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But I’ve Seen it All in a Small Town

by Hannah Binder

Point Blank Perspective is a blog addressing common places, events, and experiences that we encounter in life.  These are described in a column-style with a blunt and one hundred percent upfront attitude.

I live in a very small town. I know that when people say that, the words have a tendency to fall flat on account of the fluctuating definition of a small town. It seems that if you don’t live in the bustling concrete monster of LA or possess the knowledge to hail a cab in New York, you can claim to live in a small town. I have travelled the U.S. several times from coast to coast. And through those fortunate trips, I’ve determined quite the spectrum of cities to villages to townships (a term I’ve only recently acquired). Because of this, I’ve deemed myself capable of laying down qualifications of a true small town (this does not include a town in which there is only one Starbucks and no Trader Joe’s: see also ‘Spoiled’).

“Small Town” an adjective and noun; characteristics of such include as followed.

  1. There will be a cafe and inside it will include men in ugly boots and jeans and fishing hats. These men possibly haven’t seen each other in months but have known one another long enough that they can pick up right where they left off, with banter and jokes, and updates on ‘the wives’. It’s in these cafes that you will see the friendships that have manifested over years of living in the same town. It will come in the form of unexplainable ease and blatant differences that fifty years of companionship have led them to overlook. One example might include one friend arriving 30 minutes early who sits in his khakis and looks over three crosswords while the second arrives much later in ripped jeans and a utility belt and offers to buy other strangers in the cafe coffee. The first friend will joke to him about this, saying his wife shouldn’t have let him out with such an allowance, but the second will buy him a breakfast sandwich without having to ask what he wants, and they will sit at a table together just like–you can tell–they’ve done for the past thirty years.
  2. In restaurants, the staff knows the patrons and the patrons enjoy this unspoken agreement to treat one another as equals. They will do things like prop the door open because it’s getting too stuffy, as if the restaurant were their own dining room, or carry  the coffee pumps up to the appropriate coffee grinder because they’re empty, or linger by ordering counters and provide suggestions to new customers. The staff have known them so long that they expect nothing less of their regulars.
  3. Stores will open and close when they so choose because most of the residents have the owner’s phone number and, if need be, could call them up and ask when they’re comin’ in for the day. There’s a used book store in my town that I frequent often but tend to leave empty handed after filling my arms with books, internally arguing with myself about financial matters, and eventually returning them all to the shelves, grumbling about making a stop by the library instead. The store owner is familiar with my stubborn dance among the reminders of my bibliophilic tendencies and I’ve often heard him chuckling at me from the front of the store. He’s an older man and does the courtesy of posting hours on the doors but has been known to close up early or open spontaneously due to an especially sunny day that is deserving of a new book to bring to the park. There’s another store called Everyday Music that is not open everyday as the sign suggests. When in doubt, don’t rely on the hours of stores in a small town. My advice? Take the local’s strategy and befriend the owners.
  4. People will offer to give you things all the time. I work at a pool for the summer and a woman there decided that she and I were fast friends. We’d exchanged pleasantries and the topic of my relocation to my first apartment came up in my latest news suitable to share with someone I considered a brief acquaintance. This is the label that I’m accustomed to using when I don’t know someone’s name, but this antique small-town woman of antiquated amity believed otherwise. One day upon her exit, she scribbled her phone number and first name on a napkin and told me her son had just moved into a new house with his wife and left behind all of the furniture, small appliances, and household commodities in his mom’s barn. Well–let’s just call her Donna–Donna was tired of hanging on to her son’s past belongings and told me to text her with a list of everything I needed for my new apartment. Dishes? A bed? Some crafty gnomes? Check, check, check.
  5. If the grocery store in town doesn’t have what you want, they will get it for you because the miniscule population runs supply and demand. Don’t have pickled pigs feet for that Armenian recipe you’ve been dying to try? They’ll fix that in 36 hours unless you mention the possibility of swinging by the larger, full franchise, market outside of town where the selection is more varied. If that’s the case, they’ll drop the wait time down to 24 hours.
  6. Fliers. In California, you had to get permission from ten different people and possibly a permit, depending on where you wanted to post an advertisement. But here, there are fliers for everything, everywhere. People live for fliers in small towns. They make them for any reason they can come up with. I saw one the other day advertising the sale of strawberry shortcakes. I was posting fliers for a writing group that never got off the ground and I remember going through stores and asking the owners if I could possibly, please and thank you, maybe, if it wouldn’t be a bother, did I say please?, post a flier in their window? One establishment said ‘well of course! That’s what the front entrance is for!’ as if I had asked him if I could in fact use a muffin tin to bake muffins.
  7. There is one stoplight that everyone complains about, even though there’s only one. How dare a sign of an urban metropolis seep into our peaceful slice of rural heaven. Let’s just treat it as a stop sign.