By Kenneth Justice
“They want something unique; they are tired of apple pie…they are tired of every exit looking the same” He said
~ This past weekend I decided to turn my coffeehouse weekend in Atlanta into a road trip. I’ve booked enough Airline flights and Train trips for the coming year to satisfy any mass-transit bug that was in me and I thought it might be fun to drive down to Atlanta and stop at coffee shops along the way.
If you’ve ever traveled through the United States via our “sophisticated” Highway System then you will have most likely noticed what I saw mile after mile; every Highway exit looks the same;
—-) Every exit is littered with gas stations
—-) Every exit has McDonalds
—-) Every exit down south has Cracker Barrel & Waffle House
The United States has become one big melting pot of sameness. Not that anything is wrong with Target, Costco, and all of the other replicated retails stores that plague our shores…..but don’t you find it strange how so much of America looks exactly the same?
Sometimes it can be comforting to get the same thing over and over; driving 720 miles to Atlanta, after experimenting a few times with some strange-looking Indie coffee houses off of a few exits, I soon found myself gravitating to Starbucks with each stop because I knew I could expect fast WiFi, hot coffee, and a warm little environment to sit down and chat with people.
I realize a lot of people hate the corporate-ness of Starbucks; I totally understand. It’s also annoying that with the exception of their Verona roast, Starbucks tends to over-roast all of their various blends. Yet nonetheless, when you get off of a Highway Exit in middle-of-the-nowhere USA and have the Waffle House to choose from or Starbucks……let’s just say there are only so many waffles one can eat in a day.
At least four different people over the weekend mentioned to me the homogeneity of the United States; the way that all of the United States is beginning to look the same (If you want to look cool at a coffee house just mention the word “homogeneity” and you’ll instantly fit in with the hipster coffee crowd). The owner of Café Intermezzo (who happens to be a really cool guy) explained it this way,
“If you blindfold someone and drop them off at a highway exit anywhere in the United States they won’t know where they are by looking at the stores; because every exit looks the same, they’ve all lost their uniqueness that they once had” he said
It’s this ‘sameness’ that has driven many young adults away from their childhood suburban neighborhoods and into more urban environments. Yet sadly, as Urban Cities have seen massive spurts of growth over the past twenty years; the cost of living in them has increased as well…..and little Indie coffee shops which were the staple of so many of the cities, now can’t afford the cost of rent downtown to stay in business.
I once saw a lengthy interview with Prince Charles (from the UK) in which he explained a project of his which had been designed to try and prevent the ‘sameness culture’ of the United States from intruding into the United Kingdom. He was worried that if the Brit’s didn’t make a conscious effort to do something about it; that homogeneity would soon swoop through the British Isles and destroy all of its unique character.
Many of my hardcore-Christian friends think it is stupid that I think about subjects like this, “All that matters is talking about heaven and death and where we will spend eternity” they argue with me, “All of these temporal philosophical issues you talk about simply don’t matter” they say
Thankfully, not all Christians feel the same way. There were great Christians in the past who really did care about things like architecture, art and music. Michelangelo, Bach, and writers like C.S. Lewis understood the importance of creating beauty in the here-and-now. They believed that because nature is filled with so much beautiful diversity; that the buildings, art, and music we create should involve great amounts of diversity as well.
—-) Sameness gets old
—-) Sameness can get stale
—-) Sameness can feel repetitive and boring
And so I go back-and-a-forth. I appreciate Starbucks always being there for me at each exit. I appreciate how they offer a great environment to connect with strangers and to turn on my laptop and connect with readers and bloggers all over the world.
Yet I also lament the uniqueness of the United States that is slowly slipping away…..that is fading to grey before our very eyes……I really need my morning coffee right now,
This year I’ve embarked on my Drinking in the Culture Tour in which I’m visiting 100 coffee houses throughout the United States, Europe and Canada to meet with readers, bloggers, and everyone else in-between. Check out my homepage for more dates and locations. I will be in CHICAGO in less than two weeks!!!
Categories: Culture & Society