Friday, July 16, 2010

Down on Main Street

Lansdale, Pennsylvania, my domicile—I can't get myself to call it home—for the last nine years, is a dying small town of rusted girders, crumbling brick, and peeling paint, populated by, oh, eight thousand people carrying the weight of at least ten thousand, many sporting tattoos and a fair amount of piercing. The three notable festivals it hosts are Under the Lights, which shuts down Main Street and lines it with antique cars from the mid-twentieth century (fully a quarter of which had for sale signs this year); Bike Night, which shuts down Main Street and lines it with motorcycles; and Mardi Gras, the parade in which Santa Claus arrives every November (yes, you read that right).

The hosiery and dumpster manufacturies that fueled the housing boom before Roosevelt's war were gone by the time I was born. The former was razed to make room for Starbucks and Walgreen's a couple of years ago, and the elevated conveyor of the latter presides over a field weeds. There is a plastics factory on the outskirts one direction and a pharmaceuticals factory on the outskirts in the other, but the economy in the borough—I think a borough is not part of the township or the county across the borders—is strictly services. The classiest shop to open recently began by landscaping the postage-stamp garden between the display window and the sidewalk, including decorative diode lights. The interior was also a couple of steps above those of the thrift stores and nail salons with which it shares Main Street. Yessir, I had great hopes for the place—until I read the sign: Red Lotus Tattoo Parlor. When the classiest new business on the street is a tattoo parlor, even Kansas isn't Kansas anymore.

Lansdale's slide into the Third World got a boost, if you can call it that, a few years ago when the North Penn Symphony Orchestra needed a summer home. I don't have the chronology straight, but someone decided that White's Road Park needed a band shell—maybe they felt outclassed by Souderton, a much smaller borough five miles away, which has had a band shell for years and hosts concerts every Sunday evening during the summer—and got the borough council on board. So, at a cost of somewhere in the double digits per citizen, Lansdale built a band shell, and at the cost of somewhere in single digits per year, it hosts a couple of dozen concerts on Wednesday nights. I'm not sure how many of those concerts the NPSO (remember them?) plays in, but I don't remember seeing their names on the schedule for this year.

Ah, but the NPSO also needed a winter home. Rehearsing and giving concerts in the local middle school wasn't cutting it. And it just so happened that the Masonic Temple on Main Street had been vacant for years, so all that was needed was to convert it into a concert venue. But while the tax burden of putting up a band shell is pretty innocuous, revamping a building involves real money the borough didn't have.

Never fear, however: state Senator Robert Wonderling is here. (Well, he was; he's since moved on to the Chamber of Commerce.) Senator Wonderling secured funding from the state for what is now the Lansdale Center for the Performing Arts. How do I know he's responsible? Well, for over a year a huge banner has festooned the Main Street side of the LCPA (the main entrance is on the back side, by the city parking lot) proclaiming, "Thank you, Senator Wonderling!" Now Senator Wonderling is an outspoken Christian, so Jesus is no doubt getting all sorts of great publicity from this.

When the LCPA first opened, the display windows on Main Street were pretty much empty save for a picture of a ballerina in that pose where she's swooning backwards and being held by a ballerino. In this picture you couldn't see the people's heads, only enough of the bodies so you'd know what was going on. Maybe I'm just a pervert, but I would say that since they were right in the middle of the picture, the point of interest was the ballerina's tits. Thank you, Senator Wonderling!

But it gets better. A family in our church is very interested in the arts, and one member is employed in some capacity by the LCPA. She mentioned a while back that they were having trouble booking acts there. "It's a public works project looking for a reason to exist." With a fan like that, who needs a critic like me?

Except that I would add that the LCPA is a microcosm of the borough government as a whole. It takes away our money and adds nothing to our lives. The things that matter most, like friendship and family and church, and even Bike Night and Under the Lights and the Red Lotus Tattoo Parlor, would exist without it. It owes its continued existence solely to people's faith in the beneficence of government, that fiction by which each person seeks to live at the expense of others.

The ballerina has recently been replaced by plasma displays that run advertisements and news. Just the other day, they announced that Ghana had beaten the United States in the World Cup. That was weeks ago, but who's counting? The news service they carry is the North Penn News Service, another government operation, this time at the intertownship level, I guess.

Now I get to the impetus for post. Lansdale has its own Development Commission. And you thought only Third World countries had development commissions. Anyway, the Lansdale Development Commission decided that what would jumpstart the economy would be—you guessed it—a pub, Molly Maguire's Pub. So they pulled some strings and played havoc with nearby businesses' parking and put a pub on Main Street, complete with a deck overlooking the parking lot and railroad. I was impressed that the doors actually opened yesterday, in July, the same month the movers and shakers promised up front. It wasn't in time for the First Annual Lansdale Beer Tasting Festival (another civic venture, I'm sure) last weekend, but there was a sign out on Monday that they would be open on Thursday, and open they did.

I'm guessing things didn't quite turn out as planned, though. This morning there was a sign in the window: Closed until further notice.

At least no one can blame Senator Wonderling.


  1. Things are brighter in the area around Chicago - less dependent on manufacturing and therefore less decrepit with its loss. But local politics must be about the same. We have a plastic ice skating rink that the city put in a couple of years ago with $50 grand in taxpayer money, that no one uses because they wanted to charge $10 per person per visit.

  2. ... and, of course, because it's plastic. Instead, people continue to skate on the lagoon just a few blocks away, for free.