Doce me faces voluntarem tuam quia Deus meus es tu

Thursday, November 18, 2004
My dryer is broken. To my knowledge, there are no local hardware stores in Tuscaloosa open past five in the evening. I can think of one store, but it's on the other end of town. So I needed to pick up a few things to try some (alas, unsuccessful) dryer repair, but there were no local stores to shop. I found myself wading through the battlefield that is parking lot of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Once inside I wandered the aisles until I found what I needed, then waited in line roughly ten minutes to use the self-checkout. Then back outside to the car, and another bout in the parking lot.

This may hurt my blue state credentials - no, wait, I've got two NPR stations on my car stereo already doing that - but I hate the Wal-Mart Supercenter. I'd rather have my wisdom teeth removed than go to Wal-Mart.

It's something I think about often. James Lileks talked about it on Monday, as there's a chain vs. local coffee shop battle in Minneapolis. We've avoided that sort of thing in Tuscaloosa thus far. There's a Starbucks on campus, but outside that it's The Crimson Cafe. Believe it or not, Tuscaloosa only has one local coffee shop. Must be a record for a large college town. There's also the Bad-Ass Coffee Company, a Hawaii-based chain that's set up shop on the Strip. The coffee's nasty and I won't buy anything else there just on a principle of opposition to tacky restaurants. The Crimson Cafe is a pretty great spot, with good coffee and good food. I'll still stop by Starbucks occasionally for the magnificent Pumpkin-Spice Latte or other drinks, but around here, I like to keep the locals in business. I wish there were more hardware stores that let me do the same.

It's a contradiction for conservatives, I think. I don't oppose chain stores or corporations on economic principles, but surely we can agree that the Wal-Marts and Home Depots and Best Buys have harmed our traditions. Or more properly, perhaps I should say we have allowed them to harm our traditions and our town institutions. Starbuck's makes good coffee. In certain situations, or when I'm in a hurry, their coffee suits me just fine. But I like to know that when I'm in Tuscaloosa, I can go to the Crimson Cafe. When I'm in Oxford, Mississippi, I can go to the Bottle Tree Bakery. Too much Starbucks, if not carefully monitored by the free market, will leave us all without a unique mark. It's a bit more difficult with other industries, I realize. And hardware stores don't gain a reputation the way record stores, bookstores and coffee shops do. I don't propose we interfere with the market, but I think there is a strong conservative argument for doing what we can - within the confines of the free market - to preserve local institutions, those shops and stores and restaurants that make each city and town unique. Supporting independent and locally owned stores isn't just a blue state value - it's a traditional value.

Speaking of blue state vs. red state, NRO's Mac Owens wrote a humdinger of an article about the joys of country music. While my own tastes are vast and varied - Miles Davis to Minor Threat, Outkast to Over the Rhine - I can proudly admit that my appreciation for country music runs deep. I think my own story is typical of the alt.country/No Deepression set: punk rock in junior high turns into Hank Williams in college. But I've gone beyond bands like Uncle Tupelo and Hank Williams to appreciate Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam. Owen's NRO piece is great reading, and I love the way in which he ties country music to its Scotch-Irish roots. One caveat, though, and I'm sure this will disappoint at least one reader: Owens claims Tanya Tucker and newcomer Gretchen Wilson to be two of his favorites. Folks, I'm a proud Southerner. I love country music and don't mind if more than a few records in my collection could be filed under "redneck." (See Coe, David Allen) But Gretchen Wilson? I always wanted National Review to speak about something other than opera, but white trash anthems like "Redneck Woman" may be too much of stretch.
7:07 PM :: ::
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