Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Sunday Re-Run: Small Towns

This, from earlier blogging days, with additional comment at the end.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Small Towns I've Known and (Sometimes) Loved

I’ve lived in a wide variety of places in my life, big and small. In America I’ve lived in big cities like the megalopolis of Los Angeles; sophisticated, moonbat-infested San Francisco; hot and humid Washington, D.C.; and gritty, industrial Detroit. I’ve also lived in medium-sized cities like Oklahoma City and Rochester, NY. Internationally, I’ve lived in Tokyo, London, Paris, and Ankara, the capital of Turkey. I’ve also spent a year or longer in garden spots like Wakkanai, Japan, and Sinop, Turkey. When I say “lived,” I mean a minimum of at least a year, two years or more is better yet. It doesn’t count, in my book, to simply visit a place for a week or two, you have to live there to know it. Of all the big cities I’ve lived in, London is my favorite, by far. But that’s another story!

The place I live, Portales, is a small town. (I’ve written about Portales before; here’s a link to a city profile, and here’s a couple of pics.) I like small towns at this stage in life for a lot of reasons, chief among which are: no traffic, friendly people, low crime, and much less complexity in day-to-day living. There are drawbacks, to be sure. I’ve mentioned a few annoyances in the past, when I’ve compared living in Portales to, say, living in San Francisco. I don’t have a broadband internet connection (ed: but we do now! Yays!), there are precious few good restaurants, and I can’t get a decent cup of coffee anywhere NEAR Portales. My local shopping options are also severely constrained. Nearby Clovis (pop. 30K) provides more options than Portales, but they’re still limited. I have to drive over two hours to Lubbock, TX or four hours to Albuquerque to get into “mainstream” America as we know and love it. But, all that said, I love living here, for the moment. Things can, and do, change. I may wake up tomorrow morning and decide to hit the road. It’s good to have options!

I’ve lived in a number of other small towns besides Portales, and I have the Air Force to thank for that. Air Force bases aren’t generally located near big cities, but they usually are close to medium-sized towns, at the least. My career was different than most, in that I was in the radar business for the greatest part of my 22 years in the Air Force, and that meant being stationed in some very small towns. Here are a few of the small places I enjoyed.

When I was stationed at Fortuna Air Station, North Dakota, I lived in the smallest of small towns: Westby, Montana. Current population figures for Westby, MT are 153 people; there were (supposedly) 250 people living in Westby when I was there in 1977-78. The first three months I was at Fortuna I lived in neighboring (30 miles west) Plentywood, MT, which had probably less than the current reported population of 1,855 people. I could have lived in the town of Fortuna (pop. 31), about three miles away from the radar site. Or there was Crosby, about 25 miles east of Fortuna, which now has all of 1,067 souls, again, probably a lot less in 1977...or perhaps there were more. One of North Dakota’s biggest problems is out-migration. People don’t want to stay up there. Obviously, there aren’t a lot of people living up in the Great White North of the United States!

Westby was great. You could walk the whole town in 15 minutes. There was a grain elevator, one gas station, two bars, four churches, a small grocery store, and a combination beauty parlor-laundromat-City Hall. There was no cable TV; we got two TV stations out of Williston, ND, and radio out of Regina, Saskatchewan. The nearest McDonalds was either in Regina, or Minot, ND. We used to go to Minot to party, which is why I laugh at Air Force people when they go on about how bad being assigned to Minot was. All in all, I loved my time in Fortuna/Westby, but I don’t think I’d live there again. It’s just TOO cold, and I mean TOO cold!

And then there’s Boron, CA. Current population is listed as 2,025 people, but once again, there were probably a lot less people there in 1970. I spent a year in Boron, and this place is probably the least favorite of all my USAF assignments. Smack in the middle of the Mojave desert, the best thing I can say about Boron is there was wonderful dirt-bike riding to be had! I could literally push my bike out of my garage and be in open desert in less than a minute. The second-best thing about Boron is that it was less than three hours from Los Angeles, and four hours to the ancestral home of the First Mrs. Pennington. She and I spent every available moment AWAY from Boron as was humanly possible.

A much, much better small town is North Bend, OR, population 9,620 people. The city of North Bend and its twin, Coos Bay run together. Coos Bay has 15,374 people. Since the two cities run together you have to say the total population is about 25,000. This is on the very fringe of what I’d call a “small town.” North Bend was one of the best assignments I had in the Air Force. Living on the Oregon coast was very, very pleasant, all things considered. The weather is mild, the location is beautiful beyond belief, and the people were very friendly. I’d live there again.

Klamath Falls, OR , on the other hand, is east of the Cascades and has an arid, almost desert-like climate. K-Falls currently has 19,000 people. I was stationed there from 1971 until 1975. I’ve been back once, and once was enough. Nothing remarkable there.

And finally…there’s Lompoc, CA, with a current population of 46,000 people. The city (?) had more like 25,000 when I was stationed at Vandenberg AFB from 1964 until 1967. Both of my adult children were born at the VAFB hospital and the First Mrs. Pennington still lives in Lompoc. A nice, quiet little town back in the day. My kids tell me Lompoc has gang problems these days and is suffering from growth problems, e.g., housing cost inflation. I’ll always remember Lompoc fondly; I had some great times there!

So. Small towns. Love ‘em, or leave ‘em. I’ll love mine for a while longer, thank you!

Update, 01/13/2006, 2:30 p.m. I forgot Biloxi, MS. How could I forget Biloxi? Like all other Americans, my heart aches for Biloxi these days. This small town on the Gulf Coast is home to Keesler AFB and has suffered more than most from hurricanes. I knew Biloxi before and after hurricane Camille, having been to Keesler for training in 1963, 1967, 1972, and 1980. All told, I spent the better part of two years in Biloxi, if you aggregate the time I spent there on four PCS/TDY assignments.

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Biloxi. I spent a good portion of the "wild" days of my youth in some of the best and worst dive bars in all of North America. I lolled on the beach. I played with my kids in various parks in and around Biloxi. I made the short trip from Biloxi to New Orleans more times than I can remember. I ate some of the best seafood I ever had in Biloxi and neighboring towns. Yea, I have fond, fond memories of Biloxi. And I wish the residents of this lovely town all the best in their efforts to rebuild their city and their lives.
All of the population figures in the above narrative are as found back in 2006, the actual numbers could be higher or lower today. As for P-ville, we stand at 12,280... so, yeah, we're small.

13 comments:

  1. Ah, small towns, I love them. (Being a small town guy myself, hometown has about 9000 people currently. Had maybe 2K more when I was a kid.)

    Nice post Buck.

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  2. I kinda like my small town...
    Well, it was a small town.

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  3. The only thing I remember about Biloxi, was how hot it was, and how happy I was to see it fade in the rear-view mirror. The smell of stinking rotting shrimp, merely a memory.

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  4. As a Child of The Hi Line in Montana and along the Crowsnest Trail in Alberta, I can so relate!

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  5. I grew up in a small town. Population circa 1979 was about 15,000. Today it is 16,000. Interestingly in the decade between 1950-1960 it grew by nearly 60%! And I live in perfect small-town New England these days. 9,000 people and we just got our third traffic light

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    1. We have three traffic lights, too!

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  6. Grew up in a small college town amidst east-centrai Ill farmland. until I left for college in fall of '62. (pop currently 21,000--of which 10,000 are college students--only changed by a couple of thousand since I grew up there. Ideal place for a kid to grow up in 50s, zero crime, total freedom to roam, yet cultural amenities provided by the univ. Only real negative was no sit-down restaurants until the 70s Even in the 60s driving 70 miles to eat at the nearest holiday inn was a big night on the town for my parents, lol.

    As I've mentioned here before, Del Rio was MY "end-of-the-world" place. And I can assoc myself with you re the way people at Minot thought IT was "the end-of-the-world." I may have told this story before, but when we were on the early flying sched a bunch of us would jump in our cars shortly after noon and drive the 4 hour drive to San Antonio like a bat out of Hell. for the weekend. When we got there we'd head for the bar at Randolph to tank up on cheap booze before we hit the town. Once, we couldn't help but hear the conversations from a group of officers sitting on the oppo side of the horse-shoe bar (it's like they're talking directly to you--no wonder bartenders are such good listeners!) Turns out they were all from the NYC, Philly, Nj area and thought SA was the end of the world. Worse, they'd just finished OCS and had spent many hrs in the hot TX sun doing PT so had a double reason to hate the place. But they whined so much finally one of my group piped up and said: "Hey, you guys think you've got it bad here? Guess what, you ought to come down to Del Rio where we are. We just drove 4& 1/2 hrs just to even GET here!" LOL!

    My time at LSU overlapped Buck's at Biloxi and I'll second his comments. It was a wild and wonderful place--mainly run by the "Dixie Mafia" crime syndicate in those days. Did I ever ask you if you ever made happy hour at Elsie's, Buck? It was inland just over the RR tracks. Mixed Drinks were 25 cents@HH! I'd order two doubles for a buck so I wouldn't have to make so many trips back to the bar, lol.

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    1. I sat here for the longest time trying to recall ANY names of the bars I frequented in Biloxi back in the day and I came up empty. Your memory is MUCH better than mine, Virgil. But as far as Elsie's goes, I can give you a definitely-mebbe. I was ALL about cheap back then, given as how i was living on a one-striper's wages. It wasn't unknown to go out on a payday weekend and blow my ENTIRE freakin' check on booze, and I mean that literally.

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  7. PS: Most people today don't know this but in the late 50s/early 60s, thanks to the Dixie Mafia there were several first rate supper clubs on the beach where 4-star (and lesser down-ward spiraling talent) from Hollywood & Las Vegas would cycle their acts thru. (e.g., Jane Mansfield was killed in an auto accident just outside Biloxi on the way from her late act @approx 2:30am in '66 on way to early am N. O. TV news show on old hwy 90.

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    1. I'm VERY fortunate I didn't end up like Miss Mansfield out on Highway 90... mainly coz my ideer o' fun the second time I was in Biloxi was to ice down a case o' beer in the back seat o' my SS396 Chevelle and go drag racing on 90. I'm SERIOUSLY fortunate to have survived my youth... in many more ways than one.

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  8. Buck, did you ever hit the Gumbo House? It used to be known for it's gumbo, crawfish, and hush puppies... And Hwy 90 WAS a trip! Sober or otherwise!!!

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    1. I don't remember the Gumbo House specifically, Old NFO. Then again, it's been over 30 years since I spent any time down that way. A lot o' brain cells have gone over the dam since then. ;-)

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