I grew up in Paris…
Well, not quite that one. The one in Texas:
It was a small town when I lived there with a population of approximately 25k. I think it may be smaller than that now. So small town mentality was a strong part of my upbringing. 25% of the population were under 18, but then I think around 30% were over 60.
New world ideals like unmarried couples living together, children out of wedlock, interracial couples, and homosexuality were taboo. Heck, even listening to Led Zepplin at loud volumes was frowned upon.
I make fun of the place a lot. When you live there, you’re allowed to.
The aforementioned Eiffel Tower (I’ve always dubbed it the Awful Tower) didn’t always have a red cowboy hat on top of it. When Tennessee decided to erect one, it was a whole two inches taller than the one Paris, TX had built. Since it’s called “The Second Largest Paris in the World,” the City decided that it could not be beaten in size, so they added the red cowboy hat to make it taller. It became the second tallest Eiffel Tower until the early 2000s when Vegas built their own that was triple the size. Hahah
But it’s not all bad! Paris also has had some celebrities. The town was abuzz in the early 90s when a local became a big time rap artist, even though rap was evil. Only problem? He decided it sounded better that he came from Dallas and rejected his hometown (he only lived there for two years, for crying out loud). They forgave them anyways. His name was Vanilla Ice… Also, the voice of Zordon from Power Rangers grew up there. His mother was one of the lunch ladies at the junior high. It was a big deal for some reason. And the man in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who yelled out, “Even my dog has a gas mask” was our town jeweler.
The other notable figure from Paris was a friend of mine from high school, so he’s legit and awesome. I don’t have any mean things to say about Shangela (I knew him as DJ back then). In fact, he represents everything the town seemed to reject when I lived there. I think they may be more progressive now, though. I would hope so, anyway.
I moved away nearly fifteen years ago, so things could be better. Back then, though, it had the second highest crime rate per capita in the country. It was something like third highest for teen pregnancy and somewhere close to that in illegal drug use. I always said it was because there was nothing to do there. You could loop the whole town on Loop 286 in all of fifteen minutes. There were two movie theatres there until the late 90s when the new Cinemark Movies 8 took out the competition (my first job). It was also a “dry town” (which means you couldn’t purchase alcohol for those that aren’t aware), so two towns were built on either side of Paris to accommodate the residents’ needs. Fifteen minutes to the east you could find Reno, TX, population 100. Fifteen minutes to the west you could find Toco, population 30 or something ridiculous. I’m probably exaggerating the population a bit. I honestly can’t remember. What I do know is they were built specifically to be wet towns.
The people of Paris are proud of their home, as I assume many towns are. There is always chatter about how things are on the up and up. They live a bit in the past. Almost a hundred years in the past. They are always reminding that Paris was actually bigger than Dallas until 1917 when a fire broke out and destroyed half the town.
I’m reminded of the time in elementary school when we went on a field trip around town. The teachers showed us a tree that apparently Davey Crockett slept on. Turns out he didn’t, but that’s another story. The historical properties across town had a big history that inspired a strong sense of community, but some were exaggerated to the same levels as Davey.
There are things that I am reminded of when I think of Paris, though. The segregation is strong there. The age gap is even stronger. And the wage gap even worse yet. Doctors, car dealership owners, and higher level workers at the factories are the highest earners. Campbell Soup and Kimberley Clark are the two biggest companies there, and every blue collar worker in town tries to get work there. So they have a steady influx of people in and out all the time.
I haven’t returned to Paris. I don’t even think I will for any reunions. That requires me to fly halfway across the world for one night. More than half of my class of ’99 moved on to other towns too. Some just moved to Dallas and Austin, but I know a few in NYC and LA. I even know one who moved to Sydney.
I used to say when I was young that when I got old enough to move away I would and I would never return. I guess I kept that promise to myself, but some days I wonder where I would be if I had remained. Most days I am just glad I got out with my life.