Scott Graber

The resistance may or may not prevail


By Scott Graber

It is Friday and we’re at the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel just across the road from Natural Bridge State Park which has the actual Natural Bridge along with a vast, but almost empty gift shop.

The National Bridge Historic Hotel is a huge, three-storied pile of red bricks which comes with a spacious black and white tiled lobby; a cozy bar where one might sip a locally brewed pale ale; and a tunnel (under the adjacent highway) that connects one with the ancient stone arch itself.

These days the hotel lobby, the bar and the tunnel are underutilized — the thousands of tourists who once considered themselves lucky to have a room, or a beer, are long gone. Apparently many passing through on I-81 are not interested in the natural stone bridge that once captivated Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt.

When Susan and I arrived, we found that we had reserved a room in the adjacent, newer, 50’s era wing rather than in the older, grander hotel that had been rebuilt in 1964. We made our disappointment known to the desk clerk who said our “Expedia reservations are hard to modify.”

But we said we wanted into the old hotel, and insisted on a large, comfortable room with a view of the cloud and mist-covered mountains to the East. And our young clerk dived back into the digital ether and gave us an upgrade.

As we stood waiting at the desk — the attendant also fielding phone calls — we had a chance to look-over an adjacent display that explained Natural Bridge might be enhanced with visit to the Natural Bridge Zoo; or the Natural Bridge Dinosaur Park II; and then there are the Natural Bridge Caverns. One could, in fact, access all three of these sites by way of a single ticket.

Notwithstanding these alternatives I didn’t see any children — rather the guests were older, childless, T-shirt and baseball cap wearing couples who did not appear to be the kind of folk who would easily employ a “super-soaker” (water gun) against a plastic Triceratops—as looped on the video monitor behind the desk.

The problem with Natural Bridge is that it no longer has the power to astound, or to even distract today’s teenagers. Even the Civil War — Virginia’s ace of diamonds in the tourism department — seems to have lost its lure. Many Civil War sites, like nearby Appomattox, have changed their Lost Cause focus saying, “Explore stories how the Civil War affected Americans across divides of race, gender and nationality.”

It is not clear to me who are still lingering on the manicured battlefields around Fredericksburg; or taking the bus up to Monticello; or exploring the trench work around Yorktown where George Washington — now being re-evaluated — ensnared Cornwallis.

All of this comes on top of the news — provided by the May 30 edition of the New Yorker — that interactive, intergalactic, total immersive entertainment is now available just down the road at Disney and Universal Studios.

Not content with simply viewing another universe in a darkened theatre, Disney and Universal allow one to walk, talk and role-play in what they call a LARP — this is short for live-action-role-playing.

“In a LARP, players, often in costume, improvise stories and borrow from such genres as medieval fantasy, science fiction and vampire movies. In the indie LARP Distopia Rising, people spend the weekend staggering around as zombies — or hiding from them.”

Apparently this move to insert actual tourists into their narrative started in 2019 with Disney’s Black Spire Outpost Experience. But one can trace this effort back to Historic Williamsburg where, for years, they’ve been putting Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry into period costume and giving them a roaming-around-town role including impromptu speeches about taxes and tyranny.

While it is one thing to listen to a speech about colonial taxation, it is another thing to suit-up like a young Luke Skywalker, move oneself into his idealized character, and do all of this against the backdrop of bringing much-needed medicine to Mars. The objective here is to transplant the paying customer into another world where he or she experiences fantasy, noble purpose and perhaps a little bit of anxiety while knowing that the “Resistance always prevails in the end.”

The New Yorker piece eventually works its way round to Ukraine where slaughter of civilians, martial law and atrocity are actually under way — and where the “Resistance” may not prevail.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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