Saturday, May 26, 2012
Walking through downtown Decatur today, amid the bustle and shine of the Arts Festival, I'm reminded of a thousand tiny things I love about this town. Why we were drawn here, why we've stayed.
It's an eclectic little place, brimming with independent stores and restaurants, straining to retain its idiosyncratic identity as the demands of life in America stand on the outskirts, beckoning, threatening to smother us with its polyester and mortar.
We've got a children's bookstore on the square, a couple of laid back coffee shops that still serve small and large instead of tall and venti. There's a CD shop that stays open, we are most certain, out of defiance, and there's a New Orleans themed sno-cone eatery. There are more great indie restaurants than you can shake a soup spoon at, a pair of yoga studios, and multifarious specialty shops that get by, somehow.
Everything, these days, comes with the suffix of somehow.
As much as it feels like we live in our own little Mayberry bubble here in Decatur, this town has felt the effects of the past five years as much as any on the map. Businesses have come and gone, and growth has been slow. While no one likely wept over Ruby Tuesday's going away - in fact, some of us danced on its foreclosed roof - most all felt the blow of Watershed deciding to leave Decatur for the the promise of trendy Buckhead.
We're a citizenry that roots for the little guy, the underdog, the shop owner who knows us by name. We don't mind the occasional chain if it's not obtrusive, but when we can, we go out of our way to look out for our neighbors who chose to make Decatur their business' home.
Our politics run the gamut, though we're known as a blue spot on the map - there's a lot of diversity here. Lots of nationalities and lifestyles, a healthy representation of generations. Plenty of churches, a Buddhist meditation center, a mosque just on the outskirts, Quakers. Who has Quakers anymore? We do.
But, we're also constantly reminded that "progress", and I put big, hefty air quotes around that word, is imminent. We've got a Wal-Mart that is all but a done deal in our backyard. We've got a light rail line being proposed to run right through the biker-and-walker friendly streets. We've got chain stores lining up to seize property that no one was interested in three years ago (because wherever Wal-Mart goes, after all, the sheeple follow).
There's earnest trepidation about what all this will mean for our small town lifestyle, our trendy-and-indie status. It's a tapestry of close-knit neighborhoods, adorned with individuality and distinction. So, what happens when the world starts to eat away at that? What happens when that convenience many secretly want becomes...too convenient?
The good fight is being fought to protect against, or perhaps inevitably, peacefully co-exist with the machinations at our doorstep. We're a small town that thinks too big to ever be wholly consumed by consumerism, to ever let our annual Book Festival take a backseat to the two rows of shitty paperbacks that Wal-Mart tosses onto endcaps between their Xboxes and "Now That's What I Call Music Volumes 1-42" CD catalogue. You can build around us, but you can't unearth our roots.
So, today, as I walk around an Arts Festival that seems as at home here as Picasso in Paris, I'm reminded of the words to a song that seemed written for Decatur, though I'm sure the fella who penned it had a few square blocks of his native New Jersey in mind:
Here everybody has a neighbor
Everybody has a friend
Everybody has a reason to begin again
My father said "Son, we're lucky in this town,
It's a beautiful place to be born.
It just wraps its arms around you,
Nobody crowds you and nobody goes it alone
And, as he reminded us in a song some two decades earlier, "This is your hometown."
Today, I'm really grateful for that.