I don’t write much about small town life these days because I’m so engrossed in work that I never seem to experience it. But this morning the phone rang at 8am, as I was munching on a piece of homemade bread and peanut butter. “Karen? This is Harry Jennings, from the fire department.” I knew who Harry was: he is Great Barrington’s fire chief, in fact, and was calling to ask if he could come up to the house and inspect my new oil tank. He said, “I know you go to work about 8.30 so I figured I could catch you at home—mind if I come up now?”
How, you might wonder, does he know my work schedule? It’s simple, really. I walk down the hill every morning and past the old fire house, often nodding hullo to the guys there. Now and then I’ve seen Harry chatting with Burke LaClair, our town manager. Burke definitely knows who I am. I once called Town Hall to inquire about taking out papers to run for the selectboard and within 24 hours, I was told, news that I was going to run had spread around town.
It’s quite nice having a friendly relationship with the fire chief, but I wasn’t pleased to be grocery shopping the other day and having someone I just barely recognized push her face close to mind as I bent over the cheeses, demanding information about my house. That’s small town life, too. These days, as I spend more and more time talking about online communities, it’s good to be reminded of the pleasures, and drawbacks, of real-life, real-time communities. I’d like to find a way to collect stories and examples of these interactions, to see if we can learn more about how to make our communities strong and healthy, whether they’re proximate (geographically bounded) or virtual.