Archive for February, 2007

Observations of Small Town Living (OOSTL)

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Yes, we have all the latest technology here. Imagine banking day or night.


Some towns don’t have such services. We filled up with gas one evening at a Conoco (major chain in this area) and they’d turned off the coffee pot (a decanter of old decaf was available), had their coats on and were pretty much ready close up for the night. I can’t think of a gas station in Illinois that closes…at all.

Observations of Small Town Living (OOSTL)

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

I meet with some friends at The Hoot Owl Cafe on Friday mornings. If you only come for the food, you miss half of what this place has to offer. The more I go, the more I like. Unlike the chain restaurants, the Hoot Owl is only open for breakfast and lunch. Probably because they understand the value of money compared to having a life. Unlike chains, the staff feels free to joke around, greet customers, give personal advice, criticize, and deny service. They’ll jump right in on conversations about things happening around town. This place has to be experienced. It is what many restaurants wish they were. Locals come and go and almost everyone (except me, but I’m working on it) know each other. I mean everyone. When Jenny and I first went there together there was one guy going from table to table showing everyone (‘cept us) a funny toy that he’d gotten for his brother in the hospital. The waiter invited a couple to his wedding. Folks talk across tables like they were at home.

If you have a beard, baseball hat (or better, a feed-and-seed hat), work boots, overalls, old t-shirt and work hard for a living you’ll fit right in. Anyone who knows me, knows that they look at me askance as I pass in my button-down shirt. Please don’t tell them that I don’t even own a pair of jeans… Or… maybe they’re just looking me in the eye. This common practice here in small town America is something to get used to. It’s called “greeting one another”. Where I was raised we just didn’t do this to strangers, and a majority of people are strangers. I missed out on a lot in life, but the folks here are like therapy. They’re helping make up for this childhood deficiency. It’s easy to get used to “kindness” and “courtesy” if you let it. Total strangers look you in the eye and they say, “hello” or “how are you?”. They wave from their trucks as you pass them on the road. And at the Hoot Owl, they look you in the eye and greet you as if they’re actually glad you took the time to stop in. Kindness extends beyond what you might expect. If you’re a regular and forget your money like my friend did the other day, just write you name on the check and pay next time you come in – amazing!
In addition to the people, this place has other elements that make up it’s atmosphere. Dozens of cheesy plaques that the look like they’ve been their since the miners used to eat here, extolling the virtues of good county living and jokes about marriage and money, to name a few. Each item that isn’t a regular part of food preparation or eating, such as the porcelain figurines, sugar dishes, plaques, plastic flowers, etc. is covered with thin layer of dust. The wait staff have no uniforms. It’s pretty much their day-to-day clothes, which can include t-shirts and jeans. There’s enough classic green and white cottage-motif paint coating the walls and window sills to increase the insulation value 50%. It’s so thick that it rounds the edges of all the wood and coats right down to the first coat of paint from when railroad workers ate here many generations ago.
I recommend the pancake – singular. I ordered pancakes once, had to take half of them home. The pancake is a disk of fresh and fluffy cake just like my grandma used to make, only bigger. It’s about the size of a Frisbee and the weight of a shot-put. It wouldn’t be complete without the heaping amount of butter, warm syrup and a personal comment (good, or sarcastic if they like you) from the waitress that comes with it. And if you’re a regular and your party can drink a pot of coffee, they’ll kindly make you a pot with double the grounds than their usual. Nothing like a good kick to start the day. On your way out, don’t be rude, be sure to say hi to anyone who looks you in the eye.

Observations of Small Town Living (OOSTL)

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

I’ve got a few little entries today.
About churches. Where I grew up, the growth rate of a church was a pretty good indicator of its adherence to biblical principals. There were other determining factors, of course, but if you were church shopping, going to a church of 100 people was risky. Here, there are quite a few good churches and very few people to attend them. Here, a church of 100 here is actually rather large. We’ve pretty much been to every church that had a chance in heaven of being a community that we could settle down and serve in. One church grew by 20% just by having Jenny and I attend their service, and the sermon was great. In the end there were only a few choices on our short list. I’m happy to report that we are now members of the Kootenai Community Church. Kootenai is the town we’re living in until our Cocolalla house is built (pronounced “kootnee,” or folks here will know you’re not from around these parts) and the church is a few blocks from the house we’re renting. Jenny and I have become fast friends with the pastor and his wife. They are clearly people of wide-ranging standards to accept both Jenny (high standards) and myself (rather low, don’t you think?). The Sunday school and church service could best be described as a place to grow in your understanding of the Bible. The sermons consist of a study of one or more verses, word for word, with a great deal of background. This type of thing is definitely not for everyone, but in this season of our lives, we feel strongly that God would like us to grow in our biblical studies and knowledge of His word. Here’s a picture of the church building, although we meet in a school across the street because the congregation has outgrown the building. The new church building is going up across town. God really wants us to be involved in building programs, since the last three churches we’ve attended have been smack dab in the middle of them.


Today we went to lunch at a diner in our local shopping mall. Well, they call it a shopping mall, but it’s more like a hallway lined with stores. Back home I used to walk about three miles with friends in the forest preserves, and on really nasty cold wet days we’d go “mall walking”. At Stratford Square Mall it would take 20 minutes at a good clip to walk around one of the two levels of the mall. Here, it takes about 2.
On the other hand, the forests here compared to Illinois are quite different. In Illinois they call them “forest preserves” which is akin to preventing yet another few acres of concrete cancer. Here, they preserve national forests – which is like preserving the horizon! Most people here have never heard the term “forest preserve”.
Finally, a fun observation of small town living. While eating lunch today at the diner in the mall, we observed something very unusual. Ray (our server) went to the register with a basket of food. He then grabbed one of those vintage bike horns with the rubber bulb that you squeeze, and held it out by the door into the mall and tooted it a few times. Moments later, a woman from the beauty school across the hall… I mean “mall” …comes in and pays him for the food and leaves. Five minutes later, same thing. This happened three times. I don’t know when they placed their orders, but somehow Ray has them trained to come and get them in proper sequence when their order is ready and they hear the horn.