Two Fridays ago I posed an open question about the best and worst places you have visited or in which you have lived. As I noted at the time I have little experience with international travel but I've travelled extensively in the United States, visiting 49 states (all but Alaska) and spending a decent amount of time driving around both the big cities and back roads of each. Here, then, are my conclusions about the worst towns/cities in the U.S. It's not impossible to live in these places and like them, I suppose, but it would require a ton of money, the optimism of a Mormon missionary, and a mastery of self-delusion. There are a lot of crapholes in this country and I could spend all day naming them. But these stand out, for reasons that you no doubt understand if you've visited.
5. Lubbock, Texas – Quite literally the Middle of Nowhere, Lubbock stands as an oasis of nothingness in an enormous sea of more nothingness. Bad places often advertise their proximity to decent places, i.e. "Scranton is only an hour from Philadelphia!" Lubbock's claim is "Only five and a half hours from Fort Worth!" Favorite pastimes among Lubbock residents include crapping out kids like Pez dispensers, bragging about how cheap their huge homes were (oblivious to the relationship between property values and desirability) and committing suicide. Being in Lubbock creates a sense of total isolation comparable to over-wintering in Antarctica or spacewalking outside the International Space Station. Hot, boring, and stuffed to the brim with prodigiously breeding Fundamentalist Texas stereotypes, Lubbock edges out El Paso and Huntsville for the right to represent the state. Trust me, Texas has a lot of candidates here.
4. Youngstown, Ohio – The poster child for post-industrial Midwestern urban decay. Gary, Flint, and Detroit get more press, but Youngstown is the perfect synthesis of blight, obscene pollution, a complete lack of anything to do (economically or for entertainment), and a crime rate that would make Johannesburg blush. Hopelessly corrupt Ohio politics govern this excuse for a city, not that there's anything a competent government could do. The attitude seems to be "Why fix it? Who gives a fuck?" which makes perfect sense in a city that hasn't seen a tree planted, a lick of new paint, or a pothole filled since the steel plants shuttered thirty years ago. People in Youngstown have absolutely no reason to live and spend their days desperately plotting an escape to Dayton, Allentown, or the sweet release of death.
3. Reno, Nevada – Where hope goes to die. A fifth-rate, non-union Mexican equivalent of Vegas. Given that Vegas already kinda sucks, this is particularly damning. Don't go to the casinos hoping to live out a 1960s Rat Pack film. They're loaded to the gunwales with junkies, the homeless, people who soon will be homeless, and other assorted societal detritus. A sad black hole of broken dreams, alcoholism, and gambling addiction. If Vegas is a glamorous date with a supermodel, Reno is being fingered by your uncle. If Vegas is champagne toasts with celebrities, Reno is beer-bonging Natty Ice behind a currency exchange. If Vegas is a majestic cruise ship, Reno is bobbing from Havana to Miami on a floating door. If Vegas is a $1000 meal with Thomas Keller, Reno is jamming a can of Cheese Whiz in your mouth and pressing hard. If not for its proximity to Lake Tahoe, Reno might rank even lower.
2a. Colorado Springs, Colorado – Unlike the others on this list, CS is relatively clean, has some wealth, and enjoys decent (if extreme) weather. It is also a megachurch and defense contractor infested cesspool which feels as artificial as Main Street, USA at Disneyworld. Celebration, Florida has more authentic character. Strip malls, megachurches, subdivisions, more strip malls, more megachurches, and more subdivisions, all populated with a mixture of humorless Dobson acolytes, buzz-cut Air Force personnel, and defense industry hangers-on. If Orange County and Southern California invented the awful, generic suburban strip mall landscape, CS took it to its logical extreme. Driving through this "city" is like watching one of those old, cheap Hanna-Barbera cartoons where they re-used the same background over and over and over.
2b. Lexington, Nebraska – Oh, you want someplace "bad" in the more traditional sense? Lexington is a rank outpost dominated by incomprehensibly big meat processing facilities (Tyson, IBP) which bathe the town in a noxious, knee-buckling blanket of excrement, rendered animal matter, and chemical wastes. Classic meat processing town – illegal aliens (the meat industry are equal opportunity exploiters, sampling Mexico, north Africa, and Eastern Europe with equal aplomb) crammed 10 per apartment, unbreathable air, undrinkable water, obscene crime rates, and a closer resemblance to Calcutta than Cleveland. Lexington goes the extra mile, though, littered with abandoned and rusting cars, often simply left in the middle of the road, and completely overrun by packs of feral dogs. Seriously. A Mad Max backdrop of burned buildings, broken windows, rusted appliances dumped on lawns and sidewalks, abandoned vehicles, and garbage that no one, least of all the city, bothers to pick up. Now Tyson is importing illegals from the Sudan, giving the rural Nebraska town an exploding HIV-positive population it is ill-equipped to handle. Redefines "godforsaken."
1. Holbrook, Arizona/Pine Ridge, South Dakota – Indian reservations, especially those not proximate enough to populated areas to throw up casinos, are horrendously depressing places. So take your pick. These two, representing the Navajo and Sioux nations, respectively, are just brutal. Like abandoned trailer parks after an F5 tornado. If you want to see people living in the borders of the United States without electricity, indoor plumbing, or any source of income, here's your chance. Grinding poverty, a complete absence of hope for improvement, cultural disenfranchisement, and magnified doses of every social problem in the country – teen pregnancy, meth, suicide, homicide, illiteracy, gangs – define reservation towns. Holbrook looks like a beat-up carnival ride, the kind you see in parking lots of county fairs, and ensures that anyone foolish enough to visit (Petrified Forest National Park is nearby) will have their car broken into as a reward. Shameful. Embarrassing. Pitiful. Guaranteed to make you feel better about your town.
I defy you to dispute any of these, although I'm confident that there are a lot of close honorable mentions one could argue for inclusion.