If This Is Mayberry Welcome To It

June 13, 2002
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Among the TV crews broadcasting the ArenaBowl XV was a Nick at Nite fan who spoke of Grand Rapids as being a regular Mayberry RFD.

When Bob Struyk, president of Tickets PLUS, heard about the comment, he wasn’t at all insulted. In fact, he chuckled and said, “Oh, well, that’s OK.”

Our sentiments exactly.

There’s no question about it: In the eyes of some New Yorkers and San Franciscans, this is The Sticks — Fly-Over Country. Apparently some natives of The Big Apple and that ilk tend to regard us with big-town condescension. In their eyes, we must be the hay-shakers and sand savages inhabiting that swath of the heartland colored red on the 2000 electoral map.

Perhaps such folks don’t feel at home if they aren’t shouldering through dense crowds at the bottom of concrete canyons where you literally dare not meet other people’s eyes. Doing so invites big trouble.

Shoot, we’re real country here. You pass somebody on a Pearl Street sidewalk and say “Howdy” and they grin and nod.

But this is not the venue to lecture out-of-towners about the virtues of Grand Rapids and West Michigan. Those TV people aren’t even around anymore to read it. Moreover, we don’t need to convince our regular readers that life in the Big Apple or an office in the Sears Tower is nothing to covet.

Besides, condescending though the visitors may have been, it’s difficult to avoid noting the irony that very, very large numbers of such people seem to fight horrible traffic to find precisely the relatively relaxed existence that we enjoy.

Note, for instance, that the successful business people of the Windy City tend to build homes in communities with a distinctly small-town flavor: Aurora, St. Charles and Batavia. And do these suburban residents do their shopping at Water Tower Place or zip downtown for lunch at the Walnut Room? Get real.

They leave that stuff to the tourists from Grand Rapids wrapping up a visit to the Shedd Aquarium or carrying packages from Marshall Fields.

It’s exactly the same in the most elitist of all American cities, Washington, D.C. That’s the home of bureaucratic rule-makers who are so contemptuous of common folks and common sense. Those who are so unfortunate as to work in town at Health and Human Services or Treasury ache to get an early start home to Fairfax, Va., or Silver Spring, Md., or parts far beyond.

And they never, ever tour The Capitol or the White House.

The fact is, Grand Rapids is a blessed community where the drive to a very clean downtown from the equally clean suburbs is 30 minutes max — and that’s on a bad day. Moreover, some time yet this decade, we actually may be able to drive around our own downtown again.

Just one note to out-of-towners: Welcome. Sneer all you like. But be cool. Police Chief Harry Dolan is an affable guy. He’s nothing like Andy Griffith, however, and he has no Barney Fifes on his staff. 

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