|Hammer takes road less traveled|
Usually, John Hammer drops in to see me on Saturdays. The big man somehow bypasses security at the worldwide HQ of the media empire and always seems to catch me unawares. I think it gives him some sort of perverse pleasure to know he manages to scare the bajeebers out of me. So I was more than a little surprised when he came in on a Thursday, rang the bell at our front desk and waited.
For those who don't know, the Hammer stops by infrequently. He's a mountain-sized man who's not big on small talk. His hands are the size of hams and the rough callouses indicate he's done honest work for a living. He may be a man of few words, but what he says generally makes good sense. Aside from hoping I never make him mad at me, it's almost always a pleasure to hear what's on his mind.
"Timmons," he nodded in a voice that's rougher than a five-alarm hangover on a Monday morning.
"John," I nodded back. "Want to come back to the office and take a load off?"
"No, this won't take long," he said. "Been watching and paying attention to this holiday shopping. I'm seeing how a lot of places want you to buy your presents from their websites . . . and that got me to thinking. About roads."
"We started out as a nation of paths. There'd be a path from your cabin to the creek, or to the church or maybe a nearby village. We grew and it wasn't all that long ago that we built roads, gravel roads. They led to bigger country churches, small towns with small schools, general stores and the like. Small towns grew."
No idea where this was going, but I knew to keep my ears open and my mouth shut.
"Then, roads started getting paved. Wasn't long before highways started getting built and that was good for county seats, but not so good for all those small places along those small roads out in the country. Groceries closed. Schools consolidated. Churches dwindled in size out there while they grew in the county seats. Then we had a few national roads and next thing you know, Mr. Eisenhower comes along and wants good roads to transport missiles on and interstates were created. Good news for big cities and state capitols. Malls were built. Urban areas thrived and so did the suburbs."
He had me intrigued - but confused on his point.
"And that was good for big cities, but not so good for county seats and even worse for the small towns. Downtowns began withering up. Small cities like Crawfordsville that had a few downtown theaters, clothing shops and such saw them head away from downtowns toward the malls and the strip centers. There was growth and there were opportunities but they came with a price."
"John, I'm with you, but what does all this have to do with Christmas shopping?"
"It's this new road, the information superhighway, Timmons," he said. "It's sending people away from the big cities, away from the malls and the strip centers. You know where it's sending them, Timmons?"
"Home," he said. "Home to sit in front of their computers."
"Now, the way I see it, this can lead to something either good or bad," Hammer explained. "On the good side, maybe it'll help the state capitols and the county seats and the small towns because maybe people won't travel so far to do their shopping. Maybe they'll not only stay home but maybe they'll get more involved in their communities. Lord knows we need that here in Crawfordsville where it seems like a lot of the big shots don't even live here anymore. Or, it'll create new population centers at places that used to be wide spots in the road - places like Whitestown in Boone County with their big distribution centers and whatnot. Maybe it'll just be another thing that tears more communities apart."
"They call it progress, Timmons. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But for the first time in the evolution of all these roads, it's finally up to us. All of us."
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