Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Small Town Livin' (Part 2)

So a few posts ago, I talked about my current hometown. But it was all demographics and geography. Today I have a few words about culture.

I've heard the stories about life a few generations back. People trusting people. A slower way of life. A friendliness brought about simply by proximity. This doesn't exist any more in big cities, sad to say. Maybe in a few leftover pocket neighborhoods, but as a whole, it CAN'T exist anymore. But I will say that this town I live in still has some of that, and I'm getting really, really used to it.

First of all, the town is small enough so that you do get recognized a lot. This works both for us and against us at times, if you've ever sat next to us at church, you'd see the absolute worst side of Matthew, and there has been the occassional need to physically leave the table at a restaurant for a few minutes... But for the most part, people recognize us and our kids fondly, and this does surprise us at times, but that's the town. I'll be at the mall, and some high-school kid will approach me and start this big conversation and I'll have no idea who I'm talking to. Big, friendly smile, nice conversation....then she'll say goodbye and "see you at D'Atri's" and then it hits me - our waitress from the other night at one of the most popular restaurants in the area. And this isn't a one-time occurrence - this happens all the time. I see people at the library, at the farmer's market, everywhere. The other day at the farmer's market, a woman approached us and started a conversation with Jonathan....again I was clueless, but eventually she told us she knew us from church. Uh Oh. Cringe.

But then, the shop owners recognize you also. In the strangest ways. We moved here 4 years ago this month, and ever since then, we've been taking Bella (the dog) to get groomed about 5 times a year to a local groomer. They stay pretty busy there, but even so I called them a few weeks ago, and simply said "I need to bring my dog by....", and the woman says "Oh, let's see when we can fit Bella in." Now I know she must have caller ID, but to remember my dog's name too right off the bat?

Or when we go to one of our favorite places for Sunday morning breakfast after church - the waitstaff there never seems to change! They love the boys, and always talk to us. One time, we hadn't been there for months - life circumstances, I guess got in the way. When our waitress appeared, her mouth dropped open - "Well where have you guys been? We thought you were mad at us! So good to see you, let's see, an unsweetened tea for you and a coffee, right?" Amazing.

The people in this town are just plain friendly. They like each other. They like to help you. They appreciate your business and go out of their way to make you feel welcome and it feels genuine.

And they trust you. And this is the amazing part about this place - I've never seen so much trust with businesses. When we first moved up, we needed furniture. We went to a local place in Westernport, which is about 15-20 miles away from us. A family-owned operation, but big. Big showroom stuffed with furniture, not flashy, no pressure, exactly what we wanted. We picked out a few things. Went to the desk. They said it would be a few weeks. They'd deliver for free. "Want a deposit?" I asked. No. A few weeks later, a truck pulls up. Furniture hauled up the steps. Bella bit one of the guys. He laughed. Furniture arranged in the room. "Can I pay you guys?" No. They'd rather not deal with payments. "Just call them and give them a credit card number or stop by the showroom sometime." I was stunned. I mean, sure, they know where I live and all, but um, did they just front me cash or what? Needless to say, we've bought LOTS more furniture from them since then, even one time when I had a choice of the exact same loveseat from a more local dealer for slightly cheaper, I still bought it at the original place because I like the way they do business. When I told them that, they promptly knocked off a percentage of the love seat, just in appreciation for what I said. Say WHAT?

I could go on and on with all this, I've only been here 4 years, but things like this happen all the time. There aren't any big corporations making the rules, and I guess the business owners treat people how they want and it pays off in the end.

Of course I'm not saying it's all wonderful. Choices are limited here. I've talked about the shopping, the dining, the lack of big retailers. Now that I think about it, I wonder what those big retailers would do to the mom-and-pops....hmmmm, rather not consider that right now. The libaries aren't great - there are lots of branches but they're rather small. A new book hits the shelves and the hold list for the one copy they get is like 12 patrons long. There's not a lot of cultural diversity. There's not a lot of fine art type stuff, although that is changing a bit with the appearence of some nice art galleries downtown, and with the local college holding concerts, etc...

Previously, I'd lived in the big cities - the Baltimore-Washington corridor - my whole life. So had Mark. So moving up here was a big, big change. But the slower way of life grabs ahold of you and doesn't let go. If you sit more than a nanosecond at a light that just turned green, you don't get the finger, or the blast of a horn or even an impatient sigh from the guy behind you. But if you don't get started soon, he might just get out of his truck and come to see if you're okay. And there's the chatty check-out lady at the Fruit Bowl - a local produce and candy market. If you're in a rush, which DOES happen, you do NOT want to get in her line. She'd be fired in a minute if she worked within a 50 mile radius of anwhere with 100,000+ population. But everyone seems to love her.

So yeah, it's a trade off. But there's something about friendliness, trust and feeling welcome that touches your heart and soul. And that's more valuable than the best shopping, dining and culture any day of the week.


fishface said...

It sounds wonderful...

Ohighway said...

I thought about your blog today. Me and my two oldest were watching the movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". An excellent movie, starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio who logs a stunning performance playing a mentally challenged youth. Anyway, a minor scene in the movie shows Depp, who works for a small town grocer, coming out of a new "mega mart" grocery store carrying a birthday cake for his brother. By chance his boss is outside the store in his car, with an utter look of defeat on his face as he views the new mega mart, and his own employee shopping there........
An entire story told in one look.

It's probably inevitable that the big stores will finally take root in your area. So enjoy the small town atmosphere while you can as these stores will do nothing to perpetuate your bliss. Convenience comes at a price.

Rebecca said...

I remember that movie!! I LOVED that movie! Haven't seen it in years, though - did you catch it on cable? I don't remember the scene to which you refer, but you've only whetted my appetite to watch the whole thing again as soon as I can.
Yes, what a travesty. I would hate to see some of the mom and pops crumble under the wrecking ball of big business. Heck, my own father's business did - he owned a hardware store that his father started in the pre-Home Depot days. It's a trade-off, for sure. How much ARE you willing to pay for wonderful service and friendliness?

Ohighway said...

I was fortunate enough to find the movie at a yard sale for a buck, so we own it. Strange name for a movie, but excellent, and a lot going on in it. I'm a Johnny Depp fan (hmm, another strange name) but could never take DiCaprio very seriously, especially when playing an adult part, as he looks like such a child. But his performance in Gilbert Grape is by far the most convincing portrayal of a mentally challenged youth I've ever seen. One other steller performance by DiCaprio was "The Basketball Diaries", the (supposedly true) story of a youth's descent into heroin addiction. Frightening and depressing. Utterly convincing.

Different subject. Most of the time the big chain stores close down the mom and pops. Every so often there's an exception. In the nearby town of Clarksville, was a family owned business named Kendall hardware, run out of an old quonset hut. Zimmermans, a chain hardware store moved in, about a block away. I figured Kendalls was a goner. The two stores co-existed for several years. Later on I went through Clarksville and the quonset store was closed up..... but the big chain store no longer sported the name Zimmermans, it was now Kendalls! Not only had the "big guys" left, but Kendalls purchased the larger store. Very unuaual.

More often than not (as you pointed out in your Grisham post) money wins out above all....