Homogenize milk, not names of businesses
February 27, 2008
Drive down any major thoroughfare and you'll likely see bright plastic signs with foot high letters declaring 'K-Mart' or 'Wal-Mart' or 'Rite-Aid' and whatnot. I suppose that's a good thing because it doesn't take much work to figure out that any time the word "mart" is attached to another word, it means store. And although I cringe at the frequently more common boiling down of the English language with words like 'thru' and 'nite' and 'rite,' when the word 'aid' is attached to the latter I can easily understand that they have what I need when I'm ailing.
Not being too savvy in the text-messaging realm, I do know however that the above examples are downright real words when it comes to text-speak. It is, I'm somewhat embarassed to admit, a language that I don't understand—filled with acronyms that take me months, sometimes years, to figure out. Fortunately for me my stepdaughter is 30 years old, so I don't have to keep up on this stuff to keep her safe.
All of this ties in to an acute awareness of language, names in particular—like the names of stores and what they bring not just to a community but to an entire American culture.
Innocuous probably by design, the names 'Wal-Mart' and 'K-Mart' are amalgams—words thrown together, blended into a new universal language that means discount store, no matter where you go in the whole United States. You don't have to venture into the boxy, high-ceilinged brightly lit interiors to determine what they sell because you already know. It's the same regardless of where you are, homogenous and impersonal—no questions necessary.
There's some comfort in that, I suppose. When you're on vacation and you've forgotten your bathing suit or tennis shoes, you know you can run into one of those 'marts' and get one cheap.
But I'm one of those people who like being surprised from time to time. Shopping in the little towns around here is always surprising. The names of the stores are uniquely creative, simply direct or musically ethnic.
Local restaurants, for example, still bear the element of surprise—even for the tried and true patrons.
Yes, we do have Big Boy, McDonald's, Wendy's, Tim Hortons, Taco Bell, Little Caeser's, Jet's, Hungry Howies, Dairy Queen and whatnot. That makes ordering a meal easy and convenient. You always know what's on the menu and what the prices are.
But we also have Louie's, the Silver Grill, The Daily Grind, Tietz's, Maria's Place, The Huddle, Mikey's, Nacho's, Scoops, Wah Wong, Quini's, Lucky's, Pizza Machine, Big Joe's, Bugsy's North, Pleasant Soul Café, and others—not an 'Applebee's' or 'TGI Friday' in the bunch. Personally, I think that's a good thing. The owners decide the menu, what will be on special, portion sizes, their own unique dishes and all of that. The owners have a big stake in their business. They take the time to keep things fresh, to keep us coming back, to do things their own way.
I like walking into a place and actually reading the menu. I like seeking out things I haven't tried yet, dishes that I've never heard of or offerings that aren't preordained and carefully measured out in some corporate office somewhere.
Whenever I travel around the state or the country, I really like heading into old downtowns to make discoveries. Shopping and eating in the communities is a little bit adventure, a little bit surprise and a whole lot of personality.
I know America is the melting pot but I kind of like it when we retain and share our individuality, often expressed in our names or what we call things. Homogenization is great when it comes to milk, but I prefer a more natural blend of language, and choices.
K-Mart and Wal-Mart serve their purpose for sure, but through their sameness they lack a certain delightful element of surprise. Uniqueness, which we are taught to treasure, becomes blurred if not lost altogether. I treasure the uniqueness our independent merchants and restaurant owners bring to the table. In the latter case, I eat it up.
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