The more Alayne and I travel around this country, the more I realize that there are many different Americas. As I write this we are in the town of Cedar Key, Florida where the local mantra is, “If it can go well, it will.” This is a very optimistic view for a town that most would consider sleepy with limited options. Yet, the residents and visitors alike smile, wave and laugh with regularity. This remote island town, almost an hour away from any “real” civilization, is contented to go its own way. In places like this that resist “Starbucking,” the homogenization of America, where the locals feel little need to keep up with the Jones’s or anyone else for that matter, feel authentic and real. The American spirit of freedom and independence is alive here. Often it seems the further one is away from “civilization,” the more civilized and community oriented the people are.
I am fascinated by places where honesty trumps political correctness, and community is as important as self gain. These places exist, but may be heading toward extinction. I have lived in east coast cities my entire adult life and have, at times, felt overwhelmed by the tensions and desire for more stuff. When faced with the simplicity of small town America, I feel like my soul has strayed and been corrupted, yet still yearns for what is familiar and comfortable.
The United States is a large country, with a land mass larger than the entire European Union; similarly it also has different regions, cultures and history. Since it is one country it is easy to take this for granted. Traveling around the country on its highways and byways, one gets to see the “real” America. Not just the glitzed up tourist centers and airports, but also the towns without stop lights, where the tallest structure is a water tower followed by a church steeple. While it is easy to over romanticize these places as a Norman Rockwell painting, they do have an alluring charm and seem to have something that has been forgotten in the go-go-go metropolis.
Sitting here in small town America while still receiving updates from my hometown, Baltimore, I feel relieved. Away from the corruption and dishonesty, murders and muggings, it is easy for me to appreciate a place where the Mayor is sitting next to you at a café having coffee and the two police officers have boring jobs. In the city, the people here would be called backwards or dismissed as rednecks, but if happiness and community is the judge, it appears that these folks might be winning. Heck, their mantra is, “If it can go well, it will.”