Webster's defines the word "tacky" as "distasteful" or "tastelessly showy" -- such as, placing a car dealer ad on taxpayer-owned space. "Tacky" is what came to mind when I heard that County Park and Rec wants to sell naming rights for Freedom Park's bandshell to Scott Clark Toyota. Irate park neighbors agree it's a crass idea, but what did any of us really expect? Here in AnyCity, USA, money talks -- or as Bob Dylan once wrote, it swears.
Local government is strapped for cash, and the city is brimming with folks who love to flaunt their money, be it by buying McMansions or parking multiple Jaguars in the driveway. It was just a matter of time before all that new money wanted to get its hands on some publicly owned property. County commissioners will soon take up the topic of naming rights, and with serious cash at stake, I wouldn't count on "not being tacky" emerging as an important factor.
I do hope the Commission will come up with a consistent policy, however. I say if you're going to whore out the bandshell, then go for it -- put everything in the park on the market. Imagine the scene, just a few months from now: you and your kids leave your car in the Bojangles' parking lot on your way to the park's Air Jordan basketball courts. After working up a sweat, you all take a stroll on the Home Depot sidewalk to the Wachovia concession area to buy lunch, which you'll eat at one of the Harris Teeter picnic shelters. Just be careful you don't step in the Falafel House Hummus goose shit on your way out.
But why stop there? Let's use money from naming rights for most of our local government expenses, everything from stoplights to patching streets. If the County Commission approves the bandshell deal, we could be well on our way to riding the Bud Light rail system to the Ruth's Cole Slaw Government Building to see which public amenity will be put up for grabs this week. Heck, why not take the whole thing to its logical end and sell naming rights to the politicians themselves? Personally, I'd love to see campaign signs asking us to vote for Bob Jones University Bill James, Duke Power Pat McCrory, Head Injury Center Larry Gauvreau or Spa Mart Hot Tubs Susan Burgess. Just the thought of it makes my Gwaltney's Bacon heart skip a beat.
Seriously, what good does buying naming rights really do for companies? Does anyone really call places or events by their new, freshly bought names? If your college football team makes it to the Nokia Sugar Bowl, is that what you call the game, or do you simply say "the Sugar Bowl"? And who, besides paid sportscasters, calls the downtown stadium anything but "Panthers Stadium"? Sorry, B of A, take a lesson from Ericsson.
If the Freedom Park bandshell needs a name, I have some ideas. Why not honor the late Grant Whitney, the man who created and nurtured Festival in the Park? Or call it the Spongetones Bandshell, after the rock group that has doubtless played there more than any other band. Or why not name it after ordinary people? Here's an idea that, if you think about it, is just as tasteful and makes as much sense as naming the bandshell after a car lot. A long time ago, I attended an afternoon of local rock bands at Freedom Park. Out of nowhere came an 18-year-old boy who proceeded to tell my friends and me that because of the chemicals he had ingested, the island on which the bandshell is located looked, to him, like a giant, twirling layer cake with streaks of light intertwining around it and frosting dripping down the sides onto the horses he thought were standing there. To this day, I can't go to Freedom Park without thinking of that guy and his hallucinations. So I say let's forget the car dealership and resolve to honor an old Freedom Park tradition. Anyone ready for the Teenagers On Acid Memorial Bandshell?
FYI, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation officials will discuss the bandshell deal at 6:30pm March 15 at the Freedom Park pavilion. Everyone is invited.
A QUICK NOTE: Speaking of taste, it was pretty tacky for a Danish newspaper to publish offensive cartoons of Muhammad. We soon remembered, however, that there are worse things than being tacky, as protesters, mostly in the Middle East, demonstrated their belief that freedom of expression can go too far -- by expressively burning Danish embassies. Even more irony was pointed out by Dutch Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a native of Somalia, who noted that the countries in which the protests took place do not allow freedom of speech, stating, "Not a day passes in Europe when radical imams aren't preaching hatred. ... They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will [we] realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right?"