Small-town living has its charms … and its challenges

RBC — Being new to the area, I’ve been asked by a lot of people what I think about living in a small town.
I always give the same answer: I like it.
They usually seem surprised.
Some who have asked are almost apologetic, as if what they meant to say is, “You really don’t like living in a small town, do you?”
Actually, I really do.
I’ve lived in small towns before, and, in every case, I’ve enjoyed the experience. Someone told me recently, when discussing life in a small town, that she had learned to be happy and make the most of wherever she lived. Sounds like a good philosophy to me.
My personal view is outsiders sometimes have a more favorable opinion of small towns than the locals do. The locals, if not apologetic, can be apathetic. They take for granted the benefits of living in a small town. They are forever talking about “getting out.” They feel stuck, or bored. While outsiders, who are looking at things from a distance, see the small town as charming, quaint, neighborly.
I was surprised, while covering Meeker’s Range Call, to talk to so many people who were out-of-towners, and they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. They thought it was a great event. I was equally surprised by the number of locals I talked to who didn’t attend any of the events. They had a been-there, done-that attitude.
Of course, I’ve also talked with lots of locals who love it here. They can’t imagine living anywhere else, and they are active in the community.
But, in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve heard a lot about how Rio Blanco County is changing, and not necessarily for the better, at least in the minds of some.
There are those who are all for progress, and there are those who want things to stay the same, or go back to the way they used to be.
Change, of course, is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean people have to like it, or accept it. Therein, lies the rub. Change — some call it progress, others see it as an intrusion — is coming. Actually, it is already here. It seems to me, how a community deals with change is the bigger question.
I’ve heard from some who, after having moved away from the area years ago, returned and found the town they had grown up in had “regressed.”
I’ve also had people talk to me about “old” Meeker or “old” Rangely, and how they long for a return to the way things used to be. I’ve had people say once the energy boom comes to an end and the oil and gas industry moves out — just like they did in the 1980s — things will go back to the way they used to be.
It’s easy to feel nostalgic about the place where we grew up. I feel that way about my hometown. I remember when it was just this little college town. Now it actually has traffic congestion and crime (my oldest daughter has had her car and her apartment broken into, both in the last three months), and you’re lucky if you can find a parking place downtown.
In the early and mid-1990s, I lived in southwest Kansas, which, much like northwest Colorado now, was experiencing a boom period that resulted in a large influx of people moving into the area. Most of the newcomers were migrant workers. They came to work in the beef packing plants. Besides cultural and language differences, the arrival of so many people put tremendous strain on infrastructure, on housing, on the schools. Leaders grappled with how to keep pace. Locals resented the invasion of newcomers. Tensions threatened to divide the community.
It’s no different here.
I’ve been in Colorado all of about seven weeks, so what do I know, you say, right? I wouldn’t presume to think I have the answers. I don’t want to blather on, like some of the self-righteous, know-it-alls in this business, who think they are smarter than everyone else. But I have been around, and I am here to tell you — I’ve experienced it myself — there are many sides to every story. A story isn’t nearly as black and white as we may think. There’s a whole lot of gray mixed in.
Despite the challenges facing northwest Colorado — by the way, every place I’ve been has its share of problems, too — I really like it here. And even though it will be a long time before I shed The New Guy label, it didn’t take long for me to feel a connection to the area, to feel at home. After being here about a month, I found out about a couple who live upriver who are related to some friends of my parents. I also met a fellow alum of the University of Kansas journalism school, right here in Meeker, who is just as big a Jayhawk fan as I am – Rock Chalk, Trina. And, just recently, I discovered my high school girlfriend, after getting married (not to me, by the way), used to live in, of all places, Rangely. Now, don’t tell me it’s not a small world.
I like that every week, in the newspaper, we run what we call the “Home of (fill in the name),” where we recognize a person or a couple who call this area home. It doesn’t matter how long a person or couple has lived here. They may have lived here 30 years or one year, it doesn’t matter — it’s still home.
To me, a community is like a bank. People make deposits, or investments, during the time they spend living and working in a community. They make investments of time, talent, and, yes, money. A bank will accept your money whether you are a short-timer, or a lifer. The bank doesn’t care if you grew up here, or how long you are going to live here. A community should be just as accepting. If not, you risk missing out on some worthwhile “investments” in your town.
I’ve enjoyed telling my friends back in Kansas about life in a small town in northwest Colorado.
For example, in my little neighborhood, one neighbor has horses in the backyard. Across the street, someone else has miniature cows — I never even knew there was such a thing. And I buy eggs from the neighborhood kids who have chickens.
Here’s another example of why I like living in a small town: A couple of weeks ago, I had gone grocery shopping on a Friday. Two days later, I went to have a muffin for breakfast, but there were no muffins to be found. I realized I must have left a bag of groceries at the store. So, I walked to the store, and there, sitting on the counter, waiting for me, was the bag of groceries I had left.
You know, you gotta love a small town.