With today’s 24/7 news cycle, GPS devices and the interstate system, we have been led to expect the latest, most up to date, shortest or quickest ways of completing the many tasks on our daily menu.
As a truck driver, I use the latest apps to keep me connected and in touch with home or where’s the next fuel stop. I have a weather app that has kept me out of severe storms and especially a devastating ice storm.
These very much needed items are very quickly pulling us away from our roots and institutions that have been an important part of our society. In this brief submission, I will take a drive by some of these places that I encounter during my trips.
As I leave Baton Rouge, I pass a big box bookstore and I wonder exactly how long these edifices will remain open as e-books and virtual libraries are sweeping away what we know as a book. This isn’t something to dread or avoid, just something we will have to accept and adjust to. These buildings will assume another purpose, and one day, we will drive by them and try to explain to our great-grandchildren the purpose for which a “bookstore” existed.
Historic districts now proliferate in almost every other town along the progression of interstate mile markers. When I was young, a historic downtown area had a truly historic purpose of some sort.
Today’s historic districts, however, are simply an old main drag or avenue through a formerly thriving business corridor in a now dwindling town that is comprised of perhaps an old Rexall drugstore, a dress or antique shop, a café or diner, an old library, a bar with a “Busch Bavarian Beer” sign out front with a picture of a guy with a crew cut or even an old nostalgic motor inn that touts “air conditioned rooms.” Most of these have now been replaced by mega shopping malls, clusters of restaurants at an off ramp, surrounded by hotels and a phone store with smart devices that invite us to follow the crowd to virtual store fronts selling apps, that sell us all the things that we formerly could buy on Main Street.
I take the back roads to reach an out-of-the-way production or machine shop that isn’t located in the “industrial parks,” another manifestation that has drawn us away from our small towns.
Our society is already beginning to mourn the loss of these small-town resources that were part of the societal and spiritual glue that held our homes and families together.
But perhaps the saddest sight I see is that of an old boarded-up schoolhouse. With its broken windows and graffiti emblazoned bricks, I think not of those who have desecrated an important, truly historical building from not so long ago that a local school board has neglected and allowed to fall apart. I think of every principal, teacher and child who occupied seats and desks within its walls.
I think of every bus and carpool that lined its driveway. I think of the many bulletin boards put up by generations of underpaid-but-loving teachers looking for yet another way to inspire a new class of students. I think of every new class of first-graders who leave their mother’s protective care and find a new best friend.
I think of every tray of cupcakes brought by a mother for a class birthday party or PTA fundraiser. I think of every cafeteria worker who kept those young people fed. I think of every playground, every basketball goal, swingset or tether ball that were enlisted to keep those kids in shape with yet another remnant of the past called “exercise.”
I suppose every generation loses something they truly love because of progress. This progress, however, is brought about by those same first-graders who attended those now boarded-up schools, graduated from high school and then college, where a commencement speaker gave a rousing charge to those graduates to “Go out and change the world and make it a better place for the next generation.”
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