Here’s an irony for you. You all know that my self-conception is that of “mediator.” But my day job, as musicians are wont to call it, is working at a law firm that handles Franchise Law (i.e., we register franchisors, help franchisees get through the process of opening their outlets, and so forth).
Now here’s the nature of the irony: I’m not really what I tend to think of as a “franchise” person–I haven’t been in a McDonald’s in almost ten years, and rarely before that. Yet, most mornings I can be found in Bruegger’s, enjoying (as now) the free WiFi.
And earlier this morning, I read a link some friends of mine posted in reference to my old home town. And what was it about? A now-vanished franchise (what we used to call a chain) called Red Barn.
What’s weird about it is that I actually cared about Red Barn. Not at the time, and not really about Red Barn per se. What I care(d) about are (were) the memories of the place and time. I mean, I look at the photographs and I remember how “white” aluminum frames were used on those big windows, and how (later) dark-anodized aluminum formed the structural members of those curving atriums that were so popular. I remember when people wore hats like that, and when we had hair cut like that, and when was the last time you saw a woman in a fur coat ordering in a fast-food place?
It’s odd that my generation (I’m a late boomer, part of Generation Jones) has not only the means but also the ability to preserve and share its cultural past–and also the destruction of that past–in a way that was likely never possible before. Many of the photos on the Red Barn site are old; but many are recent, showing the former Red Barns as muffler shops, Vietnamese restaurants, and so forth. We spend a lot of time dipping into our past. But the past is gone; it does us little or no good to trace it (perhaps the reason why, in spite of my spouse’s attempts, I have never been all that excited about family history).
But we can learn something here: The lesson we can gain from this is the evanescence of cultural artifacts, and even more so, of The Present. As I was discussing with my 13-year-old son the other evening (we were discussing Dr. Who and notions of time travel), we live in a stream of time, a dimension. We don’t see it because we’re moving along it, immersed in it. Or as Joni Mitchell put it, “you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”:
Red Barn was never, ever paradise. Nor is Bruegger’s. But some day, when they pave it over and turn it into a parking lot for something else, it will seem like it was, because it will have become unattainable. Appreciate these places, the people around you, the smell in the air, no matter what it is, now. Because we know better–or should–than any other generation just how fragile, how evanescent, the moment really is. Take pleasure in the present, because when it’s gone, it’s gone.