and troughs than the Pacific Northwest.
    I actually grew up in the Bay Area and lived just outside of Oakland the time that the recession took full force and began crashing down on everyone from the upper middle class to the poor and homeless. Oakland became a riot zone and was a place where those who were angered at their situation could take advantage of a police force that had to cut jobs due to budget restraints. It affected the communities that were once a place of solace and financial stability turning into danger zones for thieves and burglars who were employed, upstanding civilians months prior scraping for money to buy food for their starving children now homeless. A drastic turn of events but all in all, its an experience that we can all learn from and now can empathize with those who are less fortunate and realize just how lucky we are.

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