In a Small Michigan Town, Even Meryl Streep Has To Cool Her Heels Amid a Small Act of Decency


movie theater.JPGCharlevoix, MI.---This is a town of fewer than 3,000 people, and it includes a dinky and charming movie theater with three small screens. After the previews preceding Julie&Julia the other night, the manager surfaced, the lights went back on and an unusual announcement came:

"Ladies and gentlemen, there are three cars parked right in front of Oleson's [a food market] in the lot across the street, and they're going to be towed if they're there much longer. So I just ask if the owners can move them somewhere else in the lot, then we can start the movie."

In Chicago or New York, it's safe to say that his counterpart wouldn't lift a finger even if he or she saw a small army of gang bangers breaking windshields, hot wiring the vehicles and brazenly heading down the avenue.

Here, small town America, he was offering a gentle admonition as a courtesy to his patrons. And the patrons, clearly grateful, were not only receptive but willing to wait as the offending car owners exited the theater, ambled across the street, stuck their cars elsewhere and returned about five minutes later.

There was no grousing among the 40 or so left behind. No big city egos on display. Of course, it would be hard to take issue with a manager (a politics maven who clearly devours MSNBC and recently simultaneously gave me my change and asked about Sarah Palin) whose daily, recorded message on the theater phone line is so informally alluring:

"Julie&Julia is here. Very popular, especially with middle-aged and older folks...G.I. Joe is for a younger audience, action packed adventure, no sensuality...Funny People, the raucous comedy, stars Adam Sandler....Thanks for calling. Air conditioning's on. Come on down."

And, would you believe, as we waited, there was apparently no cell phone calls or texting. People just talked among themselves until their fellow patrons made it back, the lights went down and wondrous Meryl Streep belatedly appeared on screen. Of course, the penchant to equate small-town America with the idyllic can be exaggerated. The local weekly paper, after all, informed me of the following that same day:

--A 19-year-old was sentenced to a year in jail for an attempted home invasion. --A 44-year-old man was sentenced to 270 days in jail for receiving and concealing stolen property of $1,000 or more but less than $20,000.

--A resident reported damage to a neighbor's dock, hoist and vessel at around 2 a.m. "It was thought that the striking vessel must have been damaged severely as well and could have easily sunk nearby."

There's no sign of the vessel. Residents who might have information on this apparent hit-and-run boating fracas are asked to contact authorities. Small-town decency clearly has its limits.

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James Warren is the Chicago editor of the Daily Beast/Newsweek and an MSNBC analyst. He's former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. More

James Warren is a former manager, editor and Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Tribune. An ink-stained wretch, he's labored at The Newark Star-Ledger, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Tribune in a variety of positions, including financial reporter, legal affairs reporter-columnist, labor writer, media writer-columnist and features editor. The Washingtonian once tagged him one of the town's 50 most influential journalists (he thinks he was 46, the number worn by Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees). He's a political analyst for MSNBC. He was recently publisher and president of the Chicago Reader, and is now policy columnist for Business Week and twice-a-week Chicago columnist for The New York Times (you can find his handiwork on the paper's website and on new Chicago pages produced for Friday's and Sunday's Midwest print editions by the nonprofit Chicago News Cooperative, which he held to start). A native New Yorker, he's a happy resident of the wonderful, if ethically challenged, City of Chicago, where he lives just north of decaying Wrigley Field with his Pulitzer Prize-winning wife, Cornelia, and their sons, Blair and Eliot. Blair's t-ball team is, yes, the Yankees.

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