I was born in Florida, moved to central Pennsylvania when I was eight, to central New Jersey when I was 12 — well, 12-and-a-half — and to Philadelphia when I was 18. Did I mention I now live in New York? Yeah, I’ve “been around.”
And after living in four states, eight towns or cities, and more apartments, houses, or condos than I can count/remember, I’ve learned quite a bit. But the four years I spent in small town USA taught me more about people and “the world” than anything I learned in my other 27-plus years on this planet.
Why? Well, there are some things only those of us who grew up in a small town “get.” Here are eight struggles only people who grew up in a small towns will truly understand.
1. You have to go to a laundromat to “get your tan on.”
It may seem absurd, but I come from a place where streets are named after hobbies, ala “Gun Club Road,” and business opportunities abound. I mean, where else can you offer deals like “discount mullet removal” or run a laundromat/tanning salon combination?
2. Dinner options are limited to Chinese, pizza, that “deli” on Main Street, and your kitchen.
While you may be “lucky” (i.e. Ronald McDonald or the Colonel may find their way into your small town), for the most part rural food is just that: rural. The Chinese will be gummy, the pizza unseasoned and far too thick, and the deli meats … well, you may want to smell the meats.
The point is, if you often go out to eat, don’t take it for granted. In “farm country” people actually have to cook. Cook! Though it should be noted that if/when a chain restaurant opens up it’s actually really exciting, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be attended by everyone who’s anyone — including the mayor.
3. You have to make your own fun.
OK, here’s the thing: This can be both good and bad. I mean, in this digital age unplugging seems like a good idea. But swimming and hiking and playing stickball are only fun for so long, besides, what’s at “the Wal-Mart” in the neighboring town after “driving around.” Oh, and let’s not forget Friday night football. Who needs a mall or movie theater when there’s trees and deer or cornfields, tractor trailers, and even the occasional stoplight?
4. No one knows where your town is.
Whenever someone asks where you’re from, you simply say, “Oh, it’s about an hour south of (insert name of city nearby).” Any additional “explanation” is unnecessary and confusing.
5. You need to give directions because Google Maps doesn’t know where you live either.
But be prepared: Our directions are “different.” Those of us who live/have lived in a small town know the only true way to advise drivers is through landmarks: “We’re 40 minutes North of Harrisburg, just past the Econo Lodge and alongside the Susquehanna. Yeah, you’ll know it when you see it. Turn right at the beer barn. Oh, but remember: You don’t want to drive past the Days Inn. If you do, you’ll have gone too far.”
6. Dating can be awkward because there’s a good chance your new lover is also friends with your ex.
I’ll admit it: I didn’t date while in I lived in Central PA. (I was 12 and “dating” meant holding hands with my “boyfriend” in the halls.) But just because I didn’t experience it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. You see, while there may be plenty of “fish in the sea,” you aren’t living in an ocean— you’re living in a goddamn pond.
7. You need to carve out at least two hours for any trip.
ANY TRIP. I know what you’re thinking: “Uh-duh! If you have to drive two towns over just to get a box of Cheerios and then a few miles more to grab a carton of farm fresh eggs, it’s no wonder why a shopping trip would take at least two hours.” But I’m not even talking about travel time.
Instead, I’m talking about the things that hold you up, like the four or five people who will stop you to ask if you heard what little Timmy did last week or if you know the latest gossip about “Sammie” and Josh. So, word to the wise: Just carve out the whole damn day for that trip to Stop & Shop. (You’ll need it.)
8. Everybody knows everyone, so there are NO secrets.
Whether you come from a town of 300 or a booming 5,000, everybody knows everyone else’s name and business. (See the aforementioned “grocery store drama.”) Neighbors have no problem popping over, and I’ve heard teachers gossip more than teenage girls.
Whether you missed mass last Sunday or were caught making out with your boyfriend-of-the-week in Farmer John’s cornfield, in the woods or beneath the bleachers (does anyone actually do this?), you can be sure Sister Mary and Gloria (your second cousin, once removed) will know about it by sunrise.