With residents mostly emigrating from colder climates, my hometown really is a Southern (geographically) and Northern (cultural) fusion. Nicknamed “Paradise,” Sarasota, Florida’s motto boasts “Big City Amenities Meets Small Town Living.”
The town has plenty of personality with its big-meets-small mentality, beaches, and population. If you land in the airport, you’ll find a shark tank to greet you just outside of TSA Security. The “small town living” note on the sign should really say “small beach town living,” since Sarasota boasts one of the USA’s consistently best-rated beaches. Its affluent nature no doubt relates to the culture that John Ringling helped infuse into the society.
While travelling recently to a community on a rabbinic visit, I encountered another city with a very clear, yet completely different identity: Kilgore, Texas.
I had the pleasure of driving over from Longview after my visit had concluded to play a round of golf with some fellow golf-obsessed Nice Jewish Boys. Titled the “city of stars,” it’s not for astronomical or astrological reasons. Instead, it’s due to the discovery of oil in 1930. The “stars” to which it refers are the tops of oil derricks.
Never had I entered a city whose identity is so clearly played out virtually everywhere you go. As you drive in, instead of a shark tank, you are greeted by a giant oil derricks holding up the road sign. Immediately following is another oil derrick with the welcome sign… on which stands yet another oil derrick. I stopped in Circle K to grab a Gatorade to stay hydrated— lo and behold, an oil derrick was a column holding up the front overhang.
When I pumped my gas on the way out of town, I noticed that even the liquor store’s sign was modeled after the oil derrick. There’s something important about a town’s history, identity, and culture from what they make sure you notice while you’re there.
Whether it’s beaches or bohemian flair, olive trees or oil derricks, all towns are built around something. I will certainly pay more attention to the cities I enter from now on, looking for these markers that help explain who they are. It’s all part of hitting the road and really getting to know the communities we visit.
For what is your city best known?
Does it have a slogan?
How does its identity on display as you wander the streets?
Golf. A sport usually reserved for the hoighty toighty, and/or generally older crowd. A sport where people ride in little carts and get out of them to whack a tiny plastic ball into a tiny plastic cup.
Of course, if you’re someone like me, a native of Florida who grew up surrounded by the sport, you just might fall in love with it at a young age. (I received my first new set of golf clubs when I became Bar Mitzvah!)
When I go golfing, I usually pull up to the parking lot, lace up my spikes, and immediately feel insignificant. Why? My little Jetta was several years older, and thousands of dollars cheaper, than the BMWs and Maseratis that occupied the spaces around me in my former locales (South Florida when I was growing up, then Southern California when I was in rabbinical school).
But then I moved to the South. The vehicles in the parking lot changed. And…
I STILL felt insignificant.
Not because of my car’s value, but now, due to its stature. The sheer size of the vehicles surrounding me was intimidating. Liberties and Tundras and Blazers, oh my!
As a rabbi who spends many weekends on the road, I try and sneak in a round of golf on a local Southern course wherever I find myself. (Full disclosure, I cannot consistently break 90.) Most recently, after a great weekend at a synagogue in Jackson, Tennessee, I had the realization that I was surrounded by trucks! It felt like every vehicle parked nearby was a Ford F-150, a Jeep Wrangler, or something even bigger.
Awestruck by this, I literally began counting cars, discovering that 13 out of 21 vehicles (a whopping 62%!!!) were trucks or SUVs. My initial reaction was “Is this the status symbol in this area? It’s not how quickly your Porsche can accelerate to 60 miles per hour, but how what pound-feet of torque your Chevy has?”
Then it occurred to me that these golfers might live a different lifestyle – the kind that requires a different vehicle. After all, my father, a plant facilities manager at a North Georgia summer camp, has not one but TWO trucks. He uses them to carry two-by-fours, potted plants, and all manner of large items returning from one of his daily (sometimes hourly) trips to the hardware store. His vehicle isn’t about status, it’s about function.
Maybe some of my ideas about golf, and golfers, need some adjusting. Plenty of people down here love the game that I enjoy so much, no matter what any of us drive. Maybe our region dictates our driving choice more than our hobbies do.
But whatever the reason, there sure are a lot of trucks around these parts, and not just at the golf course. I counted 21 trucks/SUVs out of 29 vehicles in an airport lot the other day. It’s a phenomenon – but what the phenomenon indicates is still something to wonder about…
Maybe I’ll chat about this with my fellow golfers out on the course at the Delta Jewish Golf Open this weekend.
Do you notice the vehicles around you in different settings? Ever had any revelations while “counting cars”?
I’ve been settling in to my new home in Jackson, Mississippi, for just over a month now, and it seems like every day I’m learning something new. And every day I’m asked some variation of the the question: ”Why’d you move to Jackson?”
Or more pointedly, “Why would you move from Southern California to Jackson, Mississippi?”
So I thought I’d highlight some of the awesome things I’ve learned about my new home and workplace, already.
My work location: I live just a couple of miles up the road. Yes, those roads are not particularly smooth, but my commute is short. In fact, when the weather changes from sweltering to bothersome heat, I may even ride a bike! Obviously the people who ask why I moved have never dealt with Los Angeles Traffic.
My work space: No, I don’t have a window. No, I don’t have space for all my books. BUT where else would my office be able to have a map of Jerusalem, a Bill Aron photograph of a synagogue, a classic tour Israel poster, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Wolverine?
My work team: I don’t remember being quite so talented or dedicated when I came out of college as our Fellows seem to be. They show up with bright eyes and bushy tails every morning, ready to be creative and helpful for all our communities.
My work travel: I love maps and geography. My wife has to restrain me from filling our house with map-based art. Now, I get to both drive and fly to all sorts of new and interesting locations. We have a beautiful country with many interesting sights and attractions. I’m excited to visit what lies in my new backyard!
And besides, how can you not love a new hometown where there’s a Pothole Robin Hood?
Have you ever moved from one place to another, and had people question the decision? Tell us all about it in the comments below!