Illustration by James Callahan
Our white-hot city has been popping up on all sorts of lists lately, and a few months ago made it onto two related ones. On one list, measuring the most contented cities, we ranked No. 1. That’s right. Apparently, Richmond feels like a room without a roof. The other one ranked us near the bottom — but in a good way. It was CNN Money’s list of stressed-out cities. While the usual suspects took the top slots for most-stressed (New York, Detroit and Los Angeles took the tarnished gold, silver and bronze), Richmond lazily strolled onto the list at No. 51 out of 55.
Yeah, we’re pretty chill.
The survey attributes plentiful jobs, shorter work hours, a lower cost of living and a growing cycling community in Richmond to our Zen-ness, while citing the heavy traffic, long commutes, crime, poverty and high unemployment that plague the, um, winners. As for the bottom of the pack, only Salt Lake City; Rochester, New York; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Minneapolis are more laid-back than the River City.
So what’s standing in our way from taking this whole thing next year and securing our place as the happiest and least-stressed-out American city? Clearly, we need to remove Richmond’s biggest stresses.
First off, let’s figure this damn baseball stadium mess out. What kind of city takes decades — decades! — to decide where to put a minor-league baseball stadium? This isn’t just a Squirrels/Mayor Jones thing. It’s been going on since the Braves/Governayor Wilder era. I was at a Squirrels game recently, munching happily on a hot dog and some roasted almonds, nary a care in the world, watching the sky turn purple across the city skyline and … zzz … oops! So contented and relaxed, I almost fell asleep for a second. But then I started to think about the whole ballpark drama — the endless machinations, the political maneuvers, the dueling stadium proposals as I am sitting in the perfect location. And you know what? I got stressed out! Knock down the Diamond in the off-season, begin construction in the parking lot, put the new parking lot where the old Diamond was. Next!
We will never truly relax until we figure out how we feel about our own history. Are we proud or ashamed? Are we proud but ashamed to say it? Ashamed and proud of it? Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a painful past, just as long as you confront it, say you’re sorry and correct your mistakes. Germany did it. Tylenol did it. Robert Downey Jr. did it. Let’s stop being proud or ashamed of who we were and start acting like who we are. Yes, let’s keep our statues and plantations and bizarro-world White House, but let’s give the story of slavery the long-overdue attention it deserves. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just let go of our emotional baggage and tell the whole story properly? The good, the bad and the very, very ugly? But no! We’re all too busy fighting over whether a Confederate flag on steroids flying over I-95 makes us look tacky. (Hint: It does.)
The third thing we need to kick to the curb if we want that title of least-stressed city is — and I think I can get total agreement on this one — our crazy politicians. Doesn’t your blood pressure rise every time you turn on your computer or your TV and see the latest from the likes of Bob McDonnell, Dwight Jones, Joe Morrissey, Bob Marshall or Eric Cantor? You know what? I’ve come to absolutely love Terry McAuliffe. Why? Because I never hear anything about him. Does he work? Who cares? My panic attacks have stopped!I worry I am going to have to be straitjacketed when the campaigning for Cantor’s 7th District seat really gets into gear between The Tea Party Dude and That Other Guy From Randolph-Macon and now — God help us all — Tareq Salahi, the notorious White House gatecrasher. Serenity now!
Of course, all these issues wind together in a tangled braid of angst that this city would love to brush out and let blow in the breeze as we pedal our bikes down the newly proposed Floyd Avenue bike boulevard. After all, bikes calm us down and make us happy, right?
“You are a f---ing idiot.”
“Where do these mental cases come from?”
“Wow! What a complete and utter mental dwarf.”
“Are you and Becky for real, or just trying to act crazy?”
Just a smattering of comments on a WTVR report about the bike boulevard proposal. Oh, well. I’ll guess we’ll have to be content at No. 51.