Sunday, August 12, 2007
Time Warp Town with a Lesson
Today, on this glorious summer day, our family went on a field trip. While my husband proposed various hikes, all immediately nixed by my two college-agers and my 15-year-old, they could not turn down brunch at the only Noah's Bagels in our area that's kosher. Afterward, we browsed our favorite stores in its shopping center, a tony enclave near the university. Such delights, buying books at Barnes and Nobel, and for me, scouting out the latest funky styles at Anthropologie, and home trends at Crate and Barrel. It was only after this suave beginning that we faced a different reality.
Dum-dum-DUM...we decided to check out the Auburn "Good Old Days" fair. In all the announcements about events in the region this weekend, the festival in the town of Auburn was featured. So, envisioning craft booths, fun entertainment, and a new area to explore, we ventured south-east of Seattle, and followed the signs to City Center. Streets were barricaded, but there was parking on side-streets nearby. With happy hopes, we walked toward the commotion, and soon realized we were in a different era, the "good old days" of the unimproved 1940s.
Here was a town that modernization had forgotten. The sad main street, festooned with red, white and blue banners on its concrete lamp-posts, was lined with restored antique cars, tended by their equally antique guy-owners, seated in folding camp-chairs next to their vehicles. On a cross-street were a few typical white plastic sheet-walled folding booths, but instead of fine pottery, paintings or blown glass, the booths offered cheap sunglasses, pregnancy services, the local newspaper, and bottled water sold by the Lion's Club. Some overweight visitors sauntered by the cars in their tank tops. We heard faint music, and, walking on, soon came upon...the entertainment.
My daughters cringed. My son scowled. My husband pushed back his baseball cap and scrunched his forehead in puzzlement. An intent, serious crowd of about 60 sat in folding chairs, blank-faced in a parking lot watching...a Dolly Parton impersonator, wearing an outfit too trashy even for the real Dolly. Though her voice was okay, she trounced about in her teased platinum blond wig and cleavage-enhancing neon blue dress (trimmed in a boa of pink feathers) with faux sexiness and such comedic clumsiness that we all sputtered concealing our laughter.
She was having a great time, and the expressionless audience didn't seem to be in on the joke.
After a few incredulous minutes watching, one of my daughters expressed her discomfort with the town's scuzziness and asked to leave, but I insisted we walk down Main Street. The Good Old Days of Auburn were clearly about sixty years before. The town's thoroughfare featured three "antiques malls" in which individuals displayed the contents of their garages on card tables. There was a used-book store, with narrow aisles and shelves of yellowed tomes piled to the ceiling. The community emporium, Rottles , had expanded its "women's apparel" two doors down, though its facade didn't match the peeling-painted original. As we passed, a thickly-made-up elderly woman with raven hair coiffed and sprayed, was locking up, her stiff movements matching the old-fashioned jointed mannequin in the window. Down the street, for a stretch of half a block was an open dirt lot. No weeds, no sign of imminent improvement, just plain dirt, edged by the sidewalk. The urgency in my daughter's pleas to leave this gasping town increased.
"Not so fast," I answered. I was fascinated by a place that chose to boast its gimping gait. I peered in the window of a check-cashing store with signs all in Spanish. Next door, a tax and loan office was decorated by a kissy-faced Statue of Liberty life-sized doll. A Chinese restaurant with half-lit neon letters, and, down a few doors, the Rainbow Cafe, featuring "Good food" and cocktails with a steer head and OK brand on its sign, provided gustatory diversion for the town.
By now, all three of my children had endured enough of this time-warp. We headed back toward our car, again encountering the strains of music from the event stage. Dolly Parton had finished her set, and in her place was...yes, you guessed it: Elvis. The elder Elvis, decked in greasy, ill-fitting wig and Vegas duds, from which he realistically bulged. "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, crying all the time..." My other daughter chuckled, "I knew there'd be an Elvis impersonator!" And of course she was right, for who exemplifies glory gone to seed more than Elvis in Auburn?
Though my complaining daughter vowed never to enter Auburn again, so alien in its working-class lifestyle (and contrary to her privileged existence), I cautioned her. The people in Auburn represent the vast majority of our countrymen, earning a modest living, and able to afford a humble home in a community that is scrambling to keep its dignity and better itself. We must not get smug or arrogant about the blessings we've been allowed. The good folks of Auburn, working hard for wages that don't fairly match their diligence, invited Seattle into their downtown, without pretension, with only high hopes and best intentions. As we drove toward home, past 1940s wooden box-homes with satellite discs and RVs and ocher lawns, I mused that here, houses were affordable. Here, families could get a start. From Auburn, one can always move up. Perhaps these are indeed the good old days.