This is my true confession.
I’ve made no secret of my love for detective shows in general, or The Streets of San Francisco in particular. Where I live, it’s aired from one to two in the morning, and there I make my home in Seattle’s wee, quiet hours. My provincial city has gone to sleep, and I’m seated at my 12 inch Gold Star television, a willing resident of Bay Area 1974 and devotee of Karl Malden’s tough, puritanical, old-school detective, Mike Stone.
Commercials at that hour are testaments to the vanity of the proprietors buying them. Advertisements for Vern Fonk Insurance, for instance, feature Vern himself exhorting us to “honk when you drive by Vern Fonk.” Spots for Younkers Nissan have the stiff-backed, poor-reading owner and his son in matching suits. They stare holes in what must look to them like the Rosetta Stone, but is, in fact, their cue card.
Poulsbo RV, a trailer and Winnebago dealer, has my favorite ads.
Poulsbo, Washington is a theme community, similar to Leavenworth, Washington or Solvang, California (or Leavenworth, Kansas for that matter, where incarceration is the theme). Washington’s Leavenworth is a small town that turned itself into a costume Bavarian Village to attract tourists. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and it works. Every time I get there — which isn’t often, as I hate to leave both television and city — more stores and landmarks are burdened with the leaden German determinative “der” in their name. “Der Safeway” for instance, is the supermarket, “Der Mechanik,” the garage. All the while, more and more senior citizens chafe in their leiderhosen while selling stale biscotti behind mock Bavarian espresso carts.
Poulsbo, Washington and Solvang, California do the same with Danish kitsch. A valiant effort these, as the culture of tiny Denmark, pastry thin in its purest form, has little to captivate tourists after they’ve tired of classical music comedy in the Victor Borge museum.
All this is part of a larger, steadily proceeding trend to Walt Disni-fy every acre of this great land. A sterilized version of once-comical cocktail culture has lumbered from the wreckage of Jackie Gleason’s forgotten liquor cabinets and made nostalgia out of troublesome hangovers. Gen-X scenesters stuff their closets with outfits tragically modeled after seventies sitcom stars. Thus, the possibilities are endless. If leather shorts and Tyrolian hats be the stuff of geriatric nostalgia in Leavenworth, and small town America sufficient to anchor Walt Disney’s Main Street, why can’t a fresher panacea nurture a tougher, hipper, more slacker-friendly nostalgia?
Enter the strip mall. For future nostalgia purposes, at least. History teaches us strip malls, like every other fad in commercial architecture, will pass from the landscape. 7-11 stores and their trademark Slurpees will go the way of the Woolworth lunch counter and the nickel cup of coffee. Though the day may be far off, and successor stores unimaginable, we will eventually have to visit prefab nostalgia vendors to experience again the arid mix of bland decor, plentiful parking, and foreign-assembled merchandise so common to us today. Tomorrow’s Walt Disney will string up a skyway from K-Martland to the pavilion of forgotten burger novelties (“Honey, remember the ‘McDLT?’ It kept the hot side hot and the cool side cool.”) and start selling tickets.
Now for the good part. I am seeking investors for “Truckstopland,” a pet project. The success of chain restaurants is currently pushing roadside greasy spoons to extinction. To sate public desire for a glossed over past, I will provide a quality “wildcatter” experience, while trucking in my own fortune. There will be vitamins sold as mock amphetamines, audio-animatronic “Julies” delivering the Gettysburg address, and a laminated, one page, coffee-stained, “Adam-and-Eve-on-a-Raft Gourmenu” with Olestra dishes created by Wolfgang Puck. Mock diesel fumes will be pumped in from floor and ceiling vents. Overweight men will make eyes at you in the men’s room. Pancakes larger than sofa cushions will be served on carefully chipped dinnerware with sulfurous powdered eggs caked on the side. Low grade coffee will be boiled to its darkest, bitterest essence before any cup will be served. A distant soundtrack of sizzling, fatty burgers will be played at high volume from AM Radio speakers while bass lines to ancient country songs will be played from more numerous and more distorted speakers scattered at random throughout the restaurant. The ketchup will be warm and vinegary while the coffee cream will stay perpetually on the verge of curdling.
I hope to locate the establishment in a Sinclair station I will renovate. Located near an abandoned aluminum smelter, work will begin there upon receipt of EPA approval. It is currently a Superfund Clean-Up site.
Back to the Poulsbo RV commercials. They feature a smiling silver-haired gentleman, an individual who could easily play the part of an overeager church deacon on Hee Haw. Initially, I thought his ads were ludicrous, because his messages began with his breathless exhortation “Calling all RV People,” before he shared his low prices.
RV People? Was this a tribe of overweight snackers crawling the continent? I thought about it a while. What sort of sad sack would enjoy riding the cookie cutter American highway system, living off pretzels from Arco Quickie Marts and nine piece Chicken McNugget orders while camping at KOA Kampgrounds or the odd trailer park with a spare berth? What kind of person could take to that?
Then it hit me. Me. I was that kind of person. I could appreciate the sad hopes of a generation of senior citizens who thought mobility would spice up their golden years, only to find a uniform republic where temperatures change but cultures never do. I could laugh at the sad irony of a country where mass production, television, and instant communication have made our residential subdivisions and malls of commerce uniform nationwide. It takes a cross-country trip in a Winnebago to verify this. You have to see it to believe it.
It is that very uniformity which has created demand for theme-related towns like Poulsbo and Leavenworth, or a theme-related restaurant like Planet Hollywood or my proposed Truckstopland. Leave it to that televised church deacon in the late night RV commercials to figure out the scam that would cash in on it. He can laugh all the way to the bank selling his peers on wheels for them to scour the country in. When they discover the only variety available, at least the only type of variety safe enough for them to partake of, is found in synthetic burgs like the one where they bought their RV, the church deacon can get on the tube again, spout, “Calling all RV people!” and either offer to buy back the RV at a low price for resale to future RV People, or entice them to come in for high priced RV repairs and Danish pastries.