Handy Tips and Info For the New In Town

We are finally at the end of the tourist season and into the beginning of the student season. They’re both great–don’t get me wrong by what I’m about to do here, but sometimes, I just want to make out a little pamphlet to hand out to people who visit or move here. So, here’s my little set of observations on life in this small mountain town.

  • Traffic through town is one way. There are two lanes so that people can drive slowly in the left lane to find a parking spot while being careful not to ram into someone backing out of said parking spot. People just going through town drive in the right hand lane. The left lane is NOT for you to zoom past the rest of us and when you WHAM into the back of my neighbor’s humongous pickup as he’s backing out of his spot in front of the barber shop, I am going to laugh at you.
  • When the young guy who mows your lawn tells you he saw that your car was ready for pick up from the body shop (when you never even talked to the boy about your car. ever. ever.), he is not a stalker. He’s just being neighborly. Everybody in town knows you’re car was in the shop even if you never told a soul.
  • It is quite rude not to accept vegetables from someone’s garden when offered. Unless you’re allergic, take them and do your best to eat them. People are proud of their gardens here and you’re rejecting them when you reject their produce. This also goes for canned goods, fresh eggs, fish and venison–if you’re lucky!
  • It is not a novel or new idea to buy local.
  • No, we do not have a single chain restaurant in town apart from fast food. Really. And not everyone is upset by that fact. We also have one Chinese Buffett and we are damned happy to have it, too!
  • Yes, we have yet another auto parts store that just opened. We have one of every kind known to man, plus a few locally owned.
  • The movie theater does not take credit cards and probably never will. Get over it. You’re seeing a first run movie at half the cost of the Big City and they have candy bars that are cheap enough to not require credit to purchase.
  • Downtown Cullowhee is that spot where they told you. It’s a laundry mat, tattoo shop, a few abandoned places that used to be stores. It’s not even a “wide spot’ in the road–it’s just a spot. Once you see the pizza place, you’ve already missed it.
  • This is a college town because there is a college here, but it is not like any other college town because there is no “there” there.
  • There is one Catholic church, two Episcopal churches, one Lutheran church and 9,584,625 Baptist churches. Oh and about half that number of Methodist.
  • Yes, there are churches here where people handle snakes. They are not in the yellow pages and do not really want you to visit and take their picture. They are not the Amish.
  • When someone asks you who your “people” are, they are not assuming you’re a different race or from another country. They want to know if you’re “local” or “outlander”.
  • No matter how long you’ve lived here, you are not a “local” unless your great grandmother was born here. For some, that still might not be good enough.
  • Just because you are an “outlander” does not mean that people don’t love you or that they aren’t glad you’re here. You can be an outlander and still make this your home.
  • It does not matter where you came from, nobody can drive on ice. Snow, yes. Ice, no. People slide on ice. See all those guys in giant pickups out playing in the snow and ice? They’re all volunteer firemen with massive life insurance policies whose wives have said, “sure honey, go out and play in the snow!”
  • Be nice to the volunteer firemen because that is all we have. And they will save your life.
  • If you see a funeral with a cremation then you know the person wasn’t “local”. There’s nothing wrong with cremation but people just do not do that here. They love the land and see nothing wrong with being planted in it.
  • We do not talk funny here and we do not have an “accent”.
  • A “painter” is a panther. “Yonder” means over there. (And, by the way, Shakespeare used that word so I suggest, unless you wish to show your literary ignorance, that you not make fun of it. Many of the colloquialisms of the area are directly linked to Olde English, so perhaps we speak more properly than you.)
  • Everybody is related. Or might as well be. Gossip at your own risk.
  • Big houses on the side of the mountain makes for an ugly mountain.
  • We are not Hillbillys. We are mountaineers.
  • Storytelling is a fine art.


Two days ago I stopped by the DMV to get one of those study sheets that has all the pictures of street signs and their meanings for the driving test. I find it shameful that I needed to study road signs, but I did, so I did.

You see, my driver’s license, apparently, expired in August. Where was I when that happened? Oh yeah, I know, not paying attention.

Anyhow, I’ve been putting it off for a little while (NOT for the past eleven months but for a little while) because I was dreading the DMV experience. You know, the camp out all day, argue with people, all-consuming frustration that is everything associated with getting what’s needed to make one a legal driver. It’s always the same thing for the tag office, the car place for the inspection, the tax office because I never seem to pay the car tax on time either, and the DMV. It always eats up major portions of the day. However, one can only handle so much anxiety over whether or not that cop car is just cruising along or if there is actually some sort of flashing sign over my car saying “Stop her, officer! Her license has expired! Eleven months ago! And she keeps putting it off, so give her a ticket!!”  So, as I was on my way to the Big City to get some crafty things for this week’s crafty pastor, I stopped in at the DMV which, I recently discovered, is about .2 of a mile from my house. At least this way, I reasoned, if I was stopped by a police officer, I could show them the sign study sheet as proof that I was working on getting it renewed and, therefore, look a millimeter less like an idiot.

Bracing myself, I went inside. There was no one there. And by that I do not mean that they were not open or that no one was working. I mean I walked in the waiting room–the room that in the Really Big City where I grew up would have been wall-to-wall people, all angry, all sweating, all in a hurry to go somewhere else, all certain that whoever they were and whatever they were doing was far more important than anyone and anything else–and there was no one. No one was waiting.


I was unsure as to what to do. I thought: perhaps I’m in the wrong place. Maybe the door was left unlocked by accident but they’re really closed. Nope. They were open. There was just no one waiting.

I searched for the little sign study sheet among the far too neatly displayed items, none of which were running too low or dirty or messy. No empty spot where the sign study sheet should have been. Nope, there it was, waiting for me. It had to be just me it was waiting for because there was no one else there. It all felt like the Twilight Zone.

Then I heard a voice from the next room. “Can I help you?” I peeked through the open door and saw two DMV men sitting at desks typing away on their computers. There was, thankfully, one other driver’s license seeker in there at one of the desks and he was chatting away with his DMV guy like he had all the time in the world. “Well, umm,” I started, realizing that I sounded quite anxious, “I just wanted to get one of those sign study sheets.” Immediately I felt like an idiot once again for needing a study sheet. “Ok,” my DMV guy said, ” they’re right on that table where you are. Just come on back whenever you’re ready.”

Come on back whenever I’m ready? MY DMV guy? What? I wasn’t prepared! I wasn’t expecting this! For heaven’s sake, I didn’t have on makeup! !

But I did go back and I did take the sign test…..which I passed perfectly, thank you very much. And I even passed the eye test which was, if I’m honest, what I was even more worried about. You know, you can’t study for an eye test. And I had the world’s worst driver’s license photo taken in the history of all driver’s license photos. But I do not care because when I got back in my car it had been eight minutes—EIGHT MINUTES—since I had gotten out of it and walked into the Twilight Zone DMV Office.

Small town life is amazing sometimes. This month, my car tag and inspection expire and I’m not even planning on procrastinating and plan to take care of them on time for a change.


Traffic and Woodchucks

This town as has one stop light. Well, to be fair, it does have a good deal more than that, but there is only one significant intersection. One major road runs smack into a highway. Two four-laners forming a T intersection. A major thoroughfare through town and the one big road to Asheville. The light, as I was told yesterday, takes approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds to change. Ah, geez! I thought. Over two minutes!

Oh how quickly we adapt to whatever surroundings we are in so that what would have been pure miracle in one context becomes a headache in another. The traffic in this small town is so non-hectic that I am certain it is the cause of the significant and unexpected drop in my blood pressure since I’ve been here. (It certainly wasn’t because I’d lost weight.) How many hours I’ve spent sitting in traffic over the years, waiting on lights to change, hoping some kind soul would let me onto an interstate so crowded that the only thing moving was the heat wave heading upward from the metal hoods. Yet it took almost no time for me to be spoiled rotten by the relatively benign traffic here. I found myself being frustrate today when I had to wait for the light to change twice before I could make it through our one major intersection. The ‘delay’ was due to the number of tourists in town.

Saw a woodchuck in my yard today. When I first moved here, I saw a squat, fat, furry thing waddling by the side of the road and I thought it was a beaver. Later, I was corrected by a parishioner and now I know them to be our friendly woodchucks. Actually, I don’t know if they are friendly at all. This one seemed very shy. He looked at me, waddled around and, as fast as his little low body would carry him, scurried across the street to the neighbor’s yard. Wish I’d gotten a picture. Maybe next time.