Despite my best efforts, Altoona, Pennsylvania--my bittersweet hometown--remains a symbol of backwardness, decrepitude (mental and otherwise), boredom, and desperation. The only regards Altoona ever receives beyond Blair County, Pennsylvania and its greater shopping area are of disdain, even disgust.

To wit:
Let's revist the 1991 Gary Marshall dramedy Frankie and Johnny, based on a script by Terrence McNally. The movie stars that hack, Al Pacino, as Johnny, and the dull Michelle Pfeiffer (sister of luminous Dedee Pfeiffer) as Frankie. The movie is set in, I don't know, Brooklyn or some such, metropolitan site to which this Frankie has escaped. And what has she escaped? Her frustrating, mediocre, abuseful childhood, which she was forced to undergo in... Altoona. And how does my homegirl characterize our mothering home in the Allegheny Mountain Valley? "It was a great place if you liked to bowl." (As if Brooklyn... don't get me started.)

Now in all fairness, while I was still living there, I would often think: "this place is so boring, there's nothing for us kids to do." Please don't laugh, I was young, and thought for sure that could I only change my residence, worlds of excitement would open up at my front door. Now I realize how commonly young Americans make this same complaint (Oh, World, maybe it's different in e.g., Zaire) In Altoona all you could do was: hang out at the Logan Valley Mall, then maybe go to a show (there were always local hardcore bands).

My perspective began to shift after I moved with my family to Georgia. Against my better will, I began to appreciate Altoona. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, you might say. Or maybe as one friend and fellow émigré says, "Northern Rednecks are better than Southern Rednecks."

Anyway even in the Glorious Southland, which anyone familiar with television can tell you is inhabited only by kooks and bumpkins of the slow-talking sort--even in Dixie you'll find Altoona a convienient target of derision. Let me tell you an example.

I was a student at UGA I sat awaiting the start of Freshman English, listening in on the conversations of my peers. I overheard one young country squire trying to impress a buxom Tri-Delt with accounts of his wide-ranging travels. He'd not only been to Nashville and D.C. the previous year, but--en route to New York City--he'd even made a bumpy arc through my Keystone State. What a coincidence, the sorority sister had been in Philadelphia this last Summer, to visit her brother.

"I hated it," as she grimmaced, "it was so filthy." (actually, IMHO, ...don't get me started on the topic of eastern PA)

"Me too," said the lad, "Philly was one of the worst places on my trip. But do you know the worst?"

"No what?"

Across the room, I knew how he'd reply; an Altoonan has a sixth-sense for scorn.

"Al-TOO-na! In fact, that has to be the worst place I've ever been."

I butted in to ask him why he found the place so disagreeable. He blamed: his difficulty in understanding the people (who typically use the word y'uns instead of y'all), the general glumness of a railroad town in this (alleged) post-industrial time, and finally he said that there was nothing to do, but go to the Mall

 

Ye Fools!, Altoona is the cradle of American Civilization. And furthermore, it is Home of the World Famous Horeshoe Curve. Tyrone, PA, now that's a shitty city.

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