things i have learned from moving to a small town {part 1}

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I haven't lived in a truly small town for very long.
I've only been here for four months.

But I've always said I grew up in a small town, because I did.
Comparatively speaking.
Because a town where people ride bicycles down tree lined streets with lots of mom and pop shops and a quaint historic downtown district feels small no matter how many people live there.

But obviously, moving somewhere with just a small fraction of the number people compared to the little town you came from is going to be a little different than what you're used to.
Especially when the next blip on the map is now 80 miles away.

I'm sure I'll learn more about small town life as time goes on, which is why this is only part one of what I imagine will be many.
Here goes.

things i have learned from moving to a small town {part 1}


1. Everyone knows you and your business...if you want them to.

You know that whole concept about how living in a small town means everyone knows your business? I'd say that the people in town only know us as familiar faces and nothing else unless we actually know them, which is really only a few people. I think this "knowing all your business" thing is only true if you're the person airing all your dirty laundry in public. 
...Which we have seen people do on numerous occasions. Is it something in the water, or...

2. You see people you "know" in normal every day life.

Like, you see people as in, you see your cat's vet at church. Or you see the lady that works at the register at the hardware store buying groceries. Or you live next door to the dad of the local dentist. This under no circumstance ever happens when you live in a big city. If it does, consider it a one time thing because it will never happen again. Once you've lived in a small town for a little while and have gone to the same places and the same stores, you start seeing people you've seen somewhere before and you start trying to pinpoint where you've seen them from. In the same exact way you have to pause to check IMDB after seeing a familiar face on a movie or tv show and have to recall every piece you've ever seen them in before pressing play again.

3. Going to the movies is cheap*

Holy cowabunga, Batman. If you go to a matinee showing it's 6.50 a ticket. 
Help, I've fallen in a wormhole to 1996 and I can't get out!
{*Tickets are almost double that in California. You're welcome.}

4. The selection of things to do and places to go. 

"Which of the three restaurants in town would you like to go to?"

5. The whole "mall" situation. See point #4. 

There's not a lot to do around here in Winter for sure. So what did we do when there was nothing better to do*? {*When we were 13.}
We went to the mall. Not a strip mall along the side of a highway, not a cluster of randomly assorted big box stores in a slightly larger town, no, we went to the mall
The kind that has all the normal "mall" type retailers in them.
The nearest thing that I consider a mall is in Minneapolis. Just a quick five hour drive in one direction away from here. That mall is The Mall of America, so I will give them that. They have two of pretty much every store and a small amusement park inside so I guess it makes up for it somewhat. 
But the whole basically "having to take a mini vacation just to go to the mall" thing?
Not okay, Minnesota. Not okay.


6. Adjusting to a small town happens fast and without your permission.

When Jason and I went driving all around the great North of Minnesota looking for some chairs, we went to a city that has twice the population of our little town where we live, but is only a third of the population of the town I grew up in. I managed to say with an entirely serious face, "Wow, this town is huge." 
I mean, how could it not be? Because they have a Menards and a Home Depot. A Target and a Wal Mart. And like a hundred restaurants and a dozen thrift stores. You know you've made it to the big city when the place has more than one hardware and department store. 

7. Protesting Winter often doesn't get you very far.

Okay, so this isn't so much a small-town thing so much as it is a Northland thing.
After a few months of the overall average* temperature being -20 degrees and windy you start to wonder if Summer actually exists or if it's just a figment of your imagination. 
So you go out in that weather with just a t-shirt and jeans on, but it doesn't phase you because cold no longer means anything to you. Wearing the t-shirt and jeans outside while a novel effort at best, doesn't make Spring come any sooner than normal.
{*Remember, average is the sum of all parts and then the dividing of those parts by the number of quantities. Which means there have been plenty of -40 days with a few days here and there where it actually got above 0 and on those days we wear shorts.}

8. It's a lot harder than you'd think trying to find a new church to go to.

See point #4. 

9. People leave their doors unlocked*.

"In a feat that the urban and suburban population hasn't seen since 1958...."
Day in and day out, you guys! Whether anyone is home or not! No matter how long they plan on being gone for!
*We do, however, lock our doors.

10. The people wonder why you ever left all your sunshine and beaches for this.

"You hear of people leaving Minnesota to move to California, but never the other way around!"
I wonder why.

11. You want the local Mexican restaurant to succeed more than anything.

In Southern California, Mexican food isn't "Mexican food", it's just food. Because it's all we eat.
We are blessed beyond all comprehendable goodness and richness that the Mexican restaurant in town is actually authentic and not a disappointment to mankind {read: me}. I check the restaurant's parking lot to make sure it's staying busy. Jason says it's common for restaurants to close down every five years or so because people lose interest and then something new opens up and the excitement starts all over again.
I will buy 10,000 burritos and orders of Mexican rice if it ever comes down to it and if it means keeping that place in business.
I may have to go over that statement with Jason first. 
But I am willing to fight for it.

12. The accent.

You will spend a good amount of your time in public with open ears, listening to the local accent. You will spend half the drive home trying to get it just right.
I'm not naive, however. I'm sure I have an accent too.
Especially because there was this one time in high school, when a guy came up to me and asked if I was German because I sounded German (I'm part German, so I said yes), but apparently to him this meant I was a foreign exchange student, and so he started talking to me in German and he just stood there while I had no idea what he said. 

Awkward.

13. People just can't comprehend the big city you came from if they've never been there.

Lots of people have asked about where I come from since I moved here. Most people seem to know that I'm from California (this could be point #12 or somehow it could be point #1). 
They tend to ask me more specifically where I came from and what it was like there compared to here and how the adjustment to small town life has been. 
I usually respond with something like, "Oh it hasn't been too bad, actually, my hometown had a small town feel to it." And when they ask about my home town, "I came from a small town in Los Angeles with about 35,000 people in it". 
Mouths usually drop because I guess this is a huge number.
And it's okay, because until the road trip Jason and I took in 2012, I didn't understand how the country worked. Living in California my whole life and never having left (except as a baby but that doesn't count), I thought the entire United States was populated the same way California was.
So the shock and awe I've seen when people try to comprehend the number of people in my town, but then sandwiched exactly 0.0 miles away from it is another town with 60,000 people, and another with 80,000 people, and several with over 100,000 people... I think they start to get a little dizzy.
My brother in law was the one who said it when they were in California for our wedding--that all of Southern California should call itself what it is. One city. Because there's no real "stop and start" between each city other than small signs here and there that mark the beginning of one town to the next.

If you put it that way, I came from a small town of 22 million people.
22 million Southern Californians who know the same beaches, the same mountains, hillsides, deserts and the same rays of the beating sun. We commit ourselves to this strange identity that can only come with living there.
There's just no place in the world quite like it.
And I miss it every day.

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