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Reality Check

By Chris Mead

What is real?

Is it our sometimes harried daily lives, or is it what we sometimes see when we leave town or otherwise shake up our routine? I’m at the beach with my family trying to make sense of things.

The trouble began on day one of vacation, Friday. A Wall Street Journal reporter had been talking with me about my quixotic effort to chronicle the history of chambers of commerce. But there on the front page of the paper was my face in lithograph. I’m not that used to being a public figure, as my big brother Walter is. While driving to the beach and pouring coolant into my leaking radiator, I was feeling like a king for a day, sort of.

This was even bigger than six years previously, when my newborn son was in the Journal after I’d sold his naming rights to a sponsor named ChamberMaster. (Please don’t think badly of me; it was only for two weeks.)

On vacation, the family stories will come out. No, I am not going to spill any more beans on Walter. But my brother-in-law, Doug Lewis, did have an item that caught my attention and stretched my view of human nature.

Someone broke into his truck a while back and stole his computer. Six months later, Doug received a phone call from Honduras. “What is the password for your computer?” the person asked.

Doug was taken aback. Why should he help the person who took his computer? “The password is ‘kissmyass’,” he finally said.

Five minutes later, he received another call. “That password didn’t work,” said the thief.

Sometimes words alone aren’t sufficient to describe the challenges that reality throws at us. A commenter on Via Meadia already has outed me for having written a song 20 years ago, “The Taxman from Arkansas.” (I responded that BC has grown on me since.) But when passion moved me most powerfully, back in those years when I had no temporarily named young man to look after, I could only come up with a song title: “My Inner Child Is From Outer Space.” Perhaps that inner child will emerge on this Delaware beach.

I’m not the first person to contemplate chambers of commerce while at the beach.  Elvis Presley sang one of his most forgettable songs, The Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, about 50 years ago. If you wish to inflict pain on yourself, you can watch the video:

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The weather was nice when they were shooting that film.  Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “chamber of commerce weather.” Elvis was experiencing it then.

As I am, now. But for me, these things must sometimes take a back seat to other kinds of reality. I just stole into my younger daughter’s room and put a Snickers bar and five dollars, encased in plastic, under her pillow. She lost a tooth yesterday.

All that dental magic is still ahead for little ChamberMaster.

Whose reality, really, are we dealing with? In some other dimension, is the tooth fairy real? What about Al Gore? Deficit reduction?

There is a lot to think about on these wind-tickled shores.

Such as . . . what are they doing with that computer in Honduras?

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  • Eurydice

    And there’s the fine line between the reality in which Elvis lives on in a video and the reality in which he is actually still alive (possibly still singing the chamber of commerce song).

  • Jim.

    Ah, the philosophical difference between physical (real) constructs and social (consensual, imagined) constructs. The “social construct” side can be a very, very deep rabbit hole.

    It’s surprising, though, how many supposedly intelligent people insist that physical constructs are negotiable.

    Social construct: the value of a dollar.
    Physical construct: the total amount of physical goods you can buy with dollars.

    This starts getting mushy (negotiable) when you include services, which suggests that a world economy dependent on services would be a far more unstable (boom/bust prone) one than a world economy based on physical goods.

  • Frank Arden


    I was once the youngest board member on the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce in the early-to-mid-eighties (a young corporate banker, you understand).

    As I recall, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., as commander of the local Hunter AAF/Ft. Stewart complex was also on our chamber’s board as the military was (and remains) one of the five legs of economic impact to our local economy.

    About that time the sad consensus was that Savannah was floundering in the backwaters in the marsh of economic growth especially when compared to our sister city, Charleston, and thus, we started to make changes to turn it around.

    I was also deeply involved in the Savannah Jaycees, which became the non-partisan manpower political arm to advance several non-partisan referenda that removed county inventory taxes and added a sales tax for roads, education, and other things that were in the interest of Savannah’s growth potential and consistent with its identity.

    Looking back, the effort was most successful and I think the organizational opportunities offered by our Chamber made it possible although I never thought the CofC “Staff” ever understood much about local politics. No matter.

    In 1986, I was in New York upon the invitation of CBS News that had sponsored my Leadership Savannah class for a gracious visit to reveal whatever it was it thought we needed know before we returned to our provincial southern origins.

    Our class was held one morning on the CBS Sports set where “The NFL Today’s” Brent Musberger, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Irv Cross held court on every Sunday NFL afternoon.

    I would be late to the class the next morning. A friend and I had made an extra-curricular appointment at 7:30 am with Andy Rooney through some mutual contacts in Savannah.

    To fully document the meeting would be interesting and fun, but the point I want to make is that crusty old liberal, Rooney, had little regard for local Chambers of Commerce. He didn’t think much could be accomplished without the central and professional planning that was the province of government. To him, Chambers of Commerce were too narrowly focused on special interests to affect social issues. I wanted to ask, “What about jobs?”

    I was slightly offended, but I gave him the Savannah T-Shirt and pralines anyway and asked him to autograph one of his books for my wife.

    Chris, what I’m saying in a roundabout way is that I want to read your book. I can testify to what our local chamber helped us organize to do for Savannah twenty-five years ago.

    Today, the Port of Savannah is the fourth largest container port in volume and it is the fastest growing port in the United States. The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA) developed the first pre-permitted industrial park in the United States.

    Local men and women were the catalysts who had the vision for this community and provided the political leadership, and our local Chamber was the facilitator of those efforts and provided a place to get done together the business of this vision and effort.

    If I’m not mistaken, that is the theme of your book.

  • Sam L.

    What are they doing with your computer? Most likely, swearing at it and beating on it with hammers.

  • Chris Mead

    Frank Arden’s comment is the kind of response that every blogger hopes to get — thoughtful and providing new, relevant information. People constantly make the historical mistake of assuming “the inevitability of what happened.” It wasn’t preordained that Savannah’s port would grow as it has, or, for that matter, that Houston would be the port it is. Groups of people, often volunteers, often at chambers of commerce, got useful things done. Civic entrepreneurs did much for their communities and ultimately for our country, just as business entrepreneurs have — and often these were the same people, wearing different hats. Yes, my book will deal very much with the kind of civic and chamber enterprise that Frank is talking about. Sometimes the results were disappointing, sometimes the results were helpful, and occasionally these civic efforts had remarkable and history-making impact.

  • Frank Arden


    Thanks for that.

    As for what’s real: I can only think of my own family’s annual stays at Tybee Island. The last one ended a month ago. Memories just naturally bubble up. Things don’t get more real than these annual gatherings.

    I recall, too, that Edmond Burke called family the “little platoon” in the army of culture and politics.

    And so I think that local associations are, too, extensions of a slightly larger family. This was the type of freedom imagined by the Founders, noted by Tocqueville, and provided for by the Tenth Amendment among other things.

    Perhaps things were inevitable. Maybe we really didn’t cause things to happen, but I hope that’s not true.

    That would take the fun out of life. I’d rather end my days believing that I played a small part in the making of today’s reality.

    Enjoy the beach with your family.

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