My bed is in a small town

It should not have come as a surprise that it gets dark earlier in New Jersey than it does in Los Angeles, yet somehow this phenomenon caught me off-guard.  Even after experiencing the pitch-dark London winter afternoons, I somehow had forgotten that moving north moves up December evenings rather dramatically.  It is dark here early.

In Los Angeles, I never noticed the nighttime like I do here.  There were streetlights and store lights and so many homes close together with car doors slamming and teenagers laughing.  Night was never really night because there were always sounds and sights to break into it.

Here, in this little town, they have night.  Real night, disturbed by relatively few streetlights.  The Christmas lights on most of the houses break up the visual silence right now, but the cars are few and far between after 7:00.  People are home, and there is no place to go.

I am living in a small town.

Not since I was (as they say) knee high to a grasshopper have I lived in a place like this.  I spent my teen years in a busy suburb that at the time seemed dead to me, so I set off for an urban campus and never looked back.  For almost twenty years I have lived in or very close to cities, as long as the likes of Chapel Hill and Charlottesville can be called cities.  They can be, I think, because they have that intense walkability, where ice cream shops and bars are all a quick stroll at the end of a busy day.

It bears repeating: this is a very small town.  There are no bars or, come to think of it, ice cream shops.  There aren’t any coffee shops, book stores, toy stores, Gymborees, Gaps, sporting goods shops, or gelaterias.  Of course, those things are all a quick drive away, either one town over or just up the highway.  We are not, after all, in the Himalayas.  It is weird, setting out along the highway and entering the world of commerce, because here in town there are the following businesses: one sandwich shop, one restaurant, one car repair shop, one hair salon, one dentist, and one Lionel train enthusiast store.  That’s it.  People who live here have chosen a life without quick access to the flotsam and jetsam of American commercial life, and so they come home at night and stay at home.

Urban life affords a certain anonymity that I had come to take for granted.  Not so here.  Dropping Zach off at kindergarten the first day, the aide looked up and smiled.  “Oh, you just moved in down the street from me!”  Recalling the previous day’s bike ride, which featured me hollering repeatedly at Benjamin to stay to the side of the road, I tried my best to smile in return.

After that first kindergarten drop-off, I drove the 27 seconds down the road to Benjamin’s preschool.  If we buy in this town, we hope to buy closer to the elementary school so that I can walk that short distance.  Yes, I mean to use the definite article here, as there is only one elementary school.  And two preschools.  Dropping off Benjamin, I see many of the same mothers I have seen just moments before outside the elementary school.  Because they are almost all mothers.

I took Benjamin into his classroom.  His preschool teacher smiled at me.  “You just moved in down the street from me,” she remarked.  Fuck.  Note to self: stop yelling at the kids in public.

We have chosen this town because it allows us to slow down.  Despite being an hour from New York City, this town is a throwback to a quieter time.  There is a town Christmas tree lighting, featuring Santa arriving on the fire truck.  A week later, as a nod to the changing times, the town has a menorah lighting.  Mid-morning, if I am out driving or walking, the dog-walkers and joggers wave, just in case I am someone they know.  Across the street from our rental house is a boy from Zachary’s kindergarten class.  It is charming, but I fear it will start to chafe.

No, I know it will start to chafe.  There will be a long period of discomfort, after the novelty has worn off, when I realize I have intentionally denied myself the energy and vitality of the urban life.  Yet, I believe, I truly do, that once we get past that period, we will find something less glittery than urban conveniences that is nonetheless worth putting up with everybody knowing our business.

15 responses to “My bed is in a small town

  1. I can see a book in this…

  2. I moved to the suburbs for the last two years of high school from the cities. The first night there I remember looking in the room in amazement as I heard crickets. I could not stand it. I got used to it, and all of the other aspects of a suburb that came with it, but it was never me.

    My first week back in the city, an acquaintance let me crash at her apartment after an audition. I didn’t go down until 12:30, and then I realized I was hearing cars driving, horns beeping and people talking downstairs. Didn’t matter where I was, those were the sounds of my home.

  3. It sounds perfectly delightful to me. I admit that in part, this is because of it’s proximity ot NYC (a place I adore). So I would be in heaven! A sweet old fashioned little town, but that escape valve when I needed it.

    I hope you love it!

  4. I want it all – the convenience of the city (and the ability to find good, really good, olives and cheese) and the quiet and community of a small town. I THINK I’ve found it though – now it’s a question of whether I can stand the urban sprawl and scrawl for the year and a half before I can move!

    Very wise of you to rent and test it out for a bit – every small town has its own rhythm and character and it takes a bit to find out if you’re going to be compatible. (also, I agree with Lilian that there is a book here!)

  5. Oh, it sounds charming. I’m slightly envious over here.

  6. the town we are moving to Jan.1st sounds a lot like that. Except the closest big city is about 6 hrs. away 🙂 but in our small town there is not even mail delivery, everyone has a P.O Box in town. And “town” consists of 1 post office, 1 fire department, 1 bar, 1 cafe, a glassblower’s studio and an apothecary.

  7. I grew up in a small village outside of a slightly larger community. It was the sort of place where we all knew each other, and what everyone was up to. And, as a kid, I loved it. The downside was that you had to drive anytime you wanted to do anything that didn’t involve wading in the creek.

    These days I live in the suburbs of a large city. It has its upsides, but I also lament the lack of neighbourliness. It does chafe, it’s true. But there’s also great value in having a community around you, and so few of us do in our modern world.

  8. I too live in a pretty small town – not that small though. But it is very tempered by the fact that I get on the train and go to NYC five days a week…

  9. Small town sounds pretty great right now.

  10. I’m fairly small-town. I went to college in The Big City and I thought that would be where I’d settle down and grow roots. I wound up back in a small town, same area that I left. Funny, that.

  11. My town might be a wee bit bigger than yours – we have a few diners and coffee shops and an excellent ice cream shop. But still – there’s the one elementary school, the familiar faces everywhere you go. I am loving it – really loving it. It was a bit of culture shock at first, though, and now I find the anonymity of even a medium-sized city a bit startling. I’ll scan the crowd, looking for people I know, and then realize where I am. Most of all I like the way my kids see the same faces wherever they go. It seems normal to them to recognize friends at the grocery store or the library. It’s a good place to be.

  12. You’ve got me thinking. Cities are too noisy for me. And I like space. The village in Sweden we are moving to doesn’t have even one store. I guess we’ll see how that goes!

  13. When I first moved to semi-rural, semi-suburban (more rural than suburban in my book) Indiana from an Los Angles suburb, the quiet was overwhelming. It scared me that everyone said hello and waved when I was out running. But, now, when I go back to so cal., it is loud and claustrophobic. And small towns are a great fit for me.

  14. Our new town is a bit bigger than yours, being a college town. But within the first week of arriving, I took the twins to the pediatrician’s office and the nurse informed me she had been inside my new (construction) house. Here her daughter was friends with our neighbor’s daughter and they had toured the new house on the block when visiting. Weird.

    It does seem everyone knows everyone here, to some extent. But I think there is a little more opportunity for privacy here. But I do like the fact that my kid can go across the street and play with the neighbor kid. You are right though, when things are a little rough, it can chafe. But hey, there’s always cream for that right? I’m thinking it is worth it. We both need to wait for better weather and then see. I think it is always easier to make friends in the bright outdoors in the sunshine.

  15. Here’s hoping the charms of small town life prove to be good, at least, for blog fodder.