In the Big Cities There’s Really Only One Game in Town, and It’s Out of Town
A criticism lobbed by the inhabitants of our large cities of our country’s rural areas and small towns is that they are ‘provincial’. And ‘provincials’ are seen as uneducated and unsophisticated people who have the speech and narrow, limited attitudes of rustics and small town Babbitts. This is seen as a bad thing. And in some respects I’d suppose it is.
However, there is at least one respect in which small town life is refreshing. I’ve lived in Seattle for many years, and now I live in rural Belpre Ohio, a small town across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia. Most people here are as they pretend to be. Your waitress is a waitress. Your bank teller is a bank teller. The electrician, garbage collector, lock repairman, heating and air conditioning fellow, the insurance salesman, the nurse, and on and on are who they pretend to be. And so far I’ve found them to be quite competent, solid and hard working.
I was talking over our policies with my insurance salesman who has his office a couple blocks away just the other day. He’s a younger fellow, smart, good looking, and working out of a small cottage converted to business use which is on the main thoroughfare. He had always lived in a small town and was wondering if he shouldn’t try living in a big city for a while, and asked me what I thought the differences were. Off the top of my head I said, “Well, they’re probably more ambitious.” But I was ruminating more on this after leaving his office, when it occurred to me, that a most interesting difference was that the people in large cities see themselves as acting on a world stage. They see their concerns as world concerns. They see themselves as arbitrating the path of civilization, the future of our planet. Their concerns are big and important… usual crucial. So they can get pretty hot about them. In this small town I’ve moved to, the concerns are much more human-sized. (Though they can still get hot about them.)
A problem I’d had in the big city was that probably all of the people I knew were not on a world stage. They discussed things as if we were. But actually the world stage for whatever issue we were discussing was usually New York or Washington D. C. or some other world capital where the actual Mandarins of opinion worked and thrived. My personal experience was not a credible currency for argument. What was credible and powerful in conversation was information, opinion – and especially attitude – as disseminated by these Mandarins… all of the talking heads out there in the media. So, though important conversations on the face of them seemed to be between the people you were speaking with, they were actually discussions over the digressions of various mandarins. This is tedious once you begin to recognize the mandarins. You’ve heard all the moves and countermoves. It is also suffocatingly pedantic. In this respect, the blogosphere is a recent help. You send me your link. I’ll send you my link. We save each other the waste of a lot of hot air – the inaccuracies of interpretation. And neither of us read it.
In the big city the waiter is not a waiter, (they’re actors, artists!), the salesman is not a salesman (he’s a promoter), the tech fellow is not a tech fellow (he’s an entrepreneur), your teacher is writing a book… Not many Americans in big cities. They are World Citizens. In the big cities married people are not really married (in the traditional sense), nor are they really religious, nor are they really the sex they appear to be (either through clothing or desire)…
Everybody is a big potato in the big city! No small potatoes there. I used to complain to my wife that, “I wish many of my artist friends would just admit that we are small potatoes. Maybe we will become big potatoes some day. But if we could just admit that right now we are small potatoes – maybe we could have a satisfying conversation.” But up and onwards the whole system goes in its ambitious, progressive frenzy.
In the big cities there is really only one game in town, and it’s out of town. In the provinces there’s really only one game in town, and it’s right here. There’s the big difference.
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