“Where would you move if you wanted to move out of Seattle?” This hypothetical question came up recently with a group of friends during a discussion of issues facing Seattle and King County.
It so happens I had just finished reading Christopher Ingraham’s “If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now.” It’s a very timely, at times humorous, and insightful book that produces poignant thoughts and stories pertaining to the question above.
Chris is a data reporter for The Washington Post. His wife, Briana, had a high-level job with the Social Security Department. Both worked in D.C. in 2015, which is when this story starts. At the time, their twin boys were almost two years old. Chris and Briana were analyzing their increasingly stressful lives.
They both worked full time, Chris’s commute was 31 days a year in total time, and they could barely afford to buy a row house with one bathroom in Baltimore for $245,000. They weren’t saving any money – and they didn’t spend much time with their twin boys.
One day in his work, Chris found a 1990s Department of Agriculture study which quantified 3,000 counties in America. The study’s purpose was to “quantify the physical characteristics that enhance the location as a place to live.”
It turns out that Red Lake County, Minnesota finished dead last in the study. Chris wrote a 42-word snarky article (his words), published in The Post.
His life with Briana and the boys started to take a dramatic turn, they just didn’t know it then. Early in the book, the author shares a Pew Research study that shows 54% of Americans say they would prefer to live in a small town or rural area while, actually, 80% live in cities … go figure.
The citizens of Red Lake Falls issued him a challenge to visit them. He accepted the challenge. I won’t spoil the book for you – I encourage you to read it yourself – but in a nutshell, after his visit, his family moved lock, stock, and barrel to Red Lake Falls. Their experience in moving there teaches and reinforces many life concepts worth knowing, a few of which I mention below.
A common thread throughout the book is this: Be careful of forming preconceived notions of people before taking the time to know them.
Upon moving there, the townsfolk welcomed the Ingrahams with open arms, helped them move their furniture, found numerous volunteer opportunities for Brianna, and brought them food (much of which was pickled). As Chris shares his story, he challenges several other common stereotypes about rural dwellers.
One interesting fact that comes out of the book is the incredible support the people of Red Lake Falls provide to each other. If the community needs money for something, everyone just chips in what they can. “Need a ride to the doctor’s office 16 miles away? Sure, I’ll be right over.” “Your mower broke down? Just borrow mine. The shed is never locked, and the gas can is next to it. Just help yourself.”
Red Lake Falls is a community wherein everyone is on the same page, and everyone works together. When they purchased their new house, they didn’t have their checkbook, so one of the realtors put down the down payment for them, saying, “Just pay me back later.” (Full disclosure: The coffee is terrible, and the pizza might be worse.)
One takeaway for me is the way Chris and Briana evaluate their lives and then take action. If you have read my articles, you know I’m a big proponent of knowing how much you spend every month and year. I am also a proponent of learning work skills in multiple fields when you are young.
They knew they were killing themselves working two jobs and not saving, so they moved to a community where they saved $4,000 per month just on mortgage and childcare alone, and another $500 a month in transit fares, gas, and meals. And they no longer had to commute. Chris’s blood pressure went down 30 points!!!
Chris could work from home. Briana could spend more time with the kids, and she substituted the joy she received from her previous work with volunteer opportunities – and then she was elected to the City Council. They have job skills that are universal and transferrable.
The book is also about the tale of two Americas: the Midwest and the center of the country. One point the author makes throughout the book is that the people of Red Lake Falls are not any different than anyone else in America. They watch the same TV shows, root for their favorite teams, hope for a bright future for their kids, enjoy going to the park, and love spending time with friends.
“If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now” is a fun read. It has serious moments, and some seriously funny stories. The author has no trouble making fun of himself.
The community of Red Lake Falls reminds me of the small town I lived in when I was young in the 1950s: Everyone knows everyone, and everyone pulls together to make the community a great place to live. It’s a light but educational read that I highly recommend.
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