By Tony Hooker
When I was in the Navy, my squadron was stationed at NAS North Island, in San Diego.
Being young and dumb, for the last few years of my enlistment, I decided to eschew the barracks to rent a room off of some of the older sailors I served with. I mean, why live in a place where you can get your room and board for free when you can spend basically your entire month’s pay on rent and food and beer, right? I was an Aviation Electronics Technician, which was a job that at the time was nearly impossible to advance to Petty Officer third class, so I was stuck as an airman, which meant that I didn’t get any BAH (basic allowance for housing) or BAS (basic allowance for subsistence) like my brothers and sisters with the crow on their sleeve.
For those few of you who read past the first paragraph and are wondering why my personal history lesson, as usual there’s a method, of sorts, to my madness.
You see, it occurred to me that in those almost three years of living off base, first in Normal Heights, and later in Mira Mesa, I never once met any of my neighbors. Couldn’t tell you a thing about them, honestly. And that stands in stark contrast to living in the river city, or in any small town, I suppose.
Of course, this is a gross generalization. I’m sure there are plenty of neighborhoods in San Diego where everyone knows each other’s name, just as I am sure there are folks here in VG who prefer to keep to themselves, but it’s been my experience that there’s a sense of community in smaller towns that doesn’t exist in the urban environment.
I love observing the world around me, much to the little brown-haired girl’s chagrin when she’s a passenger in a car I’m driving, and just over the last few weeks, I’ve seen and heard so many things that make me proud of being a Villa Grovian. To wit, last Friday, while driving on the south side of the tracks, I saw officer Rasmussen pulled in behind a car near the storage facility. My friend from the big city rather cynically noted that he must be looking for drugs, since he was looking in the trunk of the car. Of course, that wasn’t the case at all, as Derek was simply helping this family change a flat tire before sending them on their way. To me, it was a case of a young officer, taking action, not for attention, but simply because it was the right thing to do. In today’s political climate, it was such a great thing to see, because those citizens, who don’t live in VG to my knowledge, were African American and they hopefully came away with a positive impression of our little town.
Just last week, I saw a story on the book of faces about the irrepressible Mel, from Rick’s Country Market, and how she took time from her work to help an older gentleman find the proper ingredients for something (cornbread, I believe) that he was trying to make. Of course, this is the same Mel, who, out of concern for “her babies” from VGHS who came to the store for lunch, raised some Cain about their penchant for cutting across the highway through traffic rather than taking the time to walk to the light. Her concerns were met with a week of on campus dining for the students, along with someone from the school monitoring their traffic flow, thus ensuring their safety.
To me, the best thing about small town living is that everyone pretty much knows you, and the worst thing about small town living is that everyone pretty much knows you! When I was a sophomore at VGHS, I got a love bite on my neck from my GF, and my parents knew about it before I got home from Blue Devil Pizza. There was a strong communications network, before cell phones or the internet, to be sure. Of course, this sort of network was quick to praise as well as punish, and looking back, I am glad that’s how I was brought up. Folks of a certain age always tell of being caught doing wrong by a neighbor and taking a whooping’, only to go home and take a worse one from their parents for embarrassing them in front of their friends, and I can certainly speak to that, in some measure. Respect for one’s elders was instilled very early in life.
I’m sure that things like what I’ve mentioned happen all the time in cities of every size, but these happened in my town, and I’m proud to celebrate them. As Montgomery Gentry sang, this is My Town, and I urge everyone to celebrate our victories instead of only lamenting our defeats.