March 08, 2007

History channel

Motel I'm in, none of the light fittings worked when I first got the room. An electrician worked to fix them, then said to me, all's well except the TV. Told him I didn't particularly want the TV.

He looked startled. No, he said, I'm going to fix it for you. I can't do without the History Channel, and you've got to watch it too.

And that remark got me thinking again of something unconnected that I've been puzzling over: What is it about being historic?

I mean, I've lost track of the number of small towns that advertise themselves as "historic". Sample: Dayton, Tennessee; Corinth, Mississippi; Denmark, South Carolina; Tallassee, Alabama; Beaufort, South Carolina (pronounced "byoo-fort"); Beaufort, North Carolina (pronounced "bow-fort"); on and on.

They all invariably have "historic downtowns", though truth be told, it would be hard to distinguish downtown from uptown, they are often that small.

What explains the urge to be historic? I mean, in the sense that everything on this planet has a history, we are all historic. I feel positively historic myself. But that is trivial, surely. If every town decides it is old and full of history, what can it all mean any more apart from dressing up some buildings and putting up some banners?

Then again, a few days ago I was pulling out of a parking lot outside Jackson, Tennessee (don't know if that city is historic). In front of me was a car with a special plaque that read "Antique Car". Reading that plaque, I almost choked, almost crashed into a light pole. For this was, I swear, a mid-80s Chevy Citation. (That's 1980s, not 1880s).

One of those nondescript odd-shaped beasts Detroit churned out by the million in those years. Now anointed an "antique". Yes sir. Maybe that's historic by itself.

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