If I walk to work the same way I usually drive, it's 3 miles. The shortest route -- just a little over one mile -- requires me to completely disregard property lines and walk along the railroad tracks. On occasion, I've done that, though I'm sure I shouldn't. It makes me feel like a kid.
Sometimes, though, such paths are not only the quickest way through town, they are also the most illuminating. Often, the distance between the facade of a town and its reality is a matter of a couple of blocks.
[Three weeks ago, I wrote a column about a survey we mailed out. Called "Why did you leave us?" it was an attempt to find out why a surprising number of people who recently got library cards, never checked anything out again. Below is the altogether marvelous response of one of the people who received that survey. It is a tale of seduction ... and perhaps of redemption. I am deeply indebted to the author for her permission to reprint it.]
Dear Douglas Public Library District:
Thank you for the enclosed survey.
I was raised just north of Chicago. Unlike most of my friends, I have to say that I really didn't like the city. It was too dirty, too cold, and too dangerous. But there were three things I did like: the Lake, the el (the "elevated train" used by commuters), and the museums. When I was a high school kid, sometimes I'd combine all three: hop the el, then ride along the Lake toward either the art museum (Impressionists!), or Chicago's absolutely staggering Museum of Science and Industry.
Some months ago, I was asked to give a career talk to some local elementary kids. I couldn't help but notice that nearly everybody went to see the cops and firefighters. Librarianship just didn't seem to generate as much excitement as a career option, at least for that age group.