Shall we play an escape game?

It has been an extremely tough week looking at the news concerning Appalachia and in particular, Southwestern Virginia, its future, and the dwindling population numbers for the region.

The headlines have been attention grabbing. The Roanoke Times with op-ed pieces entitled, “Should we just let Appalachia go?” and “Population loss in Virginia’s coalfields region projected to continue for decades”, have been enough to rattle me and plunge me into depressionary depths this week and for that matter anyone else when seeing headlines like that or diving into the figures.

It’s enough to make anyone put their hands to their head, start running and screaming to get me out of Appalachia.

After reading the articles, I decided to sit down and put a positive spin on the population loss from Virginia’s coalfields. One of my hobbies include designing logos and things for friends or projects, so I decided to develop a logo and a campaign for the Commonwealth of Virginia to use as their next big economic endeavor at, ahem, saving Southwest Virginia or better yet, pushing the entire region off the cliff.

And here it is:

escape

So, what do you think? I think it has potential.

Please forgive the title of the blog entry. I modified the question from the 80s movie, “WarGames” and I think it fits the situation perfectly.

Positive spin you ask?

No. Simply put, we are the pawns in a game called Escape Appalachia. The choices are: leave Appalachia and begin a new life elsewhere or die here. That is the cold stark reality of this game of life in Appalachia being played by political game masters in Richmond and Washington.

It’s not fiction. It’s happening right now in many households and individual’s lives across Southwest Virginia and Appalachia.

This reality game is where families struggle to find work to replace the lucrative coal jobs or coal industry related jobs that once existed. Instead, families are sitting at the table, with stacks of bills or past due notices and rolling the dice to simply find opportunity. An opportunity that could take the family breadwinner or the entire family outside of Appalachia. You can even hear the discussion at the table, “I’ve got to get out of here and find something, make a life outside of here if we are going to survive as a family.”

It’s a reality game among young people who have already graduated from college or who have graduated from high school, moving on to college and then will graduate later saying, “I’m not going back home. There’s nothing there but some family. I’m finished playing this game of no jobs, no improvements, no potential.”

It’s a reality game for the older crowd who wishes they could have seen beyond the maze, the fog, the seductive lure of Appalachia, the mountains, or the signs STAY, HOME, CONTRIBUTE or BE A PART OF and ventured outside the maze of Appalachia and find that pathway to success or satisfaction.

In this Escape Appalachia reality game, there are no selfies or group pictures at the end of this game played here except the recent arrests and incarcerations published online for drug offenses and drinking from people who seek to drown their sorrows or kill their pain with anything that can be used to help deaden the starkness of reality that they can’t find a job. Many reality game photos we see are those who are just simply “too sorry (Appalachian phrasing here)” to pick up a tool and go to work when the rest of the country is drawing a check or a habitual user produced by the environment.

Yes. Welcome to the many photographic scenes of life in the real game of Escape Appalachia.

If you live here now and you’ve never played the game, then blessings upon you for your dedication and your love for Appalachia. But if you are one of those that hear those distant “Jumanji” like drums calling you to play the game, beware. The stakes are high.

You can’t just begin the game and then immediately cry out for help.

Other gamers have been looking for help from that shining beacon of a city called Richmond and its political inhabitants, but help is not coming. The governor and the General Assembly want you to play the game out to its end, and so does Washington and its political elite.

It’s all a part of the law of the political jungle.

While the governor has done nothing and I truly mean NOTHING to help Appalachia, particularly Southwest Virginia (I challenge him to prove otherwise), you say that President Trump made a promise that he was going to put the miners back to work in Appalachia, that’ll make people stay and bring back the economy.

Really? At what cost? The economy? Our environment? Safety?

Here is the stark reality of this part of the game. Coal is dead or at least the uses of coal as we have known them. Our local leaders believed the lie and some still do that there will always be a need for burning coal.

We didn’t diversify in Appalachia and seek change for our benefit. Instead, we got comfortable in that easy chair and became our own worst enemy and went right on believing the lie that all is well in Appalachia.

Now we’re on the clock, much like those escape room games that are taking some areas by storm. Truth is, we are living our “escape room game” out in Appalachia every day.

If you haven’t read the Roanoke.com articles I have mentioned, I suggest you do. Carmen Forman, the writer of one of the articles, puts it plain and simple as to why we are here at this point in the game of Escape Appalachia:

The study indicates the trend of people leaving the region as the coal industry declines will continue through the next two decades.

The coal industry’s struggles have left far Southwest Virginia scrambling to diversify its economy. High unemployment has created an exodus of young people, which in turn has led to a decline in enrollment and state funding to the region’s public schools.

She adds that with all the declines in far Southwest Virginia, Buchanan County will have the highest number of people to flee Appalachia, Roanoke, Montgomery County, and others will grow.

The report says that “as more people move into Virginia than move out, Loudoun County is projected to be the fastest growing locality in the commonwealth. Loudoun has an estimated 2016 population of 385,327 — already surpassing the entire Roanoke metro area. It’s expected to grow to nearly 700,000 by 2040.”

Right now, Virginia has a population of 8.3 million people and is the 12th most populous state in the country, “but is projected to surge ahead of Michigan and New Jersey to the top 10 in 2040.”

A lot of figures and a lot of information to digest.

Now for the big question. Should we just let Appalachia go, cut our losses and escape Appalachia?

What are the options for staying in an area with stagnant growth and little to offer? How do you bring people from outside of Appalachia to Appalachia when there is nothing economically to offer?

The options and choices are very limited right now. One might have better luck making decisions with the old Magic 8 Ball from our childhood.

Tourism is pushed heavily by the higher ups in Richmond for Southwest Virginia as an economic revival choice but when the Virginia tourism site features great getaways, seldom is FAR Southwest Virginia listed as an option. In fact, much of Southwest Virginia is not a tourist destination to the Richmond rule makers, it’s an afterthought.

Cybersecurity and tech firms are a good possibility but a lack of broadband, infrastructure, education and other factors make it difficult to land firms committed to staying. Wise County has had the upper hand so far in cybersecurity success but sometimes the powers that be can get a little too comfortable and lax. It’s a process of always pushing forward, staying on top, not settling for second best.

Right now, the old Magic 8 Ball tells me “It is decidedly so” that lawmakers in Richmond and Washington are not interested or firmly committed to doing anything with Appalachia and it’s people. Lawmakers have forced their hand with us at the table.

It’s now the people’s call in Appalachia to either stay and ride the storm out or leave and become one of the numbers in the next article about the mass exodus out of Appalachia, the dwindling school population numbers and funding.

Economically at present, the Magic 8 Ball tells me the “Outlook not so good” for the future in Appalachia unless there is some divine intervention.

Recently, I asked friends on Facebook why they chose to stay or leave Appalachia. I’ll share some of those responses in my next entry on the blog. You can share your thoughts if I don’t have you listed as a friend on Facebook. E-mail me your thoughts to appalachianchained@gmail.com. I’ll compile the info and talk about why some of you have either stayed or left Appalachia.

It will help me as I sit at my monitor, type and present a picture of Appalachia that differs greatly from the one that lawmakers and politicians see and decide whether I want to continue to play the escape game.

Should I flee or should I stay? A lot to think about.

Magic 8-Ball, what do you say?

Ask again later.

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