Realtors never show you the local Walmarts.
When I was searching for a house in 2012, the real estate agent took us along a picturesque road that actually drove over a lake. She avoided the main commercial drag through town. She pointed out the quaint fairy tale German bakery in the woods. She didn’t mention the dozens of boarded up failed restaurants in town. She steered us to the lush green spaces that lined the residential roads. She did not tarry over the broken expanses of cracked asphalt on the aging strip malls. She proudly identified the huge modern hospital. She spent no time at all on the rather suspect-looking corner “pharmacies.” All in all, the real estate agent presented us with a vision of charming Smalltown, USA.
One of our main reasons for moving from our old state was to escape a declining neighborhood. Now that we have actually moved to this Shangri-la-dee-da, I’m not certain that we have taken that much of a step up.
Our new neighbors quickly identified one of the three Walmarts in easy driving distance (which probably tells you something right there), as “the bad Walmart.” Apparently, people who wish to avoid everyday low prices on muggings and carjackings steer clear of this one.
I can’t say that I love the town. I’m not saying for sure, but Shangri-la-dee-da may just be the thrift store capital of the world. Oh, sure, they have cute little names with pretentions of charm, like Gift Shoppe and Treasure Trove. They still sell other people’s junk. We have our share of homeless people and seedy motels. There are many empty storefronts in tired old strip malls that seem to actually be decaying before the very eye. It is also pretty common to see signs wistfully announcing “closed temporarily for refurbishment” on obviously abandoned restaurants. We have an extra collection at church periodically to pay for the off-duty sheriff deputies who guard the parking lot while we worship. Websites that report crime statistics advise that the crime rate in the town of Shangri-la-dee-da is pretty high for a city of its size (note to self: if I ever get a notion to move again, check the crime statistics BEFORE purchasing a house instead of after).
About fifteen years ago, a developer created a mega senior citizen community about ten miles from my town. It spans over parts of three different cities in three different counties. The community includes nearly every kind of housing, service, dining, and entertainment option known to man. Everything in the community is brand spanking new, shiny, and clean. Some of the shopertainment areas are even themed. And almost everything in the community is accessible by golf cart. It is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. All the cool senior citizens live there. I believe the growth of this Disney World for oldsters put something of a damper on the vitality of other towns in the area, including my new town of Shangri-la-dee-da. In addition, there was a freakishly bad hurricane season about ten years ago. I don’t think businesses had a chance to bounce back from that before the economic collapse in 2007.
So, in general, Shangri-la-dee-da feels sort of fragile and shell-shocked. I’m afraid I can’t find that vision of Smalltown, USA that I had in 2012 when I bought the house.
On the other hand, the crime statistics also report that my neighborhood is the safest in the city and is known for peace and quiet. We don’t really live right in the midst of Shangri-la-dee-da. We actually live kind of out in the country, just barely within the town. In fact, if you sneezed in my community, someone right outside the city limits might yell gesundheit. I love my little house and I love the development where I live. Driving into the development, you pass through a natural arched canopy of huge heritage trees. Those trees absolutely drip with streaming Spanish moss, like tinsel on Christmas trees decorated by enthusiastic, ham-handed toddlers. It looks like the entryway to Twelve Oaks in Gone With the Wind. The planned landscaping is lovely and serene, but there is space for God’s landscaping as well. There are conservation zones throughout the community, filled with wild foliage and waterways. Herons and egrets nestle on the shores. Sandhill cranes yodel to each other. The neighbors are wonderful. People look out for each other. People walk and ride bikes and enjoy the fresh air. We are about a mile away from grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations that seem safe and clean. Perhaps I should focus my search for Smalltown, USA on that area rather than trying to paint a city of 14,000 with the same brush. That focus can widen in time. I am finding, as time goes by, that places that initially seemed a bit scary to me now feel a lot more comfortable.
But that realization is true of a lot more than just geography. Living through transition is showing me that the unfamiliar can take on a somewhat sinister quality simply because it is unfamiliar, but that sense diminishes with time until what once seemed scary seems second nature.
So what do you think? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.