In Defense of Somewhere

I remember walkin’ ‘round the court square sidewalk
Lookin’ in windows at things I couldn’t want
There’s Johnson’s hardware and Morgan’s jewelry
And the ol’ Lee King’s apothecary


Somewhere — the gravel road I grew up on, the wharf I fished from, the woods at the end of the road where we roamed, the edge of the bayou where we fought off pirates to keep them from landing — is no longer. It is now an anywhere of pavement, sidewalks, Walmarts, hotels, casinos, and housing developments. Anywhere is nowhere.

I go back now, and the stores are all empty
Except for an old coke sign from 1950
Boarded up like they never existed
Or renovated and called historic districts

Anywhere is a global assault weapon, firing bullets of convenience and terminal extraction. Even without a smarter-than-you phone, you can find, around each corner, the Starbucks, the McDonald’s, the everywhere of anywhere. All the signs, hovering over expanses of concrete, flashing the conquest-driven desires of the Empire to colonize the somewhere.

Now the court square’s just a set of streets
That the people go round but they seldom think
Bout the little man that built this town
Before the big money shut em down

It always begins, thus, with the paving of roads. (For we all secretly know, the road in is a road out.) The new road comes to town and the longtime general store closes down, its population drawn by a siren’s call to the dollar store that opened in the next small town. Then, that up-and-coming town gets a check cashing store, and a rent-to-own, and a doublewide mobile home dealer. In a few years, that small town is compacted and consumed, repackaged and reissued, newly minted as a bedroom community of the anywhere. And its growing population learns the limited joys of spending its days circling the streets of plenty, like water in a drain.

He pumped your gas and he cleaned your glass
And one cold rainy night he fixed your flat
The new stores came where you do it yourself
You buy a lotto ticket and food off the shelf

A genius of this empire is that it was built in bricks of self-loathing. The new construct is a place where the food of one’s people is scorned and a quarter-pounder Thai burger sounds like a possibility, where the inhabitants wander around in such dislocation that their limbs move like invertebrates of the sea, clutching at random unneeded objects in a painful effort to perambulate down the Costco shopping aisles.

Now the bank rents the station
To a man down the road
And sells velvet Elvis and
Second-hand clothes

Until ultimately, used up and useless as a boarded-up Kmart that becomes a rock band masquerading as a non-denominational church, the Big Show leaves us, pulls out of town. In its wake a cratered post-battle landscape, a lonely fortified outpost of colonization on the edge of town that pays low wages and serves up a ghost offering to Anywhere. Pale in its incarnation, the orbiting halogen sun flickers just brightly enough to illuminate our dreams. And inside this opium den of our own making, clutching our pipe, we eagerly inhale the fumes and forget, for a while, that we once lived somewhere. That we were Somewhere. 

Now the court square’s just a set of streets
That the people go round but they seldom think
Bout the little man that built this town
Before the big money shut em down.

 (Lyrics courtesy of “Little Man” by Alan Jackson)



Reading this weekend: Where the Wild Winds Are, by Nick Hunt. Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.

11 thoughts on “In Defense of Somewhere

  1. On the way home from church I was reciting the names of the farmers I knew as a kid who have passed on and now their barns are falling down, and/or being torn down. Now their land is being farmed by the big boys, many of whom are going broke, or are technically insolvent. There is little “rural” community left. And to whose benefit?

  2. Ever walk past (or stop next to while waiting on a light) the local elevator and see a corn or wheat or soybean seedling growing in a crack in the sidewalk? Amidst all the noise, trash, pollution, and so forth – a new life taking its best shot. This accidental tourist takes up residence and does what it can to fulfill its destiny. A sort of ‘hope springs eternal’…

    I can relate to the experience of returning to somewhere I’d been long ago and finding it very different… though sometimes the changes are not for the worse. But I can also second hotrodinwi’s experience of passing by farms whose former owners I knew – or with my wife passing farms in her childhood community where she knew those now missing. The countryside is losing on a metric of ‘eyes to acres’ as Wendell Berry would put it.

    Change can be tough. I like Cindy’s idea – keep your own somewhere. Would that more folks might be inclined to put in the effort to make (and thereafter ‘keep’ their own somewhere). Perhaps the ‘keeping’ part is the more difficult.

    • Clem’s Daily Little Ray of Sunshine, I can see it as an advice column for the world weary.

      Well, I’m of the opinion that Anywhere has won the battle with Somewhere. It might swing back at some point in the future. But that cratered landscape won’t be as useful as a foot of good topsoil.

      Nevertheless, you are right that life is pretty resilient. A glass is raised to “the accidental tourists” of nature.

      • Hmmm – DLRS, perhaps a second ‘page’ at GP. But where on earth would one find the time?

        And a fine dichotomy you’ve built here: Anywhere vs. Somewhere. Coming to a channel near you on paid per view. The wags in Las Vegas have the challenger by odds of 5-2… but keep your money folks; put a down payment on a hill farm in a safe rural space and put down some roots. Create your own somewhere and raise a glass to whatever strikes your fancy. [And if you like, put up a few bird houses. The bluebird of happiness needs only a fair invitation]

  3. I couldn’t relate directly to the text’s mood for a couple of days, yet, waking up with a slight hangover that counts among the lesser evils of yesterday’s performance of Urban Opera To Be Shunned Or Endured – complete with our version of the quarter-pounder Thai burger – I certainly can now.
    I shall applaud myself for usually keeping away from mood-inducing performances after I’ve recovered.

Any thoughts or questions?