Why Do Small Towns Make Me So Sad?
I’ve passed through a lot of small towns while traveling.
One row of lights on the one main street.
Scattered concrete houses for just a few hundred people.
One little store, where everyone buys everything.
Sometimes I feel sad when passing through these little towns. Sometimes when I walk through them at night, I even want to cry.
It’s the smallness, the routine, and the boredom, but it’s more.
It’s the ignorance that makes you feed microwaved Cola-Cola to your sick kid.
It’s the questioning look I get when mentioning an unknown name like ‘Hitler’. Then I explain that there was a big fight a long time ago on a continent far away.
It’s the story of the Mexican village (population 200) where a man is abusing a few of the women, but they’re all too afraid to take a bus anywhere and tell the police.
It’s the mothers screaming at their crying kids, dragging them by the forearm, because they don’t know any better.
It’s the father who drinks to vomiting every night, passing out half-inside the front door of his 1-room home, his 5 children hearing every wretch and spit in the dark.
The ignorance, the fear, the lack of self-control, these are some of the things I see in small towns.
These towns have a vortex pull on their inhabitants.
If you want to leave, your parents are so scared by the outside world that they beg in emotional distress to ‘stay home’ where it’s safe.
You have a child at 16, and now you’ve got an anchor.
The best jobs pay just a few dollars per day. You wouldn’t have enough money to leave, even if you wanted too.
The vortex pull affects outsiders as well.
The flip-flop tank top backpacker on a trip around the world: he stops randomly, maybe he met a girl, and now he’s trying to gain residency in some small Asian or Latin American country.
The military retirees in the Philippines, living off government checks, content to drink beer on the beach, visit the $10 brothels, and complain the same “It’s bullshit that…” for years, just passing time.
It’s the Guatemalan national who, after living in Canada for 16 years, is deported for some visa discrepancy. Now he lives in remote farm country in a concrete box with a tin roof and no hot water. He’s just glad he's driving a truck and not poking holes in the ground with a big stick and dropping in seeds one by one.
The ‘forgetting’ of a past life, the shrinking of your thoughts, the disappearing into a small forgotten valley of the world: these are the stories I hear in the small town.
I don’t know what’s best for the people living in these towns. I don’t know what’s best for the travelers who decide to stay, and I don’t know what’s best for you.
But I have a sense of what these small towns mean to me, and maybe you can relate.
These little valleys, the small islands, the remote towns: they’re not a hidden paradise to be found.
They’re charming for a few weeks, maybe a few months, but they’re a place to shrink and stay small.