Unfolding the Map
Is Dime Box, Texas the everytown that William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) wants us to consider for the human condition? Or did he just need a break on a long trip across Texas, stopped here for a time, and decided to fill some pages writing about its inhabitants? I'm not sure so I speculate below. You can speculate too, and if you want to see where Dime Box is located, click on the map thumbnail conveniently located to the right.
"Across the Yegua River a sign pointed south to Dime Box. Over broad hills, over the green expansion spreading under cedars and live oaks, on into a valley where I found Dime Box, essentially a three street town. Vegetable gardens and flowerbeds lay to the side, behind, and in front of the houses. Perpendicular to the highway, two streets ran east and west: one of worn brick buildings facing the Southern Pacific tracks, the other a double row of false-front stores and wooden sidewalks. Disregarding a jarring new bank, Dime Box could have been an M-G-M backlot set for a Western.
"'....City people don't think anything important happens in a place like Dime Box. And usually it doesn't, unless you call conflict important. Or love or babies or dying.'"
Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 2
Given the amount of text that LHM devotes to Dime Box, Texas, you might think that it is a pretty big place. Now take a look at the Wikipedia page that I link to below. Dime Box's entry is all of two sentences.
Now that begs a question. Why did LHM put so much attention into Dime Box? He stops in a diner, where nothing is going on except for the occasional small talk of some extremely bored people, and where the most exciting thing that happens occurs when an old woman stands up and farts, causing one guy to make the comment that she doesn't need any more beans. He then visits the post office and talks to the woman at the counter, and she tells him a little about how the town got its name, its ethnic background, and states her speculation on what "city people" think of small towns like Dime Box. I quote that above.
He then gets a haircut and devotes another section of the book to the barber who gives him a haircut. He learns that the barber used to press clothes and gets shown the large pressing machine in the back, long unused. He sees the tree that is in the process of uprooting the corner of the barber's building. He declares the haircut the best he has ever gotten.
He then stops in a bar and watches men of Czech and German descent play dominoes. A man with a Czech accent tells him about his war experience and asks him a philosophical question. Given a choice of one of three implements that he could use to survive, which would he take - a hoe, a fishing pole and line or a gun. LHM says he'd take the fishing pole, and the Czech says he'd take the gun.
I'm somewhat stumped about LHM's reasons for giving this much detail to this out of the way stop. Is he making a point about how slow it can be in small towns? I'm from a small town, so this isn't news to me, and it probably isn't news to others either, whether they come from small towns or big cities. Is he pointing out that time has a different meaning in places like Dime Box? Yes, we move faster and time seems to move more quickly in places where there is a lot more action. In contrast, a small town in an out of the way corner in Texas may seem like time stands still. It moves, if one looks carefully. People age, homes and farms change hands, businesses die and sometimes don't come back. The town experiences booms and busts and sometimes the busts kill it off. I suspect this isn't news to most people either.
Or is he making a point that places like Dime Box are still here, and that life happens anywhere, even in such a small place. The quote from the postal clerk points out that small out-of-the-way places have controversy (she states that Dime Box was embroiled in racial politics over busing like a lot of other places in the 60s and 70s), and that people are born, fall in love, have families and die in places like Dime Box just like any other place. People get their hair cut, they sit in diners and talk, and they sit in bars and drink and play games. They work. They live.
Perhaps that's the point that LHM is trying to make. We get caught up in our own lives, think of ourselves and perhaps our own joys and problems. We insulate ourselves in our surroundings. We live in our cities and towns and forget that in other places, people more alike to us than unlike are dealing with similar problems and facing them in similar ways and coming to similar ways of resolving them. In that way, the most powerful banker in a penthouse suite in a skyscrapered metropolis is connected to the most humble farmer in the smallest town in the middle of the east corner of nowhere. The tools that each uses to deal with life are different. One has access to money and the best technology, and one may just have a pair of hands and a voice. But the things that life throws at us are the same across the board, and we remember that when we stop in a place like Dime Box and a second generation ethnic Czech war veteran from Dime Box tells a story about connecting with Czechs from Chicago over booze and gambling while fighting a war against a fascist regime bent on world domination. We are all connected through the similar problems that we face.
At least that's what I think that LHM is getting at. But I might be completely wrong...and it wouldn't be the first time.
If you want to know more about Dime Box
Next up: Austin, Texas