Joe’s Take: July 24, 2014

Summer sounds and summer thoughts …

bio-pic-newIt is unmistakably a summertime sound – that sleepy drone of a distant lawn mower nudging its way through the trees across a lawn of dappled green, part sunny and part shade. The sound carries gently on a breeze fragrant with the deliciousness of cut grass – made all the more fragrant by the fact that I wasn’t the guy who had to cut it. A few folks wander down the nearby drive – dog walkers, including one big fella with a tiny daschund curious to investigate a nearby bush but fighting a losing battle against the leash. A moment of quiet, then a little blonde girl in pink jeans and blue tee shirt whooshes by on a skateboard. The mower stops moving; its engine goes silent. A few moments of peaceful quiet interrupted by the occasional hum of distant tires on a side street, before an even more distant gasoline-powered chain saw rips briefly away at an unwanted branch. The sunlight brightens, gently re-asserting its dominion over lawn and woods, somehow calling the lightest of airs to tickle the leaves and sway the more compliant branches that grace a green wall of patient trees.

The birds are silent for now, but the lawn mower has decided to fire back up, revving it’s motor a bit as its rider drives it away to the next job. The sound comes and goes, like the sound of old-time propellor-driven airplanes once did as they circled way off.

That sound was once was more common in these parts. There used to be an airport here at Smithville, a landing strip used by folks flying small planes who flew in to enjoy the shows at the Smithville Music tent, where performers like Victor Borge kept us happily laughing at his routines even on the muggiest nights. One evening he had a small crowd in tears of laughter when, in the middle of his act, a hoptoad came out from under the seats and sat listening to him play Ravel’s “Bolero”. Master showman that he was, Borge asked the frog what he thought of Ravel, with raised eyebrows pretended the answer was negative, and immediately switched from one composer to another trying to keep the frog happy. When at last the frog hopped back out of sight, Borge pretended to weep in despair, head down on the keyboard.

You wouldn’t think a combination of heat, humidity, a tent and a frog could keep a ticket-buying crowd happy, but Victor Borge had that kind of genius.
What’s that? Sounds kind of boring? Ah, well. You had to be there. No doubt you prefer the high-ticket, air-conditioned, jam-packed acts at today’s casinos where no sound is heard but the crash-jingle of the slots and the high-blasting audio of rappers and re-treads who wouldn’t know how to entertain the audience with a riff on a frog if their lives depended on it.

I’m glad the casinos brought jobs to town – thousands of them to build the casinos and thousands more to run each casino, and thousands more for the small businesses that sold them meat and produce and printed their menus and dry-cleaned their uniforms and sold them flowers for the high-rollers.
It was great while it lasted, but slot players, like frogs, don’t always appreciate what they’ve got and we have no equivalent of Victor Borge to think of something else. As the big guys go dark, everybody’s wondering what to do with the soon-to-be vacant hulks along the Boardwalk.

In the late 60′s when Stockton was created I suggested it should be located in the then-moribund Atlantic City to give new life to the town. But the movers and shakers had casino-lust in their hearts and nobody listened. Stockton went to the pines of Galloway, where it is now outgrowing its acreage. Nine years after we blew that opportunity Atlantic City’s movers and shakers got their way. Like the proverbial dog that chased the car, we are now left wondering what to do with it now that we’ve caught it.

I like the rumor of Stockton using one abandoned casino as an urban campus, but we should think bigger. Maybe the highly capable empire-builders at Stockton and the Atlantic City Medical Center should join forces with the U.S. Government and turn one of these shuttered buildings into a world-class medical school and Veteran’s Hospital, so something useful can form the basis of Atlantic City’s future.

© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins