It was my 33rd birthday. We were meeting my family at a local restaurant for dinner, a place owned by a guy with whom I went to high school. I happened to share that bitty of information with all at my table, and my brother, who had gone off to college in Boston and was now back at the table (and apparently eons smarter than all of us -- who knew), chuckled and shook his head.
"What?" I asked. He responded, "Anyone who comes back to the town they grew up in, to live, is a loser." By the way, he was living in the town that we were raised in, while I was a town away. Technically, he was poking fun at himself, which he somehow seemed not to realize.
Aside from being obviously offended, I completely disagreed. His basis for that statement was that people should graduate high school, go to college and move away. "But why move away?" I asked. He just shook his head, once again, no words to back it up.
Being a local is a wonderful thing. It means living in a town you know inside and out, knowing where to eat, where to shop, and who is pouring your coffee every morning. It doesn't mean locking yourself down and never leaving the town. I live just 25 minutes from New York City. I can get through to the other side of the tunnel in less than a half an hour. Museums, shopping, theater, dining, you name it. I read the NY Times, the Daily Record, and the local papers, the Neighbor News and The Citizen. All have something to offer. The Times gives me a world view, the Daily Record gives me a countywide clip, and the local papers literally talk about things that my neighbors are doing, and events that are happening within five minutes of my home.
The town I live in has a market, which is a gourmet deli and catering company. That's about all for my town. We do have the main highway that has a couple of places to dine, but in terms of feeling like we are staying in town, that's it. It's a small, affluent area with a library, post office, and five lakes. It wasn't created for strip malls and shopping days out. However, it is flanked by two other towns, Boonton and Denville. Both offer fabulous, independently owned places to eat and shop. Someone I once knew said, "vote with your dollars" which basically means that where you spend your money shows what you support.
In Boonton, there is Roma Pizzeria & Restaurant, which is my favorite place for pizza. When I am in Denville, though, I visit Denville Pizzeria. Boonton has a Mexican restaurant, sushi, Chinese food, and American fare. There are shops that carry furniture, fashion, home goods, and there's even a gourmet doggie shop. Denville has more of the same, and the best diner on the planet, Denville Diner. There's also an ice cream shop, a rice pudding shop, a health food market, two vegetarian dining spots, and bars. W and I normally just stay in the area when going for a drink or dining out. Why drive 30 minutes when everything you need is right under your nose and just as wonderful?
Locals know me; they know my son. At times, when I am rushing or I just don't feel like talking, being so local can be annoying. The ten minute conversation I really don't want to have happens, and if I don't participate, I am perceived as rude. W says that I actually engage the person with whom I am talking. Perhaps that's true. I guess I just don't know how to disengage. Outside of that, being local is a lovely thing. I feel safe knowing that everywhere I go, I will see someone that I know.
It's really important to continue to support local spots. I had to go to the mall for something (God, I hate that place) and while I was there I noticed that four stores had closed. It's a small mall, so four empty stores really stood out. Our economy is kicking us hard in the ass, which is why it's even more important to spend your dollars in your own town. It's our job to support what we love, and to keep our towns thriving so that our kids will have local places to go, and as they get older, places to work after school and on the weekends.
Tonight, I am hosting an art opening in Denville. Nearly all of the artists are local, and showing their art gives me great pride. You know, New York City isn't the only place to experience art and culture. Everywhere you look, in every town, you can find greatness, as long as you are willing to look.