Slow zone ahead: enjoy

The stresses of modern life are so much discussed that awareness was bound to reach the most remote sections of the country. Even Franklin, N.C., a smallish, unpretentious town, laid back in the arms of the Appalachians, has begun to feel the pull of lessons in relating, and coping, and relaxing.

A flurry of interest attended the announcement that a course in stress management for executives would be offered here. The deadline came and went, and only four people signed up. The similar had to be canceled, which is a shame because there really is stress in country life. We never learned why the course failed, but I suspect it was a lack of executives -- four may be all we have. Or perhaps the locals, after examining their souls, decided stress management is one of those things that can wait.

We're mostly Southerners here, you see, and all things considered, we like to take our time. "laid back" -- that trendy, California creation -- is a very apt description of life in Franklin. This notion of stress weighs most heavily on visitors and newcomers -- especially from the city -- who can't get into the laid-back life style.

It is the most natural thing in the world, when two friends meet on a country road, one delivering a steer to a farmer, the other toting a load of wood, to stop their pickups on the highway, window to window, and have a little chat. When a city dude happens upon this tete-a-tete, the result, predictably, is screeching tires and all that expresses.

The inevitable clashing of two ways of life happens again and again. This is a tourist town, and tourists come to relax, but many find they can't cope with the slow pace of life. A little pre-vacation practice may be helpful -- for example, driving at 40 miles per hour for a few days before heading for the countryside. Anyone who finds this exercise hard on the composure ought to consider a city vacation.

I have developed a helpful guide for those who are still determined to visit or settle in rural America. Following these useful hints will promote relaxation, and help you settle into a different way of life.

1. You're in line at the bank. You're in the shortest line, because such errands have to be performed in the least amount of time possible. You know this, because you are in important person from a big city, and your time is valuable.

The person in front of you turns out to be the first cousin of the teller's next-door- neighbor's aunt, and they get into a lengthy conversation. You start fidgeting. They're enjoying themselves, but banks are places of business. It isn't right.

There is only one solution. Relax. Join the conversation. Introduce yourself. Tell them your uncle's brother-in-law had the same experience.

2. You're looking for a parking space on Main Street. You planned to spend no more than two minutes buying stamps at the Post Office because you have a very busy day. Just as you approach the building, a woman and a small child are getting into their car. They are occupying the only potential space in view. Idling your engine, you prepare to wait a few seconds.

You wait. And you wait. What on earth can she be doing? Gritting your teeth, you finally give up.

She's still sitting there ten minutes later, after you've walked from a parking space half a mile away. All innocence, she smiles when she sees you. Smile back -- it won't hurt you. If you had just gotten a letter from Cousin Eula who moved to Washington State six years ago, you'd sit in your car and read it, too. Besides, the exercise was good for you.

3. You're walking down the street and a stranger stops you. "Good morning," he says. You start looking around for an escape route and clutch your purse tighter, but the stranger has moved along. He was just being friendly. Turn around and yell after him, "Nice day, isn't it?"

4. Accustomed as you are to the heady night life of your home city, culture shock begins to set in after a few days in a country town. Where are the discos? The symphony orchestra? The movie theaters? If you are visiting the mountains, you may also be asking, Where are the television stations?

Look at it this way: being thrown on your own resources will severely test your mettle. You will be reduced to such primitive forms of entertainment as conversation, visiting friends, reading good books, watching the constellations and the lighting bugs. You will discover a new delight in simple things. You may even learn to look on a trip to the bank, or the Post Office, as an opportunity for enjoyment. You may learn things about yourself and your friends that will please you immensely. It's a whole new world. Lay back -- oops, lie back -- and enjoy it.

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