Not that this is all negative. In fact, maybe it's best to issue a disclaimer and say virtually all the posts in the "When in Rome" series should be understood to have been written with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek. As I've seen, there is a trusting nature and a moral clarity among the people here that are redeeming.
Still, at least one lifelong resident refers to this region as, "the dumb end of the state." And so, without further ado, allow me to recount a few vignettes that have immersed me in a new culture in the same state in which I was raised.
- The Skoal Stop. On my first day of work, executive management took me to lunch at a local eatery, The Double Dog. It was your typical small town sandwich shop, located in an old storefront the ceiling of which still maintained the intricate designs of its 1800s grand opening. On the way back to the office, with country music pulsating the speakers, one of the vice presidents announced he needed to make a stop at Casey's. His purpose? To obtain his canister of Skoal chewing tobacco. My colleague noted, "You're getting a nice taste of southern Indiana: Country music, stopping for Skoal." Indeed.
- The Homeless Name Game. One day while running a work-related errand, my co-worker and I passed by a homeless man on the street. "Oh, there's Reno," said my colleague, waving to the man with with dirty gray hair flowing from his Mopar cap. "Reno?" "Yes, Reno," he informed me. "He's one of the three homeless people who live here." He then went on to tell me the names of the other two, but I was still trying to wrap my head around the concept and didn't catch them: Everyone in town knows the names of the three homeless residents. In some ways I suppose that's oddly comforting.
- The Wild West Coffee Shop. I have discovered a fine coffee shop in town, one that would rival many in other, more cosmopolitan areas. That's not to say the clientele would appreciate the relocation, however. Upon my first visit, I strode in and immediately felt like the buckaroo who mosies into the dusty saloon in an old Western movie. Everyone froze and stared at me and knew immediately I wasn't local. After I ordered my Americano, the barista and owner asked me as much. He was quickly distracted though when an elderly regular asked where he got the light fixtures. "At a store...in Chicago...called 'I-kee-ah'," was the reply.
- The Fee-for-Service Honor System. The local quick lube establishment will pick up your car at your work, change the oil, etc., and bring it back. When I inquired how I should render payment, I was told, "Oh, just come in and pay when you get a chance." I guess that's the nice thing about a small town: You know where everyone lives and/or works.
- No Sleeves, No Problem. It's true - virtually every male aged 25-75 feels it is his birthright to go sans sleeves if the forecasted temperature is above 82 degrees. This is apparently viewed as appropriate attire in virtually every public setting, from stores and restaurants to the workplace. Even despite the mild summer, I have been an involuntary party to too many gun shows this year.
In the end, it bears mentioning that what this place may lack in sophistication it more than compensates for in the kindness of its people and the beauty of the landscape. I am looking forward to the change of the season and getting around to learn more about the people and places of southern Indiana.
Just don't expect me to stop for Skoal along the way.
You feel me?