You know you’re in a really small Minnesota town when the cops jump-start your car.
“This all started because our squads would go dead,” said Bob Malz.
“Our squad cars have so much equipment in them, the batteries would go dead,” the Jordan police chief explained.
“And we were told not to jump-start them with other squads; it takes too much juice.
“You can’t have cars going to calls and the battery being dead. So we got a jump starter — like at Sam’s Club. I just put a 50-buck battery pack in the squads. And then I’m thinking, ‘If we’re driving around anyway, why not help the public if they need it?’ ”
Thus, the announcement this past winter: Car won’t start? Call us.
Ah, small-town America.
If you check the school website in New Prague, you will find the cellphone number of the superintendent of schools. Call that number, and he answers.
Call the bank in Elko New Market and ask to be put through to the president, and without even saying who you are, you are put through.
Elko doesn’t even have its own snowplow. Its library, until recently, was a Quonset hut.
Towns like these might be 5 or 10 minutes down the road from a suburb 10 times as big, but in some ways it’s a whole other world.
And as a new and first-ever citizen survey in Elko New Market makes clear, there’s still a lot to like about the “real-deal” small town orbiting the busy metro.
To be sure, the litany of troubles in the exurbs is familiar. High gas prices have hit hard for folks with long commutes. Foreclosures hit hard during the Great Recession, when grass grew long in abandoned yards. Growth slowed to a crawl.
But Elkoites, for the most part, cherish the age-old qualities of rural life.
“Three big things jump out at me when I think about the small towns in Scott County, or anyplace, versus much bigger cities,” said Dave Unmacht, who has been the top administrator both for the county as a whole and for tiny Belle Plaine:
“First, a strongly shared sense of heritage and history: deep roots all across town, with many descendants still remaining from the founding families.
“Second, that thing about the Six Degrees of Separation: everyone is connected, and when you are in touch with city hall, or with a business, there is often a family or a lifelong connection” — innate ties of the kind bigger cities have to sweat to instill.
“Third is the foundational importance of the schools,” symbolized tangibly, for instance, by the sign on the roadway leading into New Prague glorying in all the past state championships in sports.
Of course, some of that comfortable embeddedness comes off to newcomers as insularity.
An article in this section a few years ago about attempts to bridge the across-the-highway cultures of suburban newcomers and old-town old-timers sparked a series of scathing exchanges online. An old-timer in one small town interviewed for this article was embarrassed to be unable to name a single one of the thousands of commuting newcomers living on basically the same patch of ground.