Small town life isn’t for everyone, that’s for sure. Those of us who’ve had the privilege of growing up in a one-horse town didn’t have much of a say in the matter – that choice was left up to our parents. Yet, despite longingly watching Sex and the City during our teenage years, dreaming of the big smoke, many of us later chose to settle in the same – or a similar – small town later in life. Why would any of us choose to stay, given the bad rap rural life and rural people seem to get these days? Yes, there are some unfortunate aspects of small town life – but every proverbial pancake has two sides, so we’ve taken an objective look at the pros and cons of country living to argue that it’s really not as bad as its rep. We’ll let you decide which side is more heavily weighted.
The Good: Everyone knows everybody else.
Remember in Cheers how everyone knew everyone’s name as soon as they walked into the bar? Well imagine that, except it’s not just every time you walk into a bar, it’s every time you walk into the grocery store or perhaps the elementary school to pick up your kids. Chances are good the cashiers at the grocery store know you on a first name basis because they went to high school with you. Your teachers all know your family, and you probably get called by your older sibling’s name fairly often. It can also be great in times of hardship or tragedy, when your neighbors come together to support you and yours.
The Bad: Everyone knows everybody else.
Yes, this can be a good thing, but it can also be a drawback. Especially if you’re the type of person who prefers to keep to yourself. Rumors spread far and wide in a small town, with a speed that is unbelievable. Cheat on your girlfriend? Good luck finding another one because the 10 other single girls in your age range probably heard about it and won’t let you forget it, either. Do something embarrassing in public? In a bigger city, you can at least soothe yourself with the thought, “I’ll never see these people again…” But that doesn’t work so well in a small town, sorry. You know every single person snickering about whatever faux pas you made or sticky situation you found yourself in this week.
The Good: You’ve grown up with everyone in your graduating class.
One thing you’ll notice if you move to a small town as a youngster is that most of your classmates have grown up together. A large chunk of your graduating class probably started kindergarten together. You’ll hear stories about how in 1st grade, Tommy peed his pants in art class and Suzy kissed Peter on the playground when they thought no one was looking. Chances are these stories will even show up in your graduation ceremony somehow.
The Bad: Everyone in your graduating class has seen you grow up.
Seriously, if you think doing something embarrassing was bad at a regular-sized school, try having that embarrassing moment happen in a small school. It literally takes two minutes for your entire class of 100 to hear every detail of how you accidentally tucked your skirt into your pantyhose. If you think being friendly with everyone was just part of small town life, think again. Kids are still kids and can be incredibly mean. And when you’re confined in a tiny building with a handful of kids, all of which who know something about you? It can be a living nightmare. Bullying gets taken to a whole new level when there’s nowhere to hide and no way you can possibly keep secrets.
The Good: Camping Trips, bonfires, and float trips.
Ahhh… country life has its benefits. For those who’ve never experienced the joy of a float trip with friends (with or without alcohol), you’re truly missing out. Not to mention the bonfires – S’mores and hot dogs over an open fire with the cool, crisp night air. There’s nothing that can beat those sorts of memories. When you live in the country, you don’t have to drive anywhere to get away. In fact, you can just step out into your backyard and be surrounded by trees. Getting in touch with nature is a breeze when you’re not surrounded by skyscrapers and concrete.
The Bad: You’re in the middle of nowhere.
Being in the middle of nowhere is great until you actually need to go somewhere. Have a medical issue and need to see a specialist? Better plan on driving a few hours to the city. Want to go see a movie? The nearest movie theater is 20 miles away. Maybe this isn’t true for those who merely live in the suburbs, but there are still places in this country that don’t have a shopping mall or a Target, and the nearest Starbucks is 2 hours away. As a teenager, this sucks.
The Good: You find creative ways to have fun.
When your town doesn’t have a movie theater or a shopping mall, what do you do for fun? You have to get creative. Oftentimes this means you simply walk around town – unless you have a friend with a car, and then you cruise the one main road through the town. You’d start at one end of town, perhaps at a gas station or fast food restaurant, and drive to the other side of town 5-10 minutes away. Then you’d turn around somewhere and do it all over again. Sometimes you’d stop somewhere and meet up with people, maybe grab a bite to eat. But then it’s back to cruising. Okay, come to think of it… this isn’t very creative, is it?
Other activities included driving around back roads in the middle of the night and trying to find scary places to walk around. Or maybe you just find a patch of cows and try your hand at cow tipping.
The Bad: You have to find “creative” ways to have fun.
Go into any small town and you might be surprised to see a large number of kids partaking in some casual underage drinking. Remember what we said about needing to get creative to have fun? Well sometimes those outlets aren’t so innocent and safe. That’s not to say that this is the only reason for these issues, but there are many who simply turn to alcohol, drugs, and sex to have a good time because there really isn’t much else to do.
The Good: Local, traditional restaurants
Many large companies have no desire to move into a town of 300 people with no neighboring towns that are likely to bring in business. So Target, Starbucks, and many chain restaurants are nowhere to be found in many small towns. The exception to this rule is Wal-Mart and fast food chains, of course. They seem to be everywhere and thrive where others have failed. But beyond that, the diners are usually locally owned, and small shops sprout up all over town. You find people supporting locally owned businesses, and it gives your town something to brag about. When you can’t get coffee at a Starbucks, where do you go? Why not try the family-run coffeehouse and bakery instead? Chances are the coffee (and the food) are going to be way better than at some chain store anyway.
The Bad: A certain lack of cosmopolitan culture
The closest thing you’ll get to ethnic food in many small towns is Jack in the Box tacos. Yes, there are a lot of little shops and local museums, but overall, a small town will still be pretty insular. One complaint that often comes up about them is that they lack diversity. Again, this isn’t the case with all small towns, but generally speaking, a small town stays pretty isolated. Which can sometimes lead to a lack of other cultures being represented.
The Good: You don’t have to lock your doors at night
Many people don’t realize that there are still places left in this country where folks don’t lock their doors at night. Or even when they leave the house unattended. There are people who don’t even have keys to their houses, they lost them years ago, and if the door does accidentally get locked, they find themselves breaking into their own homes. Lock the car door? Please. Car alarms? No one has them, and they’re considered a nuisance since the only reason they’d ever go off is because someone brushed up against the car while walking past it. You can walk down the street at midnight, in eerie silence, and not worry that someone will jump out of the darkness at you. In fact, you even let your kids walk home after dark, knowing the neighbors are watching out for them. More often than not, the worst crimes you have to worry about are petty bar fights and the occasional juvenile delinquent who thought it would be funny to toilet paper someone’s house.
The Bad: When a crime does occur, it’s right on your doorstep.
Ever watch those real criminal investigation shows on TV? How often do you see an old man talking about how “Things like this don’t happen ’round here. Most folks don’t even bother to lock their doors.” No, crime isn’t rampant, but crime can (and does) happen anywhere. And people often think it won’t happen to them, not in their back yard. Yet when something does happen, it can cause a panic.
The Good: No Traffic.
Rush hour traffic is a foreign concept to most who live in a small town. The closest thing they experience to a traffic jam is when there’s a big rig overturned on the freeway, blocking up both lanes of the interstate or that long line of cars after high school graduation lets out. The idea of driving an hour to get home work is strange to them. Unless of course, they have to drive from several towns over just to get a job in the first place.
The Bad: The roads can be pretty scary, and they’re your only option.
Sometimes you have to travel via back roads that haven’t been updated since the 1950s, roads that are so curvy, you have to take a Dramamine just to drive it (Note: not recommended if you actually want to stay awake). And if you think that’s bad, try driving them in the winter when there’s a half inch (or more) of ice on them. It’s like a roller coaster. Without brakes. It’s a heart-stopping ride where you can end up in the ditch or worse. And for the most part, you have to drive everywhere and so, will eventually have to take one of these pleasure drives. You can’t take a train or a taxi because those options don’t exist in a small town. The only subway you’ll find is the type that serves sandwiches– if you’re lucky. A bus? You can maybe find one of those Greyhound buses that take you on casino tours through the reservations. But beyond that, if you want get somewhere, you either drive or you walk. And chances are, if you have to walk, you’re not going to have much in the way of sidewalks if you live in the really rural areas. You’re stuck walking in the ditches alongside a two lane highway with drivers who have dreams of competing in NASCAR. Good luck.
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