Notes from the Urban/Rural Divide: Yes, We Have Doors, and Yes, They Lock

I’ve always hated it when people leave a door open and someone says ‘what were you, raised in a barn?!’ Everyone knows you leave the barn door shut so the animals don’t get out, obviously, which is something city people never seem to grasp. (They also have an annoying tendency to leave gates open, apparently oblivious to the rule that if a gate was closed when you found it, you should probably close it after you’ve gone through it.)

But there’s a larger conversation about doors in rural areas to be had here, because many people seem to have this romantic idea that ‘the country’ is a place where bad things never happen. Part of the myth they’ve built up about what ‘country living’ is like, of course, is that we never lock our doors. Sometimes we oblige by telling quaint stories about how we haven’t locked our doors in so long that we don’t even know where our keys are, or how everyone in the neighbourhood knows where to find our keys and goes freely in and out of our houses.

The better to leave folksy apple pies with, my dear.

Here’s the thing about rural areas: we have crime too. We have beatings and robberies, we have murders and rapes. Is our crime rate lower than in urban areas? As a general rule, yes, because of the reduced population density, among other things. But crime still very much exists, and in some rural communities, it’s never spoken of, covered in a veneer of polite pretension that nothing bad ever happens and everyone frolics with kittens and rainbows all day.

Locking your doors is a commonsense precaution against having your house broken into. If you own things that are valuable or you don’t want people messing with your stuff, you lock your doors. If you don’t want your animals getting out, you lock your doors. If you’re going away for a few days and you don’t want your house to be used by people as a crashpad or party spot, you lock your doors. This is pretty basic stuff for people living in the city, and guess what? It’s pretty basic here too.

Sure, there are rural communities where residents don’t lock their doors, or where people are hit and miss when it comes to when they’ll lock and when they won’t. But there’s not some kind of universal unlocked door policy in rural areas. This is not the Catholic Church, people, and we are not open for business at all hours (speaking of which, I’ve noticed that a growing number of churches lock up at night…is nothing sacred these days? (sorry about the pun)). We lock our doors just like people do all over the world, and we tuck our keys into our pockets and purses so we can find them later. Heck, sometimes we accidentally lock ourselves out, just like city people do.

It’s not like locks are some kind of fantastic, amazing, and totally alien thing that we find totally mystifying. We know how to use a lock and key. In fact, we don’t just lock our houses. We also lock our sheds, because we don’t like to see our expensive equipment wandering off. Some of us lock our barns, because we don’t want people interfering with our animals. At the very least, some of us lock our tack and feed rooms because those areas of the barn house expensive stuff. We even lock our cars! And some of us, contrary to popular mythology, drive something over than rumbling ’72 Chevy pickups.

Hell, some of us even lock our greenhouses, although that’s more of a Mendo thing.

The point is, bad things happen in rural areas. Those things include robberies, home invasions, break-ins, and the usual gamut of things involving crimes and houses. So we lock our doors. Because it’s an easy precautionary measure that can prevent some crimes by making it that much harder for people to get inside our homes to steal stuff or even worse. We know where our keys are. We’re careful about handing out spares. Some of us do hold the keys for our neighbours, but that’s an individual relationship of trust and boundaries, not some kind of universal thing; I wouldn’t cruise over to the neighbours upon moving to a new house and hand them my keys, waiting expectantly with my hand out for a set in return.

People are people no matter where you go. Rural culture is different in a lot of ways than urban culture, but some things don’t change. No matter where you go, people want to hurt people, and they want to steal from people, and they want to take advantage of what seem like obvious opportunities to do so. An unlocked door is a great way to end up with lost equipment, a trashed house, or more, so we lock our doors when we head out the door and go into town.

Just because some people in rural areas leave their doors unlocked (and sometimes don’t know or care where their keys are) doesn’t mean we all live that way. And the fact that some people leave their doors unlocked shouldn’t be viewed as evidence that rural areas are a crime-free utopia. Don’t be fooled by the low incidence of crime: some of the most crime-ridden areas of the United States are rural today, thanks to the ravages of the war on drugs and the abuses the government heaps on low-income communities. The meth epidemic is savaging low-income communities across the country, for example, and trust me, if you lived in a rural community where meth was a significant problem, you’d lock your doors.

Even if the sign at the closest city limits said ‘Population: 72.’