Shell Game

What do you consider a depressing sight?

You could ask a thousand people that question and maybe two or so ask-ees will give you a matching answer, depending on their location. To someone in Hollywood, for example, a depressing sight might be “my last picture’s gross” or “autograph-seekers with no fashion sense.” For the bulk of us ordinary, everyday, fashion sense-less folk, however, it’s a more varied mix like abandoned pets, hospitalized children, people in America’s heartland and its southern states dealing with extreme cold, and people in Detroit dealing with, well, Detroit. However saddening they may be, I’m focusing on the shallow (read: the usual) here.

Maybe you’re depressed by the sight of your photo on your newly-arrived driver’s license, having hoped the new pic’ would be an improvement over the last one. (You hoped wrong, Lt. Lensbreaker.) Instead, what the DMV mailed you was a wallet-size monstrosity that, if you were to stick it in the local police precinct’s mug shot book, would scare the criminals right off the pages.

Perhaps you’re depressed at the sight of the Cubs’ (the baseball team, not the cute mini-grizzlies) championship record: a grand total of two World Series titles, the last one earned over a century ago. It might help you as a Chicagoan to look at the bigger picture: in the last thirty years alone, your city’s trophy case has been fattened with ten different world championships, from teams representing all four major American sports. As far as athletic achievements go, that’s almost unheard of. And think of the hordes of baseball fans in Houston, Denver, Seattle, and San Diego whose teams have exactly zero World Series titles. Wouldn’t it depress you more if your team’s record matched that of, say, the Padres? How badly do you think all those die-hard Astros fans want to see their team win just their first championship?

Look, I get it, it’s been so long since your Cubbies last took the ‘Series their batboy’s grandchildren are all grandparents. Fine, so back then the players’ stats were calculated using an abacus. Is it really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things? Ahh, who the expletive are we kidding? If a guy in a Rockies cap sitting near you at Wrigley Field were to try a little perspective on you, you’d just want to shoot the S.O.B. (You won’t, of course—you know he’s already likely to take a stray bullet on his way home).

Something I find a little depressing is the sight of an empty building that, until very recently, housed an operating business. A retail shop I helped build about 12 years ago sadly became one such place last year, although this was only a relocation. It’s more depressing, obviously, when a vacant shell is the product of an outright closure, being that its most common cause is a poor economy.

This was brought to mind a few weeks back, when a town I called home for many years was in the news. A strip mall in the San Diego suburb of Escondido, California (motto: Less Boring than At Least Six Other Places!) just recently became the home of another of these empty buildings, after a well-known clothing store shut down. Adding to the depression is the fact that a successful discount store chain that applied to become that building’s new renter has been flipped the municipal bird by local politicians. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Escondido City Council doesn’t appear to take too kindly to strangers who provide tax revenue for the government and low prices for the governed. The alleged villainous scum is 99 Cents Only, a company operating over 300 shops in 4 states, selling food, housewares, toys and sundries (mostly for a price that you might find somewhere in its name if you study the logo closely).

The powers-that-be voted against permitting the Commerce, California-based retailer to rent the space vacated by one of the city’s two Old Navy stores, which by the way I argue is misleadingly-named. Walk around inside one of these trendy dealers, and you won’t exactly find yourself harkening back to your days as a diving officer on the U.S.S. Armed Anchovy Can, but I digress.

Knowing that California’s current economy & employment situation is, using state lingo, “like, a total major bummer, dude,” red-lighting a smattering of jobs and low prices is highly questionable. Imagine you’re an Escondidan who’s been getting a good, long thrashing by the recession. You’d be tempted to grab the council by its collective lapels, pull it so close to your face it could count your eyebrow follicles, and politely ask “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU CLUE-IMPAIRED SNOTHEADS DOING?!” I’ll save you the trouble of having to get anywhere near said snotheads and tell you exactly what they’re doing: they’re opening one hand wide, reaching very high up, and thumbing their noses at you.

Reportedly, the councilsnots’ decision was made essentially out of concern that, even though the landlord didn’t see the issue, a business of this nature would make it less likely to have higher-scale shops and consumers show up. It’s like they think they’re warding off some mildewy strip club that charges half-price admission on Cold Sore Night, and where the “talent” get tipped in coins and commute to work in their homes.

It must be one seriously ritzy, exclusive hub of aristocratic activity, this retail complex. A typical 99CO branch is actually a clean, well-managed shop full of name brands and quality goods, not some stereotype, semi-navigable trinket closet. “Bah!” sayeth the Escondido Elite–it will only sully the lush boutiques already in place at this little slice of Rodeo Drive. The Old Navy shell is just the tip of this exquisite iceberg. It’s also home to a dealer of goods for keepers of high-intelligence animals (PetSmart); a petite branch of a federally-approved parcel management & correspondence agency (Post Office); a spacious, wide open hot-spot (long-unoccupied former Sizzler); a specialized merchant for the intellectual businessperson seeking commercially-oriented potables and edibles (Smart & Final); and a complex of suites dedicated to entertainment exhibitions for royalty (Regal Cinemas movie theater).

Pretty impressive, I know. Maybe even greater than Gatsby.

If any of you average Joes & Josephines are looking to treat yourselves to a rare, upscale shopping experience, take heart in knowing that you can go to a small shopping center just west of downtown Escondido and not be offended by the presence of “undesirables.” And live it up, I say! Make it an event! Shower with a fresh bar of soap, dress to the sevens, and rent a stretch Toyota Corolla.

Author Bio:

Jeffrey Webb is just an average, blue-collar guy who likes to write stuff. He left his home state of Vermont for California with his family at age 7 and has regretted it ever since. A 24-year veteran of the home improvement industry, his hobbies include cooking, playing the drums, and verbally savaging annoying celebrities. He lives in San Diego with his extremely patient wife and two children.