My grandfather, who is now 100 years old, lives in Mobile, Alabama. I have certain fantastic memories of Mobile from visits during my youth – memories at the tactile and immediate level at which kids experience the world. Moss. Gekkos. Huge live oak trees knitting branches together to form a spectacular living canopy over the main street downtown. Canals. The Causeway. The old ice house. Krispy Kreme donuts (way before the IPO and/or any book-cooking) at 5:00am on the way to a fishing trip on the Gulf Shores pier.
I didn’t visit Mobile for a long stretch and was faintly dismayed to return as an adult and find: Barnes and Noble. Chili’s. And their ilk. The city still has its own particular character but is surrounded and invaded by the same chains I can visit in Bellingham, Mass. And Colorado Springs. And everywhere else.
Salma Abdelnour has a deadeye column in this month’s Food and Wine magazine about “The Insidious Rise of Cosmo-Cuisine.” It’s not targeted at chains, but the complaint is the same. There’s a sense of loss when you can find the same food everywhere. Business trips generally don’t accomodate too much poking around the backstreets of whatever town to find the local cuisine. David Churbuck writes here about the same impulse to find something local and authentic. Amen – travel is about the food. Hope we don’t lose all regional distinctions. Actually I’m hankering for a bowl of Cincinnati chili right now – three way – but I’m not sure I’d feel the same if there were a Skyline Chili in every town in America.