Casing a Promised Land
The Autobiography of an Organizational Detective as Cultural Ethnographer
H.L. Goodall, Jr.
You cross a sewer drainpipe to get there.
Lately, the ditch where the sewer water runs has been the final resting place of a rusted Winn-Dixie shopping cart, an artifact no doubt stolen from the nearby Winn-Dixie Plaza, which features (in addition to the Winn-Dixie) an Emergency Clinic, a Buy Wise discount drug store, a Radio Shack, a Buy Rite discount shoe store, a European Tanning Spa, a Hills’ discount department store, and one of those afternoon saloons without windows, the kind of purely functional dive that might, if you walk into it, change forever your views on the nature of things.
This plaza and all it suggests is so far removed psychologically from the ultra-high-tech research park that squares off against it from across a four-lane highway that the visual symbol of the overturned shopping cart in the ditch by the regional office of a Boston-based computer software company (B-BCSC) is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the bright red-and-white message printed on the cart that, because of the angle of its overturn, faces everyone who drives into the parking lot: “We want to help you do things right!”
Maybe it is the presence of the ditch on the way into this company, or maybe it is the message on the shopping cart lodged in the ditch that you had to pass over to get into the parking lot, or maybe it is the contrast of the whole thing, knowing that here in America, in a deeply Southern part of America that truly represents what a flood of defense contracts can do for a cotton town over the space of twenty or thirty years, a Boston-based computer software firm with great expectations can be housed in a place you can only get to by crossing over a drainage ditch, passing by a rotting abandoned thing with a message too real to be ignored, too ironic to be forgotten—maybe this is why you spend time in the parking lot to begin with, maybe to collect yourself, maybe to search for meanings in the essential patterns of everyday experience.