Dear Mr. Murphy,
Please forgive my intrusion into your workday. I know how difficult it must be for you to answer emails from the boonies while living the Big City Life in Denver, Colorado, population, 2.5 million and change. We here in Monroe, Louisiana, population 46,500 or so, barely know how to type…much less use one of those new fangled computer things.
Congratulations, belatedly, on graduating from Northeast Louisiana University in 1986. And congratulations on your career success as a journalist and writer, something I’m sure your four year stay in Monroe played no part in creating. After all, a 4-year degree from this backwoods, “gritty, flatland,” could not have possibly prepared you for the “real” world of places as glamorous as Denver, Colorado.
Some things have changed since you were here, though, and I think it is important to mention just a few. While it is true we are still an area where hunting and fishing are favored past-times, we support a thriving arts community, complete with two professional ballet companies, two full-time theatre companies, a symphony and myriad smaller venues rife with live entertainment not related to killing animals.
Our housing market has also changed a bit. The average home price in our area is just over $150,000 (that’s more than $100,000 less than the low-end of the Denver Metro area) for a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in a quiet neighborhood on a 1/4-to-1/2 acre lot. Apartments in the most expensive parts of town come with free internet, pools, gyms, walking paths and granite counter tops, for about $800 a month for a 3/2 apartment (that’s almost $700 off the same comparable rentals in the Denver Metro area, for those keeping score). We are the home of The Garden District, a nationally-designated historical residential district with homes dating from the late 1890s through the early 1950s. There are four developments around the area — including one of the first certified “green home” developments in the country. And that’s just in Monroe-West Monroe. Move out just a bit, twenty minutes or so down the road, and you’ll find developments around Black Bear and Squire Creek that will rival any of the McMansions you find in Broomfield or Boulder…all comfortably priced at $350,000-900,000. I’m just curious, having never ventured out of the swamp in my front yard. What will $350,000 get me in Denver?
Did I mention Black Bear and Squire Creek? Two world-class, championship golf courses designed and maintained by world-class course architects? You haven’t heard of them? I’m not surprised, since both have only seen the scantest of publicity, having been featured prominently on the cover of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, as part of the Audubon Trail. Also, we’re a bit skinny on the sports side, as we only have our local high school and collegiate scene to entertain us on Friday nights.
It’s true. Denver has the Broncos and we have the Warhawks of ULM, the Bulldogs Louisiana Tech and the Tigers of Grambling. Our biggest claims to fame are four national titles between the schools and the band of Grambling playing at every presidential inauguration since George H. W. Bush. They were one time, if I recall, featured in a little indie movie. You may have heard of it, though only in passing, as I’m sure “Drumline” never played in such a fancy place as Denver. That also doesn’t even consider the two national championship high school football teams (one of which featured prominently on ESPN’s Two-A-Day, about the West Monroe High School Rebels), a 24-time National Champion waterski team and a national collegiate debate championship team — both from your alma matter, ULM.
And yes, Mr. Murphy, it is true. Sadly we are a “gritty flatland surrounded by farm land,” but we don’t grow much cotton anymore. In fact, our biggest cash crop isn’t even soybeans. It’s corn. So think about our little area next time you drink a Coke (High Fructose Corn Syrup), eat a taco (corn tortilla shell) or drive your Flex Fuel car (ethanol), because chances are some aspect of your life is inextricably linked to our little backwater town, which happens to be the economic hub of the second-largest rowcrop region on the planet and the largest in these United States.
Agriculture is something we think about alot here, since we don’t have restaurants or a night life aside from Cormier’s Crawfish and Enoch’s Louisiana music. In fact, you raise an interesting question, Mr. Murphy. What are all those people doing every night at the twenty or thirty night clubs? Surely they’re not enjoying nationally recognized musical acts interspersed with successful Louisiana bands? Well, I guess those Louisiana bands had to go somewhere since Enoch’s is now focused almost exclusively on acts from outside of Louisiana. (A quick check of their web site would reveal five musical acts in the last two weeks from across the Pond…and I don’t mean the Ouachita River. This Friday, in fact, a band called the Rosellys will perform — all the way from England.) And I know how disappointed people from Denver will be to find out they can’t get Indian food at the two Indian restaurants in Monroe, or decent Tex-Mex at the dozen Tex-Mex restaurants, or Fusion Cuisine at Sage or decent wines from Vieux Carré Gourmet or Tonoré’s Wine Cellar.
They’ll need good hooch, too, what with the lack of arts, entertainment, food, and well, anything resembling culture that doesn’t require you to hook it or shoot it before getting to play with it.
At least they’ll be able to stay employed, though. After all, we’re the home city of three Fortune 500 companies — Delta Airlines, CenturyLink and Coca-Cola Bottling. While that pales in comparison to Denver and her 5 Fortune 500, when meted out per-capita over the entire metro areas of the two, we have one Fortune 500 company per 120,000 people. You guys have one Fortune 500 company per 357,000 so chances are the people coming here will be able to find good-paying jobs for their spouses and more than adequate educations for their children at one of our region’s three universities.
And if the people coming here fall flat on their faces and land in the unemployment line, we have a community of God-fearing, America-loving, proud farmers, hunters, fishers, doctors, lawyers, business and industry leaders and more than our share of grandmas to pick them up, dust off their rumps, and get them back on their feet. You see, Mr. Murphy, what we lack in Big City Class and Condescension we more than make up for with Small Town Pride and Southern Hospitality.
We must be doing something right. After all, a company from this backwater, cultural wasteland just paid more than $10 billion to save — I mean buy — a near-bankrupt company in Denver, saving the jobs of about 30,000 people.
I’ll tell you what, Mr. Murphy. You stay right there in Denver. I’m completely content with our little flatland here.