DOTHAN, AL, December 13, 2012 —We live in time when everything and everyone is special, either for political correctness or to sell things. There is no more normal, routine or regular. You can’t even get a regular coffee anymore.
At the grocery store, food products are labeled as new and better, which usually means more packaging, less food. If you buy a new car and want it with a steering wheel you have to get the deluxe model. At a restaurant you’d better pull out that gold or platinum card or your friends will think you’re out of work.
The problem with all of that is we’re not getting what we pay for.
Even cities and towns are cashing in on the faux status trend. I now live in a rural area, drive an average, no-frills, two-seat sports car and enjoy touring on the miles and miles of lonely back roads here. Unlike my native northeast, towns in the deep south are far apart with a lot of farms in between. It’s best not to speed on the back roads or you might arrive home to find a very upset barnyard animal unwillingly attached to your front bumper and an angry farmer right behind you.
There are plenty of superhighways around, but I avoid them because they are filled with trucks and SUVs that are allowed by law to run over the top of small sports cars. So I usually stick to two-lane roads, enjoy the natural scenery and pass through small towns that were stranded when the highways were built around them. If you close pay attention when you near these towns you’ll see that all of them have signs claiming an historic downtown district, which can be a challenge to find.
A short while ago I decided to visit one of those districts and headed for a small town with the idea of finding a café, enjoying a (regular) coffee and just walking around soaking up the history. As I drove into the town I slowed down to avoid arousing the interest of the local constabulary and kept a careful watch for anything that would tell me I had arrived in the historic area. The next thing I knew I saw a sign that said I was leaving town, so I turned around and headed back.
You can pass through a small southern town once with a sports car and go unnoticed, but not twice. Within moments I found myself pulled to the side having a discussion with a polite, young officer of the law. He explained that I had not broken any laws, he just wanted to see if I was casing his town. I looked around but only could see one bank that had apparently been closed down since the time of Bonnie & Clyde.
He let it go and we had a nice chat about how sports cars like mine are a complete waste of time compared to a muscle car or a pickup truck, and I swore that I was getting a Mega Ram something or other very soon. I finally managed to ask about the historic district and learned that we were in it. There was a courthouse, a few abandoned stores and Zeke’s Garage. The officer told me this was the site of a famous gun battle in 1872.
My interest piqued, I asked him to continue.
It seems that a local rancher was angry about a new tax on his land and took a shot at the tax collector, who shot back and hit the rancher in the thumb. And that, laughed the officer as he turned away, began the legend of Tom Thumb-less. Even with local plates on your car, a southern cop can still spot a Yankee a mile away.
Similar to “historic downtown” are overused words and superficial phrases like “classic” and “collector’s edition.” Apple describes a version of its iPod as classic, which I’m sure they hope conjures up classic images of Abe Lincoln walking around with earphones. The scary bit is that some young people today actually think the iPod probably was around back then. Perhaps if Lincoln had just stayed home with a Netflix movie that night he would have lived to write his memoirs.
Recently I went to buy a movie for my granddaughter and was presented with an array of DVDs labeled “collector’s editions.” This was new to me and I asked a sales clerk if people really buy DVDs to put them on a shelf with their collections of rare beer cans and uncirculated Pound Puppies. He rolled his eyes, shook his head and asked if I wanted the movie or not.
I paid an extra $10 for a collector’s edition of Spiderman that now sits unopened on a shelf in the living room. I’m no fool, I know that once you open a collector’s edition of anything it’s no longer of value to collectors who want things “MIB,” which I learned stands for “mint in box” not Men in Black.
My granddaughter obviously doesn’t understand all this and still wants to see the movie, but I’m holding fast and won’t open the package.
A few weeks later I found myself again in the same little town where Tom Thumb-less once lived and got into a conversation with another nice young officer. He had the same ideas as his colleague about what constitutes a real car versus a toy car like mine, but I told him that my car was a “classic collector’s edition.” He stepped back, scanned the car front to back, then nodded as if he understood perfectly and thanked me for visiting his town.
Again, we live in a time when everything and everyone is special. And for a limited time you can get a collector’s edition of this story, but only if you act fast before it becomes a classic.
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