Monday, April 7, 2008

Small-town Northern man from south goes west on a jet plane

Goin' fishin' with pops is a favorite pastime in a small town that has a lake.

I'm not sure why, but I've been listening to a lot of country music lately. It's likely because I live in the south now (but not the South).

It seems that every country song has something to do with a small town. Some feature "small town" in their titles: Miranda Lambert's "Famous In A Small Town," Kenny Chesney's "In A Small Town," Alan Jackson's "Small Town Southern Man," Kellie Pickler's "Small Town Girl" and Hal Ketchum's "Small Town Saturday Night."

And then it seems that every so-called "good" memoir is about a poor kid from a small town who makes it big, i.e. Al Neuharth.

Please. Stop.

"Small town" these days means 30,000 people. Where I grew up in Princeton, Maine, 30,000 was a big city.

To be exact, Bangor, a city of about that many people, was two hours away. As a child, I would look forward to the once-monthly, two-hour treks to the big city to do some shopping. Bangor had a Wal-Mart and a mall with a Dunkin' Donuts, a treat I couldn't get back my hometown of 892 people (I got mad when they discontinued the strawberry cheesecake doughnut). The nearest city, Calais (about 2,000 people), had shopping meccas such as the salvage-surplus store, Marden's, and the now-defunct Rich's, which was like an expensive but trashy Kmart.

And just tonight, I heard a country song that said "a left will take you to the interstate." There was no interstate where I grew up, only two-lane paved roads and one-and-a-half-lane dirt roads.

People who say they're from a small town here in Florida are partially lying. Most every little town here is located near a big city. Suburbs don't count as small towns. A co-worker is from the rural Lawtey (673 people), but it's only an hour from Jacksonville, Florida's most populous city at more than 800,000 people. Maine's biggest city is Portland, which has about 60,000, but it's five hours away from my hometown.

I'm going to segue this rant against "small town" wannabes into my current predicament: impending air travel. As a small-town sheltered boy, I rarely traveled to another state. Most of my trips were to another country: Canada was only 20 minutes away (but even that was rural).

My first time on an airliner was when my parents took me to Florida as an infant. I don't remember that. The second time was when I flew to Orlando in July for an interview with my current employer. Yup. That's right. I don't get out much.

But this year, I have four air trips planned, and the first is coming Wednesday when I fly to Denver for the American Copy Editors Society conference. I've been checking out Southwest Airlines' Web site for regulations on how much luggage I can lug onto the plane. I think I'll be set with my computer bag also holding my camera and a backpack of clothes. I'll be in Denver until Sunday.

This trip will be the farthest I've ever traveled from Maine, the farthest west I've ever been and tied for the highest in elevation. Maine has a mile-high peak that I've climbed several times, so Denver doesn't quite take the entire cake for that honor.

But this small-town boy is a big fan of big cities now, so I guess Denver is just next on my list (after New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Washington, Baltimore, Hartford, Halifax, to name a few). But the best cities are ones that still have the small-town feel of some of the more rural areas of their host states. New Orleans, for one, is a town I described as a sort of "urban bayou," which means it still has down-home characters amid the excitement that a city has to offer.

So I'm saddling up, expecting a unique Western experience in a big town (call it what it is).

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