Thursday, June 4, 2015

Town Characters

"Hey True Believer!" a man yelled as he entered the gym. I didn't really know him--he often was there and once commented on the heftiness of the dumbbells I was curling, but apparently now I had a "gym name". Are those similar to trail names?

I think it's true that every town has their characters. In small towns of a thousand people or less, they are just more obvious. For better or worse, you can't escape the people you don't want to see, and if you do want to see someone, all you have to do is ask: "Hey, have you seen Peter lately?" or, better yet, go to the moraine, that's where he will be, because other people have told you so.

This town has its share of interesting people. When I first moved here, I was cornered in the Safeway by a large man who without preamble told me that I needed to move in with him up the Lostine Canyon. (Later, friends told me, "Well, he DOES have really nice property up there.") In the same Safeway the other day, a woman behind me in line gave me her opinion of Caitlyn Jenner, unprompted: "I think being with the Kardashians made  him crazy. He would be normal if it weren't for them." Unable to escape, I silently willed the cashier to hurry while trying to politely disagree without causing a fist fight.

There's the mysterious man I call (secretly) Blackwater, because he apparently is independently wealthy and once mentioned he had worked in the Middle East, but reveals little of his background. There's the gypsy who hasn't had a job in ten years but travels all over the world. How does he do it? I don't know, but it isn't something you ask.

You can't really be nosy in a small town. You have to let the years slowly let you know about people. After all, you have to live with them in a small space. You might need them someday. It is easy to inadvertently offend--a woman I knew and liked abruptly unfriended me on Facebook and won't talk to me again after I posted that I heard wolves howling. "Anyone who is a wolf lover, unfriend me now," she posted. Who knew?

At work I can time my day by when a) Big Guy with Tiny Dog walks by (about 0900); Slow Walking Lady with Jack Russell strolls by (1000), Cowboy Hat Man with grocery bag (about noon) and Tony running in homemade moccasins (anytime between 1100-1200). Apparently I look out the window a lot! But there's always the occasional surprise, like someone riding a horse down the street. The small town characters are like that, a little dash of spice in an ordinary day.

I'm not a character, but after a few years in a town you get a reputation that sticks. The first two questions people ask me when they see me are these:

  • "Where have you been hiking?"
  • "How's the writing going?"
Now that I think about it, maybe I am a version of a small town character. I'm the outdoor obsessed writer, always off on a trail somewhere. I'm sure people think that's a little strange, as well as the fact that my husband and I have two houses and don't do every little thing together. That's okay though. It's better than being boring.

Do you have small town characters?
What two questions do people always ask you?

18 comments:

  1. Characters exist in big cities too. When I worked in a seedy area of NW Portland, I saw all kinds of interesting folks passing by our office windows. As far as questions I get asked, I supposed normally it's "where did you/are you going to hike this weekend?" or in the winter it's "did you go skiing yesterday?"

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    1. I think there are probably many more characters in Portland. I have definitely seen some in my travels through there. They may not stand out as much.

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  3. I live in a big city, but we always talk about how small it really is. I don't think there are many people with nicknames though. By small city I mean that there is always somebody you run into that knows somebody else you know.
    Like when I met my husband, his mom knew my aunt, but we didn't meet each other through her. My mother-in-law also knows one of my Girl Scout friend's mom. My step-mom went to college with my uncle, and her cousin went to HS with my dad and mom.
    Dan has a good friend who's mom knows one of the Drs. I work with. They are both from the Butte area and have networked for years.
    I think I would go nuts in a "real" small town though. I would feel like everybody was watching me.

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    1. I don't necessarily feel like people are watching me, though I did when I lived in a really rainy, remote place. I think there people were bored and didn't have enough hobbies. Here people are always doing something. I could be mistaken though--they could be and I don't sense it. However, my life really can't be too enthralling--I am often seen carrying a backpack to the car and back again. Nothing to gossip about there.

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    2. Not sure why my posts are posting twice. Yeh nothing to gossip about here either. It would be "Geez does that lady ever sit still? Or "Doesn't she ever get bored being a Mom Taxi?

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    4. I've found when I press the back button my comments post twice. Are you doing that? Haha, mom taxi.

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  4. People always ask me, "What's your next big trip?" or "where did you go this winter?" I guess I must be The Traveler.

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    1. "How's your sister?" a lot of people ask me.

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  5. Yes, people ask retired folks that a lot: "Got any travels planned?" as if the rest of your life must be completely boring. This is not a small town, population-wise, but it seems to be in the way connections are made and remembered. They call it "Dutch bingo." In other locales, I guess it's Six Degrees of Separation. Good piece, Mary.

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    1. I don't know that many retired people who travel! Yet, I will be one of them I think. Dutch bingo, that's funny.

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  6. Hi Mary, as you can probably guess, Alaska is full of characters and so is this small town of Willow. We have many of the top Iditarod mushers, ex Hells Angels laying low, we have an 80 year old man whose only transportation is a 4wheeler and is chased all the time by troopers for riding on the bike path. Many people in town live off grid in shacks or campers. We also have a few who are very wealthy and live a back to basic lifestyle because, they don't care to flaunt their wealth. Yes, we are a diverse group. I'm known as Skwentna John because of where my remote cabin is. Yep, life is interesting.

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    1. There were characters in Sitka as well but more as you ventured out of town, for good reason I'd say, you don't live in a place only accessed by float plane if you don't have a few quirks! Love your Alaska nickname.

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  7. I get asked the same two questions all summer long, mostly by people I've worked with at the winery the last 18 years and know me very well.
    Are you going to the Wallowas again this weekend? Don't you ever get tired of it? The answer is always yes, yes, yes, and no, no, no, I will never get tired of the mountains, they will be in my blood forever I can only hope....

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    1. Same here! Have you been yet? It's a good month ahead--couldn't believe all the cars at the trailhead today.

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  8. Yes, we have town characters, but as with your town, I sense a lot of tolerance for benign characters. People always ask us: "Are you going away for the winter?" Um, no, this is our home. And when we first moved into our log home out of town: "Aren't you frightened waaay out there?" (It is 12 miles from the center of the town!

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    1. They probably ask that because the winters are, well, kind of long.I'm not sure I could tolerate it anymore!

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