I’ve been thinking about the idea of “omnitopia” again: basically, Andrew Wood at San Jose State put a name to the absolute same-ness of American suburbs, and furthermore, to most stores and shops that dot the country. He called them “ubiquitous, ever-present environments.”
I wrote about this a million years ago on the blog, but I’ve always been fascinated by those guys that tied up Starbucks employees, stuck them in the back room, and then ran the place for several hours, pocketing the proceeds.
This kind of robbery can be pulled off without a hitch in Omnitopia: there are only two or three basic kinds of Starbucks in the country, providing would-be robbers an endless stream of “dry runs” in order to pull off their heist. Shit, a McDonald’s would be even easier, but if you really wanted to make some cash, I’d go for an Applebee’s or even a Macaroni Grill. You can’t tell me that each Macaroni Grill puts their safe in different places.
The question is this: is Omnitopia necessarily a horrible thing? Aesthetically, sure, the preponderance of strip malls with an Auto Zone and a Blockbuster is disgusting, and will make for excruciatingly boring archeological digs in the 37th century. The forced Americana kitsch of Cracker Barrel, the homogeneity of Radio Shack employees and even the PUSH BUTT graffiti in the restrooms can make you both claustrophobic and depressed.
But on a long road trip, the understanding that you are never more than fifty miles from a Wendy’s chili (low fat, kids!) or the 100% positivity that the Starbucks in Barstow has hazelnut syrup can be… oddly comforting. I’ve railed against predictability and ninnyism my whole life, and yet I am given succor that there are 12,804 places to get a large fries with McDonalds’ bizarrely tasty hot mustard sauce.
Omnitopia offers sanitation, can always provide a bathroom in moments of desperation. But it also means you will never try that fascinating-looking Mexican place three miles off the freeway. You will stop frequenting that indie bookstore, but why bother when Barnes & Noble lets you read on the couch in the aisle? Holding a Starbucks latté, for that matter?
Sometimes I feel caught in the middle of the great cultural tug-of-war between comfort and La Vie Boheme. I crave the clandestine nook with benches etched by requited lovers, but singing along to “Goodbye Stranger” with a Filet-o-Fish in one hand is fucking sweet.