Not much gets Americans together anymore.
Oh, people come out for festivals or concerts or Super bowl parties, but that’s entirely on the basis of entertainment. Personal utility.
We know that people don’t vote, a public ritual that has little direct utility but a lot of social impact.
This morning, Greensboro came out in a big way for an event that marked a passage for this city and symbolized much that’s going on in our nation today.
They imploded the Burlington Industries headquarters on Friendly Avenue. It was a grand show, with fire sirens, then the measured boom of explosions, fire erupting from the windows, and then a massive fall.
This building, loved or hated as you loved or hated modern architecture, stood for the textile industry in North Carolina, and its demolition was an exclamation point to all the layoffs, downsizings, mergers, factory closings, outsourcings of the past ten years.
An amazing number of people came out to watch the end. Radio stations, TV stations. A newspaper photographer climbed above the crowd to document its size. (see www.news-record.com ) Executives in suits and dark glasses, workers from the Friendly Center in their logo T-shirts, mothers with babies in strollers, elementary school classes. It had some of the atmosphere of a public hanging a century or more ago – a festive atmosphere, though not too much – the radio stations’ pop music seemed intrusive. A sense that we had to be there, to bear witness.
Some people from the old Burlington Industries, wearing caps and shirts with the slogan “Bye-Bye, B.I,” hugged and took pictures of each other.
Then the explosions, the fall, the cloud of dust. People walked away, telling others by cellphone about what they’d seen, about the ash that rained down on their heads as they left.