Monday, October 26, 2009


I've lived in suburbs and cities and had a fine time in both. But there's something about a town that's just a little bit different.

I grew up in the Town of Hempstead. That was more a political distinction than a home-town. Oceanside was where I lived, and it was definitely a town. We had our own schools and Memorial Day parade and scout councils and Little League. There was just one public high school, and hardly anybody left it to go to a private one. Football was played on Friday nights, and there were always as many residents as students in the stands. Until I was in middle school, summer nights were spent at Nathan's where each day of the week had its own theme and performers. We heard Josh White, Jr one Friday Folk Night, and square danced every Thursday, and went to the Jazz and Orchestra programs, too. Scampering was encouraged because nobody ever got lost. The whole town was there to be sure you were safe while you were having fun.

I never thought much about the fact that we knew the families that owned the department store or the delicatessen or the shoe store. G'ma was PTA President and was friends with the town librarians and everyone knew what time the Good Humor truck came down each street. After living in big cities, I recognize just how special that was.

College in Ithaca brought me to another small town, but I was more interested in the gown piece of my life at the time. I went downtown for community service (we called it "field work" or "volunteering" then) and for meals, but the town was an after-thought to my life. I lived in it, off campus in Collegetown and then way at the bottom of Buffalo Street on the edge of the commercial district, but I was never of it.

Chicago is a collection of towns which make up a city. Neighborhoods are defined and serve that function quite nicely. You know your local shops and your mail carrier and the ward workers the way you do in a town. But you're part of a bigger entity, and that changes everything.

I've been thinking about this because Amster and I spent two days in the lovely town of Flagstaff last week. Two hours north of Phoenix, 90 miles from the Grand Canyon, 4500' higher in elevation than Tucson..... we were definitely in another clime.

The aspens were quaking higher up on the path, but Amster had work to do in the afternoon so we took Fat Man's Loop at a brisk pace, stopping for me to record the colors

and catch my breath. The air is a lot thinner at 7000' and endurance sports have never been my forte. I know the hike was only 2 miles but we seemed to have taken the steeper way around the loop - or so said the other hikers we encountered ..... all of whom were going the other way.

Back in town, we had delicious albondigas (we may be in the mountains, but it's still Arizona, and Mexican influences are never far from the table) at Charly's in the Hotel Weatherford and then Amster went to her deposition and I began to shop. I wanted everything. I wandered from shop to shop, stopping back at The Schnozz in the underground garage to drop off my parcels from time to time. Within a 2 square block area I was able to make a serious dent in my holiday gift accumulation, and everyone was happy to see me. It was mid-week, but the shops were busy. There was a nice college-kid buzz in the air, but it wasn't overwhelming. The Seasoned Kitchen's owner told me that most of his business was locals, not tourists. That's nice to hear.

The whole shopping thing was getting to me - why didn't Tucson have something like this? I decided to put the credit cards down and finish my last Lynda LaPlante novel on a bench in the amphitheatre.

A very gracious aging hippie asked if I would allow him to play his disco music on his boom box. Two moms and their 4th graders licked ice cream cones. A police officer strolled by and smiled. Change the boom box for a fiddle and it might have been 1899.

I got cold after a while, and strolled over towards Amster's meeting. Right across the street was the first post office established in Flag (I'd been there long enough to consider myself on a first-name basis by then) and the best light pole I've ever seen.

Just look at it, sitting there on that great base, sturdy, solid, attractive and not going anywhere anytime soon.

Just like the town.

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