The urbanite millennial must acclimate to a small town. Symptoms include restlessness, boredom, and a subtle ringing in your ears. Silence brings tension instead of peace when the constant input of the digital world is suddenly shut off. Spend five minutes waiting somewhere and your phone starts to burn a hole in your pocket.
The quiet is tense. The pace is maddening.
Welcome to small town America. It represents a way of life most of us in larger metro areas have forgotten about on a daily basis, except for when you make your weekly trip to the farmers market.
I was excited when I arrived in Falls City. After six months straight in the city, I was ready for some quiet. A small town in Nebraska felt romantic, I tend to be that way about the ideas and places you find in novels.
And while I basked in the fresh air, the rustle of leaves in the wind, and the lack of buzzing in my pocket, I quickly realized how absorbed in technology I had been.
We spent our first day sitting around and chatting for a few hours, making a nice family dinner, and chatting some more. The first few hours were great, I was excited, albeit a bit restless, but I knew it would take a bit to get into “vacation mode.”
What I didn’t expect was it to get worse as the night went on. The consumer in my head started getting antsy, nagging at me to check my phone, worried that something happened on Twitter I was missing, stressed because I wasn’t reading the newest blog post from a tech influencer. I fell to my urge and pulled out my phone, only to be dismayed when service failed.
So I sat, twiddling my thumbs, trying to be engaged in the conversation around me, when all I could really think about was that I thought I was wasting time. I’m a terrible multi-tasker, but its funny how when you reduce all cognitive inputs to two, a conversation and your own thoughts, it feels like empty space. It isn’t enough.
I went to bed the first night thinking a lot about my reaction to the quick change in pace, and not very proud of the way I was feeling.
The next morning, we explored downtown Falls City. A bit less than a mile top to bottom, main street is adorned with two stop lights at the center of town. Local shops line the streets, some abandoned and some still chugging along.
There is a certain mystique to older things. Antiques are sought after, Stranger Things brings us back to the 80s, vintage is in and fashion is cyclical. I don’t know whether its nostalgia, reaching for a more manual time, or that we simply think the past was cooler, but it has a charm that draws us in.
Falls City oozes it.
Then there is juxtaposition. Along main street, along with the old cleaners and newspaper building, is the local Ford dealership. A row of gleaming F-150s lines the lot, with a brand new Mustang on main display. Brand new trucks are everywhere.
Teenagers walk around with iPhones posting on Snapchat, while younger kids roam the neighborhood streets in packs on their bikes. I haven’t seen a group of kids playing outside in recent memory. I drive through neighborhoods that feel like ghost towns, so seeing this hits me with a pang of nostalgia and happiness.
Walk through the neighborhoods in Falls City and every single person will stop and wave to you. Whether they’re mowing the lawn, sitting on the porch, or driving by, no one is too busy to say hello. This simple humanity forges an immediate connection. I felt welcome.
Rolling plains surround downtown Falls City in every direction, the prototypical Nebraska you expect.
It’s bright, quiet, and green. There aren’t sprawling avenues filled with restaurants and bars. The older men in town gather at the local gas station to drink coffee and chat, everyone goes to The Would Eye for a drink at night, and the local Runza is the fast-food joint of choice.
Life isn’t simpler in Falls City, it’s just different. For a city-goer like me it feels slower, which is easily equated with simplicity. It makes sense too. In a metro area there are 100 times more people smashed into an area not much larger than Falls City, but that doesn’t make Falls City simple in any sense. Life is still complicated and difficult.
The biggest difference in life I took away from Falls City is connection. In busy cities you can get lost. Everyone is trying to get theirs, focused on their life and their problems. In Falls City I felt a focus on community and family. I witnessed the celebration of marriage, the grieving of death, the brightness of childhood, and the reflection of old age.
Maybe a local would say they’d like to blend in a little, to have some privacy or more activities in town. We all like to think the grass is greener on the other side because the longer we stay somewhere the easier it is to take the positives for granted.
Falls City helped me remember that conversation is connection, and that three hours on a couch talking will always bring you closer than a year’s worth of tweeting.
Falls City is perspective. Different environments, different experiences, different styles of life. Something we all need more of today.