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Sunday, June 27, 1999

It was fun running around town in a car, especially when the temperatures are in the three digits. Even now, at 9:00 in the evening it's 95 degrees outside. I did quite a bit of grocery shopping, took some books to the used bookstore to trade for credit, picked up some more books at the library, stopped at couple other places just to check them out.

The disadvantage is that when it's this hot I'm at my destination before the car cools off, whereas if I took the bus it would already be cool. It's no hotter waiting at the bus stop than in a sun heated car. It is nice to be able to just run over to someplace without studying the bus schedules. I will be glad to return the car tomorrow as I feel like it's such a responsibility and weight.

I found a great book at one of the used bookstores. It's "Let Us Build a City" by Donald Harington. It's about eleven towns in Arkansas that have city in their name, but are now practically gone. I love books like this that talk about the little people that make up history and all the hopes and dreams of the pioneers and wanderers.

There's no pattern in the founders or namers of these "cities" but they all hoped to be cities and now are barely towns. Often it was because the railroad bypassed it, or the main highway shifted or freight no longer was carried on rivers. The interviewer (not Harington) talks to the people, young and old, that still live in the towns or used to live in the towns. I went to highschool in Oklahoma City at the Putnam City Highschool. Putnam City also had hopes of being important and now is just a part of Oklahoma City.

It was interesting how so many people from Arkansas left, only to return. I went to grade school and junior high in a little town in northwest Arkansas, near three of the towns, and while it's a beautiful place there's not much to make a living from. Even then many of them raised chickens and I used to help one schoolmate feed the chickens in the huge metal barns when I would stay overnight with her.

The ground in the northwest is rocky and there's not a whole lot that you can raise though people do farm. Most of them also need to have a non-farm job. Even when I lived in Iowa, most of the farmers had a non-farm job just to make a living. They always took their vacations at planting and harvesting town. What a great vacation.

I'm only halfway through the book and it's over to the towns along the Mississippi that have a very different physical setting than the towns in the Ozarks, but the old, abandoned buildings look the same. I'm really enjoying reading about the towns and looking at the pictures. One of the saddest ones is a metal crib that is set on the grave of a baby. So sad!

I drive through so many little towns like these, all over the country, and they all have that sad look and I wonder why the town didn't make it. Was it an industry (logging, farming, ranching, chicken farms, mining) that didn't make it, or was it just that a nearby town took all the energy in the area, or the interstate bypassed it?

A large copper company is closing it's mine north of Tucson. The town is there only for the miners, many of who have never worked anywhere else, and often their parents worked there also. Most of them aren't trained for any other kind of job. What are they going to do? It's a good hour drive into Tucson, which people do but it's hard. They can't sell their homes because, all of a sudden, they're not worth anything, and many of them will probably have their homes repossessed. It's not the company's fault, just that copper isn't worth as much as it used to be. Now we use fiber optic and satellites for communication. There are a couple towns that will probably pretty much die off unless retirees start moving in.

Meanwhile towns that are just as far away, but on I-10 are booming and prices are soaring because people are moving there as they can use the interstate to get to work. More and more, most of our viable towns are on the interstates or major US highways. The other towns are often great places to live, but without jobs. I wonder what towns will survive fifty years from now. Will telecommuting totally change the patterns of our towns, or will we continue to concentrate in larger and larger cities?

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Rachel Aschmann 1999.
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