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Dave and Jan's travels, day 109:
Middle-sized town US

5th September
I've heard lots of people complain about the parochialism and backwardness of small-town America. My experience is quite different, and this short article is intended to set the record straight.

Small town America is actually quite fun. The people in small towns are usually rugged individualists, who are sufficiently odd that it's in their best interests to support your inalienable constitutional right to your own portfolio of oddities. And any town which only has one of each kind of shop is rarely boring - if you own the only bar in town you don't have to pander to public opinion much at all.

Big town America contains so many immigrants that it's hardly America anyway. In any case, the grand scale of these places makes them quite marvellous in their own way.

No, the problem is middle-sized town America. You can always tell these places, because you arrive on a road, and next thing you know you're in a "strip". The photo at the right shows a typical strip. Where was it taken? It really doesn't matter, I estimate that an area the size of Belgium is occupied by these places, and they are all the same. Every strip has about twenty motels (twelve from chains, four locally owned and crappy, four locally owned and good, the quickest way to tell which is which is by how well-kept the flower baskets are. This is not a joke). On top of that there's a McDonalds, a Burger King, a DiaryMaid, a Denny's (UK-ites think Little Chef at this point), a Safeway, a Rite-Aid, a K-Mart, several garages, gas stations and auto part shops, and a number of squares of tarmac fronting large dusty buildings whose function isn't clear.

All the shops sell the same foods. Don't get me started on the cheeses, but suffice it to say that there isn't much variety. Everyone wears the same clothes from the same chains, and the whole thing has about as much architectural merit as a cardboard box.

Now, some of the towns have a 'real' centre off to the side of the strip. Many don't: the nearest thing to a centre is the point where a wide road crosses the strip.

All of this I find profoundly depressing. I can imagine kids meeting at College:

 'where are you from?'
 'froodleburg, colorado. You?'
 'Goldsville, Wisconsin. What kind of things do you do in Colorado?'
 'Go to Denny's, buy Nirvana CDs, wear Old Navy clothes, hang out at the strip. What about Wisconsin?'
 'Exactly the same (only colder)'

Towns like this have no soul, no character and must breed a great sense of helpless lack of individualism. You could move 2,000 miles and take about ten minutes to get used to your new surroundings.

One especially fine example of the strip genre is the middle-sized town on the edge of a big one. Take Salt Lake City. Towns around it include Woods Green and Bountiful - clearly some desperate marketing folks somewhere. These are emphatically not suburban districts from which one commutes to the big city: these are self-contained, soulless little strip towns where one lives, works, sleeps and ultimately dies.