Our Enduring Love Affair With Small Towns


Michael O’Hare recounts his childhood growing up on Third Avenue in Manhattan and compares it to the big-box-big-business environment of today:

The big stores that sell me stuff cheap have even figured out a way to imitate the unrehearsed social intercourse of family-scaled retail. At the local Safeway, and Fry’s, and Best Buy, staff who are complete strangers greet me walking down an aisle with “Hi! How are you doing?” in a creditable imitation of the way people who know each other enough to care about the answer interact….Of course the effect of this robotic pseudo-friendliness is exactly the opposite of Mr. Fabrizio’s bending the comic book rule. The “hi’s” and eye contact at Best Buy are actually uglier; this distasteful little fakery is put on because it has been shown that people are less prone to shoplift if someone has made eye contact with them and uttered some sort of greeting. I have started reassuring these folks “don’t worry, I’m not planning to steal anything!” but they don’t seem pleased to hear it; indeed some give me an unmistakable fish eye. Odd.

The whole post is worth a read. When you’re done, check out Paul Waldman’s meditation on the value of a small-town upbringing in American politics. Growing up in a small town supposedly instills down-to-earth values and enduring virtues, but as Paul says, “The most important thing to understand about Perry’s relationship to Paint Creek may be this: He got out.” Indeed. They always do, don’t they?

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