That Small Town Feeling

By on 4 March, 2013 in City Living, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

Mayor Strange recently said Montgomery was on track to become Alabama’s largest city. Evidently, we’re 4,000 people away from passing Birmingham, which is shrinking. Demographics aside, Montgomery does feel bigger — especially this time of year, with the legislature in session and the corresponding increase in people having business lunches, nice dinners out and after-work drinks.

But last week we were reminded of one of the best things about Montgomery — its small-town feeling. One of us grew up in a small town, and even though he’s lived in some of America’s biggest cities, he hasn’t forgotten the friendly luxury of knowing not just the restaurant owner’s name but her “people,” a concept largely mysterious to many Westerners (we keep to ourselves mostly). There are some times where Montgomery’s small town feeling can seem a little invasive – you go, unwashed, to the grocery store only to see several work acquaintances – but largely it’s a source of comfort and joy.

This week, an unusually early morning business meeting got us up and out, only to find our car battery dead. We hadn’t left the lights on or anything like that – just dead. We should have jumper cables, but we don’t. Without AAA, who to call?

We decided to phone our friends at Big A Tires over on the Atlanta Highway to ask their advice about getting a jump. We’d found Big A through a small town-type situation: A friend knew a friend whose name we ended up dropping to get a great price on new tires. Ever since, we’ve been going over there for oil changes and rotation, enjoying the shop chatter and soap operas while we wait for great service at a low price. Rather than Google tow truck services and risk getting gouged (or waiting for hours), we figured they’d point us in the right direction.

“Sure, we have a charger box. Be right over.” They remembered us by name, came over to our house within half an hour and jumped the car for free.

We were astonished. Or at least I was. That’s not how things work where I’m from. And this kind of endemic niceness is everywhere. A few weeks ago, after working a 12-hour day, we just wanted some takeout from our favorite restaurant. When we brought the food home, our order was incomplete (grilled fish missing from Los Dos – catastrophe!). We called El Rey about it, not because we were looking for a replacement – we just wanted them to know they’d missed something. The other day we got takeout again, leaving only a first name on the order, and they remembered the fish, discounting our check and to reflect the error.

Again, we’re not bragging about having been treated well by local businesses. And this website doesn’t sell ads, nor did the businesses have any idea we were going to mention their good customer service. Enjoyable small town moments happen all of the time outside of the commercial sector. But in a de-personalized world, sometimes it’s during those otherwise inhuman exchanges that humanity can really stand out.

Small town-ness isn’t just about getting things for free. It’s about knowing the name of your grocery store clerks, about being able to call Capitol Book to order something special, emailing Rob out at the comic book shop. It’s about feeling at home even in a big city.

Montgomery feels big and bustling sometimes, especially when you are missing out on things that you’d planned on doing. Sometimes you’re too busy to go see some band or stop by some festival. We were just kicking ourselves for being unable yet again to attend the party at the Fitzgerald Museum. Sometimes a city offers more to do than you have time and money to consume.

But that big city feeling can also take a comfortable back seat to the small town vibe that comes from kind neighbors and folks with a good memory for faces and names. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.



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