Tuesday, December 1, 2009

the other, white wheaton

Wheaton Shopping Center (1)
Wheaton residents who fear their small-town status is being subsumed by gentrification (or, alternately, dying a slow death) might take solace in this letter to suburban Chicago's Daily Herald from Mary Landreth about her home of Wheaton, Illinois.

The Other Wheaton sounds like a lovely place. Not only is it actually a city but is actually described on Wikipedia as "affluent," home to lots of scientists who work at Fermilab a few miles away. (It's worth noting that 90%-white Wheaton, Illinois is actually less diverse than 85%-white Bethesda.) Its quaint old downtown even has a library, though its walkways are also under siege by skater scooter kids. And town meetings always start with a prayer to Jesus Christ.
"I have always felt that Wheaton was like Grover's Corners in "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder. People grow up here, work here, raise their children and grow old here. It is a very special place to me."
Sounds just like Wheaton, Maryland, right? But with more people of color, like when I saw Seneca Valley High School's production of Our Town back in 2002. (In their version, New Hampshire sounds more like New Hampshire Avenue in Langley Park.)

Wheaton, Illinois. Photo by Joe Orban, www.flickr.com/vidular.

"I am a walker, so I get around and look at houses and stores and get to know the shop keepers, the city workers and my neighbors. We have a very friendly and nice downtown with some lovely shops run by some very special people who are there to offer you their wares and their friendship and their comfortable surroundings to make you happy and feel good."
Walking is good. I don't walk as much as I could, but I should now that that nifty walkway is completed. The people are friendly, though. The lady at El Pollo Rico chased me to my car after I left my plantains behind, but apparently American customers find Wheaton's ethnic restaurants threatening.
"They also are trying to make a living at the same time. They need us to shop in their stores, to support their events, and to look to them first when needing a purchase. These are hard times; we all know that. But our neighborhood shops won't make it without our help. We want a viable downtown, and we will have that if we support our local business people. Shop Wheaton."
Hey, this sounds like something Local First Wheaton might say. Perhaps they should outsource their operations to Illinois. The cost of living is far cheaper there, though that thirty-mile commute to Chicago sounds kind of miserable.

I've been told that Wheaton, Illinois actually pronounces their "T," as in "WHEE-ton," which makes any kind of secret Maryland-Illinois Wheaton exchange program very difficult. The traditional Maryland pronunciation of Wheaton is "wee-UNN." If you're from Maryland, you replace the letter "T" with a sound called a "glottal stop," which to non-linguists can be described as putting an apostrophe where the "T" is supposed to go. My friend from the Virgin Islands (who now lives in Virginia) calls it "WEE-den." I suppose that's a compromise.

How do you say "Wheaton" where you're from?


Silver Spring Skaters said...

Before she passed away in 2006, local jazz vocalist, arts educator, and the genius behind the East Coast Jazz Festival, Ronnie Wells, was doing a great job of breathing some energy into Wheaton's night life through a weekly jazz series at the Indonesian restaurant Sabang (which has since passed away as well.)

Ronnie brought in THE cats...few of whom ever perform in Montgomery County, although ironically, many of them are from here (i.e., the great bari sax player Jason Marshall.)

It would be great if either Wheaton or Silver Spring could find a venue to host some of these same great musicians. There are few legitimate alternatives to U Street for real jazz, and we have an opportunity to that here in East County

This year the East Coast Jazz Festival is being resurrected as the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, and produced by another local great, saxophonist Paul Carr. I hope some enterprising restaurant or venue will connect with Paul, and get him to continue what Ronnie started at Sabang in Wheaton.

Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Bowie Mike said...

Dan, Sounds like you have a Google alert on "Wheaton." I have to weed out stories about Bowie, Texas and David Bowie.

Dan Reed said...

It's true! Wheaton, Illinois is way more famous on the Internet than our Wheaton. And the "White Oak" Google alert yields so many things, almost all of which have nothing to do with the White Oak here.

Thomas Hardman said...

Wheaton, nowadays, reminds me of nothing so much as it does those fancy new memorials downtown in the District.

It doesn't matter how big you make them.

It doesn't matter how much money you invest in them.

It doesn't matter how famous the architect nor how grand the architecture.

Mostly what happens is pigeons pick a spot there and crap all over the place.

Cyndy said...

I think it's fantastic that Paul has brought back the festival. He received a lot of encouragement from Ronnie Wells and her pianist husband Ron Elliston early on in his career and it's really nice to see him showing his appreciation in this way.

Unknown said...

Dan, You always have a way of writing about something right before or after I experience it. I was in New York City this past weekend and three seperate people inquired if my Wheaton Rescue Squad jacket was referring to Wheaton, IL. I myself pronounce it Wee-Un, but that's only because that's how I grew up hearing it and didn't notice until you brought it up. Now it's going to bother me for the rest of the week, thanks.

Thomas Hardman said...

This part of Maryland was deeply settled by lots of Scots and Scots-Irish, and the glottal stop isn't limited to famous musicians in a band called "The Beatles".

A friend of mine from the UK once said something to the effect of "the accent actually reminds me of Sheffies, simple enough to make out if you think of it that way". On researching it, it seems that the people of Sheffield, UK, are widely reputed to have only two vowels between them, and that often it's a bit different for outsiders to distinguish between those two.

I have a notable East Rockville accent, to the point where people ask me whence I hail. Could be worse, when I arrived here at age 6, I spoke with the accent of NW New Mexico with influences from Jimmy Steward, the Castilan Spanish antique colonial language, and even a little accent from the Navajo.
Now those are some people who have glottal stops. Most people can't hear them, nor distinguish between the standard consonants and those that close with a tongue-click, nor do they distinguish between the sibilants that have a slight whistle and those that don't.

The funny thing is when you go visit the Dineh people, they know both parties might think the other is a little weird, so they try extra hard to get along and to help you get along.

I guess I am wondering why there is not a Dineh restaurant in Wheaton.

You could go visit them sometime.

retgroclk said...

It has always been Weet-ton to me and I have lived here for 49 years

Bob Fustero