27 February 2010


For reasons I care not to elaborate upon, I found myself in the big city of Bandera this weekend in desperate need of a Compact Flash (CF) Card Reader. At the intersection of Main Street and Highway 16, I had three choices: a 1980s-inspired Super S, a "Gun & Pawn" down Main, and a little strip-mall store with a lime-green sign blaring "COMPUTERZ". Seeing as how the Super S and the Gun & Pawn had no guarantee of anyone knowing what a CF Card was, much less how to read one (is it like a Hallmark card or what?), I went with COMPUTERZ and crossed my fingers. At least this store had somewhat entered the 90s.

I pulled into the Chevron/Tattoo Parlor/COMPUTERZ parking lot, which was naturally filled with quad-cab Dodge Rams and F-250s and cute cowboys with too-tight blue jeans and steel-toed boots (this IS the Cowboy Capital of the World), my hopes began to dwindle. Three men tipped their hats at me from the car to the curb, and my hopes sank even further. CF was going to be as foreign here as Twitter and ethnic equality.

Opening the door, COMPUTERZ was exactly what I'd imagined it to be. An old guy with a half-blad head and twenty-year beard was sitting behind a counter that was decorated in bright green rope lights. Motorola flip phones from 1996 were stacked in the glass shelving underneath, and the walls were littered with changeable covers for the Noika 3310. I had stepped back in time a decade, and the cigarette-smoking beard dude didn't seem to mind being here.

"Can I help you?" he asked, putting his cigarette out on the countertop. "Sure," I replied. "I'm looking for a CF Card reader, or, at least for the cord to connect a card reader to a USB port."

I shouldn't have been shocked by his response. "A what? A cord for a card?"

Jesus. COMPUTERZ was still working in command prompt on MS DOS. "I'm looking for a memory card reader; if you don't have the reader itself, I'm looking for the cord that would potentially connect the reader to the USB port in the computer."

His reply was a muddled mix of "uh huh" and "what the hell", and I followed him back to the rear of the store, where he had cords of all kinds hanging from pegs in the wall. "Think you can find it over here?" he asked, looking down at me. Of course I could find it... but would I be locked in the store and stuffed in a closet in the process?

As I sifted through cords I'd definitely never seen before, dude picked up a different cigarette off a different desk and lit up. I found the cord I was looking for--though it looked like a beaver had attempted to build a chewed-up house out of it--before he could take his first long drag, and asked him how much he'd sell it to me for. "Twenty bucks," he said, and I couldn't help it: I laughed in his face. "Twenty bucks?!" I replied; "These things with the readers actually attached are 15 bucks brand new."

"Oh," he replied, somewhat puzzled. Then a look of clarity came over his face, and he re-put-out his cigarette stub. "You mean, one of these things?" He walked over to a visibly broken monitor and pulled a trusty Targus 6-in-1 card reader out from a heap of rubbish. "Yes," I said. "One of those things."

"Uh, twenty bucks." I laughed again. "Look, lady, do you want it or not?"

It was life or death; card reader or no card reader. If the luckiest I was going to get was a used, beaver-chewed card reader, I better take my luck and run. I had eighteen bucks in cash in my wallet, which was good enough for him. I collected my card reader--along with my wits--and dashed out the door. My three cowboy friends were still gathered in the parking lot. They politely nodded at me again, in succession.


I've lived in small towns all of my life. For a brief four months I lived in Denton, which is small town enough; for five years I lived in San Antonio which is smaller than people might think. But I grew up in a true small town, and reside in one now. I do so by choice. People in small towns have something that people in big cities do not: trust. We trust our neighbors; we trust our police officers and tax collectors; we trust people we won't ever even know. We do this, because without this trust, we'd just live in a smaller, shittier version of a "bad side of the city". Figuratively, of course.

Why COMPUTERZ brings me to appreciate this, I have no idea. I started thinking about Bandera as I drove away from that store, which turned my thoughts to Boerne and then to San Antonio. Certainly, had I walked into a store called COMPUTERZ in good ol' SA, it would be for a going-out-of-business battle that the local owner was losing to the new Best Buy across the street. Old dude with beard wouldn't be making his living anymore trying to cheat twenty bucks of ignorant-looking small girls. And three cowboys wouldn't be standing in the parking lot, waiting for the chance to get the door to the convenience store behind them.

Small towns hold these keys to the past--that, granted, aren't always the best for growth or life--that keep them rooted in what's important. Not what's important to the girl in the Passat that's just stopping by, but what's important to them, their fathers, their grandfathers, and what they want to teach as important to their sons and their grandsons.

I'm rambling. I guess what I meant to say by this whole story is that while the rest of the world has moved on to value THINGS, there are a handful of small towns out there that have shunned the moving on so that they can still value VALUES. How this came up from COMPUTERZ, I guess I'll never know.