July 6, 2022

Small Town Culture . . . by Brendon Marks


I grew up in small towns and I like them. They stay forever small because of their names. A name like ‘Cook’s Falls’, ‘Fish’s Eddy’ or ‘Peaksville’ would never survive if the town became large. The politicians or the inhabitants who came later to swell the village beyond its beginnings would undoubtedly not be descended from the Cook, Fish or Peak families, and would change the name to something more suitable for a thriving metropolis. If you hear names like that, you just know it’s a small town somewhere.

Typically these towns are situated beside a railroad line or where a railroad line once was. Some towns, like Florida, AZ, existed only because there was a water tower for steam locomotives. With the advent of the diesel engines, these towns vanished.

In most cases the railroads are gone now and quite often the towns have been bypassed by the interstate as well. They don’t even have the early morning rumbling of a semi to replace the forlorn ‘blat’ of a long-gone diesel train engine, not to mention the lonesome wail of the steam whistle that only a handful even remember.

Most of these towns will never be much bigger because there are no jobs to keep the younger generations there. Just enough of the young people stay and take over the business from their parents to maintain a constant population.
Another factor, especially in the East, is that the towns are built on a reasonably flat spot beside a river, nestled at the base of the tree-covered, small mountains of the eastern ranges. When the flat spot is full, so is the town. Occasionally the river floods, washes over the flat spot, rinses out the town, and the residents simply start over, but it never gets any bigger.

I’m constantly reminded of my small town heritage because one of my favorite radio stations is broadcast from a town only slightly larger than those that I have depicted, yet nonetheless, is still a small town. The giveaway is the locally produced commercials featuring local business owners or radio announcers in their first job since broadcast (or high) school.

Many of these local business owners are very good at selling cars, laying carpet or running a restaurant, but sound like a kidnap victim reading a ransom note when they try to do their own commercials. They sound as if they’re reading a script, which they probably are, and their attempts at hometown humor are lost on everyone except a few close friends and family. Some even have to phone in their commercials because they can’t face a microphone. I find it ironic that the same business person who wants me to hire them because they are a professional refuses to hire a professional to make their commercials.

The few that stick with it, out of sheer stubbornness, long enough to get good at these commercials are still exposed by their choice of words in their text. Only in small towns do you find ‘delicious restaurants’ or restaurants with ‘delicious menus’, or radio announcers that make sure you don’t “furgit” something. They know what they want to say about their business, but when they attempt to write it down and fit everything they want to say into a finite space, they discover it’s a lot harder than selling cars. Some also use their kids in the commercials. I’m sure he’s just adorable, but I can’t recall the last time I got advice from an 8 year old on where to buy tires.

I grew up in small towns and I like small towns. I even retired to a small town, but when I hear the pharmacist from the local drug store talking about a sale on paper towels, I’m reminded of high school classmate in a drugstore far away.

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