Guest Blogger: Andrew Ambriz
University of Nebraska Graduate 12/2016
For the first 10 years of my life, I never really understood that there was life beyond Los Angeles. It was a place you never had to leave because it had everything. Entertainment, food and toy stores were all you needed to keep a child occupied. When we moved to Pender, Nebraska in 2005, my first thought was, “Is this it?” When we moved to West Point, it didn’t seem to be much different. Rural Nebraska seemed to look the same no matter where you were. My siblings and I talked about moving back, going back to the center of it all in Los Angeles, seeing our family back there and living the life we remembered. Even now, I get starry-eyed thinking about everything it has to offer.
Living in Lincoln through college, I got glimpse of that autonomy and a taste of what city life was as an adult. Live music, restaurant options, local and chain retailers, and the convenience of a “want it, get it” urban culture. For 3 years, Lincoln was home and a place I could see myself for the long-haul; big enough for the feel, small enough for convenience.
The Downtown District in Lincoln, Nebraska is the newest and coolest addition to Lincoln’s night life.
Up to that point, at 21 years old, I had only heard of McCook twice. I couldn’t have told you where it was on a map if I tried. After applying and being accepted to the Rural Futures Institute Student Serviceship program, I learned that McCook would be ‘home’ for a nine week summer internship. As a result, my wife and I moved to McCook and the great unknown.
Upon moving, questions raced around in our heads: What is the community like? Are the people friendly? What services are provided in town? What kind of volunteer organizations are there? For both Alix and I, our home communities of Spencer and West Point are small towns and we were eager to see how we would transition from our big city life in Lincoln, back to our small town roots.
“The Bricks” in Downtown McCook is lined with entrepreneurs that have been serving McCook for years. (photo by: Andrew Ambriz)
What makes rural communities so attractive? We can list the usual suspects like safety, slow pace, “everybody knows everybody”, etc. but there’s a remarkable difference between towns that survive and those that thrive.
In thriving communities, there’s an intriguing mindset. A mindset where people appreciate what they have paired with an attitude of wanting more. When people have an idea, it’s met with “why not?” and “how do we do it?” rather than “why?” and “we’ve already tried that”. People create buzz around ideas and possibilities because of genuine excitement. The community is not afraid of failure.
I think about those city lights back in Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley, the live music of Nashville, and the artistic vibe of Denver and rather than thinking “I wish I was there,” I think “how do we get that here?” Rural America is allegedly the ‘finish line of coastal trends’. I think there’s some truth to that. For years America thought you could only have “X” if you lived in “Y”. Rural communities have put that to rest. Live music is found all over small towns in the Midwest. The arts have been embraced by rural communities. Technology has found its way into the culture here and has created a wave of entrepreneurship that brings a spark to rural areas.
My wife and I are now full-time residents of McCook and proud ‘McCookites’. The time we spent here this summer reminded us of the riches that small town America has to offer. But these things aren’t exclusive to McCook, they are in other rural places too. Small towns are becoming destinations for young professionals, established businessmen and women, and entrepreneurs because they offer more than just a job. They offer a safe community busting with creativity, support and progress.
Urban was then, rural is now. – Andrew Ambriz
Thanks Andrew for the thoughtful post!