Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart

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There’s Always a Bigger Town

why are so many people always picking on Altoona?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

Growing up, I remember my older sister referring to the fine town of Altoona. as “Tunaville.” This is one of the nicer names I’ve heard over the years. But it seems like there’s always a name. None of my sister’s friends, none of my own friends, and many of the adults in my life just couldn’t resist calling Altoona something weird – with a derogatory tone or a snicker.

So I grew up thinking Altoona (pop. 6,700-ish) was somehow inferior to Eau Claire. Well, at least until I got into high school and I had far more important things to worry about, like getting my hair to stand up in the front using at least two different kinds of spray gel. But until then, I pretty much thought Altoona was some kind of Dork Land were people wore their pants backwards and fell into gaping holes in the street as they stared directly into the sun. Probably while picking their noses.

So why do so many people feel like picking on Altoona? The same reason most bullies pick on smaller people – to feel bigger.

My understanding of the great people of Altoona has since matured, but I still hear people making snide comments about the little town. There’s still an attitude about it. It’s weird – Altoona is snuggled up so close to Eau Claire’s eastern border that it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. For all intents and purposes, we’re just one big, happy Midwestern family. And yet, I know people who live in Altoona and will not admit it. They’ll just tell you they live in Eau Claire. Or they’ll go out of their way to explain how close they live to Eau Claire, concluding that they’re “pretty much in Eau Claire.”

Maybe this just makes it easier for people to understand where they live. But I live in Eau Claire, and I know where Altoona is. So why do they care?

I think many Eau Clairians have developed a strange bias against Altoona based on absolutely nothing other than the town’s small size and whatever weirdness they’ve conjured up in their own heads. It’s not like the people of Altoona are sneaking into Eau Claire every night to blow off firecrackers, steal the bikes from our front yards, and kick our dogs. They’re not talking trash about our moms and they’re not drinking our last beer.*

So why do so many people feel like picking on Altoona? The same reason most bullies pick on smaller people – to feel bigger.

I think many of us feel like we should be comparing Eau Claire to a place like the Twin Cities. And when we feel like we don’t stack up, we pick on places like Altoona. It’s little. It doesn’t have a mall. It doesn’t have a university. It doesn’t have a Starbucks. Yet. So when we hear people trashing Eau Claire for its lack of this or that, we feel compelled to do the same, but with a safe target: poor ol’ Altoona.

I’ve seen the whole “Eau Claire Sucks vs. No It Don’t” debate get downright vicious in online discussions. In the face of casual put-downs, people will get fiercely defensive about the Eau Claire-bashing. I’m betting many Eau Clairians harbor a bit of an inferiority complex.

To these people I say, we need to learn something from Altoona. Because I’m pretty sure the people of Altoona just don’t give a rat’s ass about what some random dude from Eau Claire thinks about them. And that means they win.

I’m all for local pride. I’m all for defending your town’s honor and maintaining friendly rivalries. But if someone takes the time to childishly insult your city – whether Altoona, Eau Claire, or Toledo – I’d just let it go. Don’t get all huffy about it. Every city in America has good stuff and bad stuff. And every individual has different things they value. It’s not a competition.

Most importantly, you don’t need to put one place down to make another seem better. It’s OK to like both Minneapolis (or St. Paul or Istanbul) and Eau Claire. And it’s OK to like both Eau Claire and Altoona. Hey, if my extreme affinity for both peanut butter and jelly is to be trusted, it’s entirely within the scope of the human experience to simultaneously appreciate two separate things.

I haven’t heard a fellow townie pull out “Tunaville” during casual conversation in a number of years, so perhaps the attitude is changing. Or maybe people are just bored with it, and they’re looking for the next small town to pick on.

Look out, Lake Hallie.

•As far as I know.

Lasker Jewelers
Lasker Jewelers

Pulling Together Partners

The following organizations are currently supporting Volume One’s work in the community during the pandemic:

Lasker Jewelers

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire Inc DECI

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire

Pablo Group

Wisconsin Independent Network

Middle West Management

Bon Iver

Royal Credit Union

Silver Spring

Evergreen Surgical

Charter Bank

The Murty Henriksen Family

The Larry and Marie Past Family

The Dan and Kerry Kincaid Family

Anton and Rae Schilling-Smets

Brady and Jeanne Foust

If your organization is interested in supporting Volume One during this difficult time, nick@volumeone.orgcontact us.