I’m beginning to recognize people on the streets of Smithers.
Polite nods have evolved into smiles, and smiles have evolved into friendly conversation.
One of the things I disliked most about living in the concrete jungle that is metropolitan Toronto was its complete lack of community.
If you’ve been unlucky enough to have to ride Toronto’s subway during the 45-minute period between 4:15 and 5 p.m. (not quite rush hour, but just busy enough to make you second guess buying that third bag of groceries in case you can’t snag a seat) you know what I mean.
Amongst a sea of smartphones casting their faint LED glow on their owners’ foreheads, people would sit huddled like sardines in their seats (which, to be fair, were way too small) and obsessively scroll through their devices.
I remember always thinking to myself, this can’t be natural.
Worst of all was the people who forgot their device, newspaper or fidget spinner — the ones who would just stare blankly in front of them like depressed gargoyles that had been animated for the day.
Words were seldom exchanged (niceties even less so) and eye contact was akin to confrontation.
Not in Smithers though.
I don’t think I’ve been shopping without the quintessential small-town experience of having to contort your body to extremes just to shuffle around two people that have stopped in the already too small lanes of No Frills to catch up about, well, anything.
But I’m not complaining.
Communities are the glue that binds together the fabric of society.
They are the coals that sustain the flames under the melting pot that is the diverse-yet-collective community of Smithers.
And they are the life force of rural Canada.
When you live in a town of thousands, you treat people differently. That individual with a flame paint job on his Pontiac Sunfire becomes less of an oddity and more of a fixture within the community.
Besides, in Smithers, even when you think you don’t know someone, you do.
Case in point, I sold a couch earlier today and ended up catching a ride into town with the people that bought it.
As we head into town I see the aforementioned Sunfire and point it out to the them.
One of the girls in the car lets out a laugh and proceeds to tell me all about the guy who owns it.
And although I might never meet the guy, I know the next time I see that car I will think of him.
It’s this sense of intangible community that makes me happy to take contorting my way through grocery shopping over awkwardly sitting amongst hundreds of other people in complete silence as we make our way through the day.
In Smithers, instead of seeing someone once and forgetting them instantly, you notice the same people over and over again.
If you’re like me, maybe you create names for them in your head: bearded bicycle guy, that dude with the old orange Volkswagen and the Tim Horton’s lady who always buys the order of the people behind her in line.
I don’t know any of these peoples names, I don’t know what their fears, desires and goals in life are.
But what I do know is how they interact with each other.
I’ve noticed that this, in turn, has changed how I interact with others.
Because in small towns, reputations spread like wildfire.
And while I’m still not used to having someone come up and say they recognize me by my earrings, I’m excited at the prospect at being able to make a difference.
I’m excited at the idea that my words can have an impact on another person’s life.
I’m excited that I get to tell stories that are not only interesting to write, but that resonate in the hearts and minds of people who intimately know the subjects of the stories you’re telling.
Because while it feels a little weird having someone come up to you and tell you they recognize you by your earrings, it’s also a reminder that in a town as small as Smithers, word travels fast.
So with that in mind, I’d like to invite you, the reader, to stop me in the street and say hello if you see me.
Let’s make some small talk. Tell me what you love about the town, tell me what you wish you could change.
Most importantly, tell me where you want me to shine my journalist flashlight for you, because that’s what I’m here for.
Just like a chef wants to serve someone a great meal I want to advocate for you, the reader, and illuminate the issues in this town that matter to you.
Because just like Mr. Flamed-out Sunfire, I’m here to stay.