If you suddenly woke up from a two-year amnesiac coma and didn’t have a calendar handy, you’d still know Mayberry Days was under way in Mount Airy — that is, if you just happened to regain consciousness in late September.
For one thing, there are more vehicles bearing out-of-state tags on local roadways, although that also has come to be a pretty common sight at other times of the year. There are increased numbers of people around town in general at restaurants or shops, especially downtown and near the Andy Griffith Playhouse — Ground Zero for Mayberry Days.
And as contradictory as it might sound, I have a personal knack for immediately recognizing folks who are unfamiliar.
When a person lives in a small town, he or she gets to know most everyone and even though many people pass through here on a daily basis, you grow accustomed to the same faces (for better or worse) and can readily spot strangers.
I usually rely on my vast powers of detection to identify such folks. For example, if a family is riding in a car with Indiana tags, my special insight and intelligence tells me they could be from that state. What can I say, it’s a gift.
If the taillight covers of another family’s car are made of red tape and its stereo speakers once belonged to their local drive-in theater, then I think they might be rednecks. And I immediately say, “Hey, Cuz,” because chances are they’re related to me.
One sure-fire way to tell out-of-towners/Mayberry fans is that they are the only ones around here who actually cross the streets at intersections as you are supposed to do. They are studies in grace and precision as they walk in straight lines from one side to the other while diligently obeying the traffic signals as if Deputy Barney Fife is watching from around the corner.
We locals, meanwhile, jaywalk all over the place as we zig and zag across streets like a drunken Otis.
Aside from all these other ways, there is another, never-fail sign I rely on when determining if someone is a Mayberry tourist or not: It’s the look in their eyes.
Now I’ve never been to Mecca (I hear it’s somewhere on the other side of Lowgap). Yet I would bet that the people who make pilgrimages to that holy city have the same kind of expression on their faces as they arrive.
While those who go to Mecca are on a religious journey, folks trekking to Mount Airy from all over the country seem to be on a similar quest in seeking a sense of inner peace and laid-backness as only a Mayberry Squad Car ride can provide.
It’s like an escape, not only to the small town based on Mount Airy but a trip back in time to what they perceive as a simpler existence as portrayed by “The Andy Griffith Show.”
And it’s easy to see why. Life in America in 2017 is not exactly a piece of cake, or even a piece of Aunt Bea’s apple pie for that matter.
Millions of people are jobless, and even those who do work are suffering from wage stagnation due to the sad state of the economy and factors such as illegal immigration. Some are mired in poverty despite holding multiple jobs.
Our health-care system is a mess and the future of governmental programs such as Social Security is threatened.
Then there is the opioid crisis that is claiming more and more lives each day, showing no signs of waning.
People are disrespecting our flag and other patriotic institutions such as the national anthem, and free speech is under attack (all not very Mayberry-like).
Congress and the federal government overall seems ill-equipped or unwilling to advance legislative or other solutions to many of our problems — particularly if these go against the interests of corporate lobbyists.
So then we have “Mayberry,” a place people flock to which is supposedly without major problems.
Well, at the risk of divulging a dirty little secret, Mount Airy has its own laundry list of issues that would have Aunt Bea grasping for the washboard and bottle of Clorox. We, too, suffer from unemployment, drug overdoses and all the other modern problems.
If nothing else, Mayberry is an illusion, which no town could ever live up to, although it does offer a reminder of the simplicity and beauty that life should be about — and perhaps the hope that it actually could exist someday, somehow.
It’s all well and good that people come to Mount Airy seeking this, but where do those who live here go?
Maybe the solution for us is to view Mayberry as a state of mind rather than a place.
And just as a Corona beer commercial encourages everyone to find their own beach, each and every one of us should seek out our own Mayberry — whatever form that sense of peace might take.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.