It’s normal to feel boxed in

Adjusting to small town life

To “adjust” suggests a process of forgetting something. What if small town life keeps reminding you of how confining it is?

I snapped the above photo at a local event. The car in the middle was mine. The vehicles on either side are long-stretch pickups.

I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as a “long-stretch pickup.” I’m conflating the terms “stretch limo” and “extended-cab pickup.” Long-stretch fits what the eye sees.

Like limos on prom night, pickups are everywhere in the town where I live. These particular trucks had parked while I was away. I returned to my small car surrounded by two vehicular walls. I backed out carefully.

The jury is out on a small town life. One thing is fair to say. There’s a sense of claustrophobia that comes with moving to a small town.


“There’s a sense of claustrophobia that comes with moving to a small town.”

— Eugene Havens, Recently Rural

Yes, there’s claustrophobia in a big city as well. A New York sidewalk can make you feel overrun. The congestion on a Los Angeles freeway can leave you feeling like a prisoner in your car. The difference lies in what you gain for putting up with inconveniences and compromises.

Compromises vs. benefits

A city is congested because it has a lot to offer. There’s a lot there. You endure gridlock or having your foot stepped on. It’s worth it to you. Among all these people, you’ll find valuable opportunities. It could be a job, a friendship, or the chance to learn something new.

A large population leads to critical mass. The person cutting you off in traffic could be making the next movie you’ll go see. Feeling “boxed in” is, in a weird way, a kind of privilege. It’s what makes the city profitable.

A large population leads to critical mass.

In a small town, you can feel claustrophobic with no one around. The sky stretches out overhead. Population density can register in the single digits. You have all the space you want. What do you get for it? Opportunities are as scarce as crowds.

Autonomy vs. interaction

Some are inclined to rural life. A deserted street is nirvana. It’s a life of no compromise. You’re in charge of your personal space. Don’t tread on me.

The rural person may not say it, but the highest goal of rural living is autonomy. For the city person? Autonomy has proven to be limiting. What the city person wants is interaction. Where is there to go? What’s open? In the city, you share public spaces with others. It’s sort of the point.

Small towns exist to prevent critical mass.

Before you move to a rural place, you try to imagine what it will be like. You anticipate the shock of living at a slower pace. Can you ever get used to it? City culture is a byproduct of too many people sharing one small area. Small towns exist to prevent critical mass. To a rural person, it’s a breath of fresh air. To a city person, it’s more of a locked room.

—Eugene Havens

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