Strange Brouhaha

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


In the name of avoiding three (at least; it's probably more like five) different projects that I need to get done, I went driving around for an hour or so. I really just sort of meandered, taking turns at whim. I ended up driving through quite a few different neighborhoods.

One thing I noticed was a preponderance of chain stores. This isn't a particularly new observation, of course; chains and franchises have been part of the suburban landscape for decades now, part of the increasing homogenization of not only the nation, but the world. Everywhere I went, there were Subways and Starbucks and McDonald's and Wendy's. Staples and Home Depots and Best Buys. Even places that weren't franchises had a depressingly generic look.

In the older neighborhoods closer to downtown Madison, there aren't quite as many chains. They're still there, yes, but mixed in with the chains are small, local shops. One store that particularly fascinated me was a tiny little florist's shop, tucked away in what my memory says was a combination house/storefront. I don't remember the name, or even where it was, but it was so tiny that I wondered how the owner stayed in business. A shop that size has to be a labor of love, don't you think?

It's a familiar pattern, as I said. Spiraling outward again from downtown, the number of chains increased once more: Subway again, McDonald's again, Taco John. Another Staples. I don't really have a pithy observation, other than...well, there it is.

As I was driving on the highway towards home, a police car about fifty yards in front of me suddenly slowed down and turned on its flashers. Naturally, everyone else slowed down, too. (I would say that they slowed down in case the police car was going to take off with its sirens blazing, but this is Madison. It's rare to see people stop for emergency vehicles.) As I drove past the police car, which was now crawling along with its lights flashing, I could see in the headlights a mother duck and her ducklings, waddling serenely along the roadside against the flow of traffic.

I guess it was a reminder, in a way, that small kindnesses can make a big difference.


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