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Big-city sprawl is stealing small-town charm

city night lights

If you define “progress” by the city taking over, then yes, I guess we’re seeing tons of progress.

I like living in a small town. There are so many quirks that you don’t get to enjoy anywhere else.

Like the one time I went to a community theater to see a play. As everyone was settling into their seats, a man in a bathrobe walked in. I saw him and assumed he was part of the show.

Nope — he was part of the audience. He walked in along with everyone else and claimed his own seat. No explanation; just a man in a bathrobe. Everyone around him acted like everything was perfectly normal.

Giving directions is easy in a small town, because instead of street names, you can use landmarks. “Drive down yonder to the old convenience store and make a left at the ramshackle trailer with a dog tied to the front porch. You can’t miss it.”

I used to work in a small real-estate office, and people often asked me for directions.

“How do I get to this particular street?” a man asked me one time.

“Well,” I said, “you go down Main Street and turn left where the pizza place burned down 15 years ago. Go past the building that used to be the post office before the new one was built and drive until you see the vacant lot where Harry’s gas station once stood, before old Harry died and the building was bulldozed. To get to the street you’re looking for, turn right at the building that used to be a pawn shop back in the day. I’m not quite sure what it is now.”

The man glared. “Did I mention that I moved here last week? Your directions are absolutely worthless.”

Shopping can be a problem in a small town. When I was a kid, the nearest grocery store was in the next town over. All we had locally were two dinky convenience stores that reeked of cigarette smoke.

I remember begging my mom one time for a box of macaroni and cheese. She relented, and we brought it home to cook. When we opened the box, the macaroni was crawling with weevils. (I don’t recall if the box had a “use by” date, but given the infestation, it was safe to assume that it was past its prime.) 

Another time, at the other store, we picked out a carton of eggs. Opening the box, we saw that all the shells were yellow and hollow. It was as if someone had stuck a pin in each of them and sucked out all the contents.

“Durn,” said the storekeeper, when we showed him the carton. “I reckon you won’t be frying those with bacon come Sunday morning.” 

Life is less formal in a small town. Sitting in my favorite restaurant, there’s a view of a bar across the street. When dining one evening, I watched as a drunk staggered into the parking lot and took a gigantic leak in the parking lot. Not the most appetizing sight when you’re enjoying a savory meal.

I’ll tell you what, though: I’ll take small-town character over big-city class any day. The only problem with small towns is that they seem to be disappearing. Cities are stretching their grimy tentacles and smothering them in their wretched grasp. With every chain store that moves in, a fragment of local history gets torn away.

It makes you nostalgic for those days when you could wear a bathrobe to the community theater. 

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