Monday, November 29, 2010


I wanted a second opinion from my dad about what I believed to be a leaky front rear tire on my car, but other than that I was ready to hit the road and return home this morning. Then a funny thing happened. Click click click. The car wouldn't turn over. The battery was dead. Sure, it had been chilly the previous few days, but it wasn't that cold.

The mechanic in my parents' small town is only a few blocks away, so we jumpstarted my car and took it over to be checked out. Answers: the battery was bad, and the tire I had refilled on Thanksgiving was low. So the morning hours I intended to spend on the road found the car getting an oil change, a new battery, and a patched tire. All three were needed, but before this morning I was only certain of the first.

Walking to my parents' house and back to the mechanic's, I felt a twinge of longing for the small town experience. I also felt it when briefly strolling the streets of Blackduck, Minnesota this summer or walking the main drag in Cooperstown, New York.

I grew up in a small town with its short Main Street and sense of self-containment. As a kid that was an appealing quality. I had a small, set aside place that I could wander without restriction. There was a feeling of belonging somewhere that sort of existed as an island among the fields of corn and soybeans. What was great for me as a kid probably would feel stifling as an adult.

There's a reason why movies and TV (and politicians) tend to romanticize such places. At a time when people in general feel like they have less control over what happens in their lives, wouldn't it be great to live where everyone knows one another and pulls together with a cheerful, harmonious community pride? Wouldn't it be great to be able to walk out your front door and get a bite to eat at a small, local restaurant where you are known by name and lineage and where you can pop into the single screen movie theater that's a mere stone's throw away?

Yeah, that would be great, but that's not necessarily what small towns are but what they're idealized as being. I've seen the movies and know how these places are portrayed is mostly bunk, yet there I was still wanting to believe the beautiful lie.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that small towns are terrible places. I'll likely always have some affection for these little burgs and dream of their imaginary perfection. Visiting, not residing, allows such charms to remain rooted.

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