“Car!” I yelled, and my sister Cathy and I squeezed onto the foot or so of sidewalk that was the only escape from traffic on High Street, the English equivalent to our Main Street in this small town of Totnes, England. We had come to the UK to visit our elder sister who, today, had classes at the university where she was studying abroad. With the day wide open, and an amazing train system to take us anywhere in the Southwest, my sister and I were reveling in our mobility and independence. Rumors of a pretty town on an estuary, a “cute” castle, and a beautiful red stone church, were what brought us to Totnes. Or maybe it was just the undeniably quaint name – what newcomer to England wouldn’t want to visit Totnes, on the River Dart?
By late afternoon, we had climbed up the steep curving staircase to the very cute, round little castle on a hill, and taken panoramic snapshots over the rooftops of the town. We had found the church squeezed into the center of town, admired its stained glass, and slipped through the net of narrow doorways and steps connecting it to the adjacent streets. We had sat on the lawn and counted the tied-up boats along the river, planning in our heads how we could acquire that lovely apartment and garden just across the bridge, overlooking the water. We had traversed the tiny thrift store, and I was the pleased new owner of a lovely brown hat. We were enjoying our visit. But the people who walked down the middle of High Street, with no apparent concern for traffic or the lack of sidewalk, still made us feel a little unnerved.
The cars go slow, of course, and they are tiny compared to our American SUVs and Hummers. A lot of people seem to walk. I envy the teens in this country: if Western Pennsylvania had as few cars and as many trains as Devon, England, I’d be in heaven. No car? No problem. I’d just hop a train to the nearest city and have free range over the best thrift stores, museums, coffee houses, and concerts. And I wouldn’t have to worry about being flattened by some high-speed SUV in the center of town. I can hear our stratospheric ozone breathing a sigh of relief from here.
Our small towns have nice aspects too, of course. Space to spread, wide shoulders, drive-ins, and ranch houses to name a few. But sometimes I wonder if these are more a burden than a blessing, limiting those of us who don’t drive cars and using space inefficiently. Regardless, there’s one thing England has that I don’t think any Starbucks or Jamba Juice can match, and that is the real Cold Buster. An intoxicating juice blend of apple, orange, and ginger (or was it lemon, apple, orange, and ginger?), the Cold Buster can be cool and cozy all at once and clear up your sinuses like a charm. You’ll find it in the cutest, brightest little juice bar you’ll ever see, tucked in between the narrow stone buildings along High Street. (As you can see, I’m quite taken with the place. Even aside from the beautiful countryside, lovely train system, and quaint houses and boats and streets and castles of Totnes, England, you may find me living there soon just so I can frequent that juice bar.)
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