SUPERLATIVES

Having just driven 1000-plus miles in three days, I can't work up the sap for the post planned for Monday. Trust me though, whenever I spent 15-20 hours alone in a car on empty rural roads, a handful of epic posts usually follows.

In the meantime, I have two new nominees for the Worst Place in America: Joplin, MO and Fort Smith, AR. Don't give me the tornado excuse for Joplin. And Fort Smith would be vastly improved by a few EF4s. I continue to maintain that the worst actual city (not tiny rural pile of rubble) in the country is Fresno, though God knows there are plenty of contenders (everything in upstate NY, Reading PA, Worcester MA, Peoria IL, South Bend IN, Houston, and a handful of other Rust Belt atrocities in Ohio and Michigan). Nonetheless, both Joplin and "The Fort" merit strong consideration.

On the plus side, if you want to feel thin and smart, you'll be king of the world in either place.

76 thoughts on “SUPERLATIVES”

  • middle seaman says:

    Shitty is a relative measure. A city with no parties and bars may drive young people crazy. A family in same place with decent school and a small successful business may be quite happy.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    HEY!
    Those of us near Poughkeepsie, NY resemble that remark!
    And yes, it's a shithole!
    But it's OUR shithole.
    AND, it's on the beautiful Hudson River!!!

    PS: Joplin, MO, is where the great Mickey Mantle played his season of Minor League Baseball – so give it that!

  • Don't forget Rockford, Il. It has been on the top ten (bottom ten?) crime filled cities in America the last two years. Right before Compton….

  • The Anony-spouse is from a tiny town (6,000-ish) halfway between Buffalo and Rochester. If there were any jobs there, I'd move there in a minute. What New York does well (as opposed to the southern hellhole I'm forced to inhabit) is the schools and the infrastructure. The streets are driveable, there are parks and paved walking paths, and the corner store in a main street in a town of 6,000 carries scientific magazines. The people I've met up there (friends and neighbors of the in-laws) are so much less STOOOPID than the idiots that surround me in the south, maybe because of the better education?

  • I'm right outside Utica, it's not so bad. Not any more or less racist than back home in SoCal. Not much classy either, but it's comfy.

  • Worcester has some issues. It also has a slew of mighty fine restaurants, three awesome venues for Music, including the beautifully restored Hanover Theater and Mechanics Hall. A couple of colleges, the UMass Medical Center. They're trying, and maybe you miss this stuff if you're buzzing by on I290. If you need a City from MA on your list, take Lawrence. Or Springfield.

  • I doubt it has changed much since I experienced it in the late 60's and early 70's during my ill fated time in the Marines so I'll nominated the stinky armpit of South Carolina – Beaufort.

  • Hey! I have a soft spot for upstate! Mostly shitholes but there are nice places. The Finger Lakes are nice. Rochester is ok, I've been forced to spend some time in Syracuse and it's not bad either. It's way the fuck by the Vermont border that the weirdest of the weirdos are, although there are pockets in the center-Cortland…shiver.

  • Our Stewart/Newburgh flight used to lay over in Poughkeepsie but now they put us in Fishkill, which at least has the benefit of being closer to the airport.

    The primary industry of Fishkill NY seems to be prisons, of which it boasts 3 or 4.

    So I figure half the population of Fishkill is incarcerated and the other half are being paid to watch them.

  • I grew up in Sturgis, MI and frequently visited Ft. Wayne, South Bend, and Gary, IN. I would vote Gary as FAR worse than South Bend.

    And Rockford, IL, where I spent a summer doing archaeology, still gets my vote as a terrible city.

  • I'd have to nominate Memphis as one of the worst big cities in the country.

    It's like Detroit except hotter and more humid. It's not even one of the pretty parts of Tennessee like Knoxville or Nashville.

    The crime rate is terrible and the race relations are some of the worst I've ever seen.

  • 16shellsfroma30aught6 says:

    Travelling the length of California's I-5 corridor yesterday, I began ranking the smaller towns based on how long ago the apocalypse appeared to have occurred.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Major Kong,
    It says something about Fishkill, that Poughkeepsie's a step-up.
    Nothing good, of course.

  • Plattsburgh, NY, is on Lake Champlain just across from Vermont. It's a former military town. It's beautiful up there, but there are some crazy people (many former-military who stayed when the base closed). Not as crazy as here in the south.

  • @16Shells; way northern inland California (Vacaville, Maryville, Oroville, Chico) is full of people on food stamps and welfare who rage against "the gummit giving handouts to takers".

  • Ohio has a pretty good sampling of rust-belt in the north to Appalachia in the southeastern part of the state. There are a lot of rough-looking towns along the Ohio river like Portsmouth.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Anonymouse,
    That was one CRAZY party-town back in the 70's – especially, on St. Patrick's Day!!!!!

    One of my best friends went to college up there back then.
    As a matter of fact, we'd just left a bar about 15 minutes before it collapsed, and several kids died.
    We heard the fire engines and police cars, but didn't find out what happened until the next day, after we'd sobered-up.
    When was that?
    '77? '78?
    It's been so long, I've forgotten the year.

  • @Edward

    My father almost took a job in Shreveport when I was around 12 or 13. I remember flying into the Shreveport regional airport-which was new at the time. Looked nice enough until we drove into the city. God, just stiflingly, oppressively stuffy and boring. The highlight of that trip was eating crawfish. The nearest big city is Dallas which is…ok. Austin is 5 hours away. Otherwise, you're in the Deep South and boxed in in all directions. I probably would have killed myself.

  • @ Slim Shady

    No, I was saying that I like the Finger Lakes, Rochester and Syracuse, and the really weird parts of NY state I've been in are way the fuck over by the Adirondacks on the VT border.

  • @gulag; are you talking about Plattsburgh, or Chico? Chico State was a fine, fine party school (WOOOOOT!) in the early 1980s. I was in Plattsburgh in the late 1990s and the only thing there of note was the mall, but I didn't live there so I have no idea if there were bars I just didn't see.

  • what a great post and comments. had me laughing. There are relations between the races? wow , what a concept.

    here in New Orleans, party town USA, we have poverty to die for, streets that once were streets in the 1800's and an educational system that makes Somalia envious.

    I still wonder what "race relations" are.

    and with our heat and humidity, we give Texas a run for what Hell looks like, though right now we only have a Sen Diaper Dave Vitter to show for it, and not a Elmer Gantry aka Sen. Ted Cruz. and Rolling Stone called Sen Mary Landrieu one of the most corrupt Senators ever??? proud of our People. loll

    we don't have to worry though, Global Warming, that liberal fantasy, will flood us at least 10 feet under, for good though. one reason we party so much is we know how bad things can get. we invented Banana Republicanism Behavior the Right adopted aka St. Reagan's Southern Strategy. Our Politicians taught Washington how to do scamming, corruption and greed. lol

    but only come down here from Oct to April, unless of course you like living in a steam bath/sauna.

    so tell me, what is wrong with Ft. Smith and Joplin?

  • OK now I see how the beginning of the next sentence makes it sound like I was saying Syracuse is over by Vermont. Anyway, having spent a lot of time there, I'm fond of Central New York and especially the Finger Lakes; and Owego and Corning are great little towns I've driven through many times, not sure what region they're officially part of (although granted, Central New York can get just as Deliverance in certain pockets as it can it regions I profess to dislike). Actually-I guess I was defending upstate New York. It's just that my special bias is against North Country- I find most bizarre, although that may be thanks to a certain fraternity brother named Cornbread and my one trip out there.

  • As someone who goes to Fresno a couple of times each year and faces every visit with dread, I still have to say that it's not as bad as Bakersfield.

  • No hate for little Nevada towns? Ely, Lovelock, Battle Mountain, Fallon are all pretty terrible. Bakersfield is truly awful as well, and I'll always have a special hatred for Las Vegas.

  • Some of the comments here show amazing ignorance and their own kinds of prejudice

    Chico is located in beautiful orchard country in the foothills. It has a large-ish university, one of the largest urban parks in the country centered on a beautiful creek canyon, a lovely downtown with a town square, tree lined streets, and is the home of one of the sources of the modern craft brewery movement, Sierra Nevada Brewery. I sincerly doubt the hometown or current residence of Anonymouse offers near as many amenities as Chico, despite some less enlightened residents (more nearby than in Chico proper).

    Vacaville may be a conservative town (although it still largely votes Democrat), but it too has a lovely old town, a town square, active family-oriented events, fairly diverse shopping, etc. etc. It is also in a lovely foothill setting with 2,000 foot mountains and amazing canyons, oak trees, and orchards. Vacaville is less than 30 minutes from Napa Valley, Sacramento and less than an hour to the Bay Area. A jobless hellhole? I sincerely disagree.

    I would also note that Vacaville is hundreds of miles from the other towns blithely lumped together into one category. That kind of generalization is, again, another form of "prejudice" which the commenters here are supposed to be so opposed to????

    Peoria? Frank Lloyd Wright and Victorian mansions, fantastic (for downstate Illinois) river bluff scenery, a nice little private university (Bradley), a good job base, if tattered, in Caterpillar. I don;t have much love for Peoria, but a hellhole? I don't think so.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Anonymouse,
    There were, if I remember right, two bars, right in the heart of that little town.

    We were pretty trashed on the green beer every college bar insists on serving on St. Patties day, and we left the one whose floor collapsed about 15-20 minutes before it happened because we'd left for some quick slices of pizza on the corner before going back to my friend's dorm, where we had a few more non-green beers and passed out.

    I was shocked to hear how close we'd come to being in a tragedy. A few kids died, and some others got badly hurt.
    All I had as a result of drinking there, was I pee'd green for days.

  • I've been to Vacaville (Travis AFB). It wasn't that bad as I recall. Nicer than Merced, but that's setting the bar pretty low.

    The last time I was at Beale AFB in 2001 I was told that Marysville/Yuba City was the meth capitol of California.

  • guttedleafsfan says:

    Great thread, though it torpedoed our proposed US road trip. Guess it will be trailering in Former Mining Settlements of Northern Quebec again.

    Somehow "The City of New Orleans" started running through my head even before the post about it.

    Ed, good morning on this Thanksgiving/Columbus day, you are America's native son.

  • @Brian; I grew up in Paradise and went to Chico State, but thank you for telling me I know nothing about the area. @@

  • @Brian, if you're such an expert as you claim about Chico, California, of course you'd know that to get from Chico down to San Francisco, you have to pass through Vacaville, and first cutting through Oroville and Maryville (which are not hundreds of miles away from Vacaville). How odd that you don't seem to know that, being such an expert in the area.

  • Oroville and Maryville are definitely well over 100 miles away from Vacaville. I actually drove to Yuba City last month one evening.

    What is the point of having to "drive through Vacaville to get to San Francisco" anyway in the context of snidely dismissing very diverse and separate communities as all "hell holes"?

    You are entirely missing the point. These are completely different communities. In different settings, different metropolitan areas, varied economies.

    I am objecting to your blithe implications that all of these very diverse communities are somehow identical meth-inflicted hellholes. Such a judgment shows very little familiarity with many of the communities you so disparage. Especially a university town like Chico. But even semi-suburban Vacaville. Heck, even agricultural and poor Marysville has some charms, however limited.

    I am certainly an "expert" in the area because I live in inland California. In Vacaville actually. For 20 years. What did you do, drive along a freeway once and stay at the Motel 6?

  • OK….I missed the "grew up in Paradise" part.

    Mea culpa.

    Given THAT, I can understand somewhat the derision. Paradise does have "that" reputation.

    But still, Chico as a hellhole? You must have very very high standards for community quality.

    Vacaville is dull and suburban, but not a hell hole by any means.

  • Tricia Dennis says:

    I can tell none of y'all been to New Brunswick, Georgia. It's in the south. And it smells. Bad. Paper mills. Hot. Depressing. (Shudder)

  • ed: "(There were entertainment opportunities. A flier advertised an event at the upcoming county fair, where a cow is led over a grid of numbered squares, and you bet on the numbers, and you win if the cow poops on your number.) "

    Off to Battle Mountain! :)

  • After WW II, most of the small cities nominated for their shittiness were still doing pretty good, while many of the cities of Europe and Asia were bombed out disasters. Now, the situation is reversed! Remind me again who won?

    The shittiness of these cities is the direct result of certain policy decisions which favored suburbia over our cities: the tax-deductibility of home mortgage interest and the "let's build highways" gang. We have drained our cities of resources for almost 70 years now.

    The result was predictable.

  • Hairless in Gaza says:

    I find it hard to believe no-one's mentioned Florida's awful towns. How 'bout Fort Pierce, a.k.a. "Port Farce," the unlovliest town on the Atlantic coast? Or Crescent City (motto: "A Crescent on Every Door")? Or the capital, Tallahassee, otherwise known as "South Thomasville" (a city just over the line in Georgia)? Or the Panhandle, a veritable Baja Alabama, with all that implies?

  • I swear that I actually saw a tumbleweed blow across the main drag in Gary in the mid 1990's.

    Petersburg VA is pretty bad too, but Gary was the worst. When the steel mills wete running, the town smelled of sulfur, then they shut down and things got worse.

  • Burning River says:

    If you think the Rust Belt portions of Ohio are terrible (trust me, nobody wants to claim Toledo), you should try your hand along the state's southern border. Chillicothe, OH should be leveled and turned into a 16-lane highway.

  • I nominate Cessnock myself. But for logical reasons. Cessnock is in the heart of Hunter Valley wine country, and I hope that there's a special circle in Hell for the asshats in urban planning and the developers. A large number of vineyards have been torn up, parceled and sold.

    It's just appalling to see. So much for arable farmland.

    That idiotic attitude of, "It's so pretty, let's live here!" It's pretty *because* you don't live there.

  • I second Chico as not being a hellhole. It's a nice little town. I've lived here for over 20 years now. Sure it has a few problems, but all in all, it's pretty nice here.

  • Port Saint Joe, FL, has the stench of a paper mill permeating the air, but I nominate Ukiah, CA. Was there once and I still refer to it as "that flaming shithole Ukiah." They did have a neat little Tibetan restaurant though.

  • That idiotic attitude of, "It's so pretty, let's live here!" It's pretty *because* you don't live there.

    A-FUCKIN-MEN.

    Napa County at least tries to delay the inevitable. Sonoma County is a poster child for faux-rural-bohemian-chic sprawl. It's being ruined one country estate at a time.

    What I love is if they throw up a few solar panels on the roof and a compost bin. Then there 3,000 square foot monstrosity 45 miles from their place of employment is a "green" house! But I'm sure they drive a Prius (a Pious?) to get there and back!

  • RevRicK:

    What is so sad for this too-poor-and-incompetent to travel geek allows one to view European small cities via the wonders of Google Maps Streetview. Now…suburban Italy may be WORSE than the suburban United States from my limited viewing, but France….UK….Scandinavia. Man, oh man the only people who still believe in American Exceptionalism have no idea.

  • Rochester, NY.

    The city is stereotypical Rust Belt Failure, burned out and boarded up, with urban prairie and years-old torn billboards everywhere.

    Out of this has somehow grown this "creative class" of self-important, snarky, snotty twerps who made doing business up there friggin agony. They're rebuilding Rochester! It's the center of new hipsterism! Buzzwords! No, the city sucks, and the "Minnesota Nice With Attitude" accents and attitudes make me want to jet for the doors within five minutes of starting a conversation. Ugh.

  • Peoria is no garden spot by any means.

    But it does have a few…a few high points. Some really nice older neighborhoods, river bluff scenery, a university, affordable housing, an economic base (however frayed by deindustrialization). Most small industrial cities would KILL to have a Caterpillar based in their town.

    It is NOT Camden, N. J. or other epic failures.

  • Obviously, none of you guys have spent much time in small towns in East Texas. My vote for worst city in the country? Jasper, Texas, gateway to the piney woods, although a number of other small cities in east Texas provide some stiff competition.

  • @BrianM: I think you misunderstand. I don't hate Chico at all. I had quite a great time at Chico State. After Paradise in the 1970s, Chico was "the big city", with a great old movie theater with velvet and gilt. I lived with a bunch of roommates in an old Craftsman house and it was wonderful. I'm just saying the area in general (especially the 'villes) tends to run to poor white Republicans who bitch about "takers" while shoveling in all the free gummit stuff they can snatch.

  • No worries, Anonymouse. My county is full of retired Air Force personnel who have been on the public teat their entire lives yet spend their retirements bitching about Big Gubmint.

    And…reading the Letters to the Editor section of the local rag is a…disturbing…experience.

    But then, reading any reader forum or letters to the editor section can be, as well. Check out SF Gate (oh so "liberal" San Francisco's paper of record). Or the urban planning discussion threads at Atlantic (magazine) Cities (I am a city planner by profession)

  • All this is making me feel better about living in Oakland. Lake Merritt is a jewel in the heart of the city, even if it is actually a reconfigured tidal estuary, we have clean, safe marijuana dispensaries (including one across the street from PD headquarters), a school district no worse than many others, no snow EVER, et cetera. Yes, crime, earthquakes, and a city government that couldn't find its own ass with both hands and a spotter, but the artists and small businesses priced out of San Francisco are making a difference. I joked recently, 'downtown, there's a place where you can get a gram of hashish for medicinal purposes, and a block away a bar where you can get absinthe for recreational purposes. Just don't smoke the hash IN the bar – that would be illegal.'

  • Robert: I love visiting Oakland, actually. Despite its myriad problems, the City has a character I appreciate. God…the crime rate, though. :(

  • There are many wonderful nominations here. But if there is an uglier fucking town in America than Bridgeport, Connecticut, I sure don't want to see it.

  • I was in Ft Smith in '75 when the GOV housed almost 26,000 Vietnamese refugees at Ft Chaffee. I was there for about two months and the only film that ran that entire period in Ft Smith wa the R version of "Linda Lovelace for President.."

  • I would like to nominate Anna, IL, my personal shithole. I arrived in So Ill in early Aug for grad school. By the middle of Aug I had been informed that Anna stands for Ain't No Nig****s Allowed. True sundown town. I managed to find employment at what could have been considered the county's largest employer but was unceremoniously fired after a girl with no teeth (really, not one) and a tenth grade education, that had been fucking institutionalized managed to convince admins that I had harassed her, cause you know, black men crave white women like zombies crave brains. Good times, good times

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