Sunday, May 8, 2011

Everything Goes to Hell

Walking to downtown Silver Spring today I see the entire public area in front of the Civic Center taken over by some goddamn Cars 2 event sponsored by State Farm in which hundreds of parents are standing in line with their kids to get a glimpse of those "adorable" cars from Cars, or something like that. Anyway, I start thinking about how everything goes to hell, just like Tom Waits said. I mean, here I am, in Silver Spring, a great city, diverse, progressive, open, cultured... well, maybe we should scratch that last one. Maybe it isn't very cultured anymore, or maybe it never was. I can't really say.

I love the AFI Silver Theatre and the films it gives this community a chance to see but the downtown area is turning into some kind of fucking corporate variation of a Disney universe, just like Time Square in New York. Seriously, I'm walking downtown with my wife for a drink and I get bombarded with some candy-coated bullshit paraded into town by Pixar, the studio where imagination and creativity go to die. But this isn't about the dreaded Pixar so much as how utterly soulless downtown Silver Spring is becoming (hmmm, maybe it is about Pixar).

Noodles and Company. Ben and Jerry's. Red Lobster. Macaroni Grill. And they're packed! Actually, I'm happy about that because that's good for business. I mean, hell, I like a thriving community and the central Downtown section of Silver Spring is thriving. They turned it around and now the city has a nice robust economy.

But can we just stop there? Do we have to keep going? Do we have to let greed consume all?!

Silver Spring keeps buying up the next street, and the next and the next like a Zardoz god-head with an ever increasing appetite for grain. Every street with any kind of local flavor gets bought up and ousted so a new high rise can take its place. Now they've bought up Bonifant Street, a great and diversified street that has everything from a used bookstore and tattoo parlor to an Ethiopian cafe and a gun shop! Wow, I can hardly wait until those shops get replaced by a high rise with a TCBY Yogurt in the lobby. Hey, Silver Spring, FUCK YOU!

I don't even want to think about the desperately limited imaginations of the white bread wonders in charge of making these screamingly beige decisions. The same folks, I would assume, who believe that Avatar and Up are the apex of art cinema.

It's okay, I guess. I've got Wheaton and the People's Republic of Takoma Park just around the corner and that's where I'm spending my time these days anyway. It's just too bad that people can't accept a thriving downtown and say, "This is good. We've done it and now we're finished." They have to keep going and going until it all looks like every other goddamn whitewashed city in every other goddamn state in America. It's too bad. I guess everything really does go to hell.


Ed Howard said...

Tom Waits is pretty much always right, that's what it comes down to.

Fred said...

Pixar, the studio where imagination and creativity go to die.

Thanks Greg. That one was worth the price of admission for the time I spent reading this article!

You are completely correct in your analysis. I need look no further than what has happened to the shopping malls of America. When I was a kid, two of my favorite places to go were Sunrise Mall in Massapequa and Roosevelt Field in Gardn City. Sunrise Mall featured a Brentano's, a great little hobby store and mostly mom-and-pop stores. Roosevelt Field had a little pizza parlour with the best Sicilian I'd ever had. It also had an original Woolworth's lunch counter, two hobby stores and mostly mom-and-pop stores anchored by a Macy's. And both Malls had some awesome game rooms with pinball machines and early video games. It was like a trip to Oz or Shangri-La for a young child, and the decision whether to head East to Sunrise Mall or West to Roosevelt Field was fraught with so many variables.

Not anymore. Now, both Malls have the same Abercrombie & Fitch and Bath & Bodyworks stores as every other g-d Mall in this country. As you point out, it seems like every Mall and downtown has to be the same regardless of where you are in the good old US of A. The only way you can tell where you are is by the people's accents. The stores are all the same. The cars are all the same. The foods are all the same. It is AWFUL! I remember going Upstate to get Freihoffer's chocolate chip cookies because it was the only place to find it. Or going to Philly for cheese steaks and Tasty Kakes. Now, you can get the same crap wherever you go. It is as though the main character from LeGuinn's "The Lathe of Heaven" has been making all the corporate decisions for the last decade or so. Same old, same old. Plain vanilla and boring. And no room for small business, niche stores, mom-and-pops and people who want something different like you or I.

Greg said...

Ed, you speak the truth, as does Tom, of course.

Greg said...

Fred, I recently went down to Charleston, SC where I grew up. Hadn't been there in years and was shocked to go down King St, the main strip in Charleston, and see all the same stores and restaurants I see in Silver Spring.

The thing that really bothers me about the Silver Spring situation, and fortunately there is a lot of upset citizens at the council meetings, is that once they got Discovery Channel to come in and put their offices there, followed by big name corporate retailers and restaurants, everyone was happy because the downtown area had been rejuvenated which helped the mom and pop stores on all the side streets. That's why everyone was happy with it! Because the big corporations money and name recognition gave a huge boost to the little guys, like the Ethiopian cafe I mentioned in the piece, the Kefa Cafe. It was one of those instances where you could point to the much-maligned monolithic corporations and say this is a good thing they've done. They've made it so all the little guys in the surrounding area now bring in good business.

But no, that wasn't good enough. The property values soared and the city figured, "Hey, why not get rid of all those little guys and keep going with this?"

I always think of Jake Gittes in Chinatown when he asks, "How much better can you eat?" I mean, the big boys had their money and the little guys were finally getting theirs. And then, well, the big boys wanted more. Same shit, different day, new town.

Christopher said...

welcome to the Chicken Nuggets generation..

Fred said...

That is an excellent point, Greg. When the chain stores started going into the malls I grew up with, there was no more room for the video gameroom, the pizza parlor, the book stores, the hobby stores, etc. They couldn't afford the rents that a Starbucks or Banana Republic could pay without batting an eyelash. All that was supposed to "trickle down" to the small businessmen and women was just that, a mere trickle. And that trickle dried up in the last few years. It is truly sad.

Arbogast said...

I always think of Jake Gittes in Chinatown when he asks, "How much better can you eat?"

The really funny thing is that Jack Nicholson is now obese!

Greg said...

So I guess Jack figured out the answer, for him at least.

Greg said...

Fred, as long as we're strolling down memory lane, and we seem to be the same age, remember those football video games in the mall arcades? They were stand alone consoles with the screen on the tabletop. Everything was white x's and o's on a black screen and there was that huge trackball that you'd spin like crazy when you're playing caught a ball or you were trying to tackle someone else.

I loved that game. Every time we went to the arcade we'd go there first and put our quarters on it to wait our turn if it was taken (which it always was).

Fred said...

I know exactly the football videogame you are describing Greg. The trick was to keep hitting your oppponent with down-and-out passes, which were impossible to defend. And they would give you an extra point if you scored on a running play instead of a pass. Someone at my college had that game console in his room, and would let anyone play for free in exchange for beer. They later came out with a 4 player game with two of those trackballs on each side, but it was almost impossible to play, especially after consuming most of the contents of a keg. We also had a head-to-head baseball game in college, which consisted of two video screen/terminals at right angles in one console. That game was also very popular.

Greg said...

Someone had their own! Man, I would've loved to have that game! Hell, if I had the money, I find a console on e-bay and buy the damn thing now.