By Tom Ehrich

I got what I wanted.

Tired of the mega-wealthy and mega-precious of Manhattan, tired of steering my cart around impassioned rhapsodies on kale at Whole Foods, I left New York City yesterday and moved north to Ulster County.

I went immediately to Emmanuel's Marketplace, in Stone Ridge, for basic supplies.

I stood in the checkout line behind a young women also buying basics. Her card only had $16.13 remaining on it. She found $3.64 in her purse. The display screen said, "Food stamps."

Well, Toto, I'm not at the Whole Foods on Columbus Circle, surrounded by $20 million to $85 million apartments.

This is a world where people are careful about prices. I am one of them, and I am happy to be here.

People like us are everywhere, of course. When we lived on 96th Street in NYC, my wife preferred shopping among the Spanish-speakers at Associated Market, a block and $100,000 in annual income from another Whole Foods.

For much of my life, I ached to be among the high-earners and big-spenders. When I got there, it felt empty. "Real people," as my wife and I call them, seem more interesting.

This isn't a matter of moral superiority, or some variant on "shabby chic." I just get tired of the endless search for high-end ingredients, high-end furnishings and high-end living. I don't sit in harsh judgment on those for whom that is a life. I just don't need it for myself. Thought I did. Don't.

So here we are in Ulster County, just far enough north of Manhattan not to be suburbs. This area has the same income diversity as anywhere, but the prevailing tone is down to earth. The meeting grounds are Emmanuel's and the town dump. It reminds me of small town New England, where pretentiousness is frowned on.

We'll see. I might discover that I'm a Whole Foods guy after all. No loss of face in that. The point is to plumb, ponder and probe without the glare of "you oughta."

It has taken me a lifetime to get to this point. Years ago, I went along and allowed the glossy crowd to set my course. For some years, I lost myself entirely. Little by little, I have been working my way around to myself.

That is what I hope to take to deeper levels here in Ulster County and on my upcoming Fresh Day on the Road pilgrimage across America. Without anyone telling me what I ought to value, what I ought to believe or what I ought to do, what will be way forward?

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