NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Next week, I head out on a two-week vacation. With pit stops in two of North America's greatest cities -- New York and Toronto -- I will spend most of my time in Niagara Falls, USA. That's my hometown.
I haven't been back in two years. And while I hear things have improved, that's what they always say. I still expect
Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores
. In many ways, Springsteen's classic "My Hometown" is about Niagara Falls:
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown.
My Dad is one of the lucky ones.
He received a pension from Union Carbide when the plant closed down. I still remember him coming home with his clothes full of soot. When the plant closed, he could have moved, become a drunk or sat around collecting unemployment. Instead, he picked up work on the side -- like he always has -- and landed a better full-time job that allowed him to pay the house off ahead of schedule and retire comfortably.
My Dad is among a few exceptions to the rule.
As kids, another Springsteen line took on meaning for me and my friends as we sat underneath the bridge on Hyde Park Boulevard drinking beer:
It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win
To be fair, plenty of my high school friends have carved out nice lives for themselves in Niagara Falls and the more vibrant surrounding areas of Western New York, particularly the City of Buffalo and its suburbs. But, at day's end, for many of us, we absolutely had to get out of Niagara Falls while we were young.
Because Niagara Falls -- and dozens of other places just like it -- has always, by and large, lacked progressive leadership and a progressive population, it has missed a ton of opportunity.
Errant sociopolitical views often lead to missed opportunities. Social conservatism -- a hallmark of my hometown -- tends to stifle innovation. Populations that refuse to open their minds to 2012's realities leave quite a bit of potential on the table in the name of staying in their outdated comfort zones.