The Astral Log

23 July 2015

Rogers, day 3: This is not my place.

Lest anyone forget, Arkansas was a Confederate state that seceded from the U.S. during the American Civil War. It was a segregationist state, one that spawned a bloody race riot in 1919, and one in which inter-racial marriages were illegal until Loving v. Virginia came through in 1967. Don't think it's over, either: The fact that all the state's national representation is in the hands of the Republican Party—the organization that has monopolized the white-supremacist vote for the last 50 years—speaks volumes about the present-day state of affairs.

Arkansas' leaders didn't bother writing a declaration explaining the reasons why they seceded a century and a half ago, but fortunately several other states did. "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world," said Mississippi. "The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization," said Georgia. The US "has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States," whined South Carolina. And lest there was any doubt the Confederate view was white-supremacist and theocratic, Texas gave mention to "the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations" and spoke of a government in which "white men" and no-one else were equal.

The original Confederate National flag was very indistinct, and essentially was the American flag with a few stars and stripes removed. What we usually equate with the "Confederate Flag" today is the design that originated as the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. It's a very striking and powerful symbol: This is why it was quickly embraced on the battlefields and integrated into the canton of the CSA's national flag by 1863. And this is why white supremacists with a hankering for the antebellum south revived the flag as an ideological symbol 90 years later, in the 1950s...neatly coinciding with the desegregation of the armed forces in 1948, the advent of Brown v. Board five years later, and the nascent Civil Rights Movement.

This was the same decade in which the Battle Flag was inserted into the design of the Georgia state flag, and shortly before it was erected in itself above the South Carolina capitol dome. This was the same decade in which "In God We Trust" was shoved into place as a national motto and added to our hitherto-secular currency and "Under God" was inserted into the hitherto-secular Pledge of Allegiance. This was the same decade in which my Grandparents' Senator conflated atheism with Communism and persecuted LGBT workers as "security risks." All of this stuff went down at the same time for the same reasons: As a reactionary backlash against humanism, secularism, civil rights, and the premise of a more inclusive, more modern, kinder, fairer, and more sustainable world.

Don't count on any defender of the Confederate Flag to admit this, though. They delve into a laundry list of euphemisms masking the truth so loosely that it's a wonder why they try at all. "It's about states' rights!" Right: The right of states to assert the right for people to own other people as subhuman property, and the right of slave states to force free states to capture and return fugitive slaves against their wishes. "It's about southern pride!" Right: A pride that's been steeped in white supremacism and de facto Christian theocracy for literally several centuries of time. "It's a symbol of our past!" Right: And you keep dragging that past into the present. "It's about heritage!" Right: It's about the heritage of belligerently starting a war because an abolitionist entered the White House, and the heritage of an economy built upon the labor of slaves. Kind of reminds you of all the insurrectionist threats the Christian right wing has spit out since Barack Obama won two mandates as President of the United States, doesn't it?

Flying the flags of the Confederate States and United States together confuses me to no end, as the two entities were diametrically opposed and the former was an act of treason against the latter. It would make more sense to wave the Stars and Stripes in tandem with the flag of the USSR.

And considering what the other major entity was that asserted a war upon its right to disenfranchise or exterminate people as subhuman inferiors, overlaying your flag with German military decorations seems like the last thing a neo-Confederate would want to do to improve their case...

All of this was very much on my mind at the ALPCA Convention in Rogers, and the stench permeated the convention floor itself. Thanks but no thanks: I don't buy license plates from white supremacists or their enablers, thankyouverymuch.

15 July 2015

Rogers, day 2: Too busy a tale to tell.

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, License Plates, US-Arkansas — Andrew T. @ 22:17

You might ask: What happens at a license plate convention? Hundreds of collectors busily scattering around dozens of tables and dozens of displays; wandering and talking, buying, selling, and trading. It's essentially the same as a coin show or baseball card convention...just a bit bigger, grimier, and more fun.

The ALPCA festivities started the day before with an informal "meet and greet" in the convention center's parking lot. I didn't bother showing up until noon, just in time to see other people packing up and leaving. Soon, I understood why: I felt like I was wearing a damp sponge, and it was no fun at all to linger outdoors in the 35-degree southern heat.

On Wednesday, the actual convention began...and I was ready. I had a pair of two-panel foldable displays that I had prepared for this convention. I pulled them out of the car...and stopped. There was no way I could get them inside, and carry my grocery box of loose plates in one trip without having at least three extra hands. But I could work my way to the entrance incrementally, taking one or two of the bulky objects at a time. That's the tactic I use to carry groceries from the car, after all.

Eventually I succeeded, reserved a table for myself, and got to work. I had a mission in mind: I was going to find each and every one of the 29 states missing from my marriage equality run...or do everything I could to shatter the stereotype of the collector as a geriatric homophobe in the process.

The rest of the day was a complete blur. I chatted with a number of long-standing collector acquaintances, including Royce Williams, Eric Tanner, Ross Day, Dave Nicholson, Joe Sallmen, and Andrew Osborne over everything from license plates to Ontario restaurants to Subaru mechanicals. I also spent six hours parsing through the tables of half the hall (spending nearly no time at my own table in the process), and was so busy that I forgot to eat lunch.

But the day's efforts weren't in vain. By the time I walked out the doors, I had found license plates from Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia (!), and Wyoming for my run. Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee had been acquired in the parking lot the previous day, pulling the tally of missing pieces down from 29 to 15.

Could the next day be just as productive? I'll have to wait and see.

14 July 2015

Rogers, day 1: Welcome to Wally World!

Filed under: ALPCA Convention, Artifacts & Holdovers, License Plates, US-Arkansas — Andrew T. @ 23:04

The city of Rogers, Arkansas is right next door to Bentonville, Arkansas...and Bentonville's greatest claim to fame might be its status as the home of a store chain that might be a bit familiar.

Did you know that there's a Wal-Mart Employee Cheer? (Whoops, sorry. Wal-Mart insists it has "associates," not employees.)

This seems as good a time as any to tout this other video, showing what appears to be a cancerous growth spreading from Arkansas.

The first Wal-Mart store actually opened over in Rogers in July 1962. The original building still stands, although it's very inauspicious and is currently split between a building-supply store and antique mall. The local tourism book claims that the building contains a plaque commemorating its pioneering status, but the book lied.

There still is a Wal-Mart store 0001, though its physical location has been shunted from building to building a few times. Its second site presently houses Wal-Mart's claims administration office, of all things.

Of course, Sam Walton's retail empire had an existence that was seeded before 1962. Years before they crushed the competition, strong-armed their suppliers, and ran afoul of every labor issue in the book, they were here. Walton managed his first variety store in 1945; this store as the first "Walton's" Ben Franklin per se came five years later.

There is a plaque here! Maybe the tourism book was just confused.

The facsimile of Walton's 5-10 store now forms part of a Wal-Mart museum spanning an entire corner in downtown Bentonville. It contains several physical exhibits of products, packages, advertising, and memorabilia; video presentations, and an ice cream cafe...if you're in the mood to dine on Wal-Mart food, of course.

Lest anyone think they weren't trying hard enough, a facsimile of Sam Walton's '79 Ford truck is parked outside. The South Carolina inspection sticker kind of hints that it isn't the genuine Arkansas article, but if you want to see the actual truck you don't have far to go. That's on display inside, along with a painstaking re-creation of Sam Walton's actual office. I'd sure hate to have been the lowly associate tasked with putting that together!

Remember the Wal-Mart Cheer? That's mentioned in the museum, too. You just needed to know that.

At least admission is free. Much like a stopped clock is right twice a day, Wal-Mart winds up being benevolent once in a while.

Altogether, I'd have to place this attraction in the "see" category. I was at once both strangely captivated and appalled.

13 July 2015

Why am I traveling to a state with a "special rights for Christian bigots" law?

Maybe I'm used to being in uncongenial surroundings. I spent 22 years in West Virginia, after all.

The annual convention of the Automobile License Plate Collectors' Association is going on, and by fate and circumstance this year it's in Arkansas. With stuff like this and this going down, I almost didn't go this year. Now it's too late to back out. Will I regret it? Maybe. At least I can get mild satisfaction out of subverting the situation by using it to fill the gaps in my marriage equality run.

Also, I had an opportunity to take a trip. Here's a small sampling of the artifacts and holdovers I encountered along the way:

I was astounded to see this 1960s-era Howard Johnson's motel, complete with orange-roofed gatehouse, still in operation as a Howard Johnson's motel. The property must have recently recieved sympathetic TLC, since Bing Maps shows the gatehouse with a blue roof and an ugly surrounding cage.

I spotted several Phillips 66 gullwing buildings, in various states of condition. This one is near Rockford, Illinois.

This pentagonal-windowed circa-1970 Burger Chef building was in Springfield, Illinois. The angled signposts are also a Burger Chef leftover.

I spotted a first-generation Subaru Brat on the road. (Framing a camera image is easier said then done when you're shooting blind.)

To wrap things up for now, here's a spectacularly 1960s-mod CVS store from another Springfield (this time, the one in Missouri). It was built as a Katz City drug store, later Skaggs and Osco.

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