This deserted urban setting isn't Detroit, or Buffalo, or some other city that you know of. It's Beaumont, Texas, the place that I grew up. And it was also just found to be the least educated city in America.
Allow me to make a disclaimer here. My family members are all very well-educated. Every person for three generations (direct lineage) has at least a Bachelors degree. My grandmothers didn't get a sheepskin, but they are (and were) the sharpest women you'll ever meet. So why is everyone else that grew up around us so uneducated?
Beaumont is an oil town. Exxon, DuPont, Chevron... They all have refineries around the area. And they're some of the largest refineries in the world. What used to happen was that a boy would graduate from high school, go to work at the refineries for 40 years, and retire with a fat pension and/or a million dollar 401K. You didn't need a degree to be successful! Now, there aren't as many jobs available at the refineries per capita. Yet no one remembers that they should go to college.
When I was growing up there in the '80s, I only went to Christian private schools. If you're wondering why, go ahead and google "Beaumont ISD FBI". Anyways, I went to school with lawyers' kids, doctors' kids, and a few kids who's parents paid tuition through any means necessary. Sometimes that meant asking for the entire family to kick in. Other times, that meant the parents were actually in Beaumont's own Italian mafia. Yes, real organized crime smack dab in the middle of DEEP East Texas. Fuhgetaboutit.
Anyways, I now realized that I was shielded from the areas's reality; people there weren't going anywhere. And I don't say that just because a lot of locals don't have college degrees. I say that because it's like many of them act like they are chained to the area like a dog in a yard. There is no hope of upward mobility. The small town trap has snared them.
My family moved from Beaumont to the Austin area in 1990, the weekend before I started 8th Grade. It was a culture shock to say the least. As soon as the other kids heard that East Texas Draw, I was labeled. I learned quick, though; I immediately started smoothing my accent out to a silky smooth twang. I spoke like Matthew McConaughey before anyone knew who he was. I had always wondered why people assumed I was a dumb hick when I spoke with my full-on original accent.
NOW I KNOW WHY.
My grandfathers, father/mother/aunts/uncles, and sister/cousins all have at least a Bachelors degree, as I've said before. However, if you go outside of that direct lineage, things get darker. Much darker. I'm not sure if my second cousins or great uncles have high school degrees. I don't think any of them work. If they do, I have no earthly idea what they did, or do. Six months ago, at a family funeral in Orange, Texas, I remembered all of that. I huddled with the one other intelligent person in the group of 50 familial mourners. We were almost frightened by the poverty and lack of education. I shouldn't have to fear my own family. But I felt that I should.
My only male first cousin and I grew up as brothers. Four months apart in age, we spent every weekend together growing up (until I moved to Austin). When he graduated high school, he stuck around the Beaumont area and did remedial jobs. Pizza delivery boy. Waiter. Cashier. I hated it. He was smarter than that.
He finally went to the local college after he promised his mother, on her death bed, that he would get an education. He went on to get a law degree at an out-of-state school. He is now an out-of-state JUDGE.
How did the Beaumont area become so horribly dumb? Did all the smart people move? Do you NEED a degree to be successful there? Is it just family tradition? I'm not really sure. The Golden Triangle (Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange) will always be a mystery to me. A land so rich in resources, being ruled by the least educated group of people in the United States.
This is why I always claim to originally be from Austin.