String Lights

You can tell a lot about a town by its lights.  

downtown laurel string lights

In Times Square, hundreds of neon screens assault the senses demanding that you, “Buy, Buy, Buy!”  The Vegas Strip is a streaming, garish competition for attention that screams, “Look at me! Aren’t I beautiful?! Win Big Money!”  For captains of commerce, lighting exists to sell you something.   

Laurel, I’m delighted to say, hasn’t caught up with the times.  Our downtown illumination is simple string lights—just little yellow bulbs that don’t pulse or flash or market anything.   Like fireflies perched in a row, they create a soft glow that’s about charm, not business.  If there’s a message in our lighting, it’s probably, “Come on in and make yourself at home.”  

A couple Springs ago, the seniors from Laurel Christian were hanging out in the park one night as some friends and I were playing corn hole. The high schoolers wandered up and joined in, so I told them they were welcome whenever they saw my string lights on.  They took me up on it, including one night a few weeks later when I was sound asleep for an early flight and accidentally left my lights on.  I got up and joined in thinking how grateful I was that the only thing disturbing the downtown peace was some super polite kids tossing bean bags.

sunset over downtown laurel

A few months later, five boys from Tulane wandered up onto my deck when New Orleans lost power during Hurricane Ida.  “Ooh, we’re sorry,” they apologized, “we saw the string lights and didn’t know this was a private deck.”  

“Well, it is, but you’re welcome to hang out,” I offered.  

Over pizza, I learned that they were all from big cities in the Northeast and had never really been in a small town.  They’d rented a Bed and Breakfast for the night and were taken aback at how friendly everyone was.  

“Are people here usually this nice?” they asked.  

“Pretty much.” I replied, “but don’t go telling everybody back home.”  

They smiled and one with a thick Boston accent looked around, raised his eyebrows, and said, “Nobody would believe us, anyway.”   


Col. Craig Ziemba, USAF, ret. 
Craig has served eight combat deployments 
and is a pilot who lives in Laurel.
view more of his journal posts
his book 37 Near Death Experiences now available