Local Schmocal by ZoŽ Abel — I shouldn't ever be on any kind of welcoming committee since I'm probably similar to a predator striking down its prey when I have a conversation.
My sister and I went out to dinner together last week. As we waited for our food we played the usual locals game of staring around the restaurant to see how many people we recognized. A table full of co-workers, a couple from my church and several former teachers rounded out the mix downtown. Like any time you go out to eat in the winter, it was a very familiar environment.
But next to us were a couple of men with accents who informed us they were from the exciting and exotic locations of Northern Maine and Western Canada. I instantly became, probably, a little too friendly. I'm just always so excited to see new faces in this small town of ours. I shouldn't ever be on any kind of welcoming committee since I'm probably similar to a predator striking down its prey when I have a conversation. I lean in close, my fingers close up into little talons and I start pelting them with questions until they sink under the table in a gesture of defeat. I can't say that I'm sorry, because just like a lion taking down a zebra on the tundra, my barrages on tourists are purely instinctual and absolutely uncontrollable.
These men wanted to know what there was to do in Ashland, hampered by the fact that they were not 21 yet. I don't know if they used this question purely as a defense mechanism, but if they did it worked. The thought stopped me in my tracks, and my sister and I stared at each other blankly. They didn't want to just sit around their hotel; they were already eating, and were probably uninterested in just eating straight through until they went to bed (though that sounds like the perfect evening to me). My sister and I wondered aloud, "What did we do before we were 21?" and I said, because I'm quick on my feet, "We don't even have a bowling alley." As if I had ever gone bowling back in the days of a local bowling alley.
What had we done? We had hung out at our house, or at a friend's house. We wandered around the park and had (probably illegal) bonfires in the woods. We ate a lot of junk food, drove around, and always discussed going to the underage club in Medford, but never actually went. Sometimes we snuck into hotel pools at night to go swimming and once we threw jelly beans out the car window at people we knew.
None of these seemed like appropriate suggestions to make to a couple of young tourists. Finally we were able to come up with a couple things. The First Friday Art Walk, looking if any cheap tickets were left for a play, hanging out at a couple ice cream shops that are open late.
It made me think about available evening activities. As an overage adult it's easy to take the lazy way out. The easiest way to meet up with friends is just to meet at a bar, but being around drunks and loud music isn't always the most desirable activity (admittedly, sometimes it is).
After the conversation I've had a chance to sit and think, without the adrenaline from my tourist hunting running through my body, about activities in town. I know Medford also has many things to offer, but I rarely venture out of these 3 square miles surrounded by reality, as Ashland is sometimes known. So my goal for the next couple months is to be more imaginative, and to be more willing to work a little harder for my relaxation and fun time. There are things available to do in Ashland, and we're lucky to live in a town with so many outlets and activities. The Jackson Wellsprings is open until midnight; the tennis courts have lights available for evening games; and I know someone very interested in if there's still an adult spelling bee offered at Louie's.
So for the next couple months I'll apply my predatory instincts to hunting down fun. This assures the general population can feel safe to sit near me in a restaurant again.
Zoë Abel is a lifelong Ashlander, and is still able to find new things to do. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org