This week marks the one year anniversary for my life in Idaho, and with that, it’s time to **~~CeLeBRAaATE~~**!!
Boy oh boy, a lot can happen in a year. I used to be super miserable and a little scary, but not any more! Thanks to a boyfriend, a new apartment and fun extra-curricular activities, I’m usually only miserable as a novelty. As I sat at the anchor desk fist-pumping over the fact that Pocatello would be sunny today, I realized (and have realized lately) that I’ve built up a lot of Poky Pride in year. And it’s not just because of those trash trucks (town inside joke!!). Though it has its faults, this city is more civically engaged than most, it has a great sense of community and a dedicated core working toward revitalization. Zealous conservative religious types work alongside our shreddingly awesome gay bar, and when anybody’s kid has an illness or someone’s house burns down, everybody turns out to donate money and man the potato bar.
My guess? Most people know how it feels to be the other guy. To be the have-not. And they extend sympathy because of that empathy. I would say, because of geography, history and socio-economic factors, it’s part of the town’s identity. And these damn people are melting my cold, cold heart with it all.
I spent four years of college being involved with a program called CIVICUS, whose director, Sue Briggs, taught us the importance of bowling in leagues and getting out from behind your computer to talk to the person beside you. She also painstakingly drilled into our heads that those things help break down barriers and empower people, and that power helps them create good things. I can see that spirit at work here in Pocatello, and there are few things more redeeming.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that this is a true small American city. We’re not a suburb — escaping to the BIG city requires a nearly three-hour drive — so anything you want to do needs to happen here. Those constraints make “local” beautiful, and force people to create with thought and care. In the ’90s (or so) the part of town I live in, Old Town, used to be a scary place (or so I hear). It was the collapsed sigh of railroad, industry, saloons and other naughties, and my understanding is that bad shit went down.
Now, a concentrated revitalization effort has made Old Town the place to be for any weird, wannabe-hip newbie or general local-lover. We have fun restaurants, a sweet farmer’s market, quirky shops, one of the best bars I’ve ever been to and a legit co-op that makes people from Boise jealous.
This Sunday, I was in my favorite bar, The Flipside, listening to live music from this Chicago band called Dastardly, falling in love with their hootenannies, drinking some bad ass beer called Aventinus and laughing my head off.
After the show, Jamie and I ended up talking to this guy named Henry, a member of a local band called Philo T and the Spud City Scientists, about music and the town. He and his girlfriend, Elise, moved to Pocatello from Somewhere-Cooler-Seeming, California. Jamie and I could only exasperate, “Why??!?”
Henry said, in California, he felt like he would get to a certain point of relative success in his life and then he’d want to kill himself. He saw equilibrium without further progress as the slow crawl toward death, and I guess, always figured that he’d just want to die at that point.
But when he and Elise found Pocatello, he said they found a place where they didn’t have to stop growing. He could run his screen printing and manufacturing shop from his basement, be in a local band and work at this local non-profit business that employs developmentally disabled adults with the woman he loves — and it would mean something.
As obsessed with the idea of existential ennui as I am, I listened to Henry in awe. “This place isn’t anything,” he said, “unless we make it something. It is what we put into it.”
Here it was: The human manifestation of the lessons I learned five years ago. And more than that, I’m living in it. The blank canvas, the open door, the opportunity to make your life better than you thought it could be, if only you give it a go. Maybe it’s the titration of rugged individualism, maybe it’s the force of a lack of options but I’m less worried about the means than the ride.
Pocatello? Ya gimme hope.
[Disclaimer: There are still a lot of things to fix. We have a lot of domestic violence, a branch of unflinching intolerance and meth. But still, hope.]