July 17, 2013

Bowen Craig: Our town needs a barter system

— So, I was driving on Hamilton Street the other day and it finally hit me that our new/old/revived downtown area looks great. It feels like it’s captured the essence of the old-timey, small town downtown area while not having to be limited to selling anachronistic items like wheelbarrows made from mill workers’ bones and “medicinal” remedies like Mrs. Honeyjuice’s Old Time Strawberry-Flavored Cure-All Juice.

The store fronts are mostly bright and alive. The variety of goods and services available is impressive. Some of the Dalton mainstays are still around, and a bunch of new stores which couldn’t have even been imagined in previous eras surround them. That being said, I’d love it even more if we could reintroduce one thing that we’ve largely lost over the years: the barter system.

Bartering doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that, in our current economic climate where the rich keep getting richer while the rest of us are working two jobs in order to be able to carve out a half an hour of time to watch their exploits on the news and on cable TV, bartering, like Mrs. Honeyjuice’s curatives, may be making a comeback.

And why shouldn’t it? Isn’t the essence of the idea of the barter system basically the same concept that made Walmart profitable in its early years (cutting out the middle man)? Isn’t bartering just as capitalistic as cash or credit? While I love the image of a tenant farmer trading two bushels of corn and a piglet for high-speed Internet access, I really do think that this isn’t just an historical impossibility. And we Daltonians can lead the way. We can start the barter revolution (we can call it The Barterlution or something better). We just need to work out an equitable system.

May I humbly suggest that we all take these multiple choice tests:

1. A cart full of groceries at The Green Spot is roughly worth:

A. A hand-sewn throw rug with a picture of Bob Shaw’s face on it.

B. Two pairs of vaquero jeans and a lollipop (the kind that bank tellers hand out in drive-thru windows).

C. Two-and-a-half hours worth of non-harassed loitering at Walnut Square without having to buy anything (for the teenagers in need of groceries).

D. Two meat and threes at Parker’s.

E. All of the above.

I don’t know exchange rates. I’m sure that almost anyone reading this article has a better grasp on the nuances of modern and historical capitalism than I do, so please write in and enlighten.

2. A tune up at The Oil Well is roughly worth?

A. A tour-guided horse and buggy ride from the foot of Mount Rachel to the Chief Vann House and back, available in English, Español or Cherokee.

B. A brief Magic Carpet Ride a la Disney’s “Aladdin” (I don’t know how we’d pull this off, but if anyone could, surely it’d be Dalton).

C. A full-on hair, nails and gossip treatment at Sassy’s downtown.

D. A Photoshopped picture of your head on the body of Joseph E. Johnston.

E. All of the above.

I also don’t know enough about cars, levitating carpets, fingernails or buggy rides to work out the math. Again, I need help. Apparently, I don’t know much about a lot of things.

Unlike most multiple choice tests, these require no help from the dubiously-ethical folks at Scantron and will not get Georgia public schools in trouble with the ironically-named No Child Left Behind folks or whatever is about to replace that dismal failure of a halfway decent idea.

We already have the basics of the barter system in place. If I’m remembering correctly any of the principles of Econ 101, then something is worth primarily what the people who are willing to buy it think that it’s worth. Tell me you wouldn’t love seeing a guy emptying his pockets and counting out the right number of pinto beans to “buy” a two-liter of Coke at Kroger.

3. A year’s subscription to this very paper, The Daily Citizen, is roughly worth?

A. Enough Jello to fill three wading pools AND two taxi rides to Chattanooga.

B. Enough Jello to fill four wading pools and a chance to punch me in the face once.

C. Three rounds of golf at The Farm and a chance to punch me in the face once.

D. A one-year membership at the Bradley Wellness Center and I get to punch you in the face once.

E. All of the above (we’ll work out the punch schedule later).

I’m only half-kidding with this idea. It could work. Being the fair-trading Bartering Capital of the World really would be a reason for people to get off on exit 333, exit 336 or even the Tunnel Hill exit and stop for the night. They’d spend actual money at the chain stores that haven’t yet caught up with our Bartolutionary fair trading ideas and they’d barter their wares from Florida or all points north in order to get a good deal on rec room floor coverings. Then they’d return home and tell their friends. Their friends might want to reluctantly allow their kids, after being properly inoculated, to go to Panama City Beach next spring break. Their friends might want to visit Key West or Universal Studios or Tifton (the cleanest city in America, though I have my doubts) themselves.

Either way, they’d stop in Dalton and barter their way to a memorable experience. Think about it.

Bowen Craig is a former Dalton resident now living in Athens. The bit about punching people in the face was just a joke.