When was the last time you visited a small town? I don't mean just driving through and saying, "Oh, look at that cute building." I mean walking around and enjoying what has been undisturbed for decades or centuries; talking to the locals and learning about their history, eating "real" local food.
Most people who travel hit the the highways leaving home wearing blinders. They have their fancy GPS gadgets, their glossy maps, and they never see Americana. Today's new maps don't even list many secondary roads that lead to the past. On some maps you can't even find Route 66.
I am a back-roads person. That is where you find life. Nothing happens on highways except accidents and traffic stalls.
People who head out with blinders on don't know what a mom and pop meal taste like - they end up eating at a franchise or some greasy spoon disguised as a mom and pop diner. They pass by living history books, people more than happy to chat with them about their towns, their families, the rusted tractors that need to be readied for harvest, the pies in the oven, "Would you like a piece?"
When I worked for a newspaper in the 80's, I had the dream job of covering a large amount of territory in Georgia and South Carolina. I was looking for feature shots, interesting people, and stories to take back to writers (or write myself if I felt like it). I met the most fascinating people; people who invited me into their homes, offered me biscuits and honey, pie, or lunch or dinner, depending on the time of day. I was loaded down with fruits and vegetables in season, and jams and jellies in the winter.
I have taken several trips out west, and found towns that weren't even on the local maps. I remember a small dusty town somewhere off the beaten track in New Mexico. Dirt roads. Fine people, not a bit suspicious of a stranger. I let their children play with my cameras. They fed me, laughed when one of their goats tried to eat one of my cameras, and sent me off with smiles, waves, and something delicious wrapped in corn husks.
Men in some long forgotten Texas town, drinking their morning coffee and talking politics were overjoyed that I wanted to take their photos. They talked about their farms and the price of corn and wheat; they bought my breakfast.
Everybody goes to Nantucket, but who has heard of Vinalhaven, Maine?
When I am on the highway, I feel sad when I see travelers trying to beat it to some touristy destination. In this hurry-up world, no one knows how to, "Sit a spell and talk."
Well, Crisfield is on the map, but it is one of those towns you should try and visit. There is a ton of history here, and the folks are mighty friendly. You can always find the island boat captains sitting on the city dock before the boats leave around noon. I love talking with them.
Though we have some wonderful restaurants in Crisfield, make sure you don't miss Gordon's. It has been around since 1924. There is some Americana for you! Try their coffee, it's famous, and take some time to get to know the diners. They will spin you some fine tales.
Walk around, visit the museum, talk to people on the streets, study the old buildings from a time when Crisfield was truly, "The Seafood Capital of the World." When you have taken in the town, hop a boat to Smith or Tangier Island. Head to Deal Island or Rumbley.
Wherever you go, think about those maps that lead you right where they want you to go - through the heart of Capitalism. Do you homework and see the "real" America. There is still a lot of it out there. You will find some mighty friendly people on the back-roads, along with some breathtaking landscapes.
“Is the small town a place, truly, of the world, or is it no more than something out of a boy's dreaming? Out of his love of all things not of death made? All things somewhere beyond the dust, rust, and decay, beyond the top, beyond all sides, beyond bottom: outside, around, over, under, within?”~ William Saroyan
Yes. Small towns do exist. I have been there. I live in one.