Last week, we went to Los Angeles, but it could just as easily have been Minneapolis or Dallas or Boston or Roseville.
Our hotel window looked out on a bleak parking lot surrounded by the inevitable cast of characters: Lowes, WalMart, T.J. Max, Carl's Jr., McDonalds--I could continue, but you know the rest.
Cities strive for individuality by arranging a few dozen chain stores in different order on the asphalt ocean. This is as effective as making a deck of cards original by shuffling it.
Never in human history have we been able to satiate ourselves with so much for so little. But low price cuisine has the guilty savor of red stew. It is hard to shake the feeling that we have sold our birthright for it.
The scene outside my window was profoundly unnatural. How grotesque would it be if every national park was a franchise, if you could go to all fifty states and see Half Dome, El Capitan, The Mist Trail, and Yosemite Falls?
Nature is an ancient prophet, standing in silent condemnation of our duplicated efficiency. Visit any of her wonders and you will meet an individual: Arches, Carlsbad Caverns, Crater Lake, Glacier, The Grand Canyon, The Hawaiian Volcanoes, The Petrified Forest, The Redwooods ... If you have seen one, you have seen one. You most definitely have not seen them all.
Looking from my hotel at the soulless expanse without I felt a soulless expanse within. It would not have surprised me to discover a number on my hand and forehead like on a Thomas Kinkaid painting: 664,968/1,000,000.
Whatever we are, we are not duplicates. A human being is more like a national park than a shopping mall. No one is a franchise.
The Greeks had a maxim: "Know thyself." It remains good advice, but in our day a more pressing maxim is: "Be thyself."