Rural retirement raises pros and cons

"You are going to do what??

This is the shocked reaction of my friends when I tell them I plan to retire in Hillsboro in a little more than three years.

?You won't last a year before you get bored with watching sunsets and come blubbering back to Chicago with your tail between your legs,? they say sarcastically.

I have lived more than half my life in big cities. My first urban experience was Saigon when it was a combat zone in the 1960s. (And after Saigon, no American city has seemed that menacing.)

But increasingly I miss the sunrises and sunsets in Kansas plus the slower?and less expensive?way of life. The idea of someday talking to a Hillsboro real-estate agent and asking to be shown some fixer-up houses costing less than a hundred grand and knowing they will not roll on the floor laughing has considerable appeal to me.

I would sooner occasionally drive at a snail?s pace behind a combine on a county road than be parked on a six-lane Chicago expressway in rush hour traffic. Plus, people increasingly honk and make rude hand gestures at me in Chicago because I drive too slowly?meaning five miles over the speed limit.

And there are increasingly more days, when the statement, ?Nothing going on here? sounds like a promise and not a problem to me.

But nostalgia will always be a two-way street for me. I know I will miss the diversity and high-octane lifestyle of big Chicago after I leave. Living in proximity to Lake Michigan, the Art Institute and thousands of restaurants of every ethnicity, price and lifestyle is wonderful.

So too is being able to jump on a subway and in 30 minutes be at an international airport?the gateway to every country in the world.

But it appears cheaper and less stressful to miss Chicago while living in Kansas than to miss Kansas while living in Chicago.

I left Marion County as it was making the transition from bib-overalls to cowboy boots. In one sense, dirt farmers and city folks share a sense of place and knowing who they are.

Thus far I have avoided ever living in a suburb?the Hades that manages to be both a fake city and a fake countryside inhabited by folks with no sense of identity other than a common commitment to lawn care and pretense.

I worry that small-town America runs the risk of confusing progress with suburbanization.

At one time, I would have worried that living in Marion County would be isolation from the rest of the world. But the Internet, cable TV and cheap long-distance phone calls have changed this. I can scan the New York Times and read columns by Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman every morning just as easily in Hillsboro as in Chicago.

And Garrison Keiler will make me laugh on NPR on Saturdays. John Stewart will still deconstruct American politics every weeknight on Comedy Central.

It is far less clear with whom and where I will discuss, applaud and boo these folks in Marion County.

My friend Liz Black has returned to Lawrence from the big city and is writing a column in the Lawrence Journal World about her transition to small town life. (She seems to alternately amuse and outrage her Kansas readers.)

But I am curious what other urban expatriates are experiencing who have returned to Marion County or to Kansas.

Thus far the most sensible advice I have receiving about a transition to rural life come from expatriated urban folks who suggest, ?Talk half as fast and don?t make cutting remarks about people?everybody you meet is a second cousin to everybody else.?

But I shall continue to seek more wisdom about this pending transition.

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