In one of those silly surveys that publicists cook up to get mentioned in the paper, I see that we now have a list of the 10 Most Boring Cities in America — and that luckily, none of Louisiana’s cities made the roster of shame. Movoto, a real estate blog, used a few criteria to gauge civic excitement, including the number of nightclubs per capita and the local population of young people. Little cities weren’t even considered for the list — apparently because, by the reckoning of the folks who did the survey, everyone is supposed to know that small places are boring, anyway.
But among the population centers that warranted Movoto’s attention, poor Lubbock, Texas, came in as the dullest city of all.
I can’t put much stock, though, in a survey that defines excitement only as a consumer commodity, easily available to the next willing buyer.
“Here, nature and life follow a pattern that has so gone out of style that it gets rejected in the editorial offices,” the Russian writer Anton Chekhov told a correspondent many years ago. What he meant, it seems, is that there are varieties of excitement not easily captured by the media mill as it searches for The Next Big Thing.
I had such a moment a few weeks ago, when I walked out to get the morning paper and discovered a garter snake near the porch stoop. It lay across a flower bed, warming itself in the day’s new sun, its tail slightly obscured within the shrubbery. The stripes down its dark back were a pale shade of brownish yellow, like the faded colors I’ve seen in old braided rugs.
The snake seemed to go on forever. Neither I nor my wife, who had come outside to share the discovery, could pinpoint where the tail ended.
In geometry class, our teenage son has been studying the idea of the infinite line, which simply extends beyond human comprehension, going on and on forever.
I wondered, gazing down at the snake, if we’d come across a natural expression of this textbook ideal, something without a visible end because, quite simply, there was no end to see.
Finally, looking more closely within the foliage, and following the curves of the snake as if I were diagramming a sentence, I came to its tip.
It wasn’t an infinite snake, or even the longest garter snake in the world, or maybe even the longest snake in neighborhood.
But it was long enough. It looked as long as one of my pants belts, and that’s saying something, since I’m a middle-aged man who eats too much.
I left the snake and made the trip down the driveway to fetch the paper. When I returned, my visitor was gone — vanishing, like snakes tend to do, as if he had simply dematerialized.
That was my thrill for the day — not the kind of excitement that ends up in surveys, but enough to keep me getting up each morning, wondering what will happen next.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @DannyHeitman.