If You Pay More For Everything, Then Life Is Better, Right?

“If You Pay More For Everything, Then Life Is Better, Right?”

Every town has its unique features–those little lifestyle elements that contribute to the feeling of the place. Such features are often taken for granted by longtime residents, but, man-o-man, are they noticed by the newbies and visitors.

For example, as has been intimated in previous posts, when I first moved to Austin, MN, more than a decade ago, I noticed (a tame term for something that was more of a physical recoil coupled with violent gagging) the smell of the SPAM cooking at the Hormel plant. I also filed away the sound of the pigs heading into the kill line, literally Auschwitz-style on a train chugging into the compound of the plant, in my Permanent Sense Memory files. Even though I’ve now been seven years away from that town, I still remember the frantic squeals.

Earlier than Austin were my years in the panhandle of Idaho, where lifestyle consisted of an unthinking respect of guns, even when shot at children during the Ruby Ridge incident, Another facet of lifestyle up there was a belief in White Power. Goooo, um, white folks with guns. If you own’t fight for your liberty, how will you ever enjoy equality?

Long before that, even, I lived in my hometown in Montana (Idaho’s kissing cousin), a place typified by gun racks hanging in the cabs of pick-up trucks–and these in the parking lot of my high school. There was nothing like hearing the bell ring at the end of the school day, slamming my physics book into my locker, fluffing my bi-level hair and enormous shoulder pads, and heading out to the parking lot to admire who had the most firepower on wheels. Then I’d head home to eat a pound of beef straight from a cast-iron skillet.

Suffice it to say, I’m a lifestyle connisseur by this point, always inventorying what makes a place tick. In my current hometown, one I chose on purpose, there is a clear sensibility, one that is built around kayaks, canoes, Subaru Outbacks, black labs running wildly off-leash, and ore ships. As I harken back to my upbringing surrounded by the arid Rimrocks in Montana, I can hardly reconcile the sound of a foghorn that permeates so many of my adult days. Startlingly, I now live in the midst of a water-obsessed cabin culture.

Thus, when I’m on vacation, as now, you can slap your chaps with complete confidence that I’m taking stock of the vibe of each place. And here in Boulder, in Colorado, my work is easy.

Because, you see, Boulder is a loud and proud lifestyle city.

For a million bucks, you can buy a shack. For five dollars, you can buy a candy bar. It’s all rather New York, eh? What’s so fun and trippy about Boulder is that the dominant feeling is “we’re hippy-dippy and have tattoos on the napes of our necks hovering just above our yoga-toned arms which are highlighted by our $60 tank tops while we’re out running the trails in between trips to the oxygen bar.” The place, purely and simply, is about living deliberately and embracing health and sun and skiing and two hundred dollar dinners, all of which are, in turn, punctuated by buskers on the walking mall singing “Peace Train” off key.

Even though it’s all so very high maintenance, I dig it. And it will be okay to leave it in a few days, too.

Let me present you with this case study as evidence of Boulder life: we are staying in the home of dear, dear friends of mine this week; they currently happen to be on vacation with their two daughters, but they are generously letting us stay in their empty home. I yuv them.

At the same time, I can tell tales from their cupboards–stories about the Spirulina Powder, the Vegan Vanilla Rice Protein Capsules, the Whole Psyllium Husks, and the Bio-Cleanse Capsules. If these were the only things in the kitchen cupboard, I would be scared of my own friends.

Reassuringly, though, they also have delicious and toxic Cheez-Its in the cabinets, and the house is littered with stores of Happy Meal toys (our kids stumble across them and shout out in recognition). Really, if we took away the Spirulina Powder, the Vegan Vanilla Rice Protein, the Whole Psyllium Husks, and the Bio-Cleanse Capsules, it would be just like home.

Except a hell of a lot cleaner. They have a cleaning woman, you see. In Duluth, we just call that a “Jocelyn.”

Cheaper, at any rate. And we do find we get what we pay for.


So do tell, readers: what are the lifestyle trademarks of your town? Gertrude Stein famously said of Los Angeles, “There’s no there there.” What puts the there into your place?





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39 responses to “If You Pay More For Everything, Then Life Is Better, Right?”

  1. Tracey Avatar

    Well, you see, I’m stuck between two towns. One that has I-5 running smack dab through the middle of it, and one that hasn’t got a stop light. Which lifestyle would you like to hear about?

    Okay, I thought so.

    Logging is the number one employer. Men wear suspenders to keep their pants up, but most of the suspenders have lost their elasticity by this point and don’t do a very good job. Still, they wear them so as not to be confused with the plumbers.

    You can find the potato chips right across from the shovels and pitch forks at the grocery store.

    And living in the northwet as we do, we like to poke fun at people who use umbrellas. You can always tell a tourist by their umbrella.

    And most importantly? Not a Starbucks in sight.

  2. choochoo Avatar

    if I found only that stuff in my friends cupboard, I would be scared of them, too. I’d run away screaming with images from that move “the puppet masters” running through my head. lol.

    I have a fresh pineapple in my cupboard. It’s not very scary, though.

  3. furiousBall Avatar

    Here in Medford Lakes, NJ it’s a constant battle in the summer time of keeping the beach sand of our lakes out of the house. We own more bikes and canoes then people really should own. All our roads are trails. All our trails are named after Native American tribes and words, some extremely unpronounceable (Wahwahtaysee for example). Kids and adults are outside a lot. All the children ride bikes to school. Camp in the summer time is great for the kids too. If you mis-time your commute during camp time, you could be run over by a bike stampede of the campers. We have small yards.

  4. WNG Avatar

    I’m in Norfolk, VA. There are sailboats everywhere and drunken sailors as well (usually not on the sailboats). We are PETA headquarters and we have two naval bases, two army bases and an airforce base in easy driving distance. There’s great theatre, great seafood, rivers, bays and the Atlantic. It’s an odd place, but I love it…

  5. Glamourpuss Avatar

    In the UK, ‘lifestyle’ is a pseudonym for one of two things; middle-class urban pretentiousness, or certain ‘alternative’ practices (such as swinging) that you wouldn’t tell your mother about but that you will happily appear on a website doing…


  6. susan Avatar

    Our lifestyle? Hmmm…let’s see there’s the constant wet and umbrellas simply aren’t allowed for the natives. Think Eddie Bauer,think recyle, think green.

    We are out in the ‘burbs, nearly to the sticks. We live in the land of geeks (microsoft, boeing, intell, google…we got ’em all!) We like to have neighbors with goats yet a short(ish) drive into Seattle brings all the culture we could want…

    I’ll have to let this stew in my brain to think about what our culture is really like…those are just at the top of my over-caffinated head.

  7. Voyager Avatar

    I love your description of Boulder. And like Boulder, it costs a million bucks to buy a shack here in Vancouver too.
    What characterises this place for me is the multi cultural people. On the bus I can hear people speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Tagalog, French, Japanese, Spanish, and Croatian. All at the same time. It’s music!

  8. Wizened Wizard Avatar
    Wizened Wizard

    Hmmmm. Well, to start with, I’m in a county the size of Connecticut, stretching from the southern shore of the mighty St. Lawrence river to the northern Adirondack mountains. In between there’s a gradual shift from dairy farming to logging, with more than a sprinkling of Used Car dealers, evangelicals, gun-toting NRA members, and… four colleges. The colleges range from State Technical to State Liberal Arts to preppy “I’m really an Ivy” private Liberal Arts to private Engineering and Business. Then there’s what we jokingly call “The Macrame Belt” – that stretch of hippie-owned farms purchased during the 1970s ‘back to the land’ rush. Let’s just say you can have quite a wide range of friends and acquaintances, and that they vary in intellect from brilliant (whether educated at Harvard or through the 8th grade when they turned 16 and dropped out) to dumb enough to be twins (ditto on the Harvard or 8th grade educations).

    Our young people leave here for more exciting places and jobs.

    Those of us who chose this place chuckle about the benefits: two hours from their nation’s capitol with all it’s culture (and less than three hours from Montreal); two Division 1 hockey teams and other sporting events in small enough venues that you are close to the action; a high-quality State school of music (Crane at SUNY Potsdam – Renee Flemming is an alum) where you can hear live music almost any time; skiing out my back door, canoeing everywhere; a great food co-op.

    There is no place to shop. That’s fine by me, but some folks get pretty unhappy about this.

    So I guess it’s fair to say that this place has multiple personalities. It works for me.

  9. yinyang Avatar

    You know Boulder is like the Austin, Texas of Colorado, right? It’s funny.

    Let’s see… my city is small, and acts more like a town. It’s an odd mix of rural and urban, with (fundamentalist) conservatives and (moderate) liberals, old folks and young folks, people who’s families have been here for a few generations and people who don’t plan on staying long (and everything in between).

    Probably every third adult over the age of 30 you meet has some sort of expertise with computers. There’s also the abundance of people who jog, at all hours – though usually in the early morning – and those that bike (and wear shorts) regardless of the season (and it gets cold in the winter).

    The seniors are most visible on Sundays, when get in their cars en masse and drive to one of our many churches, conveniently located almost everywhere. Practically every religion (or lack thereof) is represented, though the Lutherans, Evangelicals, and Mormons are probably the most visible.

    The only thing we have more of than churches is restaurants. If you want to eat it, we almost definitely have it. This is due in part to a nice population of college students, both at the community college and state university.
    What little ethnic diversity we have is almost entirely on the west side of town, and almost entirely poor Hispanics. Although, because of the university, you can find a few Muslims and Asians and such, but they’re rare.

    If there isn’t a tree in sight, you’re either indoors or you have your eyes closed. People with allergies suffer a lot when the cotton and pollen start to fly in the spring time.

    Good enough explanation? 😛

  10. Vest Avatar

    Great post, enjoyable reading.

    Our town.
    Employment, Retail, pubs&clubs.
    Weather, sunshine.
    Activities, beach,surf. boats, retirement.
    Pop, 75% aged, me old.
    BTW sorry.

  11. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    We’re the Canadian Home of Honda, a little rural town that Honda put on the map. 1/2 mile up the road is farmland, potato country with sandy soil…used to be tobacco before everyone quit smoking.
    Our downtown is quiet and has a hard time competing with the 2 big mall towns to the north and south.
    I love living here..it’s only 1 hr 15 min. the The Big Smoke.

  12. My Reflecting Pool Avatar
    My Reflecting Pool

    my town is in change. It is going from a once thriving farm community to an overly pretentious suburb with the need for business. A lot of old timers pissed that there is not just ONE but several traffic lights now and too much noise who refuse more business and refuse higher taxes. But as in most Connecticut towns there seem to be a lot of multi generation families here. I like this town.

  13. Dan Avatar

    My town (Madison, NJ) is a cool town because it’s home to THREE universities! No kidding. So it’s kept young, but also manages to be a quaint little town right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

    I love this dirty town! 🙂

  14. lime Avatar

    ah, i always find new things to sync with you on and this sort of observation is one of them. the place where i was raised runs on baseball, roadside farm stands and huge farm markets, and coffins, or used to…the casket company died (lame pun intended).

    baseball was revered in a truly skewed manner, such that when the star pitcher of the local team got his girlfriend preganant and was going to do the right thign by getting a job to support her and his child appropriately, thus necessitating the end of his baseball days, the coaches decided to pay his child support for him so he could continue pitching. it was also important to build a $3million baseball stadium on school grounds so we could properly host the world series of american legion baseball even though there was a massive uproar about taxes being raised so the crumbling high school itself could be repaired and not crash down around our ankles.

    the farm stands are just a wonderful thing i have never taken for granted. rangin from big local markets to little single family roadside stands run by the kids in the family.

    the casket company and other manufactring plants in the area are somewhat small affairs that crank out very high quality products. it’s all disappearing as it is swallowed up my multikazillion dollar conglomerates but i am proud to come from simple people who produce quality items…even if i think their focus on baseball is way out of alignment.

  15. lime Avatar

    oh, and here’s a local joke that i think says a lot too about modern PA dutch values…

    an old dutchamn scrimped and saved to send his only child, a daughter, to college. she graduated high school and went off to the local college and studied hard to do her father proud. however, she came home after her 4 years and had to make an admission to dear old dad.

    “daddy, i have a confession to make. i ain’t a virgin anymore.”

    daddy, wailed and cried and tore his hair out (what little he had left to begin with). “oh girl, i cain’t belief it. i chust cain’t belief vot you’re sayink to me!”

    “daddy, daddy, i’m so sorry. i was afraid to tell you i ain’t a virgin anymore. i’m so ashamed. please forgive me.”

    “oh girl! i forgive you for your impurity. i chust cain’t belief i send you to school for 4 years and you come beck still using the word ‘ain’t!”

  16. Lizard Princess Avatar
    Lizard Princess

    Whoa- scary. Have you been to my house before? The spirulina powder and rice dream are not uncommon visitors here.
    However, we also have venison in the freezer, tortilla chips in the cupboard and a chainsaw in the garage. It all evens out in the end, right? (The fact that I am a vegetarian and my hubby us a hunter helps the variety in our home!!)

    Our town here in western Wi is definatly one of those “gun-rack in the back of the 4×4 truck” kind of communities, but we’re close enough to the twin cities to have some infulence from there, too.

    PS- LOVED your description of Boulder- been there….it’s pretty right on. It read like an article from the Onion.
    Oh yeah, and I have a black lab (mix), too.

  17. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    I won’t tell you about my town, because you KNOW it, anyway.

    I will tell you that we have friends in Boulder. They’re a couple of modern-day hippies. They bike EVERYWHERE, even in winter. Great town, but my it is expensive. You’re right about that.

  18. Lee Avatar

    Here in Leesburg, there is a tension between the old town community and the mcmansions popping up all around. We have a lovely center with music on the green and overpriced antique shops where Generals Grant and Lee probably rode their horses. Then we’ve got the outlet mall and the gated communities and the corrupt town officials that say slow growth while campaigning but line their pockets with contractor payola once in office.

  19. Ryane Avatar

    Haha. Here in DC, the there, there would have to be ugly, polically correct suits. Day or night, hot or cold, they are everywhere! Sadly, in the summer, they can often be seen with even uglier flip-flops, but I suppose that is a rant best kept for another day.

    This was a great post. Your description of the pigs/Spam factory actually made my skin crawl! Ugh. I don’t know how you did it–I could not have listened to that sound.

  20. Molly Avatar

    Used to live in lots of places [Montana being one]. Now live in central florida, to help the elderly in laws. What most defines this area is the proliferation of early-bird specials, to which the old folks daily throng…. Ideally, would live where bikes, kayaks, hiking trails and books ruled. Here from heartinsanfrancisco….

  21. Jazz Avatar

    I’ve never thought of what defines Montreal.

    I think it’s basically the social aspect especially in summer. The nightlife, the sidewalk cafés, the summer festivals (Jazz, Fireworks, Francofolies, etc etc…), the food (multiple restaurants of every ilk from chichi and expensive french to dirt cheap and delicious tibetan).

    Summer life in Montreal is one big outdoor party.

    Winter life in Montreal is one big indoor party.

  22. Anonymous Avatar

    Big Love and the 2002 Olympics put us on the map. ‘LDS’ is preferred over ‘Mormon’. If you think ‘LDS’ is a sort of learning disability, you are from out of town. We have every sort of cheap buffet (bring your entire family of 12 here to eat) restaurants. Finding a decent place to eat, in a city of this size, is truly unbelievable. Hilariously, the local food critic doesn’t bend and has never given any establishment over a two-star rating in 10 years.
    The mountains are perfect, even when lacking snow pack, and the sun shines nearly all of the time. Healthy people abound (and bound) all over this beautiful area. I love it here (I cook).

  23. Diana Avatar

    Cows. Cows and corn and deer (alive and leaping in front of your car or dead by the side of the road). And brats and beer and cheese. And the sounds of 100 different song birds with the gobbling of wild turkeys and the call of pheasants in the morning.

    Just wait. Very soon both Girl and Wee Niblet can join the Jocelyn. Then you’ll wish you’d had 4 more young ‘uns so on cleaning day you could just lay on the couch with coffee, pointing and directing your own little job corps on making that house sparkle.

    Our going rate for child labor is about a buck an hour. Yes, you get what you pay for, but it’s still stuff I don’t have to do. I actually sob when it’s time for school to resume as the law requires my labor force to get on a bus instead of whip out the dusting cloths.

  24. Shari Avatar

    Our Town: It has a “small” town appeal, though the population is about 40.000-45,000. It’s been growing.

    There are too many choices of resturants and bars. We have three McDonald’s and Culver’s. We actually have two car-hop places that was common in the 50’s.

    Most are employed in consumer services-resturant, motels, and retail. The largest employer is Mercury Marine. They make boats and boat engines. We have a number of factories.

    Take a five minute drive outside the city and it’s farmland after farmland.

    Attractions? Walleye Weekend in June.

    Some people like to stay in motels in my town and go to the EAA AirVenture Convention in nearby Oshkosh. During this time, airplanes are a permanent fixture in the sky, zooming low.

    We have a beautiful lighthouse in the Lakeside Park harbor.

    The city? It means “foot of the lake”. It’s found on south end of Lake Winnebago. Fond du Lac, WI, where lottery winners find themselves instant multi-millionaires.

    We also have three colleges-UW-FdL, Marion College, and Moraine Park Technical College.

  25. Anonymous Avatar

    sorry sweety. Stein was talking about *her* home town, Oakland, not our beloved Los Angeles.


  26. frannie Avatar

    atlanta is brought to you by “yankees” that move here and complain about the south.

  27. Emma in Canada Avatar
    Emma in Canada

    Boulder always makes me think of sex. Judy Blume’s Smart Women was one for the first adult novels I read and, at 11, it was pretty raunchy.

    I love in Edmonton, home of the largest mall in the world ( I refuse to count that one in Japan or Taiwan or wherever it is). Edmonton is shopping and hockey and 6 month winters. And, festivals, but only we know that!

  28. Emma in Canada Avatar
    Emma in Canada

    I live in Edmonton, not love. Well, I suppose I do some of that too. Occasionally.

  29. That Chick Over There Avatar
    That Chick Over There

    What defines my current town?

    Guns and sadness.

    Oh, and rednecks.

    Good times.

  30. Claire Avatar

    My town is a Boulder-wanna-be. But we do have a cool zoo-sanctuary and a great brand new beautiful library. Everyone would like to forget what it is really famous for (prison, think Johnny Cash). Guesses, anyone?

  31. charlottalove Avatar

    Boulder: man I love that place. Especially downtown where you can see a guy fit into a glass box, watch a juggler with fire, see magic tricks, or smell delicious (yet unaffordable) food. Good times.

    (found you at mattress police)

  32. Jeannie Avatar

    In the 3 cities I live and work in, there are quite a conglomeration of “lifestyles” although I think most people just do what they do without consciously trying to belong to a clique of any sort. The one city, home to 2 universities is the snobby intellectual place with a boutique, bistro and gallery laden uptown core. The 2nd has an abominable downtown, full of gangs, whores, drugs, cops and bums – chain store shopping is concentrated more in suburban areas – it’s a more industrial town and a little more laid back than the 1st. The third is an amalgamation of 3 smaller towns. All of them are primarily blue collar. While there are some very high end areas, more of the people take life simply – there are a lot of Newfies in the mix.

  33. Naughty Avatar

    Just wanted to say, I love your blog. Have been reading for some time now and it’s a great regular read. Keep up the good work!

  34. the guy who said sorry Avatar
    the guy who said sorry

    excerpt from my memoirs…V.

    The Farm
    Ricky Pinder, a right so and so, ran the farm and was a constant threat to the boys on the weekly work program. Now he would be described as a paedophile. There were likely others like him amongst the school staff members who had unconditional authority over us suffering students.
    Information about the goings on at the farm was well documented. I found the work on the farm to be mundane unless there was pork on the menu. What surprised me was how well the dozens of pigs were fed!
    When Ricky came up to one of the pigsties, several large plump porkers would back up behind each other. After Ricky gave the word, we would grab one back leg and Ricky would rope the pig selected for Sunday dinner and haul it out. The pig would squeal in fear and all its mates would join in. This frightened me no end and remains in my mind as my first murder of a living being.
    After the bang, the pig writhed for a while and was then put in a tin bath of boiling water. Then we shaved ‘Pinkie’ (or was it ‘Perky’?) with paint scrapers to remove the bristles. The procedure was the same for the next candidate. The smell of death heightened their fear and increased the squealing no end. Nonetheless the hanging up and disembowelling of our next Sunday dinner did not turn me off pork, as hunger at the school was like an epidemic. The school staff never understood that a boy of fifteen needed more sustenance than a boy of eleven.

  35. cathy Avatar

    Athens is a city built for 1,000,000 with a population of 4,500,000. THE TRAFFIC NOISE AND POLUTION are unbearable. Add to that totally inadequate civil services and truckloads of chunnering foreign tourists and you might think you have a fair picture and if you are a cynical bitch like me you would be right.

  36. Logophile Avatar

    Heather4Another northwesterner here, within an hour of Seattle so I have my art museum and fish throwers close enough to hand when I want them but the town I am closest too is a small one. Lots of artists and hippies, very green. Lots of outdoor activities and pervasive caffeine addiction.
    NO umbrellas, I’m with Susan and Tracey on that one. Get your Helly Hansen if its pouring, you did pick one up at REI, didn’t you?
    SUVs and pickups vying for freeway space between the hybrids, motorcycles and Subarus out on I-5 and here in town lots of bikers and cyclists (yes, they are different) treated very politely by the massive number of mini-van driving moms.

  37. actonbell Avatar

    First off, rabbit, rabbit!

    You pose an interesting question that I will have to think about. My first-reaction answer is bald consumerism: new strip malls goin’ up, traffic galore, all to buy more stuff. It’s getting less and less pedestrian-friendly around here, all the time.

  38. urban-urchin Avatar

    My town, hmm. It’s funny because it’s a great town but the teenagers in their BMW SUV’s piss me off. They drive like crap. And the 90 year olds in their Cadillac Sevilles drive like crap.
    We are within walking distance to two train stations and two village downtowns.We are about 30-40 minutes via train or 15 minutes via car to Manhattan. There are lots of winding streets and loads of trees. A river runs through the center of town and all the houses look different for the most part. It’s beautiful and bucolic and lovely.
    The downside (aside from the drivers) are the parents who throw money and things at there kids in an effort to one up the neighbors… I am going to have to teach my kids that a. we aren’t like that. b. it doesn’t matter what crap their friends have.

  39. CS Avatar

    You’ve pulled some great responses to this post. Here in a small town in Appalachia: lots of family farms, sadly being slowly eaten up by developments. Cows, mostly, and tobacco. Tons of dollar stores, auto parts stores, and banks. I don’t think there is nearly enough money locally to support all the banks we have. A blue million churches, mostly small, and the constant question about where you go to church or who your pastor is. No Starbucks, no book stores, no bakeries. A few mediocre coffee shops, a few Mom and Pop (Excuse me, Mama and Daddy) restaurants serving country cooking. The county is semi-dry – one small redneck beer joint, and a few grocery stores can sell beer (nut not on Sunday!), wne and liquor not allowed. And of course, the monstrous WalMart. Lots of doublewides, but also some pasture castles. If your family haven’t lived here for generations, you cannot quite fit in. My children were born here but are outsiders. The town has dreams of growth, but I’m reserving judgment.

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