Downtown

 I’ve been thinking, since my Bouchercon panel, “North vs South,” about the differences between small towns and big cities. In this day of easy travel and impermanent jobs, those differences seem more pronounced than differences based on the Mason-Dixon Line or Mississippi River. In the past 7 days, I’ve flown from my adopted small town in Illinois to a big city in Ontario, Canada to a big city in Washington. The big cities, despite being located in different countries as well as on opposite coasts, feel a lot alike. The weather contributes to this feeling–gray and rainy with occasional bursts of sun in both locales–but the similarity runs deeper than barometric pressure. High-rise, glass and steel luxury condos overlook still-gritty waterfronts. Homeless people, too–what? Tired? Desolate? Hopeless?–to ask for your spare change dot the streets. A vibe buzzes through the air, difficult to describe but as different from my small town as a raven is from a writing desk. A vibe that manifests in ways that seem inconsequential. But are they? Halloween decorations, for instance. My small town goes all out with the decor. Driveways and doorways and fence posts festooned with pumpkins, mums, skeletons, and cobwebs. The degree of Halloween-specific vs Autumn-in-general varies from house to house and storefront to storefront but, no mistake, people celebrate the season. Not so much in these big cities. Almost nothing outwardly marks the season. “Business as usual,” they scream. Trivial, right? A few gourds doomed to be tossed to rotate in favor of poinsettias and some plastic skeletons destined for a dusty basement corner. But does the lack of such symbols in big cities signify the insignificance of the seasons’ shift? Because a change of seasons changes nothing? Life in shiny, imposing, climate-controlled towers goes on pretty much the same, regardless of the calendar? I’m not knocking big cities. I love them. A city full of people is, paradoxically, an introvert’s dream. Think of the things on offer–art galleries, museum exhibits, window shopping–that don’t require social interaction. You can be alone without feeling alone. But I do wonder if someone living in Dallas, TX would react to a situation more like someone from Marfa, TX or like someone in New York City? What do you think?

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