Posted by: annmariegamble | March 9, 2010

Small Town Views

I made a comment a while back that it turns out I need to clarify. I said that when I went off to college in the Big City, I didn’t know how to use an elevator, and apparently created a vision of a youth spent among cargo cults or the Amish. “We went into a room and closed the door, and when we opened the door we were in a different place!” Nothing so dramatic: I though that when the elevator was on the upper floors, one pushed the down button to summon it, rather than the up button to tell it where I was headed. Fortunately the school had 40,000 students and those guys were German majors so I never saw them again.

On the scale of cosmopolitanness, living in college towns gives you the effect of many thousand more than the actual population size would indicate—another hosannah for libraries, concert series, and independent cinemas. But it’s a not a well-known effect. One friend moved here from the East Coast, and her father-in-law mailed them boxes of current best-sellers. A friend who went to college at NYU convinced his suitemates that a good time on Friday night was to be had drag racing tractors down the dirt road through the center of town. The con was sweetly sealed when a kid from Illinois started an argument over whether John Deere or International Harvester (the only two brands they could think of) made the faster machine.

There are expectations about anyplace, of course, not just rural living. I spent many summers at Lake Michigan, a body of water so big it has tides. There are Bermuda Triangle-esque tales of storms and ships lost. So when my grandparents took us to the Pacific Ocean to see the ocean for the first time, they traveled with jaded children, unimpressed by vastness. LA is smoggy, Seattle is rainy, Kentucky is julep country, right? A coworker from Chicago got tired of the “Ah yes, Al Capone!” coda to her introduction.

I’m writing this on a night when my town’s traffic is clogged up because Tim McGraw is playing at the coliseum. It’s not that the stereotypes are all false, just that there’s more, other. Do you come from a place that’s laden with expectations?

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Responses

  1. No, no, you grew up in a town that didn’t have an escalator until we were past puberty, but we were just fine where elevators were concerned.

    • My grandparents lived in Chicago, so you’d think all this stuff would have been old hat to me by the time I went to college. And apparently I’m raising the next generation: every trip we’ve planned lately, my kids ask if there’s a subway there and can we ride it.

  2. I grew up near a moderately large town, for the South. However, my actual residence was in the county, ie country. Then I moved to the ‘we don’t need a zoo in this state, just put a fence around [college town that I moved to]’ town. The quote by the way is from one of our state senators.

    I grew up with the ‘how many rural stereotypes can we fit’ and moved to ‘how many college town/liberal stereotypes can we be’. The latter has more expectations; birkenstocks, hemp clothes, etc. Luckily, I’ve always listened to the beat of my own drum, a bodhran for example.

    • Oh, man, the college town stereotypes–I think we come from the same state, as far as quotes from legislators go!

  3. I definitely grew up in a place with ‘expectations’ of backwardness – Montana. People are still surprised that I learned some of the things I did. We did not have elevators, nor escalators – didn’t need them in a town of one-story buildings – but I did experience those things in the larger towns we visited. They even had a (gasp) mall! 😉


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