Friday, March 11, 2011

Living in Small Town America ...

… or how I have not worked for Kmart yet and how I found baby chicks for sale

If you judge the speed of living here, in Spanish Fork, UT, by the speed of the Utah drivers, you would be dead wrong. Utah drivers zoom up and down our roads like crazy madmen of the NYC cab driver fame. No regard to the other folks on the road, road signals or traffic lights. Life’s pace here, however, has nothing to do with such speed.

It has more to do with the speed of one eating an ice cream for fear of a brain freeze. Or the speed of a lazy day in The Caribbean at an all- inclusive resort, where all your needs are taken care of. Or the speed of a Galapagos turtle. Or that of a very old man with bad joints. You get the picture, right?!

I used to pop into a grocery store for a “few things” in NC and be in and out in less than 10 minutes! No cart, no basket. Just grab a few items and move on. A similar adventure here will take at least half an hour if not more.

You have to navigate first through the sea of toddlers and running kids. Then, the carts full of them occupying the aisles. Then, there is always just one register open, maybe two, at rush hour. You wait in line and every single person in front of you has a “special situation”: coupons don’t work, they meant to buy something else, so they’re sending the older kid for the right item while the cashier is stuck closing the order; the kid comes back with two items of which neither is right. So, now mom goes to the shelf and has the kid watch the others in the cart. A baby just barfed and they need wipes and paper towels to clean up.

And the check writing! Everyone writes checks here, of course! Since the memo of “plastic” has not made it this far. Apparently.

God help you if an item doesn’t ring up right and you need an adjustment! The cashiers can do nothing. They have to wait for the manager to correct it, or sometimes, they have to wait for the manager to come unlock their phone so they can call “in the back” to give you the right price. And don’t even get me started on how slow the cashiers move here.

One day, I bought a 12 pack of beer. It was bottles, so granted, it was heavy. But I weigh less than 110 pounds, right? And picked it up just fine, carried it in my hand to the checkout counter, and was planning to carry it out to the car in my hand, too. The 18 year or so old girl who checked my order out declared the pack too heavy. So, she called this other cashier from another counter (who was in the middle of checking out another person – and it’s rush hour, so they’re both busy!) to move my pack across the belt, since it was “too heavy”. Now … I have seen job applications before and had to answer questions about “how many pounds I can lift”, right?! So, now, I needed to wait for the guy to finish with his customer so he can help my lady. I cannot tell you how long that took, because it always seems longer to me than it actually is. I offered to help, but could not get behind the register and you guessed it, there was no “scanning gun”!

And being a small town, everyone knows everyone. So, three times out of five when you shop anywhere, the customers know the cashiers. And they get into these long, and s-l-o-w conversations about everything. Their relatives, their kids, and how many they have and how many are still being planned, and that lady at church who sprained a hip last week, and bishop this and sister that, and … And you’re waiting, with your eggs in your hand in the “express line” and ponder upon the irony of its name!

I think people react slowly here, too. At least too slow for me. At some point in my unemployed life here, I wanted to apply for a part time job at Kmart. It is literally 3-4 minutes from my house, and I figured, it will kill some time while allowing me to people watch at least and have some much needed extra cash. So, I dress up almost like going to a job interview, right?! – not too crazy though, it’s Kmart, not Bank of America, but I want to look serious.

I walk in the store, prepared to fill out one of those in-store applications. I go to the customer service area where such an application can be filled. Here, three “associates” are standing around chatting. One of them holding a bunch of socks to be put back on the shelf, I guess, back of the hand on hip, one of them typing into a computer, and one of them making chewing gum balloons. They stop the chat when they see me. But that’s all they do. To the right of the customer service desk was the “applications” computer - absolutely buried under “stuff”: boxes of shoes, cereal, paper towels, etc. You could not see the keyboard, the monitor, nor the chair in front of it from all these things.

There is a long ad on the wall next to the computer about how an application should be filled and what not, and I am reading this ad. I take my purse off my shoulder thinking they’d figure out that I am interested and want to sit down and apply. I make eye contact with them, and smile. Reach in my purse for my wallet so I can get my id out. All three ladies are looking at me intently. Then at each other. Another balloon pops. Hand on hip lady sways to left and right. They look at me. Up … and … then … down. I am, oh, maybe 3 feet away from them if that. They make no attempt to clear the application desk, or talk to me. They just stare. And we do this dance for about 3-4 minutes (again: time is not relevant; “a while”, let’s say!). I say nothing, still reading the ad, purse and wallet in my hand. And then I decide to walk away. No “can I help you?”, no “do you need help with anything?”, when they evidently noticed me (they stopped talking to each other even) means “you really do not need this right now. Maybe next time.” So, I walk away. And get a job offer the next week.

Today, another reminder of my small town surroundings. We have a store here that I didn’t know existed in NC, it’s called The C-A-L Ranch Store . You guessed it – there are a lot of farms around here. From the outside it looks almost like your regular Home Depot or Lowes store. They have everything farm-related in here, from equipment and nuts and bolts to build barns to saddles and outfits, from jewelry to cowboy boots. The ranch store also has pet food, so I go there often for my cat food. Today, I waltzed in and loved the price for the huge rose bushes (less than $6!) and walk on towards the back of the store where kitty food lives.

On the way there, I see this:

... live chicks and ducklings!

Is this a fair price for chickens?
Love the line on black background, too: Indeed.

I have friends who have chickens and I always wondered “where in the world you’d buy them, unless you go ON a farm, or to the Farmers’ Market?!”. To see them in a brick-and-mortar store that you drive up to, park in an assigned spot and buy pet food from was like seeing your first UFO! They had tons of them! ALL sorts of colors: white, yellow, black, brown AND … ducklings! Oh, and they were cute – as you can see! So, now I know where you can buy them. I can probably have them in our yard, but no thank you. I think my husband tolerates the cats well, but would have me relocated if I brought chickens along, too.

I remember seeing an episode of Twin Peaks many years ago, while living in Romania. This one scene stuck with me over the years. The first thing I noticed when watching it was its stark contrast with the speedy American movies I was used to – everything in it was moving VERY slow. And I thought to myself: “I wonder if this is how they move and talk in small town America, versus the big cities”. Now, years later, and after almost a year in “small town America”, I can tell you I was right in my guess!

This is the Twin Peaks scene I was talking about, and my new, everyday "pace"

There is a certain charm to all this slowing down, sure. You can really see the beauty around you, and hear your heart beat – it helps to acknowledge that once in a while. But I am still learning to put on my brakes. It’s not easy to do after rushing around for 36 years. Not to mention that I was not born with the patience gene, either!

It’s fun to discover all these realities that I never knew existed, too (if only they’d move faster!). I am not worried that it’ll all become boring, because life is just as interesting as however many people are in the world. If we only had time to acquaint all 6 billion of them!

So, I disagree with whomever said that “I hate small towns because once you've seen the cannon in the park there's nothing else to do.” You never know what the ranch store will bring in next time!

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