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By Staff | Feb 3, 2012

A recent trip to a big city reinforced the notion that I do not belong in a big city.

Cities are fine in theory; they’re just not for me. And it’s not like I don’t have any experience with huge cities. I have visited some of our nation’s major metropolises – New York, Los Angeles, Amarillo – but none suited my temperament.

This is no doubt due to an ingrained bias on my part. When I was a kid, the term “city slicker” was an insult of the highest order. This was long before those words were used in the title of that true-to-life documentary starring Billy Crystal.

A city slicker was the kind of guy who might pull onto our farmyard and try to peddle headlight fluid or propeller wash or some such twaddle. He would invariably be dressed in a suit and tie even though it wasn’t Sunday nor had he just attended a funeral.

A visible cloud of Aqua Velva aroma enveloped the slicker as he unfolded himself from his gleaming automobile.

Dad was naturally wary of these slickers, and I don’t recall any ever leaving our farm with so much as a penny of Dad’s money. But after they were gone, I would try to envision what sort of life those slicksters might lead.

I could see him standing at the window of his grand penthouse apartment. Below is the sweep of the glittering metropolis, cars honking, a crimson river of taillights, a jagged row of skyscrapers twinkling like colossal concrete Christmas trees.

The slickster sips a martini that’s spiced with musk from the rare and reclusive Chilean civet cat.

A smirk steals across his face as he thinks of the rubes who helped pay for this cocktail, the naifs who bought that fan belt slack, the patsies who ponied up for that truckload of sailboat fuel.

In other words, my 1960s notions regarding cities and their denizens closely resembled the modern TV show Mad Men — which is set in the 1960s.

Some questions that I had as a kid regarding cities included such posers as: where the heck did all those people come from? What do they all do? How can they bear being constantly piled on top of each other like that?

Actually visiting a large city as an adult did little to answer those big questions. In fact, these visits only elicited more questions.

For example, I recall standing on a Los Angeles street and peering into the brownish-yellow haze, my eyes and nose stinging. I asked a passerby how people could stand it and was told that this was nothing; a smog alert hadn’t even been issued.

I found the soaring Manhattan skyline every bit as impressive as I had imagined as a kid. But I also learned that one isn’t allowed to stand and simply take it all in lest passersby stop, peer skywards and ask “Where’s the jumper?”

Manhattan is utterly exhausting. As a pedestrian, you learn to walk briskly and not make eye contact with anyone. Those who don’t abide by this rule are soon set upon by either panhandlers or pigeons.

My recent overnight in a big city only fortified my anti-urban views.

No place in a city is ever totally quiet. In the midnight darkness of my hotel room I could hear people walking down the hallway, water rushing through pipes, random, indistinct vocalizations.

A nearby superhighway droned nonstop. It was a reminder that our economy never sleeps, grinding relentlessly onwards through even the darkest night.

The next morning, smelling of hotel shampoo, I found a coffee shop where I could get my java jolt. The shop was crowded with businessmen in shiny shoes and impeccable suits.

They slurped their coffee and stared at their BlackBerries, completely isolated amidst a frothy sea of humanity.

Feeling the need to get outdoors, I opted to take my daily constitutional in the hotel parking lot. The gritty asphalt wasn’t nearly as pleasing to the eye as my usual strolling environment of a quiet country road.

Nor was our golden retriever, Sandy, with me to scout ahead and dig for field mice in the snowdrifts.

My city sojourn over, I clambered into the car and joined the rushing river of vehicles on the superhighway.

I began to relax as the wilderness of the cityscape gradually gave way to suburbs and, finally, wide-open country.

My wife and Sandy were both very pleased to see my return. As I hauled my bags into the house, a car rumbled slowly past on our township road.

“That’s the second car this evening,” said my wife. “It’s been a busy night.”

There’s no place like home

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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