Size Doesn’t Matter:
Or Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder
July 18, 2013
“You won’t get much sleep here, if you are looking for someplace to stay,” he shouted above the roar of his John Deere tractor.
It was well past dark. I had pushed my girl and myself harder than usual, spending more time on the road than I normally do during our evening ride. Somewhere between Glidden and Carroll, Iowa I lost the shoulder on the highway, and just outside of Carroll, I had the “closest call” of the trip up to this point.
My confidence had been shaken with the squealing tires that had sounded behind me sometime around dusk, and as the two vehicles avoided careening into one another beside me, I had vowed to find a stopping place before dark. In spite of the near miss a few nights earlier, tonight I had approached yet another small town much later than I should have for safety’s sake.
The rolling hills around the tiny town did, indeed, look like a Poussin canvas, but the smell of cows didn’t strike me as being particularly Arcadian. Although I had originally hoped to press on a few more miles, my girl’s cries had gone from the occasional complaint to desperation. I knew she had to go.
“You’re not from a large city, are you?” the professor asked when I explained I had gotten lost on my way to his office.
“I have lived years in Denver and grew up in Seattle. I have also spent extensive periods of time in Chicago, navigating the areas with some measure of success,” I replied.
“You need a GPS,” he suggested.
“I have one. But may I point out your syllabus has your office listed incorrectly, and the school has an annoying habit of assuming that a building’s name, when looked up on Google, will generate an address? It doesn’t. Google is most successful if you have a street address. I would suggest more clear addresses, accurate ones, be used on the syllabi in the future.”
As my girl relieved herself near the railroad track, I wryly noted the smell certainly wouldn’t have given any more offence than the odor that already permeated the air. As she was sniffing about, he rode up to me, adding that he knew his neighbor wouldn’t mind putting me up for the night.
I explained my intention of continuing on to the next town, and he responded that the city park was just up the road and I could stay there for the night, noting that it really was, by this point, too dark to continue riding with any measure of safety.
He then quickly rattled off a number of towns with city parks within the next stretch of road, adding that there were no camp grounds or motels available, but providing rather thorough details of the locations of the parks as well as which features each one had, including swimming pools, potable water, and pavilions, telling me specifically which streets to take get to reach them.
“If people want to stay in their small towns, living in ignorance, wallowing in their cow shit, I say we should let them,” my colleague informed me when I told her where I had taught for ten years. I bit my tongue, a difficult lesson I had learned while at the Institute, noting wryly we were in a class emphasizing diverse approaches to education.
From his information, as I lay in the park with sleep alluding me, I mapped out the remainder of my trip through Iowa; where I would sleep, where I would pass my daytime hours, and where I could hope to find a bite to eat and refill my thermos and camel-back.
“You really should get counseling to determine why you are struggling to fit in here,” she suggested when I met with her regarding my schedule.
I didn’t need counseling to identify why I struggled. I already knew. She just didn’t understand my perspective, in spite of the rhetoric of valuing every voice in the classroom.
Perhaps that’s the difference between a large city and a small town: In both they may know all the right people, where they may live and what vehicles they may drive, an intimacy that tends to generate gossip. In a smaller town, though, the details generate real interest in one another’s lives.
Either way, I have learned if this is what it takes to adapt to "fit in," I am not a big city girl.