Monday, December 17, 2007

The Price of Gas

Photos and post title from friend Svetlana

Riding shotgun, Svets said, “There’s crucifixes next to a gas pump.” We were driving toward Meadow Lights, a yearly Christmas display produced in the town for which it’s named. I was making sure to match pace with the other slow vehicles, all of us moving at less than funeral procession speed with our headlights off out of respect for other lights. Funny how people know to fall in line at certain times, like while driving past Christmas lights or when bowing our heads in prayer. I’m always afraid at such times that I’ll stand out as the one who is not engaged. When among people praying, or being sworn in for jury duty, I feel nothing special. I also have little to no reverence for the holiday commemorated at Meadow Lights. I just love the overall glow created by all those little sources of light planted everywhere. Everything is lit from below, the sides. Shadows are filled in. Worries are chased away. Surely, anonymous in the dark interior of my small SUV, my irreverence would not be evident, as long as I did not draw attention to us by bumping the SUV in front of us.

I missed what Svets had seen, and hearing her comment I could not fathom it. Crucifixes and a gas pump all in a mere lights display? Who would put a gas pump next to crucifixes anyway? It sounded like something I would do, if I can claim to be that clever, which I can’t -- but I can claim to have the desire to be that subversive at least. And aren’t crucifixes for some other holiday? Apparently, someone felt the need to bring it all in here, both ends of Jesus’ famous life. The same person would probably demand performances of Handel’s entire Messiah, not just the Christmas part. (The Wikipedia entry explains that The Messiah has three parts called Birth, Passion, and Aftermath. Normally at Christmas, only the Birth part is performed. The Hallelujah Chorus is in the Passion part but is joined with the Birth part for performances at Christmas.)

The Last Supper was also on display.

I had wanted to find a holiday display where we could walk in the midst of the lights. Once we parked at Meadow Lights, we found that you can merely walk to the edge of the meadow where they have the lights. You can buy a two-dollar “train” ride through the meadow, but the makeshift engine and plywood-walled cars looked pretty cold that night. So we stood around shivering at the edge of the meadow and did not get our shadows fully chased away, our souls fully cleansed.

Driving away, Svets pointed out the crucifixes again. We decided to take cell phone pictures. So we drove down the road to a dark empty parking lot, turned around, went back, rejoined the solemn procession toward the lights. The crucifixes were in a person’s yard, and ropes were strung around the edge of the yard, clearly indicating that we were not to walk into the yard. I pulled the car into a wide shoulder area where it was completely off the road, and Svetlana jumped out and ducked right under the ropes and ran up close to the crucifixes and moved around, finding various framings. She came back and said it looked like an old gas station had been there, and the pump happened to be still standing, not intentionally part of the display. But there it was, an accidental convergence of the two things that, I fear, are all America knows of the Middle East: Jesus and gas.

The Meadow Lights are an elaborate display appearing yearly, with unexplained origins like crop circles, in a remote field several miles off the interstate. It’s an impressive and charming occurrence despite my particular disappointment at not being able to walk among the lights. It is advertised along the interstate with small white square signs close to the ground which say, simply, “Meadow Lights.” People know what that means though, and when the signs go up they come, from miles around, clogging the local road with their extra-slow process. Aside from the lighted meadow itself with the makeshift train, which has no tracks and simply rolls on tires on a dirt path, there’s a large building wherein they sell all manner of candies. We bought a Grape Nehi and a Blenheim Ginger Ale. There’s another large building with many windows along one side and fair-food vendors selling food out of these windows. Clearly, it’s a major money-maker for someone.

One of the coolest things about Meadow Lights were the houses near to it with fairly tasteful decorations in their yards (perhaps trying to strike a contrast to the tackiness of the meadow display proper). These decorations were lavishly continued into the interior of the houses, where curtains were open and lights were on so that the interior decorations were as easily seen from the road as the exterior ones. No residents were seen at these houses. I guess no one around there really sits in their living room during the holiday weeks. They’re probably back in the den playing World of Warcraft.

Driving away for the second time Svets did spy one house less-than-tasteful, with its own peculiar convergence of imagery. In its well-lit front room, overlooking the seasonal array of hobby horses, carousels on tables, lambs, reindeer, were the heads of real, dead, hunted deer. We decided more pictures were needed. We turned around in the same empty parking lot down the road and, for a third time, joined the procession back to the display. I pulled over again and Svets got out, dove under the ropes, trespassed into the yard (“as we forgive those who trespass against us”).

This time I zoned out and watched the myriad of parking lights on cars coming toward me. I heard dogs growling and barking well before I thought to look back at Svets. She was calmly photographing through her cell phone with two white dogs milling in front of her. She came back and said the “hell hounds” had chased her and she had darted backwards until she realized they were stuck behind an invisible fence. So then she had gone right up to the safe side of the fence and taken the pictures.

So there we have animals hunted, revered, used as guards. And Jesus and gas.

But who are Svets and I to go through the countryside finding irony and photographing it as if we were on some anthropoligical expedition. We eat meat. We certainly had a great bar-b-que dinner at the Meadow Restaurant by the interstate, which sees a surge of business because of the nearby Lights. And I drove an SUV to get us there, thereby not only using gas, but more than a minimal amount. And I receive Christmas presents and even give a few. So who are we to be critical?

Maybe I should just keep in mind the higher message. This is something everyone can agree on.

And Meadow Lights will continue to remind us of this message as long as people continue to come to buy the candy.

As described, Svets spied these choice sights and took the photos. Also, she named the first one The Price of Gas, a perfectly chilling title to go with that image, so I stole that title for this post. Ideally, she would have blogged about this herself, but she doesn't have a blog, and I do. And you know how we established bloggers are about needing content.


Paul said...

Ben, You are the blog king. Loved the post. --Paul Dudenhefer

Cathelou said...

Fred and I will need to visit this next year. I haven't had a Grape Nehi since I was eight.

I actually sat through the ENTIRE Messiah at Duke Chapel this year. Three hours of it.

So they put this up as a Christmas decoration???

Hoolia said...

Looks like something from a Caveman nightmare. It's just awful. Ben, you know I would love it!

glenn said...

El, your blog is priceless. Jesi and gas. And weird interiors on exterior display. This blog is the Talk Soup of bizarre holiday displays. Amen.