Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Mayberry

Dear Reader,

Wednesday, September 22nd we drove into Mt. Airy, NC just ahead of an autumn thunderstorm that had been dogging us since we crossed the West Virginia state line. For a couple of hours we'd been driving in and out of downpours. In one mountain valley the weather would be clear and sunny and in the next pouring rain would make the going treacherous. The final run of road was kind to us, though, and we managed to beat the rain to our hotel on the outskirts of town. We checked into our mediocre hotel room, unpacked the few belongings we brought along for the trip, made a list of the things we managed to, and road-weary we set out to reconnoiter and find dinner in the land of Mayberry.

The drive into town was uneventful if you don't count my fatigue inspired driving. We passed the town water tower, the hospital, the fire station, and the police station before finding a parking spot in the gravel lot beside the post office. I'd just turned the car off when the rain we'd outrun in the mountains caught up with a vengeance. It fell in a straight torrent and we sat listening to it pound the rooftop while we debated what we should do.

The road makes you tired; especially nine hours - a large portion of which was spent driving across the uninspiring landscape of northern Kentucky. Still just outside, mingling with the raindrops, was a town that I'd only witnessed through the sepia-toned episodes of a television show I personally consider an emotional cure-all. Almost every work-related trauma I've suffered has been healed in no small part through visits to Mayberry, NC. I bore the rain to retrieve umbrellas from the trunk and then we set out to get our first real look at America’s most iconic small town from under the brim of an umbrella.

What did we find? A tourist trap complete with Andy and Barney paraphernalia being hawked from countrified storefronts? Maybe we found busloads of wide-through-the-middle Americans clogging the sidewalks while they took snapshots of their snot-nosed kids in front of the Andy Griffith Show opening-themed statue? Actually, none of the above.

Don’t get me wrong, Mt. Airy has made plenty of hype about their native son (according to a local news station fifty thousand visitors will be in the little town today). I kind of feel like it's fitting that they do. In some ways we're all products of where we grow up and if the place makes the man is emblematic of the place. Things get a little more complicated when that man in question is famous like Andy Griffith and the persona that is being honored is fictitious like that of Andy Taylor, the sheriff of Mayberry. Still, without the influence of his hometown, Griffith wouldn't have begat Taylor and through the TV lens and the twisted genealogy I've just outlined, the town benefits from its native sons (both real and imaginary).

Walking down the streets of Mt. Airy you'll encounter various establishments that are mentioned in the television show. There’s a Snappy Lunch Café, there’s a Bluebird Diner, and there’s even a soda shop that claims to be the inspiration for Walker’s Drugstore. Even during these troubled times all of them seem to be doing fine. Maybe there is safety in the shade of the long shadow Sheriff Taylor has cast over the collective imagination.

However, I'm departing from my story about what I found in Mt. Airy. When we stepped onto the soggy sidewalks was a little different than the television rendition of the small town but at the same time, very similar. Mt. Airy is a rugged little North Carolina town. From the post office steps you can see the weathered peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On the day we arrived, the ghosts of rain clouds swept down the valleys and thunder rolled off the mountain sides. We walked along Main Street (its actual name) at eight o'clock and every store was closed. We strolled under along the awnings, window shopping like people do in Mayberry. There were kitsch storefronts as I mentioned before: The Snappy Lunch, the Bluebird Café, Opie's Candy Shop, and a few other themed stores but something struck me. Somehow, in spite of the theme, the town managed not to become a theme park. It remained a living, breathing town independent of what American culture would make it into.

We turned down a side street and found the Trio Bistro and Bar, the only place in town to get dinner. Sure, Trio is a chain but it's one of the better ones and literally it turned out to be our port in the storm. Good food and drink go a long way toward soothing the road-weary soul. Tired from nine hours on the road I sat down over salmon and bread and some time before dinner ended I realized I'd really made it. This was Mayberry at its core - outside was wet and cold but inside was safe, inside was warm, inside I had the person I loved most in the world and together we were okay no matter how hard the wind blew. We saw the museums and ate at the soda fountain, hearing stories about Andy Griffith and the things he did when he was a kid…but I found my Mayberry before any of the festivities began. That's the thing I'll never forget about this little trip to the center of America's heart.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The New Normal

Dear Reader,

This was my first week working from home (other than as a writer). It was a strange experience, something akin to playing hooky even though I spent probably more than eight hours a day hooked to my PC. I think the reason it felt like misbehaving was that those eight hours were spent trying to hammer out the basic stuff we all take for granted when we go in to an office for the daily grind. There were server issues to handle, email transitions to be made, and telephone machinations to be considered - all from the quiet sanctuary of my home office. When I used to drive into an office in the morning I would have just dropped by the IT guy's desk to make mention of any issues. Later in the day he'd shamble in, mutter at the monitor, climb around under the desk, excuse himself to go shake chicken bones at the server, and viola I'd be fixed up. Now I've got to call across a time zone and crawl through the red tape before I can get in line to get service. I'll call it progress because that makes me feel better.

I did visit the old building on Thursday. I needed to box up a few things and pay a visit to one of the people who are still working out of the place. It felt a little like returning to a murder scene. The steady decay of shutting down is progressing in earnest now, even the company name has been removed from the building's façade. I walked around the hallways, visited my old office, and after rattling around a little headed home. This is normal, now all I have to do is get used to it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lighten Up

Dear Reader,

Obviously the last few months have been something of a downer. It's ironic that enjoying the company of your coworkers and the job you're doing exposes you to the possibility of great disappointment and heartbreak. Pablem advice says do what you love however, doing what you love contains within it the possibility of tragedy. No bored button-presser ever laments losing the button they press.

Regardless, the point of this missive isn't to continue lamenting the state of the economy or job market. I thought it would be good to lighten things up.

"You see, Colonel Murphy, we're absolutely safe as long as this safety is engaged - why, if this little switch was in the off position we'd all have been vaporized..."

And then they were.

Later Hank would discover it actually was the cute little nicknames he gave his girlfriends that prevented his ever having a successful relationship.

Now Billy understood why his parents kept Uncle Buck locked in a trunk in the attic. It all made sense, but it was far too late…

They all laughed at Tom's little red yacht. He heard them snickering and pointing at the club. He saw the women roll their eyes and he caught the snide remarks the men made at the marina. They all thought it was so funny. They stopped laughing shortly after he gave Jarvis the order to open up with a full broadside. Yes, when the smoke cleared, Tom was the only one laughing - a high-pitched maniacal laugh that he'd keep up all the way to the padded cell at Belleview.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Slow Decay

Dear Reader,

Twenty three days until closure. That includes weekends. The death of an organization is a little like seeing a patient withering in a hospital bed. Slowly faculties decline, one week memories are there and the next they’re gone – vanished as if they’d never existed. Eventually the patient begins to hallucinate, to see ghosts. Last week I got a call from someone who used to be one of the key R&D scientists here – a genuine absent-minded professor sort. Just like in the old days, he couldn’t find something. In the old days I would have had the capacity to locate the missing item and bring it to him. Not in the dying shell of this facility, though. All I can do is walk the empty offices, check the shipping records, and ask my few remaining coworkers…all the while I know we won’t find what we’re looking for. The capacity to find it doesn’t exist any longer, all that remains is a memory of when the finding would have been possible and a faint recollection of what that felt like.

Adding to the personal sense of malaise is the fact that two weeks ago I had to move out of my office because my desk had a new job in another city. The bastard didn’t even wish me well, just packed itself up one night and headed for wherever to be with its new fling. I hope they’re happy together – I really do. Then again, some part of me can’t help but be resentful. Regardless of my emotional state, I’m sitting at the desk of a former coworker, using a laptop, and sitting on a scavenged third-rate chair that’s destined to be a fatality of this move.

About the time I got ousted from my office, the workmen showed up. They’re agents of decay, tasked with disassembling anything of and to restoring the rented space the office occupied to the state it was in when we moved in. What can be salvaged will be shipped off to other facilities across the country, what isn’t deemed sufficiently valuable will be scrapped. When we’re gone I’m sure there’ll be a shadow of what used to be here – but only a shadow, a soulless shade.