ON THE AVENUES: The 2019 remix, “You want some fries with your redevelopment?”


This column originally was published on July 10, 2014. Until only recently the prospects for creative redevelopment at Colonial Manor seemed permanently belly-up, but now residents living nearby have rallied to the idea of participating in the Redevelopment Commission’s closed-door, fix-is-in process. Predictably this has raised the hackles of the spider-web-encrusted monastics seated there, but anything to mobilize the grassroots is good, whether or not Irving Joshua agrees (and rest assured, he doesn’t). 

Hint: “Corridor study.” Mayor Jeff Gahan is on record as dismissive of the idea, which is the single best reason to pursue it. 

ON THE AVENUES: You want some fries with your redevelopment?

“Fast food is popular because it’s convenient, it’s cheap, and it tastes good. But the real cost of eating fast food never appears on the menu.”
— Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation

Once upon a time someone asked me where I live.

I said, “Well, have you heard the old adage about the clinical definition of insanity?”

“Sure,” he replied. “The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Exactly. So, to answer your question, I live in the place where the definition of insanity is precisely the same wording as the mission statement for our city’s economic and redevelopment commissions.”

“I don’t understand at all. Can you repeat that?”

“But of course. Our elected officials repeat it twice a month.”

A boy can dream of subversion, revolution and the unexplored, virginal territory lying just outside the box, but in reality, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Tahiti that the moribund stretch of Charlestown Road by the McDonald’s and Colonial Manor would ever be “redeveloped” in any substantially different way today than it first was developed in the early 1970s.

After all, these latest cookie-cutter chain components are interchangeable. Once a Wendy’s and KFC; now a Hardee’s and Domino’s Pizza. Once an impossibly ugly suburban-style strip center with a Kroger, now just as unattractive and sparsely occupied by a Cash Saver grocery (it’s a member of One Southern Indiana, dog), this latter occupancy hailed by England Doug and Maalox the Conqueror as one of the supreme achievements of Hizzoner’s somnolent third mayoral term.

It is left to Irving Joshua, who surely has more unmonitored power than any non-elected official in town, and consequently wields the redevelopment commission as a veritable rolled-up newspaper of outmoded notions, to step forward and connect the dots with another usual platitude, fortuitously captured by the newspaper at a meeting scheduled during the afternoon, when most working people can’t attend:

Joshua, president of the redevelopment commission, said (Hardee’s and Domino’s) are “improving the likelihood we can keep the grocery store there.”

That’s a deeply depressing measure of how far the bar has descended here in Truck Through City, where pallet-nailing is considered a high-tech job, and Chick-fil-A is the preferred place for 50th anniversary dinners, just so long as they’re procured via the handy automotive window.

At the same time, it shows just how crazily out of touch I’ve become with respect to what passes for modernity these days – thankfully, gratefully and happily so.

I try to imagine what it must be like to hear of a new burger joint coming to the neighborhood — to immediately fall to my knees, and to break into tears of joy, fulfillment and release: “I never, ever thought I’d live to see the day when we’d have a Zaxby’s down the street. I just might eat there every single night.”

Whatever. Let’s hope you have Obamacare when your heart explodes.

Consequently, it is with an overwhelmingly vast chasm of a psychological disconnectedness that I attempt to fathom the desperation and bleakness of lives spent contemplating the advent of a new fast-food sandwich, as seen on television, all the better for the Archer Daniels Midland Triple Fatburger to be greeted by social media with millions of “likes,” retweets and varied regurgitations of “hosanna.”

How on earth these people can root for extractive, exploitative corporations is beyond me. Maybe I’m getting old. Then again, maybe uneducated self-delusion is the new national pastime.

And yet … the recurring problem amid my rampant cynicism is that yes, I actually can see both sides of it – and I’m fully implicated in one of them.

In my own chosen world, there are regular explosions of pulse-quickening geekery, exclusionary narcissism and pure avarice when it comes to the impending release of a rare, highly-rated beer, and to be perfectly fair, I’m forced to concede that as the peculiarly American stains of materialism and consumerism go, the differences between Taco Bell envy and Westvleteren hoarding are of degree only. They’re both representative of materialism and consumerism run amok.

It makes me want to refrain from both food and drink, and retreat to the confines of my library to select real, tactile books, and begin to reacquaint myself with the world of ideas.

That’s because I’m nothing if not stubborn. Ideas matter, and yet at present, this country is a dismally stupid place. It also is mercilessly tacky. Perpetual tsunamis of crass materialism and consumerist greed define the American experience, and what’s worse, we’re not content to populate our own continent as 24-7 shopping zombies, pausing occasionally to thank Jesus for the blessed privilege of possessing our baubles.

No, we must infect the remainder of the planet, too. The evangelistic impulse is the same, whether capitalistic or religious. To me, David Novak’s rah-rah cheer for the shareholders of Yum Brands plays a bit too much like “Heil, Hitler” – and as a non-book-reading, insultingly wealthy white man, his cadence is even less symmetrical when translated into Mandarin, Brazilian Portuguese or Klingon.

We can’t even have useful innovations like universal health care, for fear that dollars invested in human happiness might detract from expenditures on the very same food rendering us in need of hospitalization in the first place, not to mention whatever is left to purchase vital plastic trinkets from overseas manufacturers.

There it is, in a nutshell, and something to ponder while you’re sinking your cavity-ridden teeth into some Papa John’s:

We celebrate rope-a-dope notions like the “American Dream,” aiming to marginalize an excluded majority, while perpetually bedazzling constituents with hopes of a consumer paradise here on Earth, buttressed by religious and patriotic superstition, even as the overall playing field is kept firmly tilted toward wealth where it already reposes.

Come to think of it, that’s the Republican Party’s platform.

To paraphrase the late Warren Zevon, America … New Albany … your shit’s fucked up.

Recent columns:

June 27: ON THE AVENUES: Mourning (and alcohol) in America, circa 1984.

June 18: ON THE AVENUES: Let’s lift our voices for another verse of “Talking Seventh Inning Blues.”

May 28: ON THE AVENUES: Challenges are forever, but downtown New Albany’s food and drink purveyors keep on keeping on.

May 21: ON THE AVENUES: “Pints&union, where the classic beer hits keep right on pouring.”