Looking for Real

What may seem like a short detour…

There’s one historic bar in the Union Square district of San Francisco (actually, there are hundreds, but I’m talking about one historic bar in particular), called The Gold Dust Lounge, that’s served drinks to a quintessential only-in-San Francisco crowd of sailors, businesspeople, visitors and neighbors for generations.  Its landlords have recently announced a plan to kick it out in favor of a national chain clothing store.

Now, The Gold Dust Lounge hasn’t been the city’s most popular bar for ages, but the plan pissed a lot of people off, resulting in petitions, protests, online and social media tempests, etc. The question is, why did all these people suddenly get interested in a bar few had ever been to, fewer still had been to in years?

I believe it’s because we’re in a state of national authenticity deficit. Everything we buy, eat, watch, or otherwise consume comes from some centralized corporate authority. Our cities are all filled with the same national chain stores and restaurants. We watch non-locally produced entertainment on movie and TV screens. Even amateur-generated online clips are seen by so many people and follow so few memes, they seem mass-produced.

We’re in a search for the authentic, for the real, wherever we can find it – and it seems downright offensive to shutter a real, honest-to-goodness bar so yet another national chain store that sells the same old jeans can move in.

Think about baseball – America’s self-declared pastime – for a second.

Attendance for Major League Baseball has declined for three straight years, while attendance at Spring Training has grown over the same period.

Those big, corporate-namesake stadiums, filled with untouchable millionaires, are drawing fewer of our fellow Americans.

At the same time, more people are going to Spring Training games, where a bit of baseball’s old vibe still exists. At Spring Training, it’s still possible to get close to players, talk with them before and after games, shake their hands, see them up close – the way fans used to in the majors but aren’t able to anymore.

It used to be that ballplayers would live in the town they played in. They’d be seen and known around the neighborhood. They’d stay with a team a long time. They’d be part of team (and town) identity. Whether playing at the Polo Grounds (or later, at Candlestick Park), or stickball with neighborhood kids in the street, Willie Mays was a real Giant.

If I were to advise baseball, or landlords for that matter, about growing a market in these times, I’d say, keep it real. Not that they’ve asked.

Worth a Tear or Two

Do you know who this is? Her name was Marie Colvin. The eyepatch is no Halloween get-up; she lost the eye while covering a war. She was a journalist and she died this week trying to tell the world what’s happening right now in Syria.

She was a journalist, like Murrow, Cronkite, Sevareid, some others. She didn’t just go to government press briefings. She went out and got the story. Then she told it.

She was a journalist who put her life in peril to do her job the way it ought to be done, the way all serious journalists used to do it, the way some (very few) do it still. She thought the people of the world ought to know what’s happening. She believed, perhaps naively, that once knowing, we would care enough to do something.

These days, many of those appropriating the title “journalist” for themselves are either bald-assed propagandists…

trivia-seeking entertainers…

or do-nothing armchair pundits.

But that wasn’t Marie Colvin. She was a journalist. She died bringing us the story.

And her death, if not her story, might have gotten more attention but, hey, there are so many other things demanding our attention at this critical moment in history. For starters, it’s Oscar week and there are red-carpet looks to be presented and discussed.

Pitchers and catchers reported to Major League Baseball’s Spring Training.

And a newly adopted cat saved its new owner’s life.

No time now for serious stories about death and revolution.

But sometime down the road, if we’re at war with, say, Iran and the men and women in our armed forces are dying, don’t you dare bitch that the government lied to you, or that some conspiracy withheld information, or that you weren’t told. You were told, alright. You just couldn’t be bothered to pay attention – even when the person telling you died to bring you the story.

Reality Check

Athens is ablaze.

Many Greeks are consumed with anger over the terms necessary to avail themselves of the financial bailout offered by the deities of the European community and have taken to the streets in protest. The changes, protesters claim,  amount to a significant and unacceptable change in Greek life, in Greek society, in what it means at its core to be Greek.

This is a precarious moment. Failure of the Greek government to deliver on these terms (and get the bailout funds) would result in serious consequences for Greece, and for the rest of Europe. Together with other developments, it may signal the end of European financial union – no more single currency, open trading relationships, free flow of people across historic national boundaries.

Care to watch a complete meltdown of the European community economy? Care to consider for just a moment what that might mean to the rest of the world? War? Complete world economic collapse?

The scale of this issue is, I realize, hard to fathom, even, perhaps, harder to take. So, I understand my fellow Americans wanting ready distraction – professional golf, the “tragic” death of a pop music princess, Oscars, baseball’s spring training, March Madness, etc.

All well and good; I enjoy diversions too. But our media is splashed with every angle possible on Whitney Houston, God rest her soul, and not a sentence for events that could shape our world for the rest of our lifetimes.

Time for a good strong dose of reality.