Wednesday 18 January 2023

Chris Arnade writes about Bucharest in a blog called 'Chris Arnade Walks The World'

"I quickly saw the city was roughly divided into a wealthier, more modern, more American influenced northern half, and a poorer southern half, so I focused on the south, because wealthy neighborhoods, no matter the country, are pretty much the same.

"They are all variations on the same privileged theme. All have upscale shops and malls filled with the same stuff. All have bespoke restaurants serving the same food. And all are filled with residents who are careerists who happen to be where they are because that is where they have the biggest edge, by birth. They are best at making money in Romania since they grew up there, but if they ever get the chance to go elsewhere to make more money, they would happily do so."
I thank my loyal reader Toma for putting me onto this great writer.


  1. Intellectually I wanted to understand why, after all the places I’d been, after writing over and over about being open minded about places with a bad rap, the idea of spending Labor Day weekend in Myrtle Beach still made my eyes roll like an American snob. Foreign is good! American is bad! Especially the stuff the American masses like.

    So I spent the fifteen hour drive from my house, while not happy, at least content knowing I was going to learn something, and maybe even have a little fun.

    But I was wrong. I didn’t have much fun, and I’m not sure I learned much. It was a dreary trip which I spent about as unhappy as I’ve ever been on a walk.

    The throngs of joyful crowds I expected weren’t there. My fault. Summer season was over, and the city was empty. Without a foreground of happy mobs, Myrtle Beach became a drab ugly backdrop. A fifteen mile strip of asphalt, concrete, brick, and stucco. Boxy single-story buildings painted bright in an attempt to hide their prefab cheapness, or rectangular high rises painted with stripes of color to hide their hurricane code bulkiness.

    There is a worn overgrown shabiness to it all. Myrtle Beach has reached middle age and it isn’t aging gracefully. Like a former beauty queen who can no longer hide their decline with makeup, botox, and the right light.

    And there is a lot of consumption to display, because everything in Myrtle Beach is about material and transactional fun. It is chock full of franchises serving all you can eat pancakes, crabs, sushi, wings. There is a whole hierarchy of discount stores, from “Nothing over $7.99,” to $5.99 Outlets (everything $5.99 or less!”), to “Nothing over $3.99.”

    It is an escape for people without a lot of money, who don’t have the time or the money to fly off to the Caribbean, or the high end resorts to the south. It is a chance for the plebes to be royality for a weekend. Assuming their credit line allows it.

    That faux low-brow royalty reaches its most intense at the Medieval Times, where families can cosplay the middle ages, from eating without silverware, to watching knights be chivalric. Excluded is almost anything to do with the faith or the church.

    A notable absence given the time period, but one fitting Myrtle Beach. There is little transcendent here, except for the beach, and few use it for that, beyond older couples collecting shells when the sun is at its weakest. Most use it for the high from White Claw and jet skiing, or the lows from lying stoned in the harsh sun.

    There were few families in Myrtle Beach the two days I walked, and just like a casino without loud winners is revealed as a place sucking people dry quarter by quarter, Myrtle Beach without the yelps of kids felt like a place sucking people dry margarita by margarita.

  2. It is also a very transient town with lots of the older residents from places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Utah. People who grew up wanting a little slice of what Jimmy Buffet sells. The laid-back beach vibe, but on a limited budget.

    As much as I don’t like Myrtle Beach, they do, because what it provides is an inexpensive low aspirational version of the American dream. It is a low-stress rest stop in our high-stress high-anxiety overly-driven culture.
    It is an off-ramp for those who can’t, or don’t want to, play the American Dream. Who don’t want to continually scurry around trying to acquire as many credentials, experiences, and things as possible. Who don’t want to always be materially bettering themselves.

    Content to be alive without being worried about what others think.

    That’s understandable and admirable, but it’s sad we’ve built a culture so devoid of the metaphysical, so devoted to the material, so entrepreneurial, that opting out mostly means numbing yourself in the pleasures of the here and now, and having to pay for it by selling yourself all the time.

    Why did Myrtle Beach bother me but Hull, the British beach town I liked, didn’t? It wasn’t just Hull, there were a lot of similar places across the world that I’ve liked.

    The difference is Hull has a lot of history that is front and foremost and hasn’t been plowed over. It’s not just the history you can see, there is a long English tradition residents can hang their hat on. To give them a meaning beyond the material. As I wrote in my pieces on walking across England, the English working class has place, history, and class pride as a non-material foundation.

    So my issue isn’t with Myrtle Beach, but with the US in general. We are a highly materialistic and transient country, without a lot of grounding traditions. That focus on the material, without the transcendent, falls heaviest on those without a lot of material stuff. Or, lower income people, because a country that sorts by the stuff you own is by definition going to have people without a lot of stuff at the bottom.

    So Myrtle Beach is an extreme example of an American emptiness, since it’s mostly for lower income people wanting to have a little non-spiritual fun.

    Every time I drive along the coast of South Carolina, Myrtle Beach has expanded, in both directions. Georgetown, with its inlets, proximity to the water, is a tasty morsel for people looking for another off ramp from the American Dream.

    And more and more people are looking for that off ramp, because while it might not be my cup of tea, the Myrtle Beach lifestle is an understandable way to cope and deal with the disillusionment of the aspirational American dream, that while delivering lots of stuff, especially to the winners, also delivers lots of anxiety, loneliness, and metaphysical emptiness, especially to the losers.

    Walking Myrtle Beach
    An off ramp to the American Dream
    Chris Arnade