Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 11, 2009

On Small Town Life


After a decade living in New York, I must admit that I am definitely a big-town kind of guy. Not that I have anything against small towns or those who live in them, but the fact is that after a lifetime living in larger cities, I cannot imagine myself as a suburban or small-town dweller. The reason for that is that I enjoy going by my affairs in a more or less anonymous manner. Even in the ten years I was in Fortaleza, Brazil (2.5 million), I was able to do so by avoiding the trendy, here-there, gone-tomorrow nightspots that appeared from time to time.

Two years ago, I went to Lawrence, KS for my grandfather’s funeral. After the services, I visited their local paper and stopped by a nice-looking Mexican restaurant for a quick bite. I ordered a glass of wine and made my order, and after that the inevitable chit-chat with the waitress began:

“You’re not from here, are you?”, she asked.  The waitress didn’t seem to be a day over twenty-five, with wavy brown hair, light brown eyes and a nice overall demeanor.

“No, I’m not,” I said. “I live in New York.”

“Really,” she said with a wide, friendly smile. “What brings you to Lawrence?”

“I came for my grandfather’s funeral,” I explained.

“Sorry to hear that. How old was he?”

“Oh, he lived a long life,” I said. “He was 91.”

She stopped for what seemed about fifteen seconds, and then her eyes shone with recognition.

“Oh, was your grandfather Ben Barteldes?”

I must confess that I was surprised with the question. Ok, my grandpa had been mayor in Lawrence, but that had been a lifetime ago – specially considering that girl’s age. But then again she might have seen the memorial that had appeared on the local paper a few days before.

“Why, yes”

“My condolences,” she said, this time sounding more like she meant it. “So, you are the grandson who lives in New York then. Doesn’t he also have people in Brazil?”

Now I was taken aback. How the hell did she know that? But then again, in a small town like that, people talk. And talk. And have tequila-drinking competitions, as a mural on the bar’s wall proudly showed. I smiled and said that yes, he had people there, but that now we were all back in the US.

That would never happen in a place like New York. Okay, I do run into people I know from time to time. As a music journalist who is knowledgeable about World Music, I tend to repeatedly meet with other professionals in my area, like I did at a recent event that promoted Mexican culture in New York – and I am sure to see a bunch of them next year at GlobalFest. 

But I would not even dream of having an exchange like that in some New York bar. Even if it means having one of those New York deaths in which (in the words of Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally) you die and no one notices until the smells drifts out of the space under the door…

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