living in jerrytown


It occurred to me a little while ago that I’ve lived in Lynchburg for almost a year, and I have not written anything on what it’s like to live here, after living in the West. After a little reading, I learned that the South is a hot climate culture, unlike the rest of the US, which is a cold climate culture. It was positively enlightening. (I cannot recommend the little book Foreign to Familiar enough.)

I moved from the Pacific Northwest, which is a definite cold climate culture, to the South, which is the American version of hot climate. In a nutshell, this means that Southerners are generally more focused on community, rather than the individual. They are less focused on time, and direct communication. Community ties are strong, so relationship is very important; it matters which community you came from. It is no surprise, then, when I observed so many differences between the West coast and the South. Here are some quick, random observations.

I call Lynchburg “Jerrytown” or “Jerryville”, with tongue-in-cheek. There is hardly a place I can go in Lynchburg where Jerry Falwell, Sr. has not left his footprint. Every time I turn around, Liberty University is buying another part of Lynchburg. Lynchburg would not be what it is without Jerry; in fact, Liberty alone drives the majority of Lynchburg’s economy. This is not to mention the Moral Majority, which I’m sure has had major lingering effects on Lynchburg. This is where I live, and sometimes it stresses me out to see the LU mountain top monogram every time I look out of an apartment window of mine.

Lynchburg is a city of churches. In the Pacific Northwest, it is cool to be anything you want to be; nobody really cares, as long as you leave others alone. Christian? No problem. Wicca? Fine. Buddhist? Cool. Nothing? Even better. Here in Lynchburg, it’s cool to be a Christian, or at least look like one or talk like one. Everybody talks about God, or church-going. It’s expected. There are many Baptist churches, yes, but there are also a number of UMCs, and independent congregations.

People are slow here, in Lynchburg. Not simply easygoing; people live a slower pace of life. They travel slower. They walk slower. They (if a born and raised Southerner), talk slower. Business transactions take longer than I think they should. Even the bus drivers seem to dawdle, on occasion.

I used to think that a Southerner’s way of friendliness was just nosiness. Why do you need to know about my life? You’re a complete stranger. Business is not just about business transactions; it is more important to be friendly and interested, so business transactions sometimes take longer than I think they should. It is not just about the task at hand. Friendliness and politeness is almost expected of everyone, and it is common to greet someone with a “hi, how are you?” instead of simply a “hello.” I sometimes wonder if my co-workers think I’m being rude, but I am simply not as open as many of them are.

I love Portland, because I can dress however I want there, and no one will bat an eyelash. Here in the South, you are immediately noticed if you look different than anybody else.

I miss good coffee. The one coffeeshop that I liked, where the local hipsters and quasi-hippies hung out, had to close its doors recently. Now there are only two independent coffee shops in Lynchburg, and one Starbucks. For those wondering, Starbucks only counts as a last resort. Not surprisingly, learning to roast coffee is now high on my list of new things to try.

I mentioned this in another post, but there is no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. There’s not even a nicely sized and stocked health food store within reasonable distance (I am aware of Health Nut and Hannah’s Health, for Lynchburgers who are reading this :)). Also, recycling? I doubt too many people recycle here, because there is an obscene annual fee to pay in order to have the truck come and pick it up from your curbside. A Pacific Northwestern hippie can feel out of place in Jerrytown very easily, so it is no surprise that a quasi-granola, as I am, feels out of place.

(And I didn’t even mention the relative shortage of books.)