Thursday, March 7, 2013

Six Degrees Or In My Biz


According to Wikipedia, the source for all that is factual and true, the phrase “six degrees of separation” is the theory that everyone and everything is just six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. If that’s true, then living in a small town keeps everyone just two steps away from knowing everyone else...where they work...if they've been divorced...where they live. And when that small town is nestled in an isolated mountain community, people might as well accept we're all really just one, baby step away from knowing all these facts about each other, plus pet names, car models, preferred coffee and latest physical ailments.

I came from big cities where I was lucky to even know who my neighbors were two houses down. If it wasn't for the circle of people I knew in my church or school, I’d have easily been a loner in a crowd of suburbia. As it is now, I try hard to be a hermit in the midst of 5000 people I know or at the very least recognize.  

When my kids were small, we ventured to California for the requisite Disneyland visit. In the midst of the enchantment of castles, dressed characters and throngs of milling people, we ran into a family we knew from our home town. What were the odds? Well, apparently the odds dramatically increase in a small town where there is nary an unfamiliar face, compared to a huge city where the circle of friends is limited.

Within our alpine village knowing a person goes beyond just recognizing their face, it also extends to knowing their vehicles. I learned this lesson early on. For years my husband was a church minister in town—the opportunity for folks to know who we were before we learned who they were rose exponentially. One day I stopped at the local liquor store to restock my cooking wines, one each in red and white. Before the week was over, some well-intentioned saint let me know he'd seen my car out and about. “Oh really,” I asked, still naïve and therefore a bit surprised.

“Yeah, saw you were at the local liquor store.”

I peered at the good brother. Was that meant as a judgment? I never was quite sure, but from then on I resorted to bootlegging our alcohol. Out-of-town friends and family soon learned to ask us before a visit, “Can I bring you anything from the liquor store?”

With a hand cupped secretively around the mouthpiece of the phone, I’d whisper in conspiratory tones, “Yes. Please. Some beer and a bottle of cooking wine would be much appreciated. Use the back door.” 

Years later, when my little red Toyota was a fixture in town, friends and colleagues at work started teasing me about seeing me in my car, waving and being ignored. “I swear,” I protested, “I never saw you.” But my apparent sightings increased and people continued to inform me about my supposed snubbing. Funny thing is, I noticed people waving at me with enthusiasm and smiles from inside their cars, and yet I couldn't have said who they were. But maybe I just wasn't in the habit of recognizing people by their cars yet.

Even my husband joined in, “I saw you in your car today and gave you a wave. You totally looked at me and looked away.” I was stumped. Was I that zoned out to people around me once I got into my car?

Finally after several weeks of this, there was a crack in the case of The Car Snubbery. I pulled into my work parking lot just as another little red Toyota pulled in next to me. The driver stepped out—a young woman with long blonde hair…just like mine. As I gazed at her, blinking, I started to put the pieces together. “We have similar cars,” I said in way of a greeting. She smiled patiently at my astute observation. “Do you ever get people you don’t know waving at you?” I asked, hoping she’d help me solve the mystery.

Her eyes widened slightly as she too put the pieces together. “Yes, I do,” she said. 

“One of us needs to cut or dye our hair or something,” I said. We introduced ourselves. Turns out, not only did we drive similar cars and were mutual victims of mistaken identity, but we worked at the same college, just a building away from each other. And now, I was one degree closer to knowing and waving to all her friends, a whole new subset of fine company in this small town.

What're the odds? 



16 comments:

  1. Oh I do love a good small town mystery :)

    I remember when Daron first moved to the US. Granted, he'd been visiting Louisiana for several years, but only a few weeks at a time. He never understood the whole waving at everybody mindset. In London that could get you pulled over, or driven to the local psychiatric wing.

    Now? He smiles and waves at everyone passing, accepts the quirks of small town living. (And refuses to return to a big city).

    As always, a wonderful insight!

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    1. I know, right? Bootlegging... mistaken identity... the makings of a fine novel.

      I sometimes forget though, if you're in the big city and make eye contact and smile it can be easily misinterpreted or at the very least, a bit awkward. I'm so used to doing that here. The other thing, and perhaps a topic for another post, is to be careful getting impatient in the car-- chances are you know that person and will see them at the grocery store, church, next PTA meeting.

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  2. It definitely sounds like the making of a fine novel! I grew up in a smallish town and although I didn't know everyone's name, I certainly could identify faces and some cars. From there I went to university in an urban setting and I shocked my roommates by smiling at or saying hello to people I didn't know. In my defense, I usually reserved those friendly moments to hiking trails and long walks . . .but it still marked me as a small town girl.
    Now I'm back in a smallish town with a suburban sprawl around it . . .and I get in trouble for not waving. :)

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    1. There is a brand of waving from a car my husband calls the "Kansas wave" or "farmer wave". It involves lifting just one finger (no, not THAT finger), the pointer finger as the hand is on the steering wheel. Sometimes it can involve a slight dip of the head. Very subtle for traveling in a car, I think. (I'm told there's a motorcycle wave too-- hand and arm extended down, palm out.)

      And right, Tyrean. If you don't wave, look out-- people may start calling you on it like they did me! :)

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  3. Oh that is funny! I can pass someone in a grocery store and not even notice them. It's not "snubbery", it's just that I'm on a mission and "in the zone".

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    1. To get any shopping done sometimes, I HAVE to put my head down and pretend not to see people. We have two grocery stores in town. Not knowing someone is impossible-- it's the joke in town to add a half-hour on to any shopping trip for socializing. ;)

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  4. Sounds like your "six degrees of separation" is more like "negative two degrees of separation"! A delightfully vivid post. We came from the big town of Raleigh, NC almost two years ago; now we live just outside of Stem, where there's a flashing light at the four-way stop, and Shoofly, where the sign disappears every few years because folks just love the name. There's nothing like rural living. I can't idenfity folks by their vehicles, but I have noticed that many of the farms around here have several cars and trucks. I'd love an old work truck myself. My husband's fancy-schmancy Chevy truck seems just a tad out of place, although we do love traveling in it. You wrote about folks making extra time for socializing; here it happens at the hardware store!

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    1. The hardware store-- I wonder if some areas also have the local social hour at the feed stores, depending on the area. That's great!

      Now I never thought of the type of car, but now that you mention it, this is a total Subaru type of an area.

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  5. What a funny story. I just got a new car and I'm so puzzled why my friends aren't waving at me.

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    1. There you go! LOL-- it's allll in the car. ;) Thanks for stopping by and reading.

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    2. You've got a doppelganger! She'll commit the crime, you'll do the time. ACK! Could you imagine?

      This was a great post, Julie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know small towns and big cities and the social mentality of both. I'm usually too focused on what I'm doing to pay attention to who people are. I just see a figure moving...until they run their shopping basket into mine. "Don't pretend like you didn't see me..." I wasn't pretending.

      Love this place.

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    3. LOL I love that last line. Yes, truly, I try to keep my head ducked down. Although, honestly, other times I really appreciate the social aspect and checking in that goes on. It's got its good sides too.

      Thanks Mike-- and maybe I should have set the title off with parenthesis.

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  6. That is too funny -- for years people have said they know my doppelganger, and that goes for every state I've ever lived in. Apparently I have one of those faces!

    I've never met her myself!

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    1. You know, outside the cars we didn't look that much alike. I think it was the long, blonde hair and our little Toyotas. If I recall, she was a bit younger than I was. But that worked for me! (Don't know how she felt about that....)

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  7. LOL! I really got a kick out of your having to "bootleg" your liquor. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't go into the liquor store to buy my wine, which, by the way, is for drinking . And as I read your piece, it reminded me that I need to stop there tonight to grab a bottle.

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    1. I don't do that anymore, Mel. That was back when I was still trying to fit a role. Thank goodness those days have passed! I walk in, buy my wine and beer and keep my head up these days! Grab me a bottle too.. red or white? ;)

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