Why don’t people in small towns use their turn signals?
Because everyone knows where they’re going already.
Before we moved to Napa County in 2011, my family had lived seven years in Philadelphia, and before that in a succession of big cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Philly has about 1.4 million people, in a metro area of around 6 million in Eastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Our city council district had roughly the same number of residents as Napa County. Our Ward, which is the basic voting division of the city, had more people than American Canyon.
In D.C., which has about 630,000 people, also in a metro area of about 6 million, our city council district had more people than the city of Napa.
Living in a big city has many attractions, including a dazzling array of shops and restaurants, a diversity of ethnic and cultural neighborhoods, and access to a broad range of cultural, educational and health care institutions. But it’s also an experience of being surrounded by strangers all day. Even in tight-knit neighborhoods, there are far more people than you could ever know or even recognize. In crowded downtown areas, you’re constantly in a press of people you do not know.
Some people find that crowded anonymity refreshing. I find it rather alienating, but I didn’t realize it until we arrived in the Napa Valley.
As soon as we settled in Calistoga, we were embraced by the community and counted as part of the club. Shopping at the local stores, having a drink or meal at the local restaurants became a social event. As we’ve lived longer in the Valley and changed jobs, that kind of welcome social experience has spread to the other communities in the county. It’s hard to go anywhere without seeing at least someone we know.
Small town life does have its drawbacks. It’s hard to stay away from people who, for whatever reason, you don’t like or would rather not encounter. You can’t make a spectacle of yourself in public without everyone knowing. But on the whole, it is a pleasant and welcome change from the big city.
On Wednesday night, we went to a small concert at a winery in Calistoga, featuring a fan-favorite band that would be playing the weekly Concerts in the Park the next night. The air was warm but there was a refreshing breeze coming down off the surrounding hills. The crowd was full of friends and neighbors drinking wine and enjoying the show as kids scampered around and played games.
It was one of those rare, crystalline moments of pure pleasure. It was a moment when all of the troubles and dissension of local and national politics fade away and we could all just enjoy good company.
It’s not just in Calistoga — I have seen the same kind of thing at events like the annual Hands Across the Valley dinner in St. Helena or Napa’s beer festival, or Shakespeare in Veterans Park, or the new Locals Night Out every Wednesday at First Street Napa.
The next time I’m tempted to fume about traffic or tourism, or to fret about the cost of living around here, I’m going to remember moments like Wednesday night. It’s moments like that one that prove just how good we have it here.