Big city life means lots of boutiques that only sell one thing in the middle of town and mega-stores on the outskirts that claim the convenience of one-stop shopping. I don’t live there anymore. Last night a favorite local island band, the Rural Characters, played a silly song called, Shopping in Clinton. Clinton, a town smaller than some mega-stores. A town that embodies the notion that if the stores don’t have it you don’t need it. Their less means a lot more.
The Rural Characters are four guys that pack the house whenever they play, and they only play when they want to. Play is the right word. They aren’t a band that’s trying to get rich. They’re just trying to have fun making music. Luckily they play in public. During last night’s gig (which was out of town – in Langley) that benefited other artists they asked for suggestions that described their genre – as long as the genre name included the word compost. Send those ideas to PO Box . . . – nah, I won’t publicize it and unleash a world’s worth of snail mail. They didn’t have to give the rest of the address because we all knew it. I’ve already sent in my suggestion: My Folk’s Rocky Country Compost w/ Rhythm and Blues. I think that covers most, but not all, of what they play.
A few years back I asked a couple of them about their CDs or DVDs. They didn’t have any. They weren’t going to make any. Their level of expertise warrants it, but music for money takes more effort and stress, and music as an occupation is even more effort and stress with no guarantee of success. They have fun. We have fun. Why do anything different?
Everyone has talents and skills. The lucky ones have talents and skills that are useful for their era. Warren Buffett has made the claim that he isn’t necessarily the smartest man, but he was born with the right nature and nurture for this time. There will also be people who’s upbringing and genetics are either too late or too early. My basket weaving skills come to mind.
I could spend my time weaving baskets. They are decidedly rustic. My baskets take dozens of hours to make. Similar, better, artisan baskets sell for about $120. Divide the money by the hours and don’t forget to subtract out damaged, returned, and stored inventory and something that might be fun can become a source of stress without much recompense.
Much of American life is centered around making money, making the most of everything. Every moment is precious and time is money so don’t waste time because that is wasting money and a vicious and unhealthy cycle is begun.
During last night’s intermission a woman three seats away immediately popped open two cell phones. She balanced the clamshell one in her lap and read from it as she tiny typed on the mini-keyboard of the other. There wasn’t a moment to lose, at 9PM, on a Friday night, in a town that’s notorious for having bad cell signals, while in a theater full of sociable folks. She didn’t look happy or relaxed. Maybe she was in the midst of an emergency. Maybe not.
The band’s song about shopping in Clinton made fun of their and my small town, but they also made a point whether they wanted to or not. Clinton, WA only has a population of a few thousand, and that’s only because the post office boundaries extend far beyond the town’s border. Despite that, Clinton has a smallish supermarket, a packed and cluttered hardware store, coffee shops, at least two restaurants, one bar, two banks, places I’ve never entered, a library and a post office. Oh yeah, and the ferry terminal. This is an island. The ferry terminal is important. Without it, the town would be much smaller. I haven’t measured Clinton, but I suspect most of the shops and stores and their parking lots would fit inside a mainland mall. Here, I can park in one place and walk to everything I need.
Mainland malls are frantic and have become so filled with specialized stores selling un-necessities that they seem like a waste of time. The useful mainland stores have moved out and expanded into the big boxes that separate each other by enough asphalt to require driving from one to the other. They’re big because they have everything, even lots of things you don’t need. One stop shopping only happens if you’re shopping for things that are like each other.
For me, frugality is defined as a respect for resources: time, money, materials. Last night four guys playing with music and helping the audience have fun taught me a lesson. A frugal life, a life that respects me and the planet, is easier on an island. The Rural Characters have known it for much longer. Island life, and rural life, has less. There aren’t many stores. They don’t have as much stuff, and that’s a good thing. There isn’t as much time, money, and materials wasted making, chasing, buying, and sorting through clutter. As an islander I may have to do without a few things, but I also don’t have to wade through gazingas and goo-gaws.
Ironically, I think the same could be said for central urban life. Everything is within walking distance, or accessible via public transit. All of those boutique stores each fit someone’s needs. There may be more gazingas and clutter to filter through, but there’s less time wasted driving from one parking space to another. Committing to an urban life even may allow giving up a car and all of its hassles and expenses. I suspect that a city life is more easily drawn into the chase for money though. Most of the activities require it.
I’ll stick to my island life. It does more than simplify shopping. It simplifies community, conversation, creation. Fewer things and people are measured by money. Money continues to be a necessity, but free is easier to find. Food can be grown in backyards, as long as the deer, bunnies and slugs don’t find it. Entertainments may be as simple as sitting on the deck and watching the whales and eagles cruise by, or involve gatherings of dancers, artists, volunteers and thinkers. Even relaxation, something I’m trying to get better at, is easier, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
You are all welcome to come on by to shop and stop for a bit. The shopping may not take long. But be careful, the stopping and enjoying can go on for a long time.