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 and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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