Recently, Cosette and I took an overnight trip up to Highlands, North Carolina simply to get away from it all for a brief mini-vacation. What we found was a very nice, very small town in the midst of the mountains (as the name would imply). Half get-away-from-it-all town with high-end spas, half preserved small town, it was also…and perhaps best of all, about twenty degrees cooler than Atlanta.
At first, we were enjoying ourselves with the cool and novel things that we found there. Food, for one thing. Although that took some work: every place kept weird hours. Nobody’s website was up to date, places closed from 2pm to 5pm or 3pm to 6pm or were just inexplicably closed. We finally found ourselves seated in the rooftop restaurant area at the Old Edwards Inn–its first day of the new rooftop setup and inadvertently became, as they told us, their first customers. The empty seats surrounding us bore witness to this fact. (Pictured just below the break is the spare rib-topped pizza that was the daily special. Yes, presented with that, you too might just give up and cheat on your diet.)
[ad#shortpost]But ultimately it wasn’t the impractical antique shops, the overpriced clothing boutiques or the weird used bookstore that I was most struck by during our brief visit. (It’s odd how every used bookstore is simultaneously both like and unlike every other. Like–because they all seem to have the same array of books, unlike–because they’re just laid out in different floorplans. Perhaps every used bookstore is the same used bookstore, it just changes depending on which entrance you use.) No, what I enjoyed most was witnessing some things that will eventually, inevitably die out.
The first was the most startling: an independent video store. And when I mean video store I mean in the classic sense (kids, ask your parents): it was mostly VHS with a smattering of DVDs. That’s a picture of the exterior of the business there. I didn’t take a picture of the interior because it would have seemed improper, inappropriate: like snapping pics with your iPhone when you go up to pay your respects at an open coffin funeral. The shelves were all half empty. DVD cases and VHS tapes (the latter both in and out of sleeves and cases) were scattered about with no organization that I could divine. (It was frankly like a grocery store on Day Five after the post-apocalypse…you know, everybody’s taken the good stuff and nobody’s starving enough yet to grab the Cheez Whiz.) Absolutely no one behind the counter and no one came out to ask us if we needed anything the entire time we wandered about inside, making noises of amazement like we were moving through a newly discovered Egyptian tomb or something.
When we left it I knew it was probably the last one of those I would see. And I know you’re probably going to leave me comments about the one in your hometown that’s still around, but you must agree: independently owned video stores of any sort? Rare beasts. When I still had the day job, long ago, they scattered the countryside in abundance. I would stop in whenever I could and take posters they weren’t using. I think my parents still have boxes of them in storage somewhere. I feel sorry for them, really. Not the stores–I mean my parents, I feel bad about all the crap that’s probably still at their house.
The other thing we saw we stumbled upon. Almost literally. We wanted to hit a cafe for breakfast and we needed to hit a drugstore in order to get something…Advil, maybe. Or contact lens juice. Something. We went into the drugstore, bought what we needed and I was ready to walk out again and head off to the cafe when Cosette pointed out that we were in the right place. The cafe was behind us.
Yes, that’s the picture there. Towards the back of the store, along one wall, between the pharmacy and the rest of the drugstore: a cafe complete with malt machine. You see the classic booths they had there. Was it the best breakfast food ever? No, and I wasn’t expecting that. I was getting breakfast cafe food–you know the type I mean: one step up from Waffle House and that mostly because you get the distinct impression the people making it actually gave a damn.
So yes, an independent drugstore? Not too rare, no. Independent cafe? Not rare at all. Throw the two together with this setup and this context (and the malt machine–somehow it doesn’t count without one) and I think it’s pretty rare. Or at least they’re hiding very, very well. Maybe to avoid predation.
I’m sure there will be “reservations” where these things continue to exist. Cultural Icon Petting Zoos or the like. But seeing these creatures in the wild was pretty fantastic and they made the trip worthwhile. And if you have one of these in your backyard, make sure you frequent them. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.