Growing up, Johnson City, NY was a lot of things to me — the place I was born, a village no one outside Broome County would recognize and most importantly, a place to get the hell out of as soon as humanly possible.
Johnson City, and the greater Binghamton area in general, was a decaying wasteland in my teenage eyes — a dwindling suburb that offered nothing but cloudy skies and depression.
My hometown was lovingly referred to as “Johnson S—tty” by the locals, and less affectionately as “Bumf—k” by downstate transplants.
The latter sentiment usually left me laughing because, if the Binghamton area was bumf—k, then what would these people think of the actual upstate countryside?
But that first sentiment, the one’s that locals held about the reality of Johnson City, well, that wasn’t necessarily something I could disagree with.
Until I moved away.
And s—t, I kind of love Binghamton now that I live 180 miles away from it.
Adolescence isn’t easy in a small town: it’s a lot of boredom. Abandoned parking lots serve as hangout spots, the only mall within an hour’s driving distance is crumbling to pieces as stores continue to close and there’s about two things to do besides egregious amounts of underage drinking: go bowling or see a movie.
The monotony of small-town life felt like a black hole in my youth — it sucked people dry of ambition, of fun, of anything that made life worthwhile.
If you can’t tell, I suffered a bit from a “big fish in a small pond” mentality growing up — one thing small towns will nurture are big egos.
It’s all too easy to develop a superiority complex in a city that has been in economic turmoil since the 80s boom and to grow up thinking everywhere is better because everywhere is not here.
But I was wrong.
I wasn’t better than my hometown and my hometown wasn’t (and isn’t) this demonic force of stagnation and hopelessness.
It’s actually pretty great.
There’s a kind of comfort in the static way of life small towns offer, a certain predictability that isn’t evil and life-stopping, but loving and gentle.
When everything at school sat in front of me like a heavy fog, from quarter-life crises to bone-crushing anxiety about grades, I was able to find my own clarity in the familiarity and easiness of Binghamton.
I knew exactly what diner was best to eat at for breakfast when nursing a mild hangover. I knew which café was tastiest for lunch and I knew that the workers there weren’t always the nicest. I knew which restaurants could host a party of nine and which were better for only a few friends and family.
Where the sprawling city of Buffalo made me feel isolated, with a 20-minute drive from nearly all my friends, I had my aunts and uncles, my grandma and my cousins just across the street from me in Johnson City.
My life outside of Binghamton often feels like a tsunami — everything and too much coming at me all at once; returning back here is like wading in the shallow waters of the oceans, a place of relative safety and calm in the chaos of young adulthood.
It’s a place where all the roads are mapped into the veins under your skin, a place where you almost always know what’s around the next corner.
It’s home, and it will always be home, even if you no longer live there.
I think of my drives back to Binghamton, when the flat Western New York skyline grows into the rolling hills of the Southern Tier.
The sight of sprawling tree-lined hills was never one I imagined missing, and now, everytime I see it, I feel as though Mother Nature is embracing me herself, welcoming me back to a place that will always hold a piece of my heart.
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Kara Anderson is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum. She is an English and Spanish double major and is pursuing a certificate in creative writing. She enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, procrastinating with solitaire and binging reality TV on the weekends.