One morning this week I watched a television news story about supply chain bottlenecks and the expectation that Americans are going to face some empty store shelves and disappointment on the World Wide Web this Christmas season.
Y’all better “buy early,” said someone in the know.
CNBC told this story through the lens of a Care Bear factory in China and a toy store in Bedford, Massachusetts. In between those two points, it was a slog attributed mostly to the pandemic. Boxes of plush toys sat for weeks in factory storage waiting to be loaded into shipping containers, followed by several days at sea. There aren’t enough trucks to meet the ships at port, and that means dozens of ships at a time waiting in the harbor before crews can unload the containers. Then those Care Bears have to get from the Port of Los Angeles to warehouses and stores across the country, including that shop in Massachusetts.
Really puts one in the holiday spirit, doesn’t it?
As I watched this story, I thought about a book I read a few months ago — Bill McKibben’s short novel, “Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance.” McKibben is an environmentalist and journalist who writes about global warming.
The book’s message is about “busting loose from Washington,” one reviewer describes. Using an illegal, underground radio broadcast, a small but determined group tries to instigate Vermont’s secession from the United States. Their goal is to free Vermont of a corrupt federal government and its role in climate change. Heavy stuff, of course, but the novel is still humorous and surreal. There’s a chase scene with good guys on cross-country skis that would fit perfectly in a James Bond movie.
At the heart of McKibben’s novel is a deep appreciation for local places and local economies. The anti-corporate hero Vern Barclay begins his campaign by taking over the audio speakers in all of Vermont’s Starbucks and obstructing Walmart store openings. Meanwhile, he promotes local goods like craft beer.
Maybe you can see how I got from a story about the mass production of Care Bears to another story about a band of eccentrics hell-bent on preserving the unique character of their place.
I’ve started thinking about how I want to celebrate Christmas, and a big part of that involves giving presents to family and friends. I’ve promised myself that I’ll be more intentional about finding gifts from locally-owned businesses — especially those that make something you can’t really get anywhere else. You might recall that last year Hoptown Chronicle featured some of those entrepreneurs in a holiday campaign we called “Only in Hoptown.”
If gift-giving is part of your holiday tradition, maybe you’ll also find some inspiration this year from local sources. I’ll be doing my best to avoid anything like a Care Bear that is destined to be in a landfill in 10 years.