When I heard folks at the University of Vermont had declared Lima the saddest city in Ohio, the first thought that ran through my mind was: Well, they apparently have never been to Union City.
In honesty, that wasn’t so much a thought as it was a brief channeling of my deceased father. I’ve hit that point in life when my immediate response to certain news items tends to come in the form of something my dad would have said. Fortunately for me, he was a man of considerable wisdom.
In case you haven’t heard about the U of V study, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: A college research team (re: graduate students in either sociology or statistics) developed a study using the social media site Twitter to gauge the happiness of American towns. They took a list of 10,000 words, rated them on a 10-point scale as happy, sad or neutral, and then went through tweets from 2011 that carried geographic tags. They tossed out the neutral words and looked at how often the happy and sad words showed up in different cities and states.
At the end of it all, they concluded that Napa, Calif., is the happiest city in America because they tend to send tweets using words such a “happy,” “reunion” and “LOL.” Plus, there’s a lot of wine there.
Beaumont, Texas, came in as the saddest town, not just because it’s all but impossible to find a palatable zinfandel, but also because they used words such as “hate” and “earthquake” and a good bit of profanity. Of the 373 cities ranked, Lima came in 364th, meaning we are the ninth saddest city in the U.S. and the most maudlin in all of Ohio.
Like I said, apparently they’ve never been to Union City.
It’s appropriate that the first words to roll through my limited brain were my father’s oft-repeated take on his own home town. To an outsider, Union City would seem a pleasant enough little town. It’s best known for being sort of close to the birthplace of Annie Oakley and for the fact it straddles the Ohio/Indiana line, meaning that certain months of the year you can gain an hour crossing the street.
But to a man who grew up there, Union City is hell’s bowels. Like a lot of young people, my dad grew up hating his hometown. Admittedly, he had better reasons than most. He lost his dad in that town, lost the family farm, too. He left at 17 – cheating on his eye exam so he could run away to World War II – and returned as rarely as possible.
Which brings us back to the problem of the sadness study. Basing a study on Twitter use means your primary sample is limited to just 15 percent of the population. Of that figure, 73.7 percent are younger than 25. So, as a matter of pure statistics, the ranking of Lima as a sadder place than most is based overwhelmingly on the negative verbal banter of teenagers and young adults. Disregard the issues of profanity and pubescent "Glee" fans skewing the numbers, and you still have a study of hometown opinions peopled primarily by the people who are expected to hate their hometowns.
So it’s a bad study, but assuming it is balanced in its flaws, the truth remains: Every other city on that list was judged on the same curve. It points to a problems almost any way you look at it. And if that problem is, indeed, that our kids are unhappy, we should consider why.
I have my own theory, and that is that we have too many adults who, like my father, harbor a serious hate-on for their hometown. In some cases, it may be well-earned. But in too many, it’s the result of people who never lived anywhere else, so they have nothing to compare it to. Others isolate themselves from the community and miss out on the things that make a city livable.
I had the great advantage of leaving Lima in my teens. I moved away, lived other places, and then came back. I found work, made friends, got involved in some genuinely cool things and built a life. I like this town as an adult in a way I never would have imagined when I was a teen.
I always imagined my father would have had the same opinion of Union City had he returned to make his life there. Of course, as I write those words I can hear him saying:
“Apparently, you’ve never been to Union City.”