Small towns have delights and drawbacks. They’re often beautiful and amid beautiful country, and preserve local character and culture. But they’re liable to be backward and closed of mind. You expect it and live with it – though is it inevitable? One can imagine a small town or even village that is tolerant and progressive.
I’m thinking of small towns named Lyme, of which there are several – in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, and England.
In this one (I’m not saying which), the composition of the town council recently changed somewhat and there was a session at which (several of the old guard being absent) a majority voted for a change to the by-laws: bicycles and skateboards would be allowed on footpaths in some new areas.
I learned of this from a local newspaper that was lying in a waiting-room. The front-page headline, in the usual screamingly large block capitals, was something like “OUTRAGE AT COUNCIL DECISION,” and the article burst with the vitriol that also seems typical of small-town opinions on matters of minor importance. The paper had campaigned against such a change, it named the guilty councillors, demanded their ouster, and claimed that a wave of indignation had exploded through social media, quoting posts and Tweets that called these councillors “incomers” and “grockles” – terms used for people not born in the place. (This is the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad hominem: attack the person instead of what the person says.)
I felt for the six councillors, so I wrote a letter.
Local papers (another generalization-with-exceptions) print almost every letter sent to them and do so without editing down, except by breaking up your paragraphs differently. Another morsel of explanation is needed: a small river runs through this small town, and on it and the flanking path there is a small population of ducks.
Next week the paper did print my letter, verbatim – except that it omitted the last word.
That turned my bit of Swiftian satire into a puzzlingly lame ending, and is the reason why I just have to use this means of having the last word.
It’s good to know that Lyme’s council, led by its more forward-looking members, has decided to open more areas for bicycles and skateboards.
These human-powered minimal machines improve health, consume no fuel or oxygen, are fun to use and see in use, and cause essentially zero accidents or other damage.
In over 100,000 miles of cycling in five continents, I have been hit by petroleum-powered vehicles four times – once nearly at the cost of an eye – but have never experienced or seen a collision between bicycles and pedestrians.
Anything the town can do to mitigate its car-sickness is welcome. Its historic heart has been replaced by a car park where cars circle endlessly, spewing fumes, in vain hope of a spot. The traffic-crazy main street has not a single pedestrian crossing (the two next towns each have several). Yet people are (at any rate according to one of the local papers) provoked to panic and fury by bicycles and skateboards.
They need to work up their campaign against the real threat.