We’re back in the Bay Area. We do welcome its 40 degree temperature differential from current Phoenix weather. Somehow I arose at 7AM even though we’re still on vacation. While waiting for my coffee I looked out the window, down across the Boulevard. The pavement was wet with drizzle. At the moment, there was not a car in sight.

It brought me back in time, to the early ’70’s in Weimar, the little town north of Auburn on 80. In Weimar, you could hear any car coming through the morning mist from a mile away. In the morning, before the occasional highway travelers started pulling off for gas, any car coming down the frontage road was an event, and, if you were a local, you usually knew the other driver. I was a guest. Locals would begin to associate you as a friend of Keith and Darlene, that nice family who lived across from Charlie’s.

In my mind, at least, that status distinguished me from the ordinary drive-through seeking fuel, road maps and snacks. They came to deposit cash in the local economy, they left fast food wrappings and emptied car ash trays on the red earth pull-offs, and then they departed forever. Even if I had been so inclined, I would not have dared to dump my litter on the town: word would have gotten around that that nice guest of Keith and Darlene was not so nice after all, and that somebody better have a talk with them next time they come by.

Charlie used to walk a hundred yards from his house across the street to share cups of coffee. Folger’s, even more than Ethyl Supreme, fueled society as we knew it in Weimar. We would talk in the front yard about Jeeps, chickens, hound dogs, repairing that barn someday, and hunting and fishing.

Economies of scale: Here, we live in the apartment by the Boulevard. The mindset is different. The odds are slim that you will even recognize another driver on your route, nor a fellow customer at Safeway or Albertson’s. The friendliest people in town, those who will be most familiar to you, in time, will be the clerks and salespeople at the local stores and shops. It is always nice to recognize a friendly face in a sea of strangers.

In the apartment complex, privacy is our most cherished illusion. Those subtle boundaries between polite civility and intrusion, among strangers, are set just as high as in the smallest of towns of an older time. Experience teaches that in most cases it does not pay to know your neighbors too well, and, in any event, they will be gone tomorrow or the next day.

Here, our town is coming to life with busy, purposeful shoppers. A Harley is cruising the Boulevard. Its rider guns the throttle to remind the town we all live here, but we don’t own it. The throaty belch reverberates off the store fronts, just to make sure no foolish person is still trying to sleep in.

A town just like this is ideal for its easy commute and shopping distance to everywhere. It is small enough that you can still look past all of this, to the rolling green hills that have not yet been built up with half-million dollar homes and pastel pink mini-malls.

Yet it is still nice to remember the very distant sound of car tires creeping onto our gravel drive through the early morning mist, and how we would check the coffee pot warming on the wood stove to make sure there was enough for company.

Alex Forbes
© May 24, 2003

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