"Swelltown" - A Parable for Our Time

The Parking Lot Analogy: You live in Swelltown, with only one big supermarket.  The parking lot holds five hundred cars.  A parking space is normally seven feet - six inches (compact) to eight feet (average sized cars).  One night the parking demon re-stripes the entire lot, making the spaces six feet - ten inches wide.  Upon first glance one would not notice the change.  The driving lanes in the lot were reduced a couple of feet in width as well.  These changes allow the owner to fit forty additional cars onto his lot.  In the following days and weeks there are far more door dings and dents than before.  People have to wait for a car to back out before they can squeeze to their car door.  All drivers have to be more careful navigating the lanes.  Tempers flare in this lot day and night.  The level of anxiety in town becomes so high that Swelltown’s only psychologist has to call for reinforcements.  There harsh words and  fist fights  every day in the new parking lot.  The store has a pharmacy and business is booming due to all of the new prescriptions for mood stabilizing drugs.  Those fifty new parking spaces have added handsomely to the store’s profit margin.  There have been so many lawsuits filed for assault,   reckless endangerment, and property damage related to all of the freshly dented cars, that several law firms from a nearby big city have opened branch offices in Swelltown. The mood in town has turned from sweet to sour.  Nice people begin moving away.  The local real estate market gets white hot.  Lots of turnover.  Real estate agents are happy.  All of the new homeowners need interior designers.  The new homes need to be expanded to store more food to minimize trips to the horrible parking lot.  Architects are happy.  So many teeth have been damaged in the parking lot fights that dentistry is booming and cosmetic surgeons are thriving as they repair broken noses.  Luckily for the professional class of Swelltown, there is a more expensive boutique market where they can shop using traditional eight foot wide spaces.  They stay cool and calm as they prosper, vacationing at regular intervals.   Things have never been better for the professionals of Swelltown and things have never been worse for the remaining ninety-five percent of the town’s population.

The Parking Lot Analogy is an example of social convection in The Big Engine.  Some people rise in the economy but most people fall.  People rise and fall like warm and cool air in a weather system.  This human convection drives the economy.  Can you spot the weenies in this story?  The re-striping of the parking lot is a big red weenie with drastic negative repercussions for the nice people of Swelltown.  We didn’t hear much in the Swelltown Gazette about the re-striping because the supermarket buys the entire wednesday edition for its grocery specials.  Store owner to Swelltown citizen: “We’re fucking you six ways from sunday and if you complain we will sell you the appropriate pharmaceuticals to set your mind right.”  If you put on your weenie glasses, you can see a big red weenie dangling out of the butt of every single person in town from age six to eighty- six.  The re-striping weenied everyone but a select few  are making a killing on the misery of the good people of Swelltown.  Weenie accrual adds the negatives of psychic and financial burden that drag you down into a more stressful realm.  A synergy of loss is set in motion.  Play the game of Trace the Weenies.  How far can you track the negative forces in your life;  into your own past or out into your community?  You may not be the source of much  but you have the power to control it all.

Where do you see re-striping in your life?   You can quell personal demons until hell freezes over but if the lot is being re-striped, your bliss will be impacted.  Cell phones have drastically lowered the sound quality of the average telephone call.  This miracle device has brought third world phone quality to us all.  The financial meltdown of 2008, Bank fees, credit card fees, Telephone Company fees have re-striped our bank accounts.  The obliteration of small, locally owned businesses by national franchises and box retailers, has gutted most medium and small American towns.  Old news, Whew!  What a sad loss this has been.

The franchise revolution of the past forty years (documented in Fast Food Nation) has added a dismal homogeneity to these small towns.  It has enabled the centralization of the meat and potato industries, gutted labor unions and lowered the Common diet denominator to a point where it is alarming us all.  It is disturbing to see a full-page full-color advertisement in a national weekly news magazine for a drug that combats male depression that is placed directly adjacent to a feature article on the rise of male depression in America.  What a coincidence.