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Keeping it Real: Stranger in a strange land


December 3, 2018

When the first snow fell back in the beginning of October, I looked outside my window at my snow-covered car and thought to myself: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. (Confession: My second thought was of my dad because the black of my car with the white of the snow on top reminded me of his salt and pepper hair.)

That’s my pop culture way of saying that I’m not from around these parts. No, I was born in a coastal town in California called Ventura. It’s around Los Angeles for those not familiar with small cities in California.

When I was about 2 years old, my parents and I moved to Simi Valley — also near Los Angeles. My brother was born there, and we stayed there until 1995. We moved shortly after the Northridge earthquake (yes, also near Los Angeles; Google the earthquake, too).

We moved to another small town called Bakersfield located about two hours north of Los Angeles. That was home to me until I graduated from college and went to the University of Arizona in Tucson (Beardown! Go Wildcats!).

I graduated with a history degree and put that to good use at State Farm as an auto claims representative. After a year I applied for an underwriting position and got out of claims. I spent the next two years in underwriting.

So what brings a California/Arizona kid to Havre? Well, let’s just keep this simple and vague: my heart.

I’ve been here since the end of September and to say that moving here was a bit of a culture shock, would be an understatement.

Let’s start with just the size of the places I’ve lived. I’m omitting Ventura and Simi Valley because I was only there for a couple years and consider myself more from Bakersfield — though if you’ve been to Bakersfield, you might ask why I’d want to be associated with that city over a city like Ventura.

The population of Bakersfield around the time I left for college was pushing 350,000. Tucson had a population of just over 500,000 and the University of Arizona itself had a student population of around 45,000. Finally, Phoenix has a population just shy of 1.5 million.

Although technically, I didn’t live in Phoenix. I lived in a south-eastern, suburb of Phoenix called Gilbert whose population is only about 200,000.

Now, I’m in Havre with a population pushing a whopping 10,000. That is why my girlfriend would always make fun of me when I told people I was from a small town in California.

“You don’t know what small is,” she’d say to me.

Sticking with the obvious, let’s talk weather now. I clearly planned this well because I left Arizona when it was 100 degrees and came up here when it was about 60.

To be honest, though, I’d grown tired of the heat. Bakersfield, Tucson and Phoenix summers were all the same. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees and summer activities included swimming or watching movies in an air-conditioned building.

So I’m swapping the sunshine for snowfall. I must confess I was a little relieved that I wasn’t here last year. That’s the number one response so far when I tell people I’m from Arizona.

“Oh, you’re lucky you weren’t here last year for winter.”

Still, every time someone describes last winter here in Havre, I get a little nervous. Here’s a shocker: I had never driven in snow.

My girlfriend has been nice enough to show me how to test if the roads are slick; although I wish she would have done it in her car instead of mine, but hey it’s a learning opportunity right?

Consider this, it is currently mid to low 60s in Phoenix right now. If you combine the high and the low for Havre, it still wouldn’t reach the high for Phoenix.

I packed shorts, sweatshirts and a couple pairs of jeans. I quickly learned that was good enough for fall and winter in the south, but not nearly adequate for northern weather.

The first weeks here were spent gathering thermal wear, fall jackets, winter jackets and gloves. In the beginning, when I saw the weather in the 30s for the day, I used to put on four layers. I’m slowly adapting now, although, I know of some others who would disagree.

Despite these major changes, I’ve enjoyed life in an actual small town so far. For one thing the traffic, or lack thereof, is phenomenal. From our house, I could take a 15 minute walk to work or take a five minute drive. In Phoenix, it was about an hour to get to work and an hour to get home.

The community spirit is felt in every event that happens over the weekend. Everyone feels like family and everyone pitches in to help.

Before leaving family and friends behind in Phoenix, I told myself this was a chance to experience something new. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I know that I’ll leave here changed for the better.


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