How can I explain this? When we first visited Big Rapids we did so as a family, scouting out our temporary home for the next few years. We did not look like college students, we looked like a family looking for a place to raise their children. We also looked like we could be professors or staff at Ferris State University…more Barb than me. I looked like many of the male townies.
We were treated extremely well by every, and I do mean every, townie we met. All of them welcomed us to Big Rapids. Each of them let us know that Big Rapids was a quiet town and a good place to raise children, which it is both of those. And those townies who owned businesses let us know that if we had any problems to contact them. Frankly, coming from the lower part of Michigan, we were stunned by how nice people were. The only other time strangers were this nice to me was out West.
Imagine our surprise when we moved into town, got our new debit cards with the Ferris State University logo emblazoned upon them and discovered that while the townies want the money the students bring with them, the townies do not want the students here. Nothing overtly rude, but a general reaction towards us; now that we were students, we were with them over on campus…potential source of money and trouble.
It did not take long to see why. During the summer, Big Rapids is a nice place to live; traffic goes down, lines go down, drunken students go away, loud students go away, annoying students go away, and students behaving like they are on vacation in a foreign land go away. Thus, the townies are in good spirits. When the students come back, Big Rapids is…well problematic at best and down right one my least favorite places to live at worse. None of this is the fault of the people of Big Rapids. The blame lay square at the feet of the students, many of whom have zero idea how to behave in public.
The first chance I got, I switched my debit card logo to that of a nearby high school football team. The change from townies was immediate. I was one of townies again. The townies treated us like we belonged, which during the summer meant lots of talking at the register or in the aisles. During the school year, we commiserated on the students. Such as, the traffic backups or daily traffic accident or the student who shows up in line with six cases of beer and a loaf of bread.
One of the best conversations about townies and students we had was with our insurance agent, who upon hearing us opine about the behavior of students explained the situation as follows: Big Rapids would not be the place it is without the college and college students. Should the town and college have a better relationship, yes. However, since the town and college do not, the town gets what it needs from the college-money and the college gets what it needs from the town-places to live and do things. Maybe one day, the relationship will be more cordial, until then the townies have the holidays and summer to look towards.
These days, as our time here comes to an end (although I shouldn’t say that yet, look what happened to Luke Skywalker when he said he’d never be back to Tatooine), we know many townies and are treated like we have been here for years. And we have. When explaining to students how to blend in, I always get that incredulous look, “Surely that doesn’t work?” It does, but it also helps that I know how to behave in public (for the most part) and I do not treat my time here like a vacation where it is okay for me to behave like an ass.