Everybody seems to know me around here. If they don’t know me from church, they know me from various writer events or they’ve seen me singing at the annual garden tours or the Toledo street market. They know me from yoga class or the Alzheimer’s support group or the dog park or the grocery store. Maybe I interviewed them for some article for some newspaper, or maybe they took a class I taught at the community college. They’ve certainly seen my name and picture in the local newspaper. It’s not hard to make that happen. They publish pretty much everything people send in, unlike the papers I used to work for that were more stingy with their ink.
Take yesterday, when I hosted a talk about my new book Childless by Marriage at the South Beach Community Center. Attendance was disappointing, even though the Beavers and Ducks games were over. But this one woman came in, and I exclaimed, “I know you. What’s your name?”
It turns out we know a lot of the same people involved in local music. I have heard her sing and watched her play bells. I’ve read about the antique business she runs with her husband. She knows me from Sacred Heart, from the garden tour, and from the newspaper.
If you want to be anonymous, go live in a big city. In a small town, it’s impossible unless you hide in your house and never do anything. Many of the most active people I know moved to Oregon from California and immediately got involved. We Bay Area transplants just love the way people connect in and around the towns on the Oregon coast.
It’s the way it was when my father was growing up in San Jose. Living on a ranch on Dry Creek Road along the edges of Campbell and Almaden, his family knew everyone around them, and everybody knew the Fagaldes. It’s hard for him now to accept the way things have changed. When he goes out, he’s usually surrounded by strangers, many of them speaking languages other than English. The old-timers are dying off, their ranches turned into housing tracts. It’s a lonely place, even with nearly a million residents. People stand so close together sometimes that they touch and yet they don’t speak or acknowledge each other’s presence. Not here. Thank God.
We’re short on stores and long on rain, but after a while, everybody knows who you are.