EST. May 2000 (AD)


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By Pamela Miller

Once upon a time, no one in any service capacity in Barcelona spoke English. Then the 1992 Olympics were held there and suddenly the city was transformed into an international playground.  It didn’t matter if your only Spanish word was “no.” They found translators and gladly accepted your money. The last time this delicate flower was in town, without saying a word, the maitre-d pulled out an English menu, assuming that I could only order by color:  “Green, por favor.”  This was somewhat disappointing as I’d been practicing my favorite phrase for days:  “Me gusta espinaca.”  (It’s only a helpful phrase if you actually like spinach.)

Why did the maitre-d assume I lacked fluency in Spanish?  Chalk that up to profiling.  As much as this was helpful, I sort of missed the days when I walked around town without a Spanish language dictionary, stumbled into restaurants, and ordered by closing my eyes and randomly pointing at the menu. It added a level of mystery to each meal, even if it was only occasionally a pleasant experience. Just like in kindergarten, my mom should have simply pinned a note on my shirt:  Fussy sugar-free vegetarian with expensive tastes. She likes spinach. 

 The great cities of the world don’t change in big ways. It’s the little things, like menus, shops, and the penal system.  (Despite being in possession of an international driver’s license, I was stopped and harassed by the London police while driving in an empty parking lot.  Profiling will get you every time. Or maybe it was the fact that I’d never driven a stick shift and everything was backwards.) 

Then there are things that change so drastically, that they remove all traces of their former selves.  Boblo Island is a little dot of land with a formerly lovely amusement park.  It’s located on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.  From 1898 to 1993, it was known for roller coasters, carnival games and the party boats that transported you to the island.  The park was in financial trouble by the 1980s, and soon they were selling off the carousel horses one at a time.  It was everything must go, including the boats and the guys in straw hats and striped jackets.  Once the last goldfish in a glass jar was sold, the new developers leveled the park and built condos.  No longer the home of curly fries and funnel cakes, this was now a genteel haven for those ladies and gentlemen seeking refined living in a Victorian setting.  (Close your eyes and imagine Queen Victoria raising her hands over her head as a wooden roller coaster starts a speedy descent.  Now imagine what Queen Victoria might be yelling.  Now imagine Queen Victoria deciding between a caramel apple or cotton candy before her consort, tired of her holding up the line, orders her a corn dog.) 

It’s easier to imagine Queen Victoria’s staff removing the stick and cutting the corn dog into elegant bite sized pieces than to imagine that anyone currently living on the island is unaware of its past as the home of rides called the Wild Mouse, the Thunderbolt and the Swiss Toboggan.  Did the developers have to ignore the island’s real history in order to sell the condos?  Perhaps the advertisements could have stated:  “The Island is not haunted by the 32 people killed on faulty rides. Ample parking available.” 

When people visit my little corner of heaven, the conversations have the same theme: “Didn’t there used to be a coffee place there?  And where did the organic bakery move?  What about that brownie place? “  No one asks about the sunrises and sunsets. No one asks about the fake western theme park, which actually did move when the suburban sprawl moved north.  It’s understood that people without any ties, cultural or otherwise, own the “authentic” western shops selling desert duds and doo-dads.  Areas that used to be free of billboards now advertise adult bookstores, Botox, and meth. (They aren’t advertising meth so much as stating it’s not a beauty treatment.)  You can still see saguaros and tumbleweed, but they’re in front of the convenience stores and one-hour dry cleaners.  The developers showed up in the mid 1990s and transformed the desert by planting the flora and fauna of the Midwest, building big box stores, and throwing together houses like this was the second coming of Levittown. The brown cloud of pollution that covers the Valley is not an ecological catastrophe; rather, it’s possibly protecting pale people from harmful UV rays.  It’s still a pleasant vacation destination, but wholly altered to the point of being unrecognizable.  As Queen Victoria might have said, “We are not amused.” 

Copyright © 2010 by Pamela Miller




Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Miller