choice, “because you can’t beat the qualit)’nof life” in small-town America, as onenyoung woman explained to the (probablynflabbergasted) AP. If Lusk isn’t enoughnfor you, you can move to Fort Collins,nDenver, or Colorado Springs; when Uticangets wearisome and you can no longernpay for the upkeep on your grandparent’snhouse, the humming, unconstrainedncities of Wichita, Topeka, and Manhattannare waiting with o]3en arms to rescuenyou from the failing clutches of the dyingnAmerican Gothic era and pull you intonthe posturban dreamscape, where ToonMuch is Never Enough. Most folksnaren’t likely to be happy there, though;nwhile postmodern Wichita and Denvernare Too Much, and modern Uhca andnLusk are Not Enough, there was a timenin the memory of those still alive andnwalking about at the hoary age of 50nwhen Denver was Less Than Too Much,nand Lusk was Just Enough. That time,nhowever, was before current demographicnand economic transformations madenthe destruction of the Old America, bothnrural and urban, a fait accompli.nJust because a place is unlivable doesn’tnmean that no one lives there, of course, orneven that no one wishes to do so; only tliatnthe life available is incompatible with, orncontrary to, healthy human desires andnneeds. Having lived in one small townnand one large one, a single small city asnwell as the Tucson behemoth, across thenRocky Mountain region north and south,nI’m ready to conclude that the AmericannWest as it’s been made over by Progressnduring the past 30 years is, in this sense,nunlivable. The small towns, no longernwhole and entire communities, are like anbody dependent on long-distance hookupnto a major medical center in order tonmaintain the functions of several vital organsnthat have, for one reason or another,nbeen removed. Ease of access to a metropolitanncenter has destroyed provincialnculture —and with it a curiosity aboutncosmopolitan sophistication. (Smalltownnpeople visit the nearest big cih’ tonshop—and afterward buy a ticket to see anmovie tiiey can watch a few montiis laternon HBO.) Eight)’ years ago, when SinclairnLewis wrote his famous novel, it wasnnearly impossible, as it is today, to order anwell-shaken martini, a decent bottle ofnwine, or a first-rate meal on Main Street;nthen as now, you were as unlikely to findnserious conversation in a Main Street saloonnas to get your whiskey free. Socialnlife was (and is) restricted to tiie meagernprovisions of the churches and the socialn50/CHRONlCLESnand ser’ice clubs, while the resource ofnself-reliant talent for amateur entertainmentnwas already beginning to erode.n(Compare Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accountnof imaginative frontier convivialit}’nin Little Town on the Prairie with CophernPrairie’s imitative, timid, self-consciousnsocializing.) Provincial culture (American,nBritish, French, Italian) is provincialnculture, but thinness is not the same asnincompleteness; and incomplete is whatnprovincial culture is today, when smallntowns are no longer their own main economic,nsocial, and recreational centers,nand their political identit}’ has grown increasinglyntenuous. American towns are,nin many ways, unchanged from whatnthey were a hundred years ago, except fornwhat they have lost over Hie course of ancentury—and what they have lost is enormous,nespecially their groundedness innthe land that molded and sustainednthem. Meanwhile, hemorrhaging populationsnproduce an imbalance in agenstratification and leave the local breedingnpool insufficient for natural replacement.nFrom today’s perspective, it appears entirelynplausible that Sinclair Lewis’snMain Street portrayed the Americannsmall town of the 1920’s not all that farnbelow its zenith, rather than in its striving,nascendant stage.nYou may recall that Carol Kennicottnescapes Gopher Prairie to Washington,nD.C., only to discover that the capital cit’nof the American empire is . . . the samenthing, only more so. Her mistake, ofncourse, was to choose Washington as GophernPrairie’s antithesis —not New York,nChicago, New Orleans, or San Francisco.n(We’re talking about 1920, remember.)nStill, Washington in the 1920’s wasna kind of Periclean Athens compared notnonly with its present self but with almostnevery other big (no one uses the wordn”great” to describe our modern metroplexes)nAmerican cit)’ofthe 21stcentur’,nbecause the same economic, political,nand demographic forces that ruinednAmerica’s rural communities havenwrecked its urban ones as well. Industrialnagriculture, “economies of size,” technologicalnabstraction, consumerism,nmass eultme, mass immigration: Allnthese phenomena, in the course of suckingnpopulation from small cities, smallntowns, and the countryside at large, havenswelled American urban centers to suchnan extent that normal human life — thenlife of Just Enough, not Too Little ornNever Enough — is impossible. Metaphorically,nmodern cities are medievalnnnprinces who steal all tiie food their star’ingnserfs produce and, having eatennthemselves to a grotesque corpulence,nsuffer an apoplectic stroke and live outnthe remainder of their days in impairednmental and physical condition.nUnlike certain medieval princes, however,nthese cities lack the civilization thatndevolved from HTOSC princes to the bourgeoisienof the modern age, both as defunctnnow as the feudal system that jDrecedednthem. As late as the 1950’s, therenwere advantages to living in cities — fornthe rich, poor, and middle class alike. Today—whennethnic neighborhoods havenbeen replaced by ghettoes and Park Avenuenby gated communities; Fifth Avenuenby The Mall, Checker cabs by privatenpods (like hordes of wheeled locusts),nwalking by driving, sidewalks by ]3edestriannwalkways, cocktail and supper partiesnby ‘I”V and the Internet, society by cocainenevenings, the delightful compactionnof buildings and people characteristicnof a real cit)’ by sprawl, eccentricity’nby pathology—there are no advantages,nonly drawbacks and liabilities, with neurosisnand tiien madness the eventual result.nA few art galleries and concert hallsnscattered equidistantly about an area sonvast that, like Jonah’s Nineveh, it takesnthree days to cross it, JDIUS a different kindnof ethnic restaurant for ever}’ 300 inhabitants,nsimply aren’t enough to make thesenbones live. The postmodern Americanncity, unlike the postmodern Americanntown, is defined far more by what it hasngained (that is to say, stolen) tiian by whatnit has lost—which is why, as far as livabilit)’ngoes, the two enjoy eomplementarit)’.nI thought this through long and hardnbefore deciding it really isn’t wortii ]Daekingnmy stuff again (for the tiiird time innfour years) and getting out of Dodgechancesnbeing I’d end up 5,000 bucksnpoorer in another Dodge, or, worsen(nuich worse), in a country boy’s nightmarenlike Kansas City (Hemingway’s oldntown) that only people from Mexico,nAsia, India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Indonesia,nand otiier foreign parts seem tonfind attractive nowadays. (They nevernknew the Old America they’re replacingnand wouldn’t know what to do with it ifnthey did.) Instead, I’ve ]3ut money downnon an older house in Laramie (hardwoodnfloors and interior trim; downstairs dennwith wood stove, work room for storingntack and guns as well as a place to set upna handloading bench). If life’s unlivablenhere, chances are the same thing goes fornanywhere else I can think of to live. <&’n