Night on the Town

The streets of a small town at a quarter past four in the morning tell stories that cannot adequately be told in the light of day. Those dark, deserted streets reveal the abandoned hopes of people who do not fit the molds into which we try to press them. Those streets express what could have been but was not to be; happy, carefree souls who, though different from the rest of us, could fit into molds of their own making.  Instead, the small town, closed up tight, forces the strangers among us to experience the streets in darkness,  save for the artificial lights that illuminate empty streets. Those few unique people wander in the darkness: an old man on a bicycle overloaded with all his worldly possessions; a bi-racial couple sharing a bottle of vodka, staggering past a car-wash; another bicycle rider, a young man whose shaved head must be intended as a message, though it’s not clear to me what; and a young woman exercising with hand-weights as she walks briskly in front of shops that, in a few hours, will sell tawdry tourist trinkets priced barely high enough to keep the doors open.

Who are these people, these characters who either by choice or chance inhabit the night? Are they really unusual, unable or unwilling to crawl into the molds into which most of us readily fit? Or do they simply opt to experience life from the inside out, sleeping while we wake and waking while we sleep? I could ask them, but I am in my car, slowly cruising by—wondering about them but not sufficiently curious to warrant stopping for a chat. Besides, if I stopped, they understandably might think of me as an aggressor, an accoster, an old man with bad intentions.

The few cars on the streets move about with purpose, as do the delivery trucks. The drivers know where they are going, but I can only guess at their destinations. Where do people go at this hour? Nothing is open, not even fast-food drive-through lanes. I suppose they are like me: they have been some place, or are going some place, suited to four-in-the-morning-darkness.

In my case, I am driving home after a “sleep study” that began at 8:00 p.m. I was attached overnight to wires that measured brain waves, eye movements, breathing, heart rate, and any twitching of muscles in my legs and arms and chest. The purpose was to determine whether I stop breathing when I sleep and what might be done to keep me from taking that very last breath before its time. That’s more dramatic than it is, really; it also aims to help determine what will enable me to sleep longer and better. The technician noticed that I was awake just after four, though, so he came in and removed the wires so I could go home.

Even the classic American main street, with its mixed-use buildings right up against the sidewalk, is now illegal in most municipalities. Somewhere along the way, through a series of small and well-intentioned steps, traditional towns became a crime in America.

~ Andres Duany ~

As I drove through the periphery of the town and into the heart of Hot Springs, I felt the same small-town heartbeat I’ve felt hundreds of times before as I’ve driven through small towns in the wee hours of the morning. The heartbeats of small towns are different from cities; small towns’ hearts are more honest about their pride and about their ailments. Hot Springs’ pride is obvious in its touristy cladding. But it cannot hide its ailments behind that translucent covering. The town sports abandoned buildings and structures that, once majestic, now hide their decay behind gaudy signs and attention-grabbing paint. In that way, Hot Springs is like many other small towns; it is trying to resurrects its heyday with only moderate success. It is attempting to recreate the look and feel of a time before the era of plazas and campuses, an era that made typical small-town street scenes an anachronism. Time will tell whether the town’s efforts will pay dividends.


Algeria cut diplomatic ties with its neighboring country, Morocco, with which it shares a 1200 mile border. How massive would the dislocation have to be to prompt the U.S. or Mexico to cut diplomatic ties with its neighbor, with which it shares a 1950 mile border? Tensions in the rest of the world would escalate to the breaking point if the U.S. and Mexico broke diplomatic relations with one another. Is the world just as anxious about the Morocco/Algeria border? Why not? Geopolitical intrigue clearly illustrates global madness and hypocrisy. And power. Raw, ravenous, greedier-than-greedy power.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Night on the Town

  1. David, I think you may have nailed it. In other words, when the bull is in the China shop, it’s understandable that little attention is paid to the calves in the pasture, kicking dirt at one another.

  2. davidlegan says:

    Perhaps the world worries about Algeria/Morocco in direct proportion to the depth of their nuclear arsenals. the world worries about the U.S. because we behave like an AR15 armed drunken bully at closing time.

  3. Thank you, Larry, for your comment. Much appreciated!

  4. Larry Zuckerman says:

    This was a great read. Thank you.

Please talk to me about what I've written. I get lonely when I'm the only one saying anything.

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