Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Loss of Childhood

Yesterday, while on my sickbed, I finished the last chapters of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I stated in previous posts that the book had been slowgoing, but the last chapters were immensely satisfying--especially the last chapter.

In the final chapter, Bill Bryson mourned the loss of the Des Moines of his childhood. He stated the Des Moines that he grew up in was no longer once he became an adult. He described the razing of several movie palaces, the construction of a mall on the outskirts of town, and the approach of chain restaurants and of chain motels. He writes about how excited his father was that a Travelodge had come to Des Moines--it wasn't just a hotel, it was a MOTOR LODGE!!! The residents of Des Moines were thrilled at the opportunity that they could dine in the same restaurants as residents of California!! This was an exciting time for many Iowans!

However, in the 21st century, the construction of chain anything--hotels, restaurants, and especially stores--is met with frustration and anger. Exactly how many big box stores does one need here in the United States? In my town there are FOUR Dunkin' Donuts. FOUR!!! Three of 'em are within a mile of each other. There are almost 20,000 residents of my town. We really need one Dunkin' Donuts for every 5,000 residents?

I experienced something similar once I moved out of my parents' house. I grew up in a small, rural Connecticut town that had NO chain stores when I was growing up. Three years before I moved out, the residents of my town had successfully rallied against bringing a Wal Mart to town. There was a huge controversy when McDonald's had moved into a shopping plaza--a very small one, but it was still a McDonald's.

The year I moved, however, the local car dealership was razed to make way for Stop and Shop.

Six months later, during a phone conversation with my father, I was told that Starbucks had come to town.

On one of my recent return visits, I drove around town for old time's sake and found AT&T Wireless, CVS, and Dunkin' Donuts had taken up residence.

The small town I grew up in, the one which prided itself on its rural character, had sold out.

When I was growing up, I complained about the lack of chain and convenience shops in our town. Now that I am grown up, I am saddened by their presence in a community that had been a huge part of my life.

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