Tag Archives: Tales of the Lonesome Pine

Are we there yet?

Jack’s weekly guest post examines concepts of distance -

Whenever Wendy and I are away from home in a big city for a few days we have an arrangement – she gets to eat dinner in a Middle-Eastern restaurant one evening and I get to an Indian restaurant on another. Last night here in DC it was her turn. “How far is it to The Lebanese Kitchen?” I asked. “A mile and three quarters” she replied.

We debated various options for covering the ‘mile and three quarters’ and decided, since we had plenty of time, we’d walk. Wendy likes walking and I foolishly said, before we married, that I did too (the things we’ll say for love!). What we didn’t specify then was what each of us meant by ‘walking’. What has transpired over the years is that Wendy’s concept of distance is fundamentally different from mine. We have spent many a weary hour walking through boiling heat, freezing cold, horizontal rain, across freeways, under interstate bridges and dodging insane drivers as ‘just a mile and three quarters’ turned out to be considerably longer.

Sometimes the place we’re walking to is closed, sometimes it has gone out of business, occasionally it turns out to be just delightful. Other times we get funny looks from drivers or locals, who clearly think we’re insane or suicidal. Last night was a classic – we walked briskly through the cold, following the meanderings of Connecticut Avenue through downtown Washington DC , as the upscale embassy district gave way to equally upscale apartment blocks and then to somewhat seedier areas of broken sidewalks and finally over a very long bridge over a scary drop. Clearing the end of the bridge my heart lightened as we espied an Indian restaurant, and another – -

“Not tonight, dear” – said my beloved! Tonight is the Lebanese Kitchen and tomorrow is the Indian restaurant. “Keep walking!”

And, so, we did finally arrive. It was open, and filling up rapidly. The place was delightful, as was the food, and the service was excellent too. To Wendy’s surprise I suggested we walk back to our hotel afterwards. You see, I’ve found that returning is always quicker, or so it seems. I think it’s because I know how far it is on the way back, whereas going out there seems to be no end to it.

On a related subject, where we live in Big Stone Gap seems to be almost exactly one and a quarter hour’s drive from anywhere else you’d want to be – Bristol, Abingdon, Johnson City, Cumberland Gap, it doesn’t seem to matter – always an hour and a quarter. When our friend Mike was over from Scotland on vacation a couple of years ago and keen to explore on his own, he’d ask how far it was to these places. As he was leaving to go back home he announced that he’d dubbed any journey of that length a ‘Jack’!

So tonight we’ll be celebrating my birthday at an Indian restaurant, in the company of friends of many years whom I’ve never met face-to-face. They are choosing the place and I’m just waiting to see where the distance lies between a ‘Wendy’ and a ‘Jack’ – - -

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The Monday Book: Big Box Swindle

The Monday book review this week is by guest poster Melissa Eisenmeier.

Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Retailers

- by a researcher from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance named Stacy Mitchell, makes a strong case for why small businesses are better than big box retailers and how, and why those retailers are changing America for the worse. In the book, she talks about how chains like Wal-mart, Target, and Home Depot have changed the American landscape, become the most corporations, and rapidly changed our communities and economies. Big Box Swindle also touches on how such chains affect global warming, why independent businesses are often better for the economy and communities than large corporations, and third places, like Wendy did in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

By and large, Wal-mart is the business most often discussed in the book, but small businesses around the nation, Lowe’s, Target, and K-Mart, among other nationally-recognized chains are also discussed.

Several parts from Big Box Swindle resonated with me. The first thing was a quote from a Nebraskan named Bob Allen, who owned a department store for 30 years. He asserted that “Wal-mart is destroying the free enterprise system.” While that might be a simplified version of things, I think it’s very true that Wal-Mart and similar big chain stores aren’t doing the country any good.

The thing that resonated the most with me, however, was Ms. Mitchell’s contention that Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and similar big box retailers create a vicious cycle of poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. She contends that they do this by destroying small businesses that pay living wages and health insurance, which means that the people who used at them can’t get jobs that pay as they used to. She also says that those people who go to Wal-Mart because they need to save a couple dollars are unintentionally furthering the cycle just by shopping there, because Wal-Mart pays their employees minimum wage, does not offer health insurance to employees, and surreptitiously deleted time from employees’ time cards to save money.

While Ms. Mitchell generally doesn’t apply this logic specifically to Amazon, I think Amazon also maintains the cycle of poverty by killing off independent businesses that pay living wages and offer health insurance.

I don’t think Big Box Swindle is an easy book to read, but I do think it is a book people need to read.

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