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Crossed Circuits: A City in Flames

I had been traveling for two days, hiking the well-worn path that takes pilgrims from my tiny village to the alluring sights and sounds of the metropolis. I had no specific plans but thought the enticements of a loud and raucous city would lift my spirits. But even before I had turned the last bend out of the forest I knew something was wrong.

There was an odor in the air, a bit like burning wire or the smell of dust heating up on the back of an old TV set. Travelers passed me going in the opposite direction, their packs bulging with unseen goods, their eyes seemingly afraid to meet mine. When finally Circuit City came into view I was appalled at what lay before me.

Gleaming glass skyscrapers belched yellow smoke. Car alarms sounded, but no police responded. The great wall of big-screen TVs -- HDTV Square, where tourists and residents alike gathered every New Year's Eve to watch the red ball drop -- was mostly dim. Only a few 1080p high-definition LCD TVs flickered, their flat screens showing the same Chia Pet commercial over and over.

I picked my way over the rubble of the outskirts of town. Crowds scavenged through the shattered wreckage like vultures on a bloated water buffalo.

"Here's an adaptor that lets you listen to your MP3 player through your car radio," shouted one figure. "Ahh, we already got one," answered his mate. I saw a man dressed in flip-flops and a "Welcome Back, Kotter" T-shirt use a the broken neck of a "Guitar Hero" guitar to lever a black metal box from the ashes. He lifted the DVD player to his eyes then threw it to the ground in disgust. "Not Blu-Ray," he muttered to no one in particular.

Just then a heard a cough and a man's voice, weak but insistent: "Help me. May I help you? Help me. May I help you?" I followed the sounds of the moaning until I came across a man in a gray polo shirt, half buried in Cristina Aguilera and Wu-Tang Clan CDs. I pulled him out and raised my canteen to his lips. His name badge read: "Steve."

He sputtered as I forced the water in his mouth. "Steve!" I said. "You're okay." I wasn't sure I believed it. When he had drank a few sips I propped him up against a wall of now-silenced car stereo speakers. "Steve, what the hell happened here? What happened to Circuit City?"

"It started with the carpet-store bombing," he began.

"'Carpet-store bombing'?" I asked, looking at the devastation around us. "You mean 'carpet-bombing'?"

"No, carpet-store. You know how carpet stores are always having 'going-out-of-business' sales? 'Act now and get 50 to 75 percent off your purchase of fine Oriental rugs'?"

"Yeah, but everyone knows that's a lie."

"Well this time it wasn't. The carpet stores really started to bomb. They couldn't give the stuff away. Right after that, the Sharper Image, where we all used to go to get our hair cut, started to get dull. The scissors there, they couldn't even cut baby hair. It was freaky, man." He started sobbing.

I slapped him once across the face. It felt good, so I slapped him again. "Steve! Steve! What happened next?"

"There's a suburb of Circuit City, Linens 'n' Things Estates. Nice place. Clean. Well, one day people noticed the sign said 'Welcome to 'n' Things.' Just 'n' Things.' No 'Linen.' Every time they put up a new sign, the same thing happened, like the town was cursed. Then 'Things' disappeared off the signs. All they said was ''n'.' Not long after, the 'n' was gone -- and then the whole suburb."

Steve's voice went flat. "Then," he said in an emotionless monotone, "people in Circuit City started disappearing."

"Disappearing? Who?"

"Older citizens, mostly. The wise counselors, the ones who knew every nook and cranny of Circuit City. Just... gone. It wasn't long after that that tourists stopped coming. You know how we depend on them."

I did know. I'd been going to Circuit City for years -- going, that is, when I didn't decide to go to Best Burg instead. It was one town over, not far away in fact. I looked to the east and there it was. Its blue and yellow buildings appeared unscathed.

Steve mumbled something. "What?" I asked.

"Would you like a warranty?"

Poor guy. He was a goner. I gave him my canteen and started hiking in the direction of Best Burg. All I had to do was follow the smoke drifting in its direction.


Where in Washington?

Do you recognize this Washington landmark, as pictured in a historic postcard from the collection of David Stinson? If so, send your answer to me at kellyj@washpost.com. The first correct entry I receive wins a Pulitzer-autographed Post postcard.

contestjan26.jpg

Last week's postcard was the Hotel Dupont Plaza, or what is now the Jury's Hotel Washington. (I haven't yet notified the winner but I will soon.)

By John Kelly  |  January 26, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

One of the best articles I have read in a long while on WaPo.

Having been a slave of CC for 5 years back in the 90's I never thought they could run out of money...

Then came their brainchild experiment of DIV-X ($1 dvd and renew to watch again) and then they got rid of their bread and butter business of appliance sales....

The topper was getting rid of everyone who knew all the pros and cons of everything. Who wants to shop at a store with higher prices and no expertise?

Well... I guess they already found out the answer to that last question...

Best Buy, though needed as a brick and mortar store chain, will also fail soon enough as people begin to rely on the web more and more...


Posted by: indep2 | January 26, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Ah for the old days when Circuit City was the place where "the streets were paved with bargains."

Posted by: mfromalexva | January 27, 2009 7:35 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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