By Shawn Stjean
This may seem like I’m simply nostalgic over the past, but believe me, I’m not. So bear with me.
When the snow-plows only take a single, half-hearted pass down most of the side streets, but make the main roads whistle clean, it’s hard not to notice what’s on them. By main roads I mean not just highways, but streets occupied by one thing, predominantly: stores.
When I was a kid, my hometown didn’t support more merchants than the average American small city: a few markets, toy store, library, newsstands, jeweler, cobbler, pharmacy. Most of our citizens worked in the factories scattered along the river. Those jobs and businesses have all but bled out now, or moved first to Mexico and later to China, but the ghosts of the old buildings remain today. Not all bad news: ‘cuz back in the ’80s, along with cable TV, we got a big, shiny new mall and some big-box stores.
Somewhere along the way, one of the elementary schools was closed, and burned down after remaining vacant for about a year. The lot was cleared. It might have seemed slightly perverse in those days (Sunday night television, for example, featured Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney) to directly replace a school with the liquor store that stands there currently. After all, we already had a couple of them on the strip. So the rebuilt building functioned as a Chinese restaurant, for awhile.
During that era, the local hardware store succumbed to the competition from the new Home Depot a couple of miles to the south, and the Lowe’s to the north. Today, it’s a liquor store. Not far away, the pharmacy where I bought my comics from the husband of my 5th grade English teacher, transformed into a bank for about a decade, is now. . .a liquor store. Mid-sized mom and pop supermarket: a liquor store.
Just lately, as I was forced to avoid the back roads and use the snow-cleared main artery, I passed what I expected to be one of the few bookstores in the region. A large nationwide chain, that recently closed its doors. I’m sure you remember it. The building? You guessed it: now a cavernous liquor store.
Meanwhile, the new LED road signs warn us all to “Drive Sobah,” conjuring images of cops who will run you down, if they haven’t already towed you away or ticketed you for parking on the street in front of your own house, that won’t get cleared anyway. (Where is that revenue going, anyway, if not to the snow removal budget?) I’d have thought that the local government controlling, through licensing, the number of outlets that sell spirits would have helped a bit–the same way the blue laws used to prohibit sales on Sunday–but it’s a free country, you can’t stop progress.
Notice some patterns here? What’s the message, accumulating like unshoveled drifts, year after year, in Small Town, USA? After surviving a childhood in overcrowded classrooms with underpaid teachers: take your compromised education down the street to work a non-union retail job selling cell phones, computers, packaged food; then drive home, if you can get there; turn on the boob tube; by all means do not read a book; watch kittie videos on the internet; and most importantly. . .keep drinking. But, as you return to that job–which is probably much more of a commute than you’d like, though, hey, you have a new car (and five years of payments to go with it,) right?–stop by, spend some money, and always drive sober.