There is an allure to small town life that is irrefutable. Even the most “hip, sophisticated, urbanite” is drawn to Normal Rockwell’s portrayals of small town life. The pace of life, the constant bombardment of noise and outside stimulus changes people fundamentally. If you doubt me, simply drive across the country and feel the difference between an Interstate Highway and one of the smaller US State highways. As you get closer to the cities, the number of assclowns on the road increases exponentially by the mile, and you are suddenly thrust into a battle for yards, feet and inches (if you are stuck in parking lot traffic when there is a wreck, waiting for it to be cleared as we did coming out of Louisville), that defies reason.
Every patron in this game loses reason…forgetting that the crazy, dodging maneuver that jeopardizes the lives of everyone around them may be saving them no more than a handful of minutes, tops, in the length of their actual commute. But, we all do it. Why? Because it gives us some sense of trying to organize the chaos that is all around us, and rest control from what is seemingly uncontrollable.
Looking at the map above, you can tell that circumstances and choices (mostly to see the Ark in Williamstown and not being able to see our clients in Greensburg, IN until Monday) created a lot of road time. And by the time we got to Greensburg, we were “kinda done” with Interstates through the big cities.
The events of the past week have made me appreciate small town life in ways that I could never have imagined, and sadly, reminded me of the great chasm that exists today in the perception of the chasms that separate us in ideology and way of life.
Welcome to the paradox that is small town America in the 21st century.
After sitting in a freeway parking lot for almost an hour, when we got a chance to pull off and take an alternate route to our destination of Greensville, Indiana, we were almost instantly rewarded with visions of expansive, beautiful farm fields, tree-lined lanes, and small, bucolic towns that dotted the two-lane highway that took us North. While it added a half hour to the journey (according to Siri and the Maps App) we knew that with the pileup on the main freeway North, we were likely shaving some actual travel time, while our bodies slipped into “chillaxed travel mode” in our time capsule.
There is really no better way to describe how we have come to know our Highlander at this point. Because every time we exit our vehicle, we are transported to another time and space. When we finally rolled into the outskirts of Greensville, Indiana, we landed squarely in the middle of the 1960s.
The Decatur County Fair was in full swing on the edge of town, and knowing that the radio station client that had in Greensville was likely broadcasting from the fair, we decided to pull in.
Immediately we noticed the difference between “big city fairs” like the Lane County Fair in Eugene, and this smaller, rural fair in the heartland of the country…no admission price. None. And parking was a mere $2. When was the last time you were able to park at a huge community event for $2? Probably the mid-1060s.
Miss Decatur County in her appointed car…they also had cars for 1st and 2nd runnerups
I didn’t realize my radio station clients were in the parade, until they were almost all of the way past us. Their bright orange shirts tipped us off.
We got there just as the “Fair Parade” was winding through the fair, on its way through the town. Parades in these parts are mostly cars and trucks loaded with cheerleaders, 4H winners, sports teams, and assorted winners of “beauty and talent” contests, including the real, Miss Decatur County. There was also a flatbed trailer loaded with the staff of my radio station clients, who were all waving excitedly and throwing gobs of candy. The final part of the parade, right before the “pooper scooper carts” was a section of the parade loaded with current and hopeful politicians of every make and model from County Commissioners, to a standing State Senator, and even…wait for it…a POTENTIAL VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE and standing state governor. More on that later.
There was one High School band, tooting and drumming earnestly, the number of dancers and majorettes far outnumbering the number of players in the band. But it is Summer, and the allure of dressing up in spangles and tassels over heavy, uniforms with wool hats, in 85 degree heat, is probably an easy one.
It was amazingly simple, sweet, and at times hilarious experience. The hilarious part came from a guy who could have been pulled from Central Casting in Hollywood to play “Howard Sprague” in Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show. He stood at the edge of the fair, in his Sunday Farmer Best, tall, lanky, gray and slightly stooped, a perfectly trimmed mid-west mustache over a set of huge white teeth…the “Heckler” did his job. As every single local politician drove slowly by, he screamed out some personal insult in a deep, booming baritone voice that kept the entire crowd (most likely, long suffering family members) wincing in apologetic grimaces.
It took me a while to get close enough to understand what he was saying…but mostly, it was the tone, and the way he waved a boney, crooked finger as he bellowed. “So…you ain’t at the front now, are you Bill?” was one taunt. “You better get things straightened up” was another…and “You trying to win again?” directed at what must have been a perpetual loser of local elections.
Everyone seemed to know him. Except for the State Senator…and the Governor, also known as Trump’s presumptive VP, Mike Pence, who both stared at him with that kind of painted on, toothy grin that seem to come with becoming a long-standing political celebrity. Several people came up to shake the old guy’s hand and clap him on the back…his job apparently completed with valor.
The rest of the evening was spent at the fair…just soaking it all in.
The Tractor Pull was a tad bit loud and polluting. But, a crowd favorite. For the uninitiated, contestants were clocked in how fast they could pull a huge weight with their tractors. Fastest time up the “track” wins.
Miss Decatur even got into the action in the Hot Dog Eating Contest. She ate one…in two minutes…trying to watch her figure, no doubt.
The winners were these guys who powered down six in two minutes with Deb chanting, “don’t choke…don’t choke…don’t choke!”
Is a traditional small town county fair corny? Ask Deb. The $2 ears of sweet corn were her favorite treat.
The next day was spent at the radio station, doing my best to drag them into the mid-2000s, aided by one of the owner’s daughters who is light years ahead of the rest of the town in her tech acumen, including doing “Periscope” streaming coverage of the parade, as well as video-casting high school sports, town council meetings and school board meetings. Their web site is loaded with hyper local news, and they have become the hub of local information for the entire county, with more than 175,000 unique user sessions a month, in a town of just 16,000. Impressive by any matrix of measurement.
The station is owned by two women and a guy who is more interested in his Blues Band (he is a local community celebrity, but has yet to crack the tough crowds of Indianapolis) and these two women typify the real strength of the heartland. The men work at their chosen professions, whether it be ranching, farming, or working at the huge Honda plant a few miles outside of town.
But it is the women who hold it all together.
Just like the amazing woman who runs the Nana’s House, the absolutely amazing Bed and Breakfast that was “home” to Deb and I during our stay in Greensburg. The story of how Nana’s came into existence isn’t unusual in this part of the country. After raising their family, with both of them working, the last child threw college and retirement looming, Ed had a massive heart attack, and quadruple bypass surgery. Unable to continue his job at the Sears Service Center, they chose to take their 401 savings and buy/convert an old Victorian farm house into a Bed and Breakfast. That was nearly 20 years ago.
Nana’s is one of the most beautiful, full service B&Bs you could ever imagine. (SEE THERE WEB SITE HERE) Because Ed and Joanne live in the addition they built over the new garage, and connected HUGE country kitchen, we had the run of the house proper to ourselves. Loaded with antiques, books, and family goodies at every turn (the house is not for those on a diet), it was truly like going to Grandma’s house…if grandma was an amazing cook, and liked to do things like surprise you by hanging your wash out to dry when you leave it to go back to the fair, or rise even earlier than you, to make a breakfast that would cost you a king’s ransom in the city. How about watermelon sprinkled with yogurt and lemon juice with nuts on top, with homemade scones so flakey they melt in your mouth, and banana bread with a cream cheese and fruit spread…before she served the “stuffed French toast” as the main course.
How rural is Nana’s? How about the finest in line-dried clothes…
The barns in this area are festooned with decorations for the bicentennial of the state if Indiana…
We skipped lunch.
And with the comfortable stay, came an insight into the minds of those who inhabit this beautiful little town. They are warm, friendly, and as ill-informed as their isolation from the “liberal big city” could possibly make them. We would be talking about any number of random topics, and it would slowly but surely turn to politics.
I get it. We are inundated with politics these days…including the possibility of Trump selecting Pence as his running mate. “Please…take him! We don’t want him anymore” is the universal feeling of the townspeople of Greensburg. I get that. Pence is a bombastic twit who makes Donald Trump look tame and refined in comparison. And maybe that is Trump’s strategy. Whatever the case…the choice has even the staunchest of Republicans in the heartland scratching their heads.
But, then the conversation turns weird. “How did Obama even get elected?” Ed floats out, staring straight into my eyes as if searching for my reaction. I wince a bit, shake my head a bit, and start explaining that his election was a reaction to the times, and the fact that we weren’t ready for Hillary (and many feel will never be ready), and that a message of Hope was what people were seeking at the time (before our hopes were dashed by his own party subverting his moves in a gridlocked congress for 8 years).
“No. I mean that he shouldn’t have been elected, because he isn’t even an American,” Ed said in stone-col, seriousness.
Boom! And there it was. The result of a constant influx of Fox News (which drones endlessly from the kitchen), left hanging in the air…it took my breath away. Literally.
I paused, and then launched into a diatribe explaining the insidious nature of the statement, and that as someone who was born in Hawaii when it was not a State, I was just as likely not a citizen by the same measurement, and that Obama was most assuredly a US Citizen. Period.
“Then why do they say it all of the time on TV?” Ed countered.
“Because they have to,” I retorted immediately. And they do. Because if “Trump is their man,” and they want to have a semblance of support for their chosen candidate for leader of the free world, they have to make him sound rational…which is next to impossible if you start by refuting the “Birther” movement that Trump started years before he decided to run for President. Love the sinner, hate the sin…but if you want to get your guy elected, you have to make him seem sane. Hence the Pence.
Pence is a former regional local talk show host. Think of a combination of Lars Larsen and Michael Savage on crack. He is the perfect VP to Trump. He makes Trump seem sane and regal. But nobody in his home state likes him…or at least those in the heartland, who prefer to keep their insults, and crack-brained politics limited to polite discussion…except for the guy who heckled at the parade.
I get the allure of small town life. I have never felt so relaxed, and in control of the stuff that matters, without the fear of being run off of the road by a semi on the freeway. But there is a tradeoff. You have to smile, and nod politely…and then destroy some people’s perceptions of reality. You have to tell them that the world is passing them by, and that they need to get their news from more than one source. And that if they don’t get up to speed, the entire generation of young folks will find them irrelevant and ignore their messages.
I saw it. And the people talked about it. “The kids are different today, with their phones, and their weird clothes, and their music.” I know. It sounds like our parents in the 1960s. But the evidence was there, that things really had changed. The number of entrants in the 4-H barns left them almost empty. Kids walked around with faces buried in cell phones, just like their big city counterparts. And there was a clear sense that most of them were dying to “kick the dust off this town” and get out.
But I hope I am wrong. America needs small towns. These people CHOOSE to be here, and we need them. They grow our food. They prop up our basic values of family, and community in ways that are lost in most cities. But, man…we need a way for FOX to be blocked from the satellite. Because the brand of news they are getting, combined with their basic fear and distrust of people of color, radical views, and loads of weapons, points to a weird future that can turn vigilante in a heartbeat.
And then, we are left with the recent events of the shootings in Dallas, and the huge number of protests that are so disruptive and violent, that our daughters all asked us to stay away from Dallas when we go to Texas. No worries there…we are going to another small town…Brady, Texas. I’m wondering what year our time capsule will take us to there?
I will write in another post about my feelings about being cast back into 1968 all over again this summer…but for now, Janette has breakfast ready, and we going to pack our vehicle for the next leg of our trip…Nevada, Missouri and Cottey College.
But for now… I am going to forgive Joanne and Ed for the politics…because the food…good Lord…another breakfast fit for a king.
The takeaway here is simple… Small town life, and the isolationism that happens when you are miles away from “progress” has its penalties…and rewards. But the thing that is evident, is that when you take the time to talk, one on one, and listen…change may in fact take place.
After all…Ed now agrees that Obama is probably a United States citizen, and that buying gold isn’t the answer to a fluctuating dollar. And I understand that there is nothing worth risking a breakfast like you can get at Nana’s.
Tomorrow…road warriors find “the Eighth Wonder” of the world.