The times they are a, well, you know—nobody wants to violate copyright. In any case, nothing stays the same for long. New York, for example, is a city in a constant state of transformation. Fully grown buildings now stand where there were literally holes in the ground when I began working there. One building near Times Square recently had a facelift that revealed the steel girders beneath. On the I-beam were the words “Bethlehem Steel.” And it’s not just New York. Our cultural transformation has been taking place over the last few centuries as populations have moved to urban areas, abandoning farming to the few who remember how. Being from western Pennsylvania, I pretty much thought the eastern part of the state was Philadelphia. I’d heard of other urban regions, of course, such as Scranton and Allentown, but they were well outside my experience. We didn’t get out much.
Now that I’m here in the eastern part of the state, I’m begun to explore the ever-changing micropolitan area of Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton. The three cities blend at the edges, and this region is the third largest population zone in the state, after Philly and Pittsburgh. It’s also the fastest growing region in the commonwealth. I suppose we might’ve helped with that statistic. The other day I had to run an errand in Bethlehem. I pulled over to marvel at the hulk of what had once been Bethlehem Steel. Now, I grew up in a town with an active steel mill, and Pittsburgh grew to fame for the same metal, but this was a behemoth of a plant. Subdivided and open to development, it now houses a casino, in part, and an arts center. And still there’s more space.
Bethlehem was founded on Christmas Eve by the Moravians. Perhaps appropriate for a town trying to resurrect itself, Bethlehem calls itself the Christmas City. Star imagery abounds, and many businesses name themselves with this Christian symbol. The image is quite different from that of a steel city with hard-working men on the shift. The grime and din of industry. Bethlehem, like many places in the state, was named for its biblical forebear. On my visit to the original Bethlehem many years ago I was, like many tourists, disappointed that it isn’t “O little town of” anymore. There were people everywhere and it was difficult to imagine a quiet stable inside a noisy stone church thronging with the faithful. Clearly things don’t remain unchanged for long, even in towns famous for their remoteness. Although far from New York, they share a common heritage of people everywhere, and that heritage could bring us peace if only we would allow it. The answer, it seems, is blowin’ in the, well, you know.