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Intersections: Breaking from chain-owned businesses can be tough

January 30, 2013|By Liana Aghajanian

In 2006, a British comedian named Dave Gorman decided to take a coast-to-coast road trip through 17 states to see if it was possible to travel across the United States without using a corporate-owned or chain business throughout his entire journey.

That means hotels, restaurants and the most challenging category — gas stations.

The road trip, which Gorman began in Coronado, Calif. and ended in Savannah, Ga., became a documentary titled “America, Unchained,” a search to find and sustain himself on the places that defined the American entrepreneurial spirit, but that were almost on the verge of completely disappearing.

Except for one moment of indiscretion, Gorman managed to make his trek across the United States in a second-hand 1970 Ford Torino station wagon that had more than 100,000 miles on it and broke down a few times, completely and rather proudly relying on independent businesses.

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More intriguing than Gorman actually managing to complete the mission was the glimpses the documentary provided into the lives of the ordinary people impacted by the “chaining” of America.

As I watched Gorman drive across America, I remembered my own drives through California to Oregon and the well-traveled journey from Los Angeles to Las Vegas that every Southern Californian is almost in a sense required to partake in to gain some cred.

In the spaces between the two cities, there is nothing but fast-food chains for hundreds of miles, shopping centers full of recognizable brand names that can be seen in the distance while you're on the freeway and those fashion outlets you're tempted to stop at, just for a little while.

The only time I remember ever pumping gas from a non-chain, independent station for the more than 10 years I've been driving, was on an unmarked road in Oregon, just after crossing the California border.

The reality we are living in today has little room for independent stores and businesses. The reality is that I am part of a generation who thinks that seeing a Starbucks in a city means I've reached modern civilization. Seeing that familiar logo used to give me a sense of security, the feeling that I had reached somewhere that was — for lack of a better word — normal and even safe. And I don't even make a regular habit of going there.

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