There’s not much to a small town. Probably because it’s small. And while they all look a little different, they are pretty much the same. And I’ve been to a few of them lately. I’ve spent the past three weekends in tiny places on the arse end of nowhere.
For example, every small town I have been to has a bar. If it’s a tourist trap or some hamlet servicing a farming community, there will ALWAYS be a bar. And it will be a proper, old-school bar that smells of cigarette smoke that never clears and stale beer. The counter will always be dark wood and the barman will always be on duty.
Every small town has a butchery. Some of the bigger small towns will be able to sell you vegetables, but meat is standard fair, three times a day in a little community. And the butcher will be buddies with the locals and sell the bad biltong to the visitors. Unless you know the password, and the password is Klipdrift.
The will be a church. And it will be a big one. And everyone from miles around will gather there on a Sunday morning. After the service they will either go home for Sunday lunch or meet at the bar.
The minister will have the house across from the church. And he will have at least two neighbours (usually the entire population of the town), or in a bigger small town, he will have three neighbours, but will live within 200m from the other five people in the village.
At the petrol station you will be able to purchase Camel Plain cigarettes, matches, fire-lighters and diesel. Depending on how badly lost the truck with the petrol is, you can get your un-leaded fuel next Tuesday or three months from your visit.
The golden rules for visiting a small town are the following:
- Avoid the bar. Despite its popularity, all there is on offer is Castle Draught, cheap brandy and coke. Never ask for water, you will be thrown out.
- Take plenty of fruit with you or you will get scurvy. Over time the locals have developed the ability to synthesise vitamin C from the meat. This takes years to develop, so be prepared.
- The steak in a small town is first rate. If you do nothing else, have a little steak.
- Do not drive through a small town on a Sunday morning. There will be traffic. Just like back home in the city, on a Friday afternoon in Sandton.
- Get there with a full tank of fuel or you won’t be leaving any time soon.
True story. Small towns can be scary places. But most of the locals are okay. In fact, they are so bored they will be really nice to you if you chat to them a little and share news from outside. But there will always be a few standard characters.
- The drunk guy. He has the keys to the bar and a perpetual tab. Everyone knows not to drive on the only main road between 14:00 and 15:00, because he’s just had a pub lunch and a few strong drinks to wash it down. The drunk guy is pretty harmless. You’ll be able to identify him from his red nose and the smell of brandy. And you shouldn’t take it personally when you need to introduce yourself three times on one day. Unless you met him at the bar, he’s not going to remember you.
- The scandalous couple. Some guy will always steal some girl in a small town. Or some girl will allow herself to be knocked up by some guy and will then marry her high school teacher. Or the poor man who lands the rich woman and everyone knows it has nothing to do with her double D’s.
- The man of the earth. He’s got a farm outside of town, and he’s wholesome and knows about cold fronts and can smell the rain. He’s tanned and speaks slowly and deliberately. 80% of the time he can double up as a vet and 20% of all the children were delivered by him.
- The busy-body lady. She runs the entire town and can be considered the unofficial mayor. She knows every residents ID number and personal business. She’s also the one that throws together the annual event of whatever nature the annual event is. You can recognise her by her walk – like a mother hen, waddling and shooing her chicks into the appropriate spot.
- The city person turned country bumpkin. Some people really do give up Gucci for hemp clothes, stilettos for crocs and a loft apartment for a caravan. The only problem is that they try to turn large animals (like cattle) into pets, forgetting that in about eight months Daisy needs to be dinner.
Small towns are culture shock. But there are few weekends away that can provide as much entertainment as observing the locals and the laid back pace of life.