If a broken hammer is in some ways more of a hammer than an unbroken one then there is something about a strip mall on a hot summer afternoon which communicates more about America than all the nation’s July 4th celebrations put together. It begins with the innocent wish to buy a pair of new shoes; shoe sizing being what it is one must be present in the hardscape of a “bricks and mortar” (Oh, if only!) store to make the wisest purchase.
I had spent most of the past three weeks luxuriating in a high school teacher’s summer vacation, last week making daily trips to Forest Park with my stepdaughter for her “Zoo Camp” after which my wife and I would do a brisk 3 or 4 mile walk through the lungs of the city. I’d spent this week at Five Mile Pond, the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, visiting Middletown, Connecticut, Six Flags New England, and puttering around the house on Maple Street. Five Mile Pond is a great place to take an 8 year old who has just learned to swim: lots of kids, a playground, and clear warm-ish water. The Hampshire Shakespeare Company performs in a field with a beautiful view of the hills just to the west of Amherst. Middletown, from Main Street to Wesleyan University, is a fine example of how we used to build things, and amusement parks specialize in mystifying the visitor.
I missed the immersive ugliness (Copyright JHK) of the American built environment. Until I had to walk back to the car for something I had forgotten while the rest of the family walked into the shoe store. I had spent almost the entirety of the last three weeks as either a human in a human centered environment, or as a passenger in a motor vehicle in a car centered one, but walking back to the car alone with the July afternoon summer sunshine toasting the asphalt, then opening the car door in that shadeless hellscape and feeling the rush of superheated air I felt very alien. I walked back to the store and snapped this picture:
We know that at some point we are going to need shoes, or batteries, or toiletries, and we build these plastic Potemkin villages on the edge of interminable sequential tar pits. Many of us live most of our everyday lives moving in and out and through them not ever understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way.