Small-Town America Features, Ranked

Illustration for article titled Small-Town America Features, Ranked
Illustration: Ben Currie (G/O Media)

Today, we’re talking about Steve Kerr, pillow talk, neglected foodstuffs, and more.


Your letters!


To help a buddy move, we did a marathon drive from where he was (near Windsor, ON, Canada), through the US and then to Calgary. Roughly 2000 miles in two days with the driver swaps. So after the initial elation of starting the trip, it very quickly devolved into looking out for whichever “features” we could see: drive thru Adult Stores, another bloody Water Tower, sketchy gas station, etc in every small town or turnoff we came across while catching up. How would you rank the stores/items that all small towns have? Water Tower with either the town name or some other design (‘murican flag), sketchy off-brand gas station, old timey cafe, tractor dealership, the popular church in town, the locally owned hardware store, the feed and seed store, the one rich family’s house, the one bar in town where the specials are “shots of Jager”, etc.?

I love those water towers unapologetically and will gawk at the town name on every last one of them. They make me instantly starstruck. I pass by one and I’m like Oh wow, we’re in THE Ames, Iowa! I wanna pull over and climb right to the top and get arrested. So I’m with you: water towers are the best. Here’s how I’d rank other small-town sights as you pass through, and please remember to pass through slowly because every small town strictly enforces their speed limits so that they can bilk out-of-town motorists for all their worth.

  1. Water tower
  2. Cows/Other assorted livestock. When we drive to Delaware every summer, we pass by one farm in one town that has honest-to-god bison hanging around. Makes me feel like a frontiersman.
  3. Outdoor barbecue stand that looks WAY better than it ends up tasting
  4. Porn stores
  5. Gun stores
  6. Video store. Like actual videos. These stores still exist!
  7. Local high school. Move this up if there’s a live sporting event going on as you pass by. Look everyone: soccer! Move it up more if they have a sign outside begging students to not drive drunk.
  8. Five and dime
  9. Graveyard. In the “Small Town” video, John Mellencamp sings, “Gonna die in a small town, that’s probably where they’ll bury me,” and then they cut TO his future headstone in some tiny Indiana cemetery. For being such a legendary red ass, that man has some awfully modest goals.
  10. Really dark and ominous church signs like, “You don’t need to touch Lucifer to feel him”
  11. Any above-ground pool
  12. Big, austere town hall/courthouse/post office that looks important but mainly hosts bingo nights
  13. Local park
  14. Local pond
  15. Token pickup truck with threatening bump stickers
  16. Completely out-of-place McMansion standing there by itself off on an insanely busy highway
  17. Being pulled over, beaten by local sheriff
  18. Antique store

Fuck antique stores.


When they do the thing where they give away single color t-shirts for the crowd to wear during NBA playoff games, you always see a smattering of people not wearing the shirts. Is this bad form? On the one hand wearing an XXL t-shirt over a collared shirt looks very silly, but on the other hand not wearing it makes you look like you think you’re too cool for it, which is probably worse?

I don’t think it’s bad form. The shirt might not fit you, or you may fancy yourself a rebel who won’t bow down to the powers that be at an arena insisting upon a White Out, or you may be a fan of the visiting team, or you may be wearing an Armani Exchange dress shirt that you deem far too lovely and important to cover up. Regardless, it’s your choice. No one gets to tell you what to do with your torso. Last night’s game in Toronto featured plenty of fans eschewing the freebie, Drake foremost among them. Some team player he is.

Please note that not everyone shares my and Drake’s opinion about ditching those shirts, least of all the drunken hordes packing into Ashley Madison Fieldhouse Presented By Koch Industries. If you stick with your own shirt because you’re like THIS OTHER ONE IS SILLY BRO, you might find yourself on the wrong end of an impromptu sociology experiment. WHO DOESN’T WANT TO WEAR THE RIBBON?! People might look at you weird and dump beer on you and call you a fancyboy all that other shit. Or they might take a photo of you and post it on Instagram or Twitter to shame you without ever formally confronting you. I know that’s what I would do. I’m brave.


Also, I would wear the shirt. I would feel more self-conscious with it off than with it on, and soothing my horribly misplaced angst is the priority at all times. If you can resist the self-shame, you’re bolder than I am. Also, I’ve never met a free shirt I didn’t like. You could give me a shirt that says VACCINES ARE MAKING US SOFT and it would go right into my gym shirt rotation.


Is Steve Kerr the most overrated coach in the NBA? It’s pretty clear he has no real influence on his team beyond X’s and O’s. My guess is that any 3rd-rate high school coach could win with that team.


Yeah but could a high school coach send Kevin Durant out onto the court and watch his Achilles flap up like a roller blind? I think not.

In all seriousness, it’s weird that you accuse Kerr of just being a strategist when so many ex-player coaches are just figureheads who delegate the nuts-and-bolts of game planning to a cadre of assistants, or are at least viewed as such. More NBA teams NEED deranged tape-eaters who are NOT named Tom Thibodeau. Kerr appears to be that rare breed of charismatic frontman with a polished playing resume who also happens to be a genuinely innovative basketball mind. Rob Mahoney wrote a big cover story about Golden State’s playbook a few weeks back, and it’s a rare Xs-and-Os breakdown that’s genuinely fascinating rather than a torpid sop to know-it-alls. Golden State was cool to read about because they adjust and strategize in real time according to the flow of each individual game. You saw it happen last night, under extraordinary circumstances. Also, I liked this part:

Should the Warriors succeed, a team that already has a claim as the greatest of all time would become the stuff of basketball legend. “I know for a fact that we’ll all get our jerseys retired,” Durant told Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, when asked what a third straight title would bring. “We’ll probably all get statues here in front of the Chase Center. We’ll be Bay Area legends forever.” Durant shared a vision of these Warriors, 50 years from now, gathering again in celebration before a roaring crowd.


“It all sounds amazing, but I can’t put myself in that mind-set,” Curry says. “It’s just weird to think about.”

That’s perfect. Curry needing a shot of morphine to keep his eyes from rolling there says everything. Anyway, it’s horrible that Durant’s Achilles exploded on the court last night (he was so calm about it!), but while you will read many excellent “Oh God the Warriors really fucked this up” takes today, I don’t think this necessarily invalidates Kerr’s coaching abilities. They won that game last night now, didn’t they? That was no small accomplishment. The man has skills in both the nitty-gritty and the macro shit.



The Red Sox need to you to step in and manage a best-of-seven series for the team in place of Alex Cora. Do you think you can step in and lead the team to a series win?


No because the Sox, at the moment, are barely above .500. If they put me in charge and I vowed to do my best instead of vowing to sabotage them at every turn to spite their shithead fans (I’d leave in every pitcher too long MWAHAHAHAHA), I would indeed play figurehead and just leave all actual in-game management to my underlings for the whole series, hoping that does the job. It would not.

I’m like anyone else where I goof on managers being superfluous to the whole enterprise of baseball, but part of being good at that job is MAKING it look like anyone can do it. So I can recycle the previous game’s lineups and trot out the starter next up in the rotation and stand on the dugout rail the whole series and cry out GOOD EYE JD GOOD EYE, but I’d be neglecting some vital task that would end up costing the team in the end. I would send in the wrong pinch hitters. I would say something mean about Trump that makes half the dugout pissy. I would look like a fucking MORON in a uniform, with my dumpy ass sagging as I trotted out to the mound. The players would have no respect for me, nor should they.


A seven-game series has a delightful way of exposing a baseball manager’s shortcomings. That’s part of what makes the baseball playoffs so fun. You cruise to 90 wins in a regular season and then the whole nation a gets to discover what a piss-poor strategist you are once you hit the LCS. At that level of play—as at the highest level of anything, really—all the tiny shit gets magnified, and if you make one fuckup it becomes GLARING, because you’re at a professional level where you’re expected to not egregiously fuck up at all, even though managers do so all the time. So I would screw up once, get destroyed for it, and then my psyche would wither. Every successive fuckup would spawn a dozen more. The team would be in full mutiny by Game 3, and then dead by Game 5 because I’d try to motivate them by using live grenades for batting practice or something.

And again, that Red Sox team isn’t very good right now. I can only pray they remain so, but I know how Satan rolls. He runs sports now. You saw what happened last night. He laughs at what us peasants call “hope.” The Sox’ll repeat.



Is LeBron James smarter than Aaron Rodgers? LeBron would never allow himself to be coached by Mike McCarthy long-term.


Yeah but LeBron’s taste in handpicked coaches isn’t exactly wondrous. He had the most success with Erik Spoelstra, whom he did NOT foist upon Pat Riley, and whom he also apparently once tried to get shitcanned. Furthermore, LeBron was dying to bring Tyronn Lue to the Lakers, despite the fact that Lue is burnt out and was never some developmental Svengali to begin with when he was working in Cleveland. So while LBJ has traditionally had more power over his employers’ choices than Rodgers has, he hasn’t always been shrewd with that power.

Rodgers works in the NFL, where management would rather lose a testicle than grant an individual player any sort of leverage they don’t feel they have to. They are the EXACT kind of people who bitch about NBA’s superteams and its players being too mouthy. And now that Rodgers has finally engineered McCarthy’s ouster in Green Bay, the thanks he gets is people being like, “Let’s see if Mister Prima Donna plays well now that he finally got what he wanted.” So I don’t think it’s an indictment of his intellect that he was stranded on Beav Island for the entirety of his career thus far. He was operating under a different set of rules than LeBron, and in a very different sport. They’re both clearly smart men who also treasure personal loyalty like it’s some quantum diamond that fell to Earth as a meteorite, and sometimes that covetousness gets the best of them. Sometimes LeBron wants to hire a pud. Sometimes Rodgers disowns his entire family. Comme ci comme ça.



Have you ever used FaceTime audio? The sound is so crisp I expect a hologram of whoever is on the other line to pop out of my phone like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Why is BIG TELEPHONE holding back on us?


I don’t think they are. I have an iPhone and the sound quality on regular voice calls can be so crisp, it’s jarring. I remember the first time I got crystal clear sound on the other end of the line—like on any high quality web call, really—I was thrown. I was like, Oh god, I can’t piss while I’m on the phone if it’s gonna be like this! It’s too clear! I’m too used to old school phone reception where the person on the other end sounds like they’re in a fucking submarine. I dunno if I’ll ever adjust. I can’t answer my phone while shitting anymore! Terrible.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of FaceTime calls I make fail. I’m alone on a trip and I wanna see my wife and kids, instead I hear some weird ping-pong sound effect for five seconds before the call shorts out.




What is a food item that you have in your pantry that you never make? My wife repeatedly buys Jell-O and I can’t remember the last time anyone made it. We have 6 packages of different flavours, likely the entire line you can buy in Canada.


We make it for the kids when they’re sick. Jell-O is one of those sick foods—like toast and ginger ale—that is never advertised as such but has been co-opted over the decades by America’s parents and their snot-addled children. It’s not the most logical comfort food. Awwww, little Billy is sick! Let me whip up a quivering fruit blob formerly represented on television for years by a demented serial rapist!

Anyway, lemme go look in my kitchen drawer. There’s probably some strange nut oil in there we got as a Christmas gift a whole back and now never use. One second…


[runs to drawer]

[downs a handful of Frosted Flakes]

[does research]

Damn, I found some tahini in here and just bought tahini the other day! EVERYDAY PROBLEMS AMIRITE?! That’s a real bitch. Oh damn, and there’s everything bagel seasoning in here! I gotta use that.


Anyway, my answer is hot sauce. If you’re a man of a certain (any) age, you will inevitably be gifted 50,000 different BBQ rubs and hot sauces with names like Fred’s Rectal Bullseye, etc. People give you this shit because they don’t want to be predictable and buy you beer, so they buy something equally predictable but far less useful. None of these sauces are ever as good as Frank’s, or whatever other hot sauce you swear by. Thus, they linger forever. I have had to use these sauces when we’re out of Frank’s and I have to sample one just to be nice. What happens next? Well, I go and buy more Frank’s, that’s what I do.

Honorary mention to Hershey’s syrup. I worked on Hershey’s ages ago and the product team at that company knows everyone owns a bottle of that shit but no one ever uses it. So all of their ads centered around creative ways to use Hershey’s Syrup so that you’ll finally run out and have to buy more. Use it in hot chocolate, and on toast, or as motor oil, whatever. They just want you to actually consume the half-bottle that’s been in your fridge since the Carter administration.



How long until all athletes are covered head-to-toe in full compression base uniforms of a neutral color in order to complement their fluorescent accessory uniforms?


I mean, that’s already the case in the NBA now. Under the uniform, every NBA player looks like they’re about to enter an Olympic swim meet. Russell Westbrook is 97 percent compression sleeves at this point. That wetsuit look is gonna keep spreading across leagues because A) It makes you feel like an Avenger, and B) I guarantee that trainers and personal training gurus have incepted the idea into athletes that all that compression gear makes athletes invulnerable to getting hurt and also makes them .00001 percent faster and stronger.

You just saw the former idea prove untrue last night, and yet: ever wear that shit? I really DO feel super athletic and spry when I put on some compression shorts I bought at TJ Maxx. I feel like all my muscles and bones and arteries are locked into place, as if my skin weren’t doing that job already. It’s one of those things where a thing FEELS like it works, so you overly believe it does. Like heroin!


Anyway, I’m just happy no pro athlete will ever suffer a blood clot again due to this fashion trend.


I’m currently in my early-thirties. Been with my girl for a couple years. We still do the cutesy baby talk thing between us; been doing it all through our relationship, really. It’s fun and affectionate and I have no problem with it, but I do wonder: when do we get too old for this? You never see older couples cutesy baby talk each other. Older couples with salt-n-pepper hair have this like distinguished, quiet confidence to them. Others look at them from across the restaurant and think, “Well there’s a dignified mature couple who enjoy each other very much...and no need for such baby talk nonsense!” But I always imagined that they had a cutesy baby talk phase too. How long did that last and when did it stop?


I think it fades, but it never necessarily ends. That stately old couple that you hold in reverence? They go into SCHNOOKUMS mode the second no one is looking. They prefer to look disgusted and jaded by young love in public, but secretly they yearn to be that nauseatingly into one another. I know my wife and I sometimes are like let’s snuggle like the young people do… we still got it, too!, and then we do it for half a second before we get too sweaty and break apart. And so, in standard old-person fashion, they save their most embarrassing tendencies for the domicile, where they can make like teenagers and say NO I WUV YOU! in front of their own teenagers. That’s gold. Weaponized PDA is the best PDA.


What percentage of your phone battery does it have to get to for you to start internally freaking out and looking for the nearest charger? Once mine gets into the 60s I start doing frenetic, bad math about how long it’ll last and then conclude it’ll be dead within an hour.


Well, mine is at 73 percent and I’m already in hives, so I guess that’s my number.

In all seriousness, I charge the phone regardless of percentage if I’m home and I know it’s easy to keep it near 100 percent (FACT: It takes no time at all for the phone to charge back up to 99 percent, then an extra four hours to get to 100) before I head back out. I have a six-foot long cable that extends directly to my favorite chair, so I can charge the phone and use it at the same time, instead of stranding it on a counter and leaving myself bereft of annoying coworker arguments for more than five minutes. The other day they were arguing that sketch comedy is bad. All of it! Fucking lunatics. I couldn’t just let that slide, man. I had to BE THERE to tell them they all suck.


I digress. If I’m out and about, I start plotting out charging strategies if the phone dips under 50 percent. It’s like Gas Tank Paranoia, but even touchier. It’s a nice touch when the battery icon goes to red when it’s under 20 percent, like the phone is gonna fucking explode in T-minus 60 seconds. I was on the road the other week and brought a charging cable with me when I left the hotel. When I ended up needing it, I was both proud of my resourcefulness and deeply ashamed that I was so reliant on a stupid phone. Healthy world we live in.


Can you use your powers to please put a moratorium on every goddamn sports team calling their fans Blank Nation? If you are getting blacked out locally, your fans are not a Nation. There is no Blank Nation if you are struggling to get to 6-6 so you can have Blank Nation travel to the Goddamn LightMyFart Bowl in Shitsville, Mississippi.


It’s marketing. Referring to Titans fans as Titans Nation makes it seem like there are more Titans fans than there actually are (six), and that they are legion. Expect them, etc. It’s a cheap way to embiggen every team. Also, if you’re an expat fan living elsewhere, hearing that your team is a Nation makes you feel less alone, like you might not be the only Rockies fan living in Brooklyn, though you likely are. The rule is that if some insufferable branding exercise is being beaten into the ground, it’s because it works. I can bitch about every other self-proclaimed X Team Nation out there, jacking off their own egos. But then someone can be like “We wanna know what Vikings Nation thinks of this recent loss!” and I would be like oh shit my team has sovereignty now! I’m an easy target.


I used to dread the big projects. Turns out those are great! Gonna need a full weekend and a half rack of craft beer on this one, hon! See you Monday! It is the small things that truly get you: cleaning every part of the Dr. Brown’s bottle, folding of the bottom of the laundry pile. The last handful of microscopic toddler socks takes 45 minutes and you get no credit for that shit. Give me landscaping projects any day.


I agree with you because everyday chores are just the same tedious bullshit over and over. Whereas putting together a new soccer goal for your kid is a one-off project that at least has the feel of doing something new. Plus you end up with a big-ass soccer net for your troubles. Always feels good to build things. Gardening can go straight to hell, but I’ll gladly throw myself into any other Ron Swanson-esque project that results in me having an overly heightened sense of accomplishment. All my cursing worked!

My only exception to this would be any SUDDEN big project. I need a day to emotionally prepare for that shit. This past weekend, the drain in my bathroom sink broke at, like, 5 p.m. I wanted to fucking relax, man. Instead I’m under the sink with a pair of pliers, wishing God a quick and speedy death, screaming GOD DAMMIT so loud my son had to come up and make sure I hadn’t broken my leg. I don’t want any chore spring on me right when I’m supposed to be sparking up a bat. That makes me an Angry Dad.


Email of the week!


Your story on the Deadcast about your banal reintroduction to Tom Petty triggered a memory for me. Almost exactly a year ago my dad died. It sucks, but he was sick for a long time, and at least all of his loved ones were there with him (and he knew it). Anyway, either my kid brother or I—with the trauma of it all, it’s impossible to remember—came up with the brilliant idea of playing a classic rock station on my phone while Dad was in the process of croaking. I think I got the idea from that episode of the Sopranos where Carmela plays Tony’s favorite records at the hospital while he’s in a coma. And my dad really liked 60s and 70s rock. Apparently it’s actually true that your hearing hangs on the longest, so I’d like to think he could hear the music along with his wife and sons.

Anyway, my dad was having these intermittent super loud coughing fits. I’ll spare you the gross details, but he started one just as a Stones song was finishing up. We were trying to prop him up, turn him over, whatever we could do to get him more comfortable and stop the attack. It was hard. We were all crying and shit. So much so that we didn’t notice what song had popped up until the hook came in and it was too late. Yep, as my dad lay there dying, my phone started blaring: “WEEEEE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, OF THE WOO-ORLD…”

My family’s pretty morbid, so we started laughing pretty hard. My question: what’s the worst song to die to?


“Hail to the Redskins.”

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.