What do you do in that little town?


Near the top of the list of dumb questions I get asked is this: "So, what do you do there?" This generally follows my telling anyone who has never been to Logan, Utah, that I live in Logan, Utah. In general, though, it is a question asked by those who mistakenly believe they live somewhere and you live nowhere. The "somewhere" people live in the cities that have their own inserts on the state maps, while your hometown — if it’s nowhere — is relegated to a dot.

The prejudice also runs along compass lines. I grew up in the map-insert city of St. Louis, but also briefly lived in another insert called Baltimore. People there used to ask me what I did in St. Louis, as if anything that far from the East Coast was just a collection of cow pies and riverside shacks. Of course, since I moved to the dot town of Logan, even those riverside shack cow pie collectors are starting to give me the what-do-you-do?

I live in a medium-sized dot town where it sometimes seems like too many people know your name, gossip travels faster than broadband internet and it takes three generations before you’re considered a local.

To be fair, I find myself wondering about living in Delta, Utah, or Delta, Colo., or any number of even tinier dot towns I drive through on trips. It is sometimes hard to imagine anyone living in these collections of buildings, food franchises and homes. Then again, the bitter truth is that we all pretty much do the same sorts of things no matter where we live. Sure, there may be a choice of 5,000 restaurants and bars in the bigger cities, but unless you are part of the leisure class, you probably stick with your favorite few.

So the next time someone asks you, "What do you do there?" you can pull this out and read it to them.

This is what we do:

We get up slightly groggy and wish we had slept more. We eat something and scan the newspaper for oddities and horrors, stopping briefly at the obituaries to see if anybody we know or anyone younger than us has died. We go to work or school, still wishing we had slept more and pondering the choices we have made that could have led to more money, less stress, greater appreciation and a flatter stomach. Some of us listen to NPR and others listen to the loud morning jokesters on the classic rock stations because both make us feel somehow smarter. When we arrive at our jobs, we exchange gossip and complain about anybody who makes more money than we do, as well as about people we think are less intelligent than we are. We share our travel photos and the jokes we got through e-mail.

We have our annual parties that revolve around holidays, birthdays, going away and sometimes sheer boredom. We have potluck parties, picnics and too much food for no good reason. There is a restaurant we don’t go to because it is too crowded and another one we loved that recently went out of business.

We have friends who get divorced, and we take sides. We have friends who we always suspected would get in trouble, who do. We have friends who we never suspected but should have. We raise kids and dogs and tomatoes. Some of our dogs bark and annoy the neighbors. Some of our kids get in trouble and some of them make the honor roll. We hire our friends to build the deck and do wedding photography. We buy bumper stickers to express what we cannot.

We complain about growth and change and use buildings that used to be something else as points of reference. Some of us talk politics while others just talk about sports and movies.

Grandparents and then parents die and some of us finally reach some semblance of maturity. Some people always complain and never leave and others just leave without a word. We eat dinner, wash dishes, pay bills, and mow lawns if we have them. We worry about the future and lightly reminisce about the comforting memories that lull us to sleep — all the time wondering what people do in those other map-dot communities.

Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He works in the communications office of Utah State University in Logan, Utah, the dot of a town he has lived in for 24 years.

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