In 1993, I decided that Salem was too big for me. Also, when I told the people I was from California, the residents were unfriendly. I never did find a permanent job there.
I began thinking about what criteria would determine my future place of residence.
These are the criteria I developed: I wanted to live in a small town (3000-10,000 people) which had a college in it (so that it would have activities most small towns do not have) and which also had enough of a retail base so that I would not have to go out of town, yet had to be small enough geographically so that I could easily walk the entire town. I also was most interested in the West/Midwest portions of the country.
With a demographics book and a college data book, I found 40 towns that met my criteria. I sent a letter and list of questions to the “Mayor/Chamber of Commerce” of all of them.
I received responses from almost all the towns. They varied widely. Lindsborg, Kansas sent two pounds of material within three days of my letter. Another town sent a postcard: “If you send us $5, we will send you literature.” Maybe the $5 town was a great town, but I took them off my list.
I received a variety of literature describing their towns. Only six or so sent a personal letter. Some of the towns I eliminated because they were too spread out (i.e. 10 miles across). Others did not have an adequate business base: one town looked to be more of a suburb of a bigger city 20 miles away. Some of the colleges did not allow townspeople on their campus.
One town name kept coming up: Grinnell. An acquaintance had grown up near there. Another friend said that her brother graduated from Grinnell. In the college literature, Grinnell impressed me with its international student body and that they encouraged town people to go to their free activities (sports, plays, music, symposia, etc.). Many of the towns on my list had unemployment rates above 5%; Grinnell’s county unemployment rate was the lowest at the time. Grinnell was also among those few who responded with a personal letter answering my questions. Actually they sent two letters: one from the Chamber and one from Grinnell 2000, now called Imagine Grinnell.
During my research, I moved in with a sister in Hayward while I earned money as a temporary for the school district, then with my other sister and her husband for almost a year in Lodi, California. Finally, after completing my town search and spending a few months just letting the information sit in my brain, one day I took my stuff to a storage place and got on the bus with a backpack and two duffel bags.
I arrived in Grinnell in March, 1994. As I stepped off the bus, I chatted with a woman who was putting her two children on the bus. I told her I was new to town and going to the Four Winds Motel, which was closer to town than others on the interstate. She told me she lived out that way and gave me a ride to the motel. So, arriving in Grinnell, I had a friendly experience.
Later that day, I was talking to a lady at the post office and she told me, “You’re not going to want to stay at a motel for very long; go see my son-in-law and he will find you an apartment.” Within a week, I had an apartment. Also, the manager/owner out at the motel told me of a job opening at one of the factories, making farm gates. So I went there and had a job. I later left that job after a month because it was hurting my wrists. I got another job and kept it for 16 years.
My first day in town, I just walked around the town, introducing myself to passersby and going into businesses saying that I was new to town. Years later I learned that some of these people thought I was crazy. My behavior surprised me, because I am a shy person. The dramatic change in environment caused a (momentary) change in personality. It also happened to be “Home Show Day,” which the Chamber of Commerce organizes to promote the area’s home-improvement businesses. So I went to the community center and walked around the booths becoming acquainted. I now celebrate the anniversary of my arrival at Grinnell by going to Home Show Day every year.
All this was in my first day. I was glad of my decision.
That summer, I was sitting in the library, and one of the librarians told me that the local community theater was looking for male singers for a musical they were doing (“Sweeney Todd”). I got in as a chorus singer with a few walk-on non-speaking parts (getting my throat slit, etc.): four parts in my first play.
I have since been in over 20 plays in Grinnell. I was the father in “Cheaper By The Dozen,” which was the play where I had the most lines I’ve had to speak. I forgot my lines once, until a child behind me whispered them to me. I also died twice, unintentionally, in “Death by Chocolate” – first by poison, then because I inhaled some dust when I was dead on the floor and began coughing and gagging, so I went through another death scene.
Since arriving, I have helped with the balloon rallies, several parades, art shows, theater, as a historical museum docent, and assorted other activities. I am not a prominent citizen, but apparently am noticed enough that one time when I arrived at a community activity, somebody said, “Oh good, now we know we have a community activity: Crosby’s here.” I have also been referred to as the “most prominent pedestrian” in Grinnell, although there is a very strong core of bicyclists.
I walk over to the college frequently to go to sports, plays, concerts, art shows. One show was a bunch of boxes the size of shipping containers. Another one was a bunch of metal books describing our jobs and it included interviews shown on video screens in a giant metal book, interspersed with quotes. I don’t know what kind of art that is. I have been there walking around so much that the local college paper, Scarlet and Black, interviewed me because so many students were wondering who I was: they seemed to see me everywhere.
More recently, a college professor did an article about my walking lifestyle, called “Crosby’s Footprint” in the Wapsipinicon Almanac, an Iowa publication.
Although I get along well enough, I am rather socially inept (my sister once suggested that I might have Aspergers, although I have never been diagnosed as such). This means, that despite my community activities, I am still single and I have acquaintances rather than friends. Still, I have found living in this small town much easier for making acquaintances than just being an anonymous walker in a bigger city.
* * * *
There is no regular mass transit system across Iowa. The bigger cities, such as Des Moines, have a bus system. Greyhound passes through once a day. Grinnell was founded at a site where Josiah B. Grinnell knew that there was going to be a railroad intersection. We have train tracks through town, but they stopped passenger service back in the 70’s. So I don’t get out of town much.
A few times, though, I have received jury notices. Some were from the local court in Montezuma, 20 miles away. I have walked and biked there.
Federal court is another matter. It is in Des Moines, 50 miles away. I have never biked that far. I am more of a walker than a biker. Plus, my bike is old and heavy and not good for long distances. If I had to walk, I would have had to leave the evening before, walk all night, and arrive a very tired juror. If I biked, I would have had to leave very early in the morning in the dark on Highway 6 (where pedestrians are allowed). Bad idea. Bikers are often hit. A local pastor was hit by a vehicle and now is in a wheelchair. Apparently it was near sunrise and the driver did not see him because of the sun in his eyes.
The first time I was called, I sent in the juror questionnaire. In that, they asked if I had any medical or legal excuse for not serving. I responded that I had no car. They sent a letter stating that not having transportation is not an excuse and that if I did not show up, I would be fined and jailed. I figured that I would just end up walking and hope I got there in time and hope I did not get picked to be on the jury. Fortunately, the case was settled out of court and I didn’t have to show.
A few years later I got another call. I asked if they had any car pool arrangements or a jury shuttle van. Nope. Get here on your own or go to jail. Sigh.
This time I called several people in Grinnell who worked in Des Moines. Most were not willing to take me. Finally, somebody from my church offered to drop me off on the way to his job. In court, I heard a speech from the judge about how jury duty is an important responsibility. Yes, and I have been on a jury several times, but then I was living in a big city and there was mass transit.
Fortunately, I did not make it into the second drawing to be on a jury panel, but I had to stay all day just in case somebody was rejected. I walked around Des Moines until it was time to be picked up by the man who drove me in.
When I was doing my search for a small town to live in, it never occurred to me that the federal government might force me to do jury duty in a far-away city. I have since heard other stories about federal judges threatening others. One was an elderly lady who no longer drove and had found a ride for the first day only. When she was picked to be on the jury, she explained that she had no way to get there from then on. I did not know the woman and only heard the story second hand. But apparently, the judge warned her that if she did not show up, she would be jailed and fined. She started sobbing. I don’t know if she was still forced to show.
In our car-dominated society, if you are not part of that car culture, you will be made to suffer for your transgression.