“… my bed is in a small town
Oh, and that’s good enough for me.”
John Mellencamp, “Small Town”
And it’s good enough for me, but maybe not for some passersby. On Aug. 25, I was approached by a group of ladies who regularly have coffee at our local coffee shop — the Stomping Grounds in Staples, Minn. (Not a Starbucks or a Caribou.)
They were disturbed by an Aug. 22 article in the Star Tribune (“Streetscapes: Towns along the way”). It was written by James Lileks about his journey along Hwy. 10 through small-town Americana. I read the article closely, even though I usually read this section for the crossword puzzles.
The women were offended, as were others in our community of Staples, by Lileks’ seemingly ridiculing visual aspects of various small towns as he drove along Hwy. 10 — maybe praising some small towns over others. I took the article to be more of a nostalgic journey away from the freeway and into smaller communities along less-traveled routes.
I would like to believe that Lileks was only looking at the evidence of the grand past of communities when the freeways did not exist and railroads were major stops in many towns such as Staples. In our town, the Batcher Opera House still exists. At one time many professional acting, dancing and musical troupes stopped at these railroad sites to perform. This was Americana.
Yes, that era is gone because of freeways and railroad oil service and the “need for speed” to wherever we think we are going.
The point being, I think the writer was looking only on the nostalgic surface and the facades and signs of buildings along what he could see by driving through the various small towns along Hwy. 10. If not, he would have certainly mentioned the beautiful structure with the name Lakewood Health System boldly printed on the building. (That health system provides health care to several rural communities, offering specialists in virtually any health care need.) He certainly would have noted the new high school and wellness center in Wadena.
It’s true that big-box stores have sucked the life out of many small towns, but these communities have found other ways to thrive. A traveler, however, would need to get off the highway and step into the heart of the community to see how it continues to live and grow and offer the kind of life that not only has its struggles, but also the ease and peaceful life that many of us seek.
Staples, for one, has a history of outstanding “Academics, Athletics, and Arts.” Look it up!
Our community works hard to sustain, and we are thriving. So are our neighboring communities. I am not sure what Lileks intended to say in his article. Personally, I was not offended, but many others were. Maybe he was too ambiguous in the message he was trying to convey. I would like to believe he was suggesting we get off the “interstates of life” and take the roads less traveled. Americana remains in the small towns. And if I were a Perham or a Frazee resident, I would question that Lileks failed to mention those towns, instead jumping right over them to Detroit Lakes. Heaven forbid!
Becky Hasselberg lives in the Staples-Motley area.