Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A small-town girl in a big-town world

I'm starting to understand why people made fun of me for thinking that Provo was a big city.

When I was a kid, I envied my cousins because they lived within walking distance of grocery stories, movie theaters, swimming pools, and restaurants (or at least within seeing distance). They could actually run to the store in between commercial breaks and not miss much of whatever they were watching. They could go to the swimming pool even if their moms couldn't drive them there. There was so much more freedom and opportunity in a big city like Payson.

If I wanted to see a public building other than the "city hall" or an LDS church building from my house, I had to pull out my dad's binoculars and climb up on the roof. And believe me, I did; it was the height of all excitement when I could pick out landmarks--and in some cases, people--all from the "safety" of my own roof. If I wanted to go swimming, I would have to content myself with buckets of water and water balloons. And believe me, I did that too.

So while some kids dreamed of living in a place full of shopping malls, parks, gaming centers, and rec halls, I wondered what it would be like to have sidewalks, flashing neon signs, or a gas station next to where someone actually lived. It still seems wrong to me to go to church on Sunday and be able to see the Walgreens across the street.

I guess you could say that my small-town upbringing stinted my imagination a bit. Growing up, I never would have considered that there were places that had a Wendy's and a Smith's down the street--and three more in the surrounding blocks. I never would have considered having every possible form of entertainment within a 5-mile radius of where I lived. I mean, come on--sometimes half the fun of going somewhere means that you spend a half hour on the freeway to get there.

But apparently big cities are all about giving you everything you want right away. It's going to take me years to visit all the shopping centers and restaurants within 5 miles of my new apartment, and I'm not even technically in Salt Lake--I'm in Midvale, one of the "small" surrounding communities. My grand plans to save money might halt at times because some shiny new sign or wonderful smell caught my attention.

The other day, Danielle and I went to a church meeting in the Conference Center. While she and Keith were concerned with finding somewhere to park, I was craning my neck trying to see the tops of all the buildings, amazed by the size and quantity. You would think that I had never seen a city before.

Which isn't far from the truth. I have been to downtown SLC a few times for Jazz games, general conference, concerts, and job interviews, but the rest of the time I avoided the place. All the noise, traffic, and pollution overwhelmed me. The constant stream of people and really tall buildings daunted me. It was safer to return to my slow-paced hometown where I could see the stars at night and drink decent water.

But at the same time, there is something exciting about cities. There's a lot to be said for having all of your whims satisfied without the added cost of traveling. The constant motion and variety of cultures is enough to keep me interested for hours on end. Cities have a lot to offer, whether you like people or buying things.

That is, if you don't mind wearing earplugs at night to block out the sounds and investing in heavy curtains that will block out the annoying city lights when you're trying to sleep. Not to mention the greater risk for crime and creepy people wandering about.

But despite its drawbacks, I think I could get used to living in a city. Saturday nights would be a lot easier; if you find that you are down to just 3 gallons of milk (yes, that is cause for concern in the Carter household), running to the store to pick up more would be no big deal at all. You don't run the risk of driving a half hour to go to your favorite ice-cream parlor only to find out that it is closed. There is nothing bad about having a bookshop just around the corner. Not to mention the commute to work is usually a lot shorter.

But I forget about all of that when I return to a small town, especially my small town. A place where people can go on late-night summer walks without having to worry about being accosted (unless you count the passing neighbors who had the same idea you did), where people aren't rushing to get to their next destination, where the loudest sounds are the shrieks of children laughing, and where the small dogs are allowed to roam free and rule the road without bringing the cops down on them. I like being able to go outside without the whole world knowing what I'm doing (maybe my small-town upbringing has something to do with my stubborn desire to do all things in secret). I don't think I could ever truly relax in a city, but in the country I could sit for hours on end, listening to the wind rustling through the trees.

So while I may be a little more educated on the ins and outs of cities, I will always be a small-town girl at heart. Cities will always be at least slightly evil, while the quiet countryside is a small piece of heaven. What can I say--I'm in love with my brand of paradise.

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