Search This Blog

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sense of Community…Going, Going,…

New Year's Day

One of the positives about writing this blog is that it has enhanced the sense of community I feel when I’m out in the Valley. With the exception of an occasional encounter with a hostile canine or being bowled over by an inattentive cyclist, I most always enjoy my time there. The pace seems slower in the Valley. Drivers, too, are friendlier when they’re not being urged along at sixty miles an hour by a stream of traffic pushing from behind. They take the time to smile and wave—even honk--as they pass by. Not only do I know my old Valley acquaintances better, I’ve enjoyed meeting new folks, as well. But these days I’m more and more reluctant to leave the Valley.The days I can stay home and putter about the place are among my favorites. I’ve tried to keep the Valley Ripple a blog about the peaceful, pastoral, pleasant place we live and spend most of our time. But the days of self-sufficiency, of self-reliance have sadly gone the way of the Valley pioneers. So go to town we must. And that’s the subject of this post.

My experiences with the town of Monroe go way back to my youth, years before we moved to town in August of 1970, five years before we built our home in the Valley. Monroe was the first real community we’d pass through on our summer trips to the coast to visit my grandparents in Seattle. We’d round the bend and suddenly there it was, Monroe’s landmark erection, the cement smoke stack towering over the east end of town. I’d see that and think, “You’re not in the sagebrush anymore, young man; welcome to the city!” We’d drive through town, past the street dividers blooming with color. Even then Monroe’s green tidiness seemed to beckon a quiet welcome. 

In fact but for a military deferment, I came close to landing my first teaching job in Monroe. This was during the uproar that was Viet Nam. An English teacher at Monroe High (Parkplace Middle School today) had been drafted. The high school principal called me in Ellensburg and asked if I would come in for an interview. I was almost out the door when the phone rang, a return call from the principal informing me his teacher had just been granted an educational deferment. My first teaching job in Monroe: I would have liked that very much. But definitely not under those circumstances.

When we moved to Monroe in 1970, there was a sense of community much like that these days in the Valley. You saw the same people on the street or in the stores. You knew the town’s eccentrics; they were part of the community fabric, too. Through our common interests in beekeeping, I got to know Lester Broughton, an old gentleman who lived across the street. It was a friendship that lasted until his death in 1979. “Mr. Broughton,” I called him (he called me “The Teacher”), was like a second grandfather to me. Another memorable small town experience occurred when we were building our home here in the Valley. One day we ate our dinner sitting in the opening that one day would be our fireplace. We sat there, dangling our legs while we ate our meal: hamburgers, fries and shakes from the Candy Cane Drive-in. In those days Monroe was a comfortable, inviting place to live.

Monroe today? With the exception of the landscaped dividers on Main and Lewis Streets, (the former now blighted by warning signs and security cameras), I hardly recognize it. The Candy Cane and A&W Drive-ins long gone. Now U.S. 2 through Monroe looks like Highway 99 through Lynnwood, a jumble of fast food joints and strip mall small business eyesores. Dan’s Restaurant, where I had breakfast to celebrate my first school day in retirement: I ate eggs and hash browns and sipped coffee while the big yellow buses offloaded the year’s crop of school kids as I watched. I  grinned so much I let my breakfast get cold. Dan’s is gone; only an empty building remains. And Denny’s is a poor substitute at best. Say what you will, there’s no small town feel to a fast food chain eatery.

Then commercial Monroe jumped Highway 2. Stoplights cropped up at intersections to accommodate traffic bound for the commercial sprawl that now occupies the hilly woods where I once dug a dogwood sapling for our yard. Every few months, it seemed, there was a new traffic signal and two or three more cars ahead of you waiting for the light to change.

Fred Meyers crippled Coast-to-Coast, that friendly little hardware store where you could buy one of a kind, if that’s all you wanted—be it only a single nail. And there was always a friendly, knowledgeable staff to assist and advise you with your projects. Coast-to-Coast was where you made that third trip of the day for the plumbing project that invariably became complicated. Then came Lowe’s, that cavernous big box store where most of the staff in the place wandered around as bewildered as you were. Most of the time you strolled up and down the canyons until you got good and lonely, then you followed your trail of bread crumbs to the exit, out to your rig and drove all the way to Snohomish to the Do-It Center where folks were friendly and helpful again. You bought your two nuts and bolts and headed home. Lowe’s dealt C-to-C its death knell, a competitive coup-de-grace from which that small town business was unable to recover. Coast-to-Coast: gone up in smoke like their unfortunate kitty mascot that succumbed to the fire that destroyed the old downtown location. In Coast-to-Coast the community had a genuine gem There’s not a townsperson who doesn’t miss it.

Now it appears we’ll all have more company ahead of us at the traffic signals: big eighteen wheelers hauling trailers with the message SAM’S CLUB emblazoned on their sides, big trucks rolling into town from all corners of the country. Yes, the Monroe City Council, reversing its earlier contingent no-sale clause, has sold the property east of the Galaxy Theatre complex and Lakeside Industries to developers who in turn have sold the property to the Wal-Mart chain. Their reason for this latest assault on our town’s sense of community is a slack treasury; apparently the City has exhausted its petty cash jar and must refill it by choosing to sell our town on down the river—and cheaply, too.  The City has sold the property short: 2 million dollars from what they were offered for the parcel a while back. So what we have here, folks, is a “lose/lose” situation: the citizens get a Wal-Mart in their community--and the City coffers lose two million bucks. Everyone loses all the way around. Ain’t politics grand!

Little Monroe lacks the infrastructure to support another mega-store (3.5 acres/155,000 square feet’s worth of low quality merchandise. Just one more vast roof for the local crows to perch on). If the councilmen and women would once in a while brave commuter traffic through and around town instead of brokering deals where they lose the City money while at the same time hamstringing the community, they might have an epiphany of commonsense. One freight train rumbles through town and it’s instant gridlock on all streets and arterials north, south, east, west. (The other day I enjoyed a nice twelve minute nap in the left turn lane on Highway 2, courtesy of a BNR mega-length freight train crawling across Lewis Street). If you have errands in town, better get ‘em done between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. these days unless you want to sit through two or three light cycles before you creep to the next light. When Wal-Mart squats on its twenty-four acre parcel, better redirect those errands to Duvall—or make sure you have a full tank of gas or a good book to read while you sit through one traffic light cycle after another. And when another freight train plods through, you’d best hop it if you have some place to go.

The City is trying to sugarcoat their rash decision by playing the jobs angle: a Wal-Mart would provide the area with 300 low-wage jobs. And this will ease gridlock? 300 more employees plus the droves of shoppers seeking to belong to Sam’s Club? (Where Wal-Mart is concerned, perhaps the Town Council should heed the words of the comedic philosopher Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t care to belong to a Club that would have me as a member.")

No, altruism and politics make strange bedfellows. The Wal-Mart decision is all about revenue: a reliable stream of taxes, property and sales. Yes, honorable Council folk, it’s all about the money, isn’t it? For the smell of cash you have tightened further your stranglehold on the town’s sense of community. I’ll wrap up this thinly veiled attempt at non-biased journalism with a passage from a Garrison Keillor novel, a quote about money: “A horrible truth in America: Money talks. Not truth, not society, not art, but money, and when money talks, it doesn’t tell the truth, it talks money.” And there’s the truth of the matter—pure and simple.

NOTE: Those concerned about the pervading erosion of our community may want to attend the next City Council meeting 7:00 p.m., January 4, at City Hall—a reprise of “Them vs. Us” only this time it’s the City Council starring as “Them.”(See “Redlining the Valley,” Nov. 19).  January 6 the Monroe Preservation Action Committee’s will hold a rebuttal meeting from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at the Monroe Congregational Church 301 S. Lewis Street.

Print this post

No comments:

Post a Comment