Years ago, I took a trip that entailed a double visit, first to my son at college in Iowa, followed by a trip to a friend’s in Arizona. This was during the same time of year as it is now, February, and, as I recall, everything in Iowa, where winters can be severe, was a just slightly different shade of gray, The sky was gray, the earth was gray. It was gray pretty much everywhere you looked.
You would think that the two places would offer very different experiences, but this was true only to a degree (as in, mostly, the degree of temperature). What struck me more emphatically was how closely the strip malls of Cedar Rapids resembled the strip malls of Tucson. The big box stores (Target, just for an example) were the same; the restaurants (Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc.) were the same. Other than the weather, and Arizona not being made up entirely of shades of gray, the discerning difference was that most of the many screens at your sports bar were showing basketball in Tucson and wrestling (the genuine variety as opposed to the made-up kind) in Iowa.
I’ve just returned from visiting the same son, now out of college and in California. Across the street from where I was staying is an outdoor mall where the stores are the same stores as those you’d find along the Silas Deane Highway or at the West Farms mall.
In other words, the world is becoming increasingly homogenized. Once Kilimanjaro was the site of an exotic tale by Hemingway. Now it’s just another place to put a Starbucks.
This may strike you as exceedingly obvious, because the human imprint, so to speak, has been heading this way for a while. But there are some people around, including yours truly, who remember when everything wasn’t so much the same, and I like to think there’s at least some obligation to point it out.
That can include silly details, as in remembering when a trip to London meant no McDonald’s (the chain didn’t arrive there until the end of the early 1970s). You knew you were someplace different.
About a year ago, at the Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore in Middletown, I was leafing through a copy of Thoreau’s “Walden” when I encountered a footnote that observed that in the contiguous United States you can’t go eight minutes without hearing the sound of a motor (as in a leaf blower, airplane or chainsaw, for example).
In order to find humanity, so to speak, Thoreau had sought escape from it at Walden Pond in Massachusetts. Today you’d have to go to Mars.
That edition of “Walden” contained an introduction by Bill McKibben, the well-known author and environmentalist. I’ve been recently reading his “Radio Free Vermont,” a tale of radical secession.
Early on in the novel, a group of malcontents overturns a truck carrying Coors Light beer, lets the air out of the tires and empties the beer into the ground. There are already enough craft breweries in Vermont, plenty of beer locally made, and no need for beer from Colorado.
It’s a work of fiction, but it contains an intriguing question: If you wanted to avoid corporate America how would you go about it? Could you do it? Would you want to?
It would be very hard. You’d have to give up a lot of convenience, for one thing, as in being able to get a cup of coffee at any hour of the day or night. And there are plenty who would tell you that battle is already lost.
Walking down Park Street in Alameda the other day I encountered Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden, and couldn’t resist walking in. I don’t know if the woman behind the counter was Julie, but she seemed to understand what I was talking about when we discussed, briefly, just about everything I’ve mentioned here.
Welcome to the resistance, is what she all but said.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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