I’ve lived in my town for about twelve years. Hard for me to believe, because I came here when my sister was graduating from college, and we wanted to move in together. But the plan was to live somewhere cool, like Chicago or Boston or Philly. The BIG plan was to move back west and live in Seattle, or maybe Portland. San Luis Obispo or San Francisco were not likely to be in our budget. The plan WASN’T, however, to stay in Michigan forever. This was just a stepping stone, a place for us to hang out while we devised and launched our secret mission, Operation Seattle. But…I’m still here.
This fact made me miserable for a while, and for several years I saw nothing around me but the negative. Cold, frozen winters visited me year after year, and I shivered through, loudly proclaiming that I was an inch from my death and that the hairs in my nostrils were freezing together, which would surely form into an impassable wall that would prevent me from breathing air ever again. If I didn’t die from the cold, perhaps I would die from boredom, as it seemed there was nothing ever going on around town. The sheer force of will it took me to etch out an existence in such a bothersome, loathsome city was a testament to my bravery and ingenuity. Or really, maybe I just didn’t die of boredom because we found some pretty cool video stores to rent movies from. Not the chain stores you find any-old-where, but home grown businesses with quirk and personality, and interesting selections that I didn’t think I would find anywhere but a cool and hip city. So ok, I decided I might be able to tolerate staying alive for another day or so, or at least until we finished watching whatever shows we had already bothered to pay for. Then perhaps I would succumb to death by sudden weather change, or perish from the plague of unemployment.
Over the last few years, my attitude has changed radically, and I’ve fallen in love with my town. Maybe in part because of the geography of where I work, in the Downtown area of the city which is full of unique and personal restaurants, busy little shops and an actual nut shop that still sells fresh roasted nuts. It didn’t hurt any that a local squirrel frequented this nut shop, and would lay himself out on the sidewalk during the summer, panting of exhaustion until patrons offered him bottled water to re-hydrate himself, and some fresh nuts from their bag to sustain him. He made sure to stand on his legs and beg if passersby weren’t fully aware that he was parched to the bone and hadn’t had enough treats yet that day.
Maybe I’ve fallen in love with my town because I’ve found somewhere to work that I really love. A place full of interesting people whose views, opinions and ideals are similar to my own. Going to work is not a drudgery for me, and I sometimes find myself at work on my days off, or long after I have clocked out for the day. It is a wonderful place to hang out, whether you work there or not. Then again, this change of heart may have started right around the time my doctor hooked me up with a nice dose of anti-depressants. Drugs can definitely altar the viewpoint. And though I wasn’t on drugs when I was reminded about Tourist day, I was in an induced state of being from a lengthy walk around my favorite area of town, which had produced a happy high in me.
I happened to be in a bead shop, and I found a little stack of booklets by the business cards. I’m a sucker for pamphlets, booklets and menus. It’s a whole crazy OCD/collector insanity that I can’t even go into right now, the web of the pamphlet monster weaves itself so deep into me it would take hours to tell the story. So obviously, I picked up the booklet; I had to. Was compelled to. And it was this little passport, for the Tourist day which was happening the following week. I looked it over. On the back page were all these cute little boxes lined up in neat little rows. Each box eagerly awaited receiving a stamp from a store in town. The instructions indicated that you should collect as many stamps from as many locations listed as possible, and then you enter your stamped passport into a drawing, to potentially win fabulous prizes.
Well that’s it, I was sold. Because for one, there were going to be people rappelling off the tallest building in town; which – in THIS town – isn’t as high as all that, but STILL, rappelling in your own town is pretty cool. And for two, many of the locations where you could receive a ‘stamp’ were close by my own home, over where I work in Downtown, or in my favorite spot, Old Town. So I convinced my sister that the next weekend would be full of walking, stamping, and silliness. Because, really, this event is surely geared for children and families. But hey, I’m a kid at heart, so off we went.
Who knew the day would be so full of fun? A stop at my local library showed billions (well hundreds) of kids signing up for the kick off of the summer reading program. A guy giving away balloon animals made all the kids squeal with delight. A walk down the block revealed frightened individuals frozen on the top of the building, doing less rappelling than we wanted to see, and more nervous nothingness. Our dad was a sometimes rappelling instructor, so we expected to see bounding off the walls, and exciting feats of bravery. What we saw were two people at the top of the building quivering instead of moving. So on we went in search of stamps. We found them at the art gallery, outside of whose building I wrote my name in chalk on the sidewalk, along with countless other names and drawings scribbled there. Then we skipped across the sidewalk and headed off to the bus station to receive our stamp from a tired and bedraggled, but smiling attendant. We visited the music store and got a free kazoo and guitar pick to accompany our stamp, though sadly, we have no guitar. We got stamped at a local historical building that I am convinced is haunted, and briefly discussed this theory with an agreeable volunteer who seconded my opinion. We went to the farmer’s market, and the huge fancy pet store. We walked along the river to the surveyor’s museum, and snuck into the air conditioned visitors centre several blocks over. Bit by bit we accrued our stamps, until – exhausted – we maneuvered down to Old Town, for a bite to eat. After snapping up the few remaining stamps we could before the end of the day’s events, we happily rested at an outdoor table and readied ourselves to consume much needed delicious morsels that would refuel us after our excursion. Sitting outside, enjoying fine food and watching the “tourists” finish off the day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the complete happiness I feel living in my city. I remember how eager I used to be get out of this town, and now, I can’t find enough time to do all the things I want to do in the city.
This city, this day of being a tourist in my own town, was a treasure, and my most recent accidental happiness.