Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Big City, Small Town
by James Glaser
April 22, 2011
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I took a trip to Tallahassee this past week. Now Tallahassee is not what many would call a big city, but it is the State Capital, and has about fifty times more people than Madison, Florida, the small town I live near.

Here is the first thing I heard when I was sitting outside the VA Clinic waiting for the doors to open at about 7:45am.

"If you voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you aren't a racist...
You'll have to vote for someone else next time to prove you're not an idiot."

That kind of ended that conversation. Now here is the first thing I heard walking into the sporting goods store in Madison this morning.

"Is your boy more interested in hunting or fishing? My boy likes to hunt but he sure does like to go after those cat fish.

Now you might expect political talk in a city like Tallahassee that is filled with government or former government workers. Also, politics seems to be about the only thing covered by the major television stations and cable news outlets.

Here in small town Madison, the newspaper covers local things like the Down Home Days celebration we had last week, and they devote one section just to local church news.

In the big city you have cameras covering the intersections so they can try and ticket red light runners. In downtown Madison the speed limit is 15 miles per hour.

I think the most stark difference you will see between the small town and the big city is on Sunday. Not much is open in Madison on Sunday. In Tallahassee, Sundays are a big day for business.

For me, driving around Tallahassee and trying to shop at the stores there is stressful. The traffic is fast, and there is a lot of it. If you miss your turn, you might have to drive down the street a long way before there is another opening in the concrete center island of the road. Many times you have to park at the far end of a huge parking lot, and then you know that store is going to be crowded.

Yes, it is true you can't always find what you want in Madison, or it might cost more, but you learn to figure out other ways of doing things, or get this, you do without.

In Tallahassee there are so many places to go and things to do. Madison doesn't have a movie theater and it is a dry county, so you are not going to stop after work for a drink.

In Tallahassee, every so often you run into people you know, whereas in Madison it doesn't take long before you recognize just about everybody. You might not know their name, but you have seen them so many times that you feel like you do.

In the big city, things stay pretty much the same. Sure businesses do close, and others open up, but Tallahassee always looks like Tallahassee. Madison is so small that you are out of town as much as you are in town, and you are always watching farmer's fields change. Sometimes they are plowed, and then you can watch as the new crop grows, and then you might be surprised by what was planted this year.

Right close to town, maybe even in town you can watch the cows as they bunch up in one corner of the field or spread out all over. And it is always fun to watch new calves running around.

Small town police and county deputies will wave back if you wave at them. They eat lunch with you at the café, and they are there at every community outing. Big city police are a bit more aloof and standoffish as they try to look more professional.

Every place though has its pros and cons. That big city is going to allow you to work for more money, and your house might be easier to sell, but then if you are in that small town, you probably don't want to move anyway.

Small town yards are filled with gardens, and kids can walk around or ride their bikes. Big city people enjoy impressing people with their manicured lawns and sculpted bushes.

I could say fast and slow, but that wouldn't be true. Yes, the city is fast, but the town isn't slow, just not as fast.

Either place is a choice. Young people in the small town look at the city as excitement, and many people in the city look at that small town as peace of mind. I do notice that if things go right, most people will move back to which ever they started out life in. The only problem is that when you return to the city of your birth, you might not recognize it because of growth. However, if you head home to that small town, chances are some of those you grew up with are still there or have moved back, too.

While both places can be good for you, I have chosen neither. I like being near the small town, but you have to put me out in the country if you want me to be happy.

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