Last weekend, I took an interesting and fun road trip with my son Nathan. First we went to the Georgia versus South Carolina game. At the time Georgia, for the first time since I was in college, was the #1 team in the nation. That lasted two weeks and we got to see them win as a number 1. As of last night that dream came crashing down as Auburn dominated us. But it was fun while it lasted and we are not out of the hunt yet. We met one of my best friends from college and my Georgia Power days, Taron Durden. Taron has watched Nathan grow up. Its amazing how you can go months and not see a friend like Taron, but once you all are together, everything seems comfortable. Like you just hung out the week before. (Taron rarely takes a serious photo, ha ha)
We also had a great visit with my sister (don’t know why I didn’t think to take a photo). She lives on a few acres and is a bit of an animal whisperer. While we were there she was bottle feeding a baby squirrel that she had nursed back to health after it was hit by a car. She and her husband Michael are also master gardeners and their scenic garden picnic table is a fine place to have a cup of coffee on a quiet fall morning.
Anyway, after the game we got up the next morning to return to Kentucky. Nathan is a big fan of the Netflix hit series “Stranger Things” and he got me hooked on it as well. If you haven’t seen it the show is an homage to 80’s and 90’s entertainment. Its a bit of the movie “E.T.” combined with a little “Aliens” combined with “Ghostbusters” with a hearty dash of “Stand By Me” mojo.
The show is filmed in various locations in Georgia but primarily Jackson, Georgia. That wasn’t terribly far out of our way going home and Nate wanted to stop by and see some locations. In season one, the Jackson town square is a primary scene. The kids in the show, go to the drug store often and hang out. And, as recently as the 80’s, that’s what we did too. When I was in high school in the 80’s, town squares were still pretty vibrant.
If you’ve seen the show you know what these scenes represent and how prominent they are in the show. If you haven’t seen the show, there is no point in my explaining it all here.
As I said, the show takes place in the ’80’s and in the show this is a bustling downtown in small town America. One reason I got hooked on the show (there really isn’t an original idea in the thing but the story telling is fairly good and its suspenseful and pleasantly spooky) is that it takes me back. It reminds me of those downtown bike trips to get ice cream or a soda (which most of us didn’t readily have in our refrigerators at all times as we tend to do today). In this absolutely insane modern day world we live in, I enjoy the familiarity of the mythical town and the kid characters. That is, even if the plot is that the town is being invaded by aliens.
Even though I am an adult and should know better, I kind of expected the sites where they film the show to BE like the show. I expected downtown Jackson to be the kind of small Georgia downtown I grew up with. But something jumped out at me starkly during our photo shoot. Almost the entire town square is abandoned. All the stores you see here have “Out of business” signs inside them. There is a bit of junk, perhaps some empty shelves sitting around, but there are only a couple of operating businesses on this whole square. It was actually quite sad.
Somewhere in that I see a metaphor. I wanted to go with Nate and visit the filming locations thinking it would feel good and familiar. But the show is just pretend. Small town America as we knew it only 25 or 30 years ago is largely no more. Blame it on Wal-Mart, blame it on small business regulations, or the changing population dynamics of a nation in flux. But the reality is poignant. I know there are some towns where downtown is doing pretty well, (like Paducah) but they are more the exception than the rule.
To get these pictures we had to travel off the interstate and use the old two lane highways. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed seeing the little towns that I used to drive through to go to my grandparents house. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel, that we are no longer that America. Change is taking place in this country at a rate never seen before. The difference between 1980 small town America and 1950, really wasn’t that great. The differences between 1980 and 2017 small town America is stark.
What we didn’t know on the Sunday we took these photo’s is that a demon had entered a church in Texas and murdered innocent worshipers. I still can’t get my mind around it. I hadn’t gotten my mind around Las Vegas. How can anyone make sense of this stuff? Its beyond tragic. Its evil personified and its become more heinous and more frequent.
The climatic scene of the second season of “Stranger Things” ends at this school. It’s at night and the kids in the show are inside enjoying a school dance. They think the aliens (or monsters or whatever they are) have been defeated and life is about to return to normal. The camera pans away and you see this school with a massive monster lurking over the building. It’s called the “Shadow Monster”.
Again, there seems to be a metaphor. My hope is in Christ. He is our hope and our stay. Yet at the same time, I wonder what is coming. What is going on in our country and in our world? It feels so often like we are trying to live life “normally”. We are trying to fall back on what is familiar and comforting, but there is something lurking over us. And we wonder what will come next.