Don't get me wrong: I love my little hometown. My family is there. My best friends, some of the most wonderful and amazing people in the whole world, live in Southern Illinois. But as I've spent more time away from it I've gotten some perspective on how weird it can be, sort of like peeking behind a Norman Rockwell painting to see the canvas is actually kind of dry-rotted and gross. Case in point:
There are fire sirens throughout the town that blow any time there's a fire (obviously), any time there's a tornado (makes sense), and also at 12p and 6p every single day. They are loud. Oppressively loud. Dogs howl, babies cry, and if you're unfortunate enough to be driving by one of the actual towers holding up the sirens you're going to have a ringing in your ears for hours.
As a kid it was one of those things you just assume happens everywhere because it happens in your neighborhood. "Oh, right, the siren. Everybody has a siren." But it turns out not everyone has a siren, it's mostly a small-Midwestern-town thing used to help tell farmers when it was time for lunch and time to quit and maybe also used as a warning to black people to get the fuck out of town before sunset.
(I know the local news covering the siren story floats the idea that the sirens were used in a racist way: I've got to say that's the first time I've ever heard that theory and I don't really give it much credence. That said, people in my hometown still say "nigger" in casual conversation so it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn this thing was steeped in racism.)
So now some people have come forward and asked that maybe, since even farmers have cell phones and watches and since the sirens are loud as hell and traumatizing to dogs and children that maybe the town doesn't have to set them off twice a day. And the good folks of Columbia did pretty much exactly what I expected them to do in the face of such a request: they freaked the fuck out.
"TRADITION!" seems to be the rallying cry of people who are offended by the prospect of not having a fire siren pointlessly blare at them twice a day. Even the siren's defenders concede it's annoying and pointless; their argument pretty much boils down to, "but the siren's always gone off," which is basically the mindset of every mouth-breathing yokel you hear about all over the country who's trying to hold back the progress of human civilization in one way or another.
"But so what? Who cares if a small town wants to keep their siren?" It doesn't take long reading the "arguments" in favor of keeping the siren to see the true colors come shining through:
- Love how all this new people want to move into our small town and try to bring in new things and take the old away. If you dont like it move out, we shouldnt have to change our ways for you people.
- Too many implants
- Keep it just because the new columbia population from the city dont like it doesnt meen they should get there way grown up io columbia my whole life if they dont like it they should move plain and simple
- Reason to keep them is that there is no good reason to get rid of them. Some transplant thinks it is bothering her baby and another thinks it might? Give me a damn break. There is something to be said about preserving the traditions of of our town.
- I feel like who are these people to move here and decide how we should operate?
- Tell the Missourian's if they don't like it go back to where you came from!
- Is this a St. Louis gang thing?
- From what I read and was told a lady who moved here is pregnant and thinks it will disturb her baby.
- They can't take it away because one transplant parent "thinks it might" bother her unborn baby.
Charming! For those of you not familiar with the politics of small-town Southern Illinois, "St. Louis" and "Missouri" are shorthand for "crime" and "blacks," respectively. Never mind that St. Louis remains the most backwards and racially-charged city I've ever experienced, to the people across the river it's where black people come from.
Columbia has a long, proud history of fearing that one day the "city" will encroach on its weird Stepford suburbia. They've rejected scenic byways on the grounds that it might encourage people from other places to actually visit, they've artificially-inflated property values to try and keep anyone from Dupo or Cahokia spilling across the white picket fence, and now that this ONE FILTHY TRANSPLANT (it's not one person, obviously, but this is how politics works in small towns: us vs. them) has decided that THEY get to decide for EVERYONE ELSE, the people have found their rallying cry. Which, apparently, is "Fuck New People."
Guys, doing something just because you did it before isn't a tradition. A tradition is supposed to carry a symbolic meaning. What is symbolic about a fire siren deafening everyone at noon and six? The Christmas decorations on Main Street are a tradition, the fireworks display in Legion Park is a tradition. Underage drinking at Oktoberfest is a tradition. Friday night football games at the high school are a tradition. They're things that strengthen the community and create memories and bonds among people.
A siren is just a loud noise. A loud noise that doesn't even serve its original intended purpose. It's pointless. And it may or may not contribute to the lingering sentiment that you're all a bunch of fearful racists trying to cordon yourselves off from civilized society.
Join us in the 21st century, won't you? Ditch the sirens and let the babies sleep and the dogs relax and the families hear each other at the dinner table. Start a new tradition if you're so hard up for one. But most importantly: please understand that the point of a tradition is to bring a community together, not make them hate each other on Facebook.