[GRRN] Nostalgia

RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Mon, 5 Jul 1999 10:42:10 -0500

Good simplicity' falls by the wayside
By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY =
OXFORD, Miss. - The rolling countryside west of this =
college town is dotted with small villages. Taylor. =
Courtland. Curtis Station. Marks and Pleasant Grove.
Some are just crossroads, but many have churches. =
Methodist. Baptist. An assortment of Pentecostals.
Each is locked.
In this last summer of the 20th century, USA TODAY set out =
to travel the back roads, searching for what has changed, =
seeking out what is vanishing from the landscape, compiling =
a list of what will not be part of America in the next =
There are grasslands vanishing in Texas, family farms =
vanishing outside Des Moines and Jews vanishing from the =
Main Streets of the rural South, the last of a breed of =
small-town merchants. Even Times Square, as we once knew =
it, is gone.
The always-open church, the one you could enter any time of =
day or night for a moment of silence and solace, is all but =
gone, too. After visiting dozens of locked churches from =
Abingdon, Va., to Helena, Ark., we added the once-welcoming =
sanctuary to our list of endangered species.
In the next weeks, USA TODAY will chronicle such passings: =
the drive-in, the roadside tourist cabin, the hitchhiker.
Some, like the hitchhiker, have become so rare a story =
couldn't be written. The only one we encountered in our =
travels during the last two months was on Route 81 in =
southern Virginia, and he was thumbing a ride only because =
his truck had broken down and he needed to get to the next =
service center. Vanished are the backpacking kids =
hitchhiking their way to a promised land called California. =
Today they drive.
Independent book stores.
Typewriter repairmen.
The $300,000 family home in Silicon Valley.
All a vanishing breed.
Right along with the World War II vet and the butcher shop. =
And we have yet to find a surviving soda fountain at a 5&10.
Bill Bryson, author of The Lost Continent: Travels in Small =
Town America and the recent best seller A Walk in the Woods, =
didn't like what he saw 10 years ago when he traveled =
America's back roads. He fears things have gotten only =
"I've spent a lot of time in Australia this last year, and =
the thing that's amazing to me is how much it was like =
America in the 1950s," he says. "It rammed it home to me, =
how much we've lost. They still have mom-and-pop motels, =
coherent small towns with vibrant Main Streets and two-lane =
highways so you're part of the landscape. It doesn't =
separate you like a four-lane road does."
To Bryson, traveling the USA now "is by and large a =
discouraging experience. After Australia, it's even worse. =
We've given up so much."
He fears what we have lost is irretrievable.
"I think what happens, what we've done, is we've acquired =
variety and convenience, but we've sacrificed a lot of good =
simplicity. We've sacrificed a lot of good quality. It's =
very hard to argue that going shopping at the mall or =
Wal-Mart or a fast-food place aren't easy and convenient and =
save you time, but it's hard to argue that any of them is a =
quality experience. It's not a quality experience for you, =
or the community. It diminishes things and makes the whole =
nation less attractive."
Main Streets becoming cut-rate strip malls =
The National Trust for Historic Preservation put America's =
Main Street on the top of its most endangered sites list =
last month. According to the Trust, national drugstore =
chains are tearing down historic landmarks as they target =
the centers of small towns for new stores.
"America's Main Streets could be turned into cut-rate =
versions of suburban strip malls," said Richard Moe, the =
trust's president, when unveiling the trust's newest =
endangered sites list this spring.
Speaking of drugstores, when was the last time you shopped =
in one that wasn't owned by a chain? Probably not this week.
And when was the last time you stayed in a hotel and were =
able to open the windows? Can you open the windows in your =
office? Bet not.
The family farm? Gone with the proverbial wind, although =
many say it's just the nature of capitalism that they're =
disappearing from a landscape marked by suburban sprawl.
"Small mom-and-pop operations cannot compete with larger =
firms, so family farms have become an expensive lifestyle =
that America cannot afford; it's an inefficient use of =
resources that is becoming a hobby that leads to =
bankruptcy," says Steven Blank, a cooperative extension =
economist at the University of California, Davis.
Still, millions of people are unhappy about the passing of =
the old homestead. Sales of antique barns are skyrocketing =
as baby boomers with money to burn try to recapture an =
America they probably never knew.
Some things, like the family-run farm, are tangible. =
Others, like peace and quiet, aren't. Tried reading quietly =
on a plane or train lately? Impossible, considering the man =
behind you who is doing a day's worth of business on his =
cell phone.
And civility on the road? Disappearing quickly.
Then there's the vanishing American waistline.
One only has to stand in line at Disney World or Elvis' =
Graceland to see proof that 55% of Americans, about 97 =
million people, are overweight, according the National =
Institutes of Health.
Where these couch potatoes sit is another matter. It's not =
the living room. The living room isn't exactly vanishing. =
It's just that no one sits there anymore. The show house =
Country Home magazine built last summer in lower Manhattan =
didn't have a living room at all. Its reader survey showed =
no one wanted one.
Personalities just as endangered as places =
Certain Americans are vanishing, too.
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates the remaining =
6.3 million veterans of World War II will be gone by the =
year 2008. About 30,000 die every month, taking with them =
their Big Band music, their brown fedoras and their wing-tip =
Where they all went on Saturday night -- the small-town =
movie theater -- is pretty much gone too, moved to a =
multiplex operation at the mall on the edge of town.
The outdoor counterpoint, the drive-in, is hanging on, =
though barely. Since 1958 the number of drive-in theaters =
across the USA has dropped to around 500, down from a high =
of 4,063, according to the National Association of Theater =
Owners. Some became weekend flea markets, some X-rated =
theaters, and others disappeared altogether, vanished into =
suburban tracts.
William Booker, who owns the Moonlite Drive-in in Abingdon, =
Va., has no such plan.
"I'm going to be doing this for quite a long time," he says. =
"It's never crossed my mind to close this place down."
The independent bookstore owners are putting up a good =
fight, too, although they took a hit in the early '90s when =
almost 1,000 of the 5,200 members of the American =
Booksellers Association (the independent bookstore group) =
closed after the advent of the superstores. Amazon.com and =
other on-line sellers present a new threat.
Then there are people who don't really care if they vanish =
from the landscape.
Ralph Morrow, a 75-year-old boat maker in Saranac Lake, N.Y. =
has made 53 Adirondack guide boats in his career that has =
spanned almost five decades. They are works of art; only a =
handful of people still ply the craft.
But when a man asked whether Morrow would make one for him =
so he could hang it up in his house, Morrow didn't. " I =
told him if he wanted to hang something up, hang up a =
Is there a true-blue tie-dye wearing VW van-driving hippie =
left to be found in Berkeley, Calif.?
Real food means getting off the interstate =
And is there such a thing as regional food, anymore? Of =
course. It's just harder to find through the thicket of =
McDonald's and Hardees and Burger Kings that clutter the =
main drags into most every town in America.
Bill Bryson says Americans are to blame for not seeking out =
the authentic eateries more.
"There's a place in the modern world for the Wal-Marts and =
McDonalds, but it's just that we seem to be heading in this =
hell-for-leather manner that that's all there is. We don't =
even take the effort to get off the interstate, to drive 5 =
miles into the countryside to eat or shop where our money =
would be truly appreciated. Where we might actually find =
something interesting."
The Hollywood Caf=E9 in Robinsonville, Miss., is one such =
place, typical of what is vanishing, despite the fact the =
food is better and more honest than what's served at the =
fast-food joints on the interstate: chicken, fried okra, =
rice and gravy, lima beans and biscuits, followed by Key =
Lime pie. All for $5.92.
The waitress will call you sweetheart, too.

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011