Judy and I made a crazy drive to Whistler, Canada this weekend. The occasion was the wedding of the daughter of dear friends. The young couple, who went to college at Whitman and will live in Seattle, had puzzled for years about when and where to get married. Portland? Seattle? The San Juans? Mount Hood? Whistler. They had plenty of help in their puzzlement. Friends and families had ideas and provided stories of their own weddings. There are magazines, and I would imagine web sites, devoted to the subject. And there are professional wedding planners to help one through the maze of possibilities.
At any rate, they made their choice, and we made the trip. It was a nice ceremony with nice people, and we are glad to have gone. But my memories of their wedding will have more to do with the 1500 miles we drove and the things we saw going and coming than it will of the actual ceremony. I was struck by the sheer number of WalMart parking lots, malls, and factory outlet stores we passed. And the car lots.
In Wallowa County we can still go to Courtney's, Milligan's, or Summit, look at what's on the lot and/or what the factory can deliver, and make our choices. Union County is the beginning of a different philosophy of selling and living. Thousands of cars sit on the Island City lots, ready to catch the eye and capture signed contracts. The combinations of colors, models, and drive trains seem infinite, but they aren't. Not to worry. Keep driving down I-84, or cross over to Walla Walla, and your choices will balloon. And all the way to Vancouver, B.C. Car lots, and then truck lots, boat lots, and mobile home lots.
We have come a long way from car "show rooms," where one, two, or in large cities four or five models stood new and clean behind huge plate glass windows, and a few new cars rested in an adjacent sales lot. The show-room models were available for sale, but they were also models that stood for inventories on other dealers' floors and lots and cars being built in factories. And they stood for dreams. When I was in grade school, we flocked to these showrooms on the days the new models were unveiled, and brought home colorful brochures with which we hoped to convince our parents to buy a brand new car. But my father always bought "demos," cars that had been driven by a dealership owner or salesperson for the better part of a year, traveling advertisements for Ford or Mercury. And he and they were part of a system of buyers, repairmen, and sellers who kept a car in our garage, and in most - but not all - of the garages on our street, and kept a certain number of sales people, repairmen, and bank loan officers employed. People bought and sold cars and moved into and out of houses less frequently. They also "ate out" at a measured rate, bought shoes and clothes and Christmas gifts after consideration and at a measured rate. They paid cash for small things and arranged car and house purchases carefully (My father never paid a penny of interest on the credit card he eventually did come to carry).
When we moved to Wallowa County, there were three or four Realtors, and they generally shared space with an insurance office: Coleman and Chrisman, Stan Farris, and Pratt's are the ones I remember. There were no "apartment houses," unless you count the space above the Gold Room in Joseph and the white rooming house in Lostine. There were few houses for sale, and many of the sales that did occur were private transactions. There were about 7,000 people in the county then, the same as now. Almost 2,000 of them were school-aged children, so houses were more densely packed. Nevertheless, in the last thirty years we have built hundreds of new houses and apartments in the county for a population that remains essentially the same. There are more people moving in and out, but there also seems to be a need for a certain number of "inventory" houses, like the cars and boats on sales lots. Enough inventory so that a looker has a choice, and can have it almost immediately.
Or can be convinced that he or she needs it immediately. Which, in addition to increased inventories, demands a larger, more varied, and more highly trained sales force. I am not criticizing people who sell real estate or cars or boats, but am trying to understand how things have changed and why. And it seems to me that the importance accorded sales, and the percentage of people and the space on this earth given over to sales is increasing at an incredible rate.
If one needs proof that we are becoming a nation of sales, listen to the President's cure for our economic woes. "Shop." During World War II, we were advised to save - the purchase of a refrigerator or gum or rubber tires might claim materials needed to build tanks and airplanes. Now we are asked to shop. And we comply. We shop for cars, boats, clothes, fast food, wedding dresses and wedding trips, and hope to make ourselves happier and our country healthier.
We were once a nation of farmers, builders, manufacturers, doctors and teachers. We are now a nation of fast food and clothing clerks; car, truck and boat salespeople; and real estate sellers. Or we work behind front line sales forces as "marketers." Four minutes of every TV half hour was commercials; now it's eight. Thirty years ago Island City was cherry orchards; now it's car lots and WalMart. A generation ago marriages were taken care of in churches and Legion halls by preachers and parents; now they happen at the top of ski hills under the direction of wedding planners and consultants. Look them up in the Yellow Pages.