[internetworkers] 7-11-ification of America
thomas at tbeckett.com
Wed Sep 29 23:03:32 EDT 2004
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I found the following comments interesting and thought-provoking,
particularly in light of recent political discussions here (including
the sick-of-politics discussion). I'm a yellow-dog Democrat, but this
article provoked me to think about how much of that affiliation is (and
isn't) a compromise.
~ We went back to Cape Cod for two weeks this summer. The bay on which I
spent so many hours sailing and swimming and driving our Boston Whaler
with the 9 1/2 horse power engine back and forth between the yacht club
and Dead Neck was much the same. The water was warm, the sky was blue,
and during the week the bay and beaches were almost empty. What had
changed were the number of power boats (lots more), the number of sail
boats (lots fewer), and the size of the houses ? what I coined the
wholesale Long-Island-ification of West Bay; no longer satisfied with 4
or 5 or 6 bedrooms, people are building houses with 10 and 12 and 17
But that?s not what I want to write about, I want to write about trying
to buy some milk and bread at the local 7-11 (actually, it?s a
Cumberland Farm, not a 7-11, but then I would have had to call this ?The
Cumberland Farm-ification of Politics In America? and no one would have
understood what I was talking about.)
I walked into Cumberland Farms, and I had to walk all the way to the
back of the store before I could find a small freezer case with milk and
eggs and cheese. And in front of it, a single 3? by 3? rack with some
bread. That?s it. In the whole store, there was nothing else to eat
except soda, beer, wine, chips, and dips. Twenty-five kinds of soda.
Fifteen brands of chips. Thirty different beers.
I walked up and down the store, counting my steps. 16 steps one way. 16
steps the other. 50? by 50?. 2,500 square foot of store, and less than
1/20 of it with anything one might call food. And not a vegetable in sight.
I walked out of Cumberland Farms with my bread and milk, up to the Post
Office, turned right, and walked slowly down Main Street, remembering
what it used to look like. The stationery store ? gone. The movie
theater ? gone. The pharmacy ? gone. The country store where we?d buy
penny candy and oggle the owners? daughters. Gone. I went into the
hardware store and was stunned. It was 1/4 it?s former size. On one side
a yarn shop, on the other a knick-knack store. I spoke with someone
working there and they said, yep, it?s easier making money as a landlord
than it is trying to sell things. I counted the number of real estate
offices, and gave up after ten. And how many boutiques with signs that
read ?Osterville, Palm Beach, Rodeo Drive? does a town really need?
What was happening I wondered? What had happened to Main Street?
And then it hit me. What happened to Main Street, is what happened to
Cumberland Farms. And it?s the same thing that has happened to American
There is no real food to buy in the local village shop anymore, and all
that?s left has been pushed to the back corner. No meat, no vegetables.
The same has happened to Main Street, there?s nothing real left to buy
on Main Street anymore. You have to go to the mall, where the same 20
chains ? Gap, WalMart, Williams Sonoma, Calvin Klein ? sell the same
things that they sell at every mall. Nothing local?s left. Nothing real.
And the same thing has happened to American politics. The same two
chains ? Republicans and Democrats ? are the only two stores in town.
There?s no longer a place to have a conversation about what matters in
America. All the real conversations have been relegated to the far back
corner, if you can even find them at all.
And what makes it worse is that the two parties aren?t really interested
in conversations, they?re only interested in messages. Why are there no
major newspapers or other media outlets that will present anything but
the message of the day? Why is there no way in America to talk about the
corporatification of America? No way to ask why health care isn?t a
right instead of a privilege? No way to suggest that maybe locking up
people for using drugs might not be the best use of our money or their
talents? No way to wonder why teachers are paid less than prison guards,
or to do anything about it? No, all the conversations are full of the
same empty calories that you buy at the local village shop. There is no
place for meat and vegetables in the national conversation.
We?ve been in England for just over a year now, and I am still surprised
by how different some things are here. The corner stores still carry
something edible, and they are rarely owned by chains. The towns, at
least where we?ve been, are vibrant and full of local stores. There is a
vibrant national press with an incredible diversity of viewpoints ? from
far left to far right and lots in between. And there?s an ongoing
national conversation, about things that matter. For example, a couple
of months ago the government announced that it was going to do a
wholesale review of the sex laws, and that it would consider all
possibilities, including legalizing prostitution. Can you imagine that
happening in the US? Of course not, because the uproar from the far
right would have been too fierce to even contemplate such a thing
(imagine the uproar over Janet Jackson?s nipple, and multiply by infinity).
As I write this, I wonder if there?s a solution for America. My gut
tells me that the answer may be no. The problem, I?ve come to believe,
is that America has gotten too big to govern properly anymore. I hope
I?m wrong, but I?m not sure I am.
But what I am sure of is that I would like to have a conversation about it.
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