Yesterday, a potential along Route 1 caused some consternation among Elkridgeans. The local cell of the worldwide burger conglomerate hoped to implant a towering Golden Arch over Elkridge soil, as referenced in .
Elkridge Patch user “” responded to the article with a rather scathing description of Route 1 as a road lined by “scumbag motels” and peopled by “bums” and “hookers.” He ended with a screed that seemed to imply that citizens of so-called “Lower Elkridge” get the short end of the Howard County stick.
Although you won’t find Lower Elkridge on a map, this is not the first time that I (a fairly recent arrival) have heard of such a place, nor have I refrained from noting the divide enforced by eight lanes of I-95. They have ; we had . They have a ; we spend summers at . They leisurely consider for swimming pools; we fight intermodal terminals.
The concept of a “Lower Elkridge,” though—the very name reflecting the prideful self-loathing generally associated with underdogs or the American working class—causes me real concern.
It is rare in America to hear someone identify as “rich” or even “upper class.” Asked to describe their social status during a social justice class at Holy Cross (a bastion of upper class America if ever there was one), not a single student identified as anything higher (“higher”) than the rather euphemistic “upper middle class.”
The fact is, if you’re in a household making more than $50,000, you could be defined in purely numeric terms as upper class. (If your family makes more than $109,000, congrats! You’re in the top 10 percent of Americans!)
It is possible that Americans, as a group, are highly sensitive to the perception of self as a function of class, likely because much of our national image is deeply predicated on being classless. (Pun intended, mainly with “Americans abroad” in mind.)
Americans take a vicious sort of pride in not being special, in not being privileged. It is no accident that nearly every U.S. presidential candidate has forged for himself a humble beginning, no matter how many summer yachting adventures or Ivy League degrees lay in his past. T.R. Roosevelt was a Western rancher, not a Harvard scion of one of America’s foremost families. G.W. Bush was a Texas rancher, not a Rangers-owning Yalie.
Yet despite our forefathers' conscious rejection of titles of nobility, American class has become defined, in a capitalist irony perhaps only Marx would find funny, by pure economics. Knights of the paycheck we are. However, Americans' perception of themselves as part of a class is often skewed by our national desire to be perceived as “hard-working,” something that, in the American view, does not fit well with wealth, particularly corporate wealth. (This despite the fact that at some point, that wealth had to be earned, generally through some type of hard work.)
These are the same Americans, of course, who also persist in buying ever larger and more visually stimulating TV sets, delivering ever larger and more visually stimulating McDonald’s commercials into their very homes. Sure, we’ll fight our corporate overlords from cluttering our route home, but we’re more than willing to invite them in.
This, then, is one of the main dichotomies of modern American life. The “American Dream” is ultimately a search for greater wealth, our definition of upward class movement. But identification with that wealth, or with that class, is something to be avoided, even as we snatch after its accoutrements.
Republicans have become, nationally at least, a party dependent on both the votes of the working class and the money of the thin scrim at the very top of the socioeconomic ladder. The base interests of these two parties, especially on economic matters, are often diametrically opposed, leaving the Boehners and McConnells of the world balancing two discordant halves of the American psyche.
I think that is what drives those of us east of 95 to cast verbal stones across the highway. An actual economic split does not need to exist for us to feel it. And yet—I am Lower Elkridgean. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If we are hungry, do we not crave ?
Our sense of community should not be split by a mere highway, and we should not allow our self-perception (or deception) to create a town divided. There are many outside forces working against a solidified Elkridge; we should not be one of them. Our elected officials represent portions of our town, none the whole, dividing their attention with other communities. Major roads run against us, and the sway of our neighbors (Columbia, Ellicott City, and Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties) seeks to pull us apart.
This divide—real or imagined—may not seem important. What claim does Elkridge itself have on us, or we on it?
The issue at the heart of the McDonald’s sign, though, and at the root of Joe’s fears, is the vitalization of our community. Without a strong and united front, CSX will be in your backyard. Route 1 will be a strip of blight, rather than an artery of life.
No one speaks for Elkridge except for us. If we want change (a , a ) or if we want continuity (), it is up to us to accomplish it, and a self-imposed divide does nothing. Secession is not an option. Upper, Lower, Harwood Park or Rockburn, we are one community with shared concerns. We would do well to remember that.