Saturday, May 18, 2019

My Happy Place

It's been almost 2 years since I moved here. I know that because my rent goes up every year on the anniversary of my move-in date and I got the notice the other day. Whatever.

When I first moved here, I was still kind of missing Alaska. But only kind of. Some random thief had stolen my favorite boots and a shawl out of my car just before I left so... What I still miss most about Alaska are the mountains. No matter what crappy thing was going on in the world or in your life, you could always walk outside and look at those majestically beautiful mountains. What a way to remind you of power and beauty and forever-ness. I also missed the abundance of clean tap water and the absence of wild reptiles.

Moving here, I was looking for small-town peace and quiet. I was a little worried about the potential negatives of a small town - the gossip, clannish behavior, and lack of diversity, not to mention the lack of a Costco and Walmart. After just a few weeks here, I relaxed. The people are, for the most part, unbelievably civil. There's a sense of community here but without the clannish-ness. Most of all, there is a lot of peace and quiet. You can hear yourself think. Hell, in the winter, things get so cold and slow, you can hear your cells replicating. And the winters are the worst thing about this place - not long and dark like Alaska's but brutal and unpredictable.

Probably the biggest adjustment I had to make in my daily life was not being about to get to Walmart on a whim. The closest one is about 8 miles away. That doesn't seem like much but no matter where I was in Anchorage, I was never more than 2 or 3 miles from a Walmart. I do realize that's not a totally good thing and I'd like to be able to afford to refuse to shop at Walmart but... life.

It's not just having to practically commute to Walmart. The nearest Costco is in Minnesota. I don't mind that much because I can order from them online just like I can with Walmart, Khol's, Target, Old Navy, etcetera. I actually prefer shopping online because I don't like leaving the boundaries of my little hometown. Outside the boundaries, there's more crime and sketchy people.

I do realize that one of the reasons it's so peaceful here is that there are no big box stores around. To be honest, I was so damn happy to find out that we have a Dollar General that I forgot about Walmart for a while.

What's nice about not having big-box-corporate-megalopoly type businesses here is that we still have a lot of family- and locally-owned establishments. The main grocery chain is one owned by a Midwest family. The town coffee shop is locally-owned. Most of the downtown restaurants and boutique establishments are local. The butcher's shop that has ruined me for eating any other ground beef is awesome. By the way, I love the idea of being able to say I have a butcher.

I have complained about the winters here but they are a much-needed wind-down after the festive summers. Things haven't revved up here yet this year, but I can feel the town itself getting ready and doing warm-ups. From about June through October, the population probably triples. People come from all over the rest of the nation to move into the houses surrounding the lake. The roads start filling up with expensive cars and motorcycles. The locals start coming out of hibernation to mingle with (and maybe keep eyes on) the visitors.

My first summer here in this particular apartment started out beautifully. I live right off of our historic Main Street and I was excited by the car shows and street festivities. I'd sometimes take my folding chair out to sit on the sidewalk and observe. There was live music, carnivals, and street vendors. I loved the atmosphere and liked to open my windows and let all the fun noise and music wash through my home. I was in love with all the merriment. For about a month. Then that shit started tapdancing on my last good nerve.

My neighbors had warned me. They had just been waiting for my summer glow to wear thin.

However, this is a tourist type town and all of the local businesses really depend on the flood of funds generated during the summer. That summer income is why the small businesses can operate through the leaner winter months. That summer nuisance money is why we have nice, clean streets and a cute as can be downtown to enjoy year round.

When one of my brothers and his wife came to visit last summer, they fell in love with this place. They live in Arizona though and would never make it through one of the winters here. Plus, they only like the small-town flavor for short periods. They actually like the larger cities in Arizona and California (where the SIL is from) for the hustle, bustle, and attitude. I personally hate almost everything about both those places except for some of the weather and most of the food. Not to generalize but I found the people in larger cities to be slightly rude and disconnected. And, yes, I know that both attitudes are reflexive and possibly necessary when living in big cities. I get it. I can go three miles further in town from that Walmart I told you about and find the same attitudes. So I'm not picking on any particular place.

The other day, my sister-in-law and I walked down to the lake. We didn't stay long, we just wanted to see if the water was clear and if there were any pontoons out yet. The water was clear but there were no pontoons out. The SIL did spot some fish leaping. We watched people walking by with their kids and pets. Locals. In a couple of weeks, the lake houses will start filling up with tourists and other summer people and the park will be full. Sometime in June, the bandstand will be booked and I'll be able to open my windows and hear live music. Oh, and June is also when out downtown starts celebrating Thursdays on Main. There will be more live music and car shows and street vendors. Right around the middle of August, I'll be praying for winter.

No matter the season though, I love so much about this town. It feels like home to me.