Over the past year, I have written forty-two essays under the sweeping title of “The Ambler.” In these essays, I sought to comment on what I saw and experienced. I sought to prove man needs neither mountain nor sea to observe beauty; I sought to prove the common truths of life could be observed in the mundane, the typical; I sought to prove a mere amble down the lane can be as adventurous as a hike up a mountain, one only need view himself as an ant. Whether I turned out to be a successful Ambler, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, you, dear reader, must decide.
Those who have read the Ambler know that, while it concerned local places, events, and people, it remained, for the most part, an anonymous series. As I gaze out into the future, and observe my writing, I realize this must change. While I aspire to continue composing an essay a week (here the reader groans!), I will forego anonymity. And my series will be on Manhattan.
About six months ago, I approached the local newspaper with a column idea. The idea was to write one short essay a week on some overlooked aspect of Manhattan; the idea was, in short, to show that Manhattan was more than Aggieville and Fake Patty’s Day, the most wretched day of the year. The idea was rejected, but it was not murdered. It resides here, in the following weekly posts. In these posts I will, much like the Amblers, reflect on some obscure local place or phenomenon and promote it.
I will seek to accomplish the same thing my Amblers sought, but from a different vantage point. Instead of commenting on the amble, I wish to comment on the ambler; instead of commenting on the musings and philosophies within the ambler, I wish to comment on the ground underneath the ambler. Instead of showing how a mere amble down the lane is an adventure, I wish to show how the lane and the light post have their own peculiarities. And by promoting my own town, I hope I promote your own.
Now, some readers may be wondering how such a series could possibly be interesting; others may wonder why anyone would care. For this I give two reasons.
First, my generation lives too globally. We are too concerned about what happens across the sea and neglect what happens across the street. We spend our days shaking our fists at presidents and prime ministers, and we cannot name mayors. We gather around to watch teams from different cities we will never visit, and never think twice to support our own. We will rather pay a little more and support mainstream restaurants and retail stores and never experience the local pubs and shops. We live this way, and then before we know it, we leave.
Lest I be misunderstood, we should not live in such a way that is ignorant of the world. There is certainly nothing wrong with being aware of global news or shopping at mainstream shops. There is something wrong with being globally aware and not inwardly reflective. A man should read the news not to show up his neighbors with his knowledge about the president; he should read the news, and he should decide that the very last thing he wants is for his neighbor to be like the president. We ought to see globally in order to change our world locally.
But the sad fact is that our world is becoming more global. Every year Manhattan, Kansas has their “local” Fake Patty’s Day, which will take place next Saturday. This day probably starts with good intentions; it ends in disaster. People travel from distances to this lovely town to drink beer they could just as easily get at their own local shops. They drink Bud Light or Keystone Light all day, and then the travel back from whence they came (would they stay and never return!). It’s a pathetic day where pathetic undergrads drink pathetic beer. If every person came to this town to drink the local Tallgrass brew, it would make sense. If every person came to experience Manhattan, there would be a point in coming to Manhattan.
And that to me is a shame. When I was a child, I wanted to eat at McDonalds when I went on vacation. Now that I have some sense, I want to eat at the local spots and drink the local brew. I now see that traveling is utterly pointless if one does not try to experience the town as the locals experience it. You do not truly know a town until you have lived in it, and if traveling is only an attempt to “see what their McDonalds are like,” a man may as well sit at home and watch T.V.
And this leads to my second reason for writing on Manhattan. It seems that after seven years, I will be leaving Kansas. In the past fourteen years, I have yet to live in a town consecutively for more than three years. In this, I have learned a couple of things.
You mainly remember the good in a town after you leave it. I did not enjoy my two years in Clarksville, Iowa; yet I cannot seem to reflect on the town with much negativity. I certainly won’t forget my last week, when the Shell Rock River overflowed and Ely St. was underwater. I won’t forget how the town of 1400 came together to help out families who lost most of their possessions. We ate as a town in the school cafeteria. My room was underwater, and as I left for a trip to Africa, with a small portmanteau by my side, I said goodbye to the town, not thinking it would afford such memories.
In five months I will likely be moving to Las Vegas, though there is a very slight chance I will move to Toronto. The hope in the following months is to live more locally that I ever have. The hope is to drink nothing but local Kansas or Kansas City beer; the hope is to eat at local restaurants and support local business.
There is always the temptation for the transient to live too much in the future. The temptation is to be excited and ready for the adventures that await. Man should not be a pessimist about the future; he ought to be an optimist. Yet man should not be so optimistic that he forgets his current place in life. He should not neglect this life simply because a better one awaits him after death.
The following posts in the next five months will seek to inform my readers on some aspect of Manhattan or Kansas. Like Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont, I hope to see Manhattan in the final five months as I did in the first five months, making discoveries of things I’ve already discovered. Las Vegas may have its bright lights and shows; it will not have Chef’s Diner or Tuttle Creek. I certainly will not be drinking Tallgrass there, for I suspect whether they even have grass in the desert.
Sam Snow, theficklefarce.com
Written at The Ole Midshipman,
March 1, 2015
Painting: "A Flood in South Street, Worthing."
Oil on canvas, 1877