A few thoughts on living in a small town

On my walk into work this morning, I passed by the coffeehouse, which is somewhat unavoidable given the proximity of both work and my home to said establishment. It is probably safe to say that I have given the coffeehouse more of my money and business than any other store in town, except for perhaps Harvest Market. On my way I ran into my landlord and we exchanged greetings and commentary about the weather. (My prediction, sun by the end of the day, has come true.) Then I ran into a neighbor walking his dog and taking out the garbage, and we also exchanged greetings and I complimented him for his superb scarf.

It’s a manner of habit for me to check the coffeehouse whenever I’m walking by. Even when I’m coming back from a long trip, I will drive by the coffeehouse. Partly this is a social function–who is there, and what are they doing? Partly this is a reassurance function–the coffeehouse is a constant in my life, interrupted only sometimes by closures for holidays. So I drive by to make sure it’s still there, that no one has tagged it, the paint colour is still the same.

One of the hospital’s ambulances was parked outside, saved from the iniquities of silly budget cuts by determined community members. Now, I happen to know most of our ambulance crews. Part of the reason for this is that they have saved my life on occasion. However, I also get used to seeing them around town–while on shift, they will often pop into the coffeehouse for food or snacks, or they would come into the bookstore when I worked there to browse and order books. Most of their faces are familiar to me by now–some of them I know by name, and some of them are friends. So it’s not entirely unreasonable to poke my head into the coffeehouse through the sea of uniform to see who was on today.

Now, the thing is, I adore people in uniforms. I realize that this is a fairly universal fetish, and I don’t really understand it. But there it is. Back in the days when I worked at service counters, if a customer was in uniform they automatically got better assistance. Maybe it’s because most uniformed jobs are really in the public service sector–firefighters, park rangers, emts, policemen, military, and so forth, and therefore I feel an attachment to them as a citizen. It’s not just that I’m ogling a fire fighter, I’m also secretly thanking him for his service in my community. That’s it.

At any rate, there we are. I did in fact know two of the gents on duty and we chatted while they waited in line to order.

At which point, a phenomenon which I’m sure is not isolated to Fort Bragg asserted itself. The ambulance crew tends to order together, and sort out tabs later, rather than holding up the line. And as soon as Dave started to tell one of the boys what the total was, a man rose up from the table next to the counter and said “I’ll take care of it.” Now, as discussed, I spend a lot of time in and around the coffeehouse, and I would say this happens a lot more often than you think it might. It’s things like this that make me glad to live in a small town–that when a policeman steps into the coffeehouse for a croissant, or a fireman getting off a job comes in for a beer, someone often pays. Now, I’m sure this happens in other places as well, at least I certainly hope so. But I really appreciate the spirit in which it is done. Our ambulance crew is paid decently, but hardly extravagantly–certainly they can afford lattes if they want them. But it’s not about the money, it’s about recognizing the things that people in public service do for the community. And I think that’s a good and important thing. It’s also a measure of your respect in the community–for example, some members of the police force always pay for their own coffeehouse goodies, and others never do…

[Fort Bragg]