Monday, June 25, 2007

Got Gingerbread?

Let's get back to American House styles, shall we? But first, I must rant, and rage, and foam, and whine and wheedle; and then get back to loving you all as neighbors and friends.

I live in a seaside town. The swells live in something they refer to as "The Village." It's a little rabbit warren of streets hard by the harbor and the yacht club. My wife and I and our bairns like to go for walks in the evening there. We're all alone generally, as people talk a good game about liking pedestrian friendly streets, but it's strictly a theoretical exercise. No one walks anywhere but us. There are no children we do not bring.

There are a lot of interesting houses down in the village. I've shown you photos of them from time to time. If you want a verbal beating, try proposing building anything in this town. Anything. There is an abandoned restaurant on the main road through town (It has a stoplight. The stoplight) that has been vacant since I moved here over a decade ago. Dunkin Donuts wishes to place a coffee shop there. My tax money is being spent on prosecuting lawsuits with Dunkin Donuts instead of being augmented by the tax money it would bring. All because the people who do not want it don't want it. They lie anyway: they go to the one in Wareham. In some alternate universe an abandoned restaurant that was uglier than any Dunkin Donuts, even before it fell into disrepair, is preferable to allowing anything to be built there in its ruins.

There's nothing wrong with Dunkin Donuts. Their buildings are too garish for my tastes, but they'd no doubt make the building look like whatever the town asked for. But I've listened to the laundry lists of things people demand to make the thing "fit in" with the surroundings. It's always a laundry list of fake bosh. And if you demanded that the place be made really fitting for its surroundings, not just covered with the affectations of a kind of Potemkin colonial nonsense, it wouldn't approach passing muster with the building code, never mind the disability requirements. It's against the law for a commercial building to have much soul anymore. Postmodern colonial crapola gets pasted on it around here. That's about it.

The people who rail about such things at town meetings and in the paper talk about preserving the character of the town. The town has no character I can discern. The absence of things is not character. The institutions that personify the town are private, and turn their back on the majority of the town and its neighbors in every meaningful sense. There is a word for the person that dreams of a landscape with no person but themselves in it. I don't think it's a pleasant word. They talk openly in the local newspaper about choosing the day of Fourth of July fireworks with an eye towards selecting the one most likely to avoid having anyone from another town attend. Why should we let someone else see our fireworks? Why have it on July Fourth? Why does anyone need an inexpensive cup of coffee, or a job? It all sounds so unsavory, if you're at the yacht club.

When we are walking --alone-- I walk past one house after another that the locals would point to as a paradigm, and demand that the whole town be kept in this unspoiled fashion. The problem is that most of southcoast Massachusetts was a turn of the 20th century seaside retreat, and many of the houses were built as gingerbread confections, and they've been ruined. They've had all the gingerbread ripped off, the porches removed, then covered with shingles and shutters. Some are stuccoed over or even vinyl sided. I see the ghosts of those old houses in there, faintly visible now, like an old lady that shaves off her eyebrows and paints on her features with a shaky hand, or like a pretty corpse in the bottom of a lake.

People drive past those houses --and me-- and go harrumph and say: at least it's not Dunkin Donuts. They're right. Dunkin Donuts is real.


Ruth Anne Adams said...

Krispy Kreme, whose headquarters are here in my town, might be a yuppier choice. It's the Starbucks of doughnuts you know.

Dave Moelling said...

Love your comments on "pedestrian friendly". I've noticed the same thing, but mostly with so-called open space. With two lively retrievers we spend a lot of time in the local forests and ponds. Pretty much nobody there. But when time comes to purchase overpriced tax exempt open space people come out of the woodwork. Keeps the riff raff out you know.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Ruth Anne- A Krispy Kreme is a rare thing around here.

The first Dunkin Donuts is at the end of my father's street in Quincy, Mass. It's still there. My father remembers the guy started out bringing urns of coffee down the road to the shipyard for coffee breaks. He bought a little shack and decided to make donuts to bring with him. People began to stop there and buy them, and so it occurred to the guy to just open a shop. I refurbished a restaurant across the street from it a decade or more ago, so I've had as many donuts in the original one as anybody, I guess.

My father worked in a bank and said the donut guy came in once when he was still struggling, looking for money, and was turned away. Donuts? No money in that. I expect all those bank presidents and their Roman Numeral children are at the yacht club right now, talking about how nobody needs a Dunkin'Donuts to this very day.

Hi Dave- There is a hilarious example of that in the adjoining town. A house donated a second adjoining lot to the town for "open space." The town no longer got taxes paid on it, and spent a bundle making it into a "park." It's on the main road, across from a dreary strip mall, a Mobil station and an shabby thrift store parking lot. There are no sidewalks and no pedestrians. I have never seen a living soul in the park, ever, at any time of day at any time of year. they could have sold that parcel for a couple of million to a commercial developer and used the money to make something useful for somebody somewhere else, plus got a commercial tax revenue stream, but a town doesn't think like that any more. It was an opportunity for nothing.

If you build it, they won't come. Trust me and Dave.

PatHMV said...

Sounds like a smart move by the folks who donated the extra lot to the town. They know that nothing will get built there, and nobody will come invade it, but it's still next door. Now the town pays to mow it, they don't have to pay taxes on it, but they still get to use it, without being bothered by actually having any plebian visitors. You should go every weekend and picnic there, loudly, on principle.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Pat- You are making an error, even though you are joshing.

Normal people do not go to places they find unpleasant to achieve an effect. People who continually go to places they claim are unsalubrious, whether those places are real or virtual, to supposedly prove some sort of point, are grade-A primo loser jerks.

There can be no better vote than the one with your feet. So far, it's been unanimous.

PatHMV said...

You are of course correct. But the smart tightwads who donated their extra lot to the city so they could keep the benefits and unload the expenses still need to be taught a lesson. So what you really need to do is find the most obnoxious "grade-A primo jerk" you know, the one voted "most likely to cut off his nose to spite his face out of principle," preferably one with a complaining wife and 5 loud children who do not get along with each other. Then tell this friend (well, likely a mere acquaintance, I'm guessing) or relation about the really nifty picnicking spot you've found, give him a nice map and a six-pack to help start the party, and send him and his family (maybe even his extended family in their beat up old loud, back-firing car over to the little lot.

Then you can enjoy the peace and serenity of your own property and your sane, normal, non-obsessing life, while simultaneously causing a bit of devilment to some deserving cheapskates... And if you're lucky, your acquaintance/relation will even prefer picnicking en famille there rather than at your house, thus solving 2 problems with 1 plan.