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Life in the Fast Lane (Behind a Slow-Moving Vehicle)

26 April 2010 Stories and Appreciations 41,041 views 7 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

I live in a town of 1,100 people. To be more accurate, I reside eight miles outside of town and my nearest neighbors are a quarter of a mile away. Those neighbors are cows.

This hasn’t always been my life. I used to be a big-city girl, running to catch subways with my bagel and cream cheese. I lived in Manhattan for 11 years. I lived in Seattle for two. I even lived in Miami Beach briefly. So when I moved to the gentle rolling hills of Wisconsin (as my husband describes it), I knew a change was a-comin’ (cue “Green Acres” theme music).

When I first arrived in Wisconsin I honestly didn’t know how I would get through that first year. I attempted to liken country life to city life and actually found there were some similarities. Point in case: if I closed my eyes, the smell of manure during planting season could be reminiscent of the garbage piled up on the streets of New York, or an alley used as a latrine by some homeless man.

Things in the dairy state are certainly not as fast-paced as New York City; But we have equivalents of traffic jams and long lines to delay us when we need to do something quickly. For example, there is no said “rush hour,” but if you want to pass through town as school lets out, expect about five solid minutes of traffic. Fortunately there are no stoplights to slow the process down.

You won’t experience any traffic jams, but you can expect to get caught behind a tractor (that takes up the entire span of the road) or other assorted slow moving vehicles. I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing orange triangles on these lethargic, lumbering vehicles, that I considered slapping one on my backside at the end of my pregnancies.

If tractors don’t slow you down, the neighbors talking in the middle of the street will. The roads here are long and straight, so you can see from quite far away if two cars have stopped in mid-transit. Unfortunately, these cars usually choose to ignore your approaching car. Nobody pulls off to the side of the road; they just stop, roll down their windows and chat. The, protocol is, if another car comes along and wants to pass, it doesn’t matter. The conversation will end when it’s done, and other drivers will just have to wait.

Detours are kept mainly to the summer months and can take you more than twenty minutes out of your way. Sometimes the highway crew will take pity, though, and get permission to detour cars through a farmer’s field, cutting down on the length of the alternate route. Through fields of tall, leafy corn stalks, on bumpy dirt roads, you eventually find yourself back on course, but later than you had hoped.

There’s rarely a line at the post office, gas station or grocery store, but you need to plan time to converse with whomever is behind the counter. There’s a lot to catch up on in a small town. How big was that deer you bagged? That new fertilizer working out for you? Did you hear about that bear over in Boyceville? At the town dump, the sanitation workers asked my husband (in his forties at the time) “Now whose boy are you?”

While everybody may know you (yet you don’t know them), and it can feel maddening and claustrophobic at times, there is a sense of community I’ve never experienced elsewhere. In the middle of the night, a local we had barely met pulled our car out of ditch in the pouring rain. Our librarian waved our overdue fees as our books were only one day late. The post man uses his lunch hour to shop at our yard sale and attends our annual summer family picnic.

We used to have a neighbor (and I use that term loosely) that plowed our extensive driveway just because he liked to plow. He refused any kind of payment. When I got home from the hospital from having our kids, home cooked meals were delivered to our house everyday for two weeks. And I’ve never met happier sanitation workers. When an elderly lady in town was in need of an air conditioner, they found one being thrown away and salvaged it for her.

There’s no need to show my driver’s license to write a check in town, though I do have to take time to chat about my father-in-law instead. And if you lock your car, people laugh at you. One day while shopping for groceries, I accidentally left my keys in my ignition with the car unlocked. And like two drivers in the middle of the road having a conversation, the car remained unmoved.

Faithful, and dependable, I know what to expect from my town. I just need to remember to leave some extra time to get where I am going. And hey, if you ever find yourself in northwestern Wisconsin, come on over and sit a spell. I know plenty of people who would love to talk to you.

Kobi Shaw

PHOTO BY GREG TIMM

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7 Comments »

  1. Kobi…great read! Several years ago, Earl and I were going to take our family on a trip to Disney, and we thought we should lock the house. We actually had to call the neighbors and ask if they had a key to the house, since we didn’t have one. Sure enough, we had given them one when we moved in “in case they ever needed it.” And it turns out they did need it…to give back to us!

  2. Nice article. It sounds like a huge change. No traffic and I am assuming no Taco Bells? Just not the life for me.

  3. So. *NOBODY* who read this thinks it the least bit TERMINALLY ASSHOLIC to block the road and shoot the breeze at the expense of others. Maybe I don’t share this apparent enchantment with rednecks because I’m NOT from the big city.

  4. Well, I’m not from the big city. I’m not a hick or redneck, either. I’m not enchanted with country life, although I live in the country. I just know that when I get impatient with people who are in my way, it isn’t the people who are in my way who are the problem.

    People talk, communicate, share in sometimes inconvenient (for me) places. I don’t think it is charming. It is maddening. It is also wonderful.

  5. Mark; Being one of those middle of the road conversers I will tell you people do move. Sometimes it takes awhile to find a break in the conversation. the protocol is for the blocker to move far enough to let the blocked pass and then back up and continue the conversation. It’s not unusual for the blocked to get out and join in. Sometimes there can be 3-4 people standing in the middle of the road catching up on the local news. Given your reference to rectal orifices, I suspect we would let you wait awhile just to make a point. If you live around here, get used to it. It seems that Kobi has.

  6. For those who find waiting behind friendly people annoying, shut up and deal with it. I’d rather live in a place where you can leave your doors unlocked and you can stop and talk to neighbors on the road than a place where I have to watch my back and make sure the speeding idiot (who just happens to be texting at the same time) is watching where he’s going. Life moves fast enough, don’t diss those that want to enjoy the ride and not move in fast forward.

  7. Tell Andy and Barney that Goober says, “Hey!”

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