Thoughts on Icons

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 20, 2006 2:48 PM

In my experience, there are some things that are so iconic that it's odd to see them in person-- not because they don't meet expectations, but precisely because they do.

The Statue of Liberty is like that for me. I went to New York on the Chinatown-Chinatown bus this weekend, which as the name implies, takes passengers from Chinatown in D.C. and drops them off in Chinatown in NYC. What the name does not imply, but what is the single biggest draw for the bus (because, let's be honest, charter buses don't usually have that much to commend them), is that it's $35 for the round trip.

That's way less than gas and tolls would be, if you decided you absolutely must travel without the faintly musty smell of old upholstery against your nose as you doze or the conversations of strangers. The chick three rows back, by the way, is looking for a job because she called out sick for no reason on Saturday at the Melting Pot and they put her on a one-week suspension, which was just, like, so unfair. But she just started seeing this cute guy named Kevin, so it's all good. I would not recommend hiring her, unless you have a job opening for an auctioneer or a carnival barker. She is imminently qualified for those positions, however.

Back to the subject. This is why I love blogging. Y'all can never stop me when I wander down a rhetorical dog trot, er, bunny trail, er, whatever the mammalian metaphor is. My friends in real life are always stopping me.

But back to the subject, which was this. It's always odd to me to see the Statue of Liberty in person because it feels like I've seen it so many times before. In reality, I've only seen it maybe three times. But every time I see it again in person, I think, "gee, this looks exactly how I knew it was gonna look."

I don't mean to discount it or sound jaded. It's beautiful. It's just that I know it's all beautful and majestic and green and islandy. And, when I see it, I'm kind of surprised it looks exactly as I've always seen it, in that little picture burned into the brain of every single American.

I've had other moments like that. Other things are so iconic it's odd to see them in person. Richard Petty is like that. Don't laugh. I'm serious.

When I met Richard Petty (got to interview The King himself for a few wonderful, fleeting moments), I expected him to be somehow less than the Richard Petty I had always seen in my head. A youth spent in North Carolina produces a pretty clear image of the man who dirt-track-raced his youth through our state and became a legend. Once again, don't laugh. I'm serious.

Another great thing about blogging. I don't have to hear you laugh. My real-life friends are always laughing.

But there was The King. His teeth are really that big. His smile is really that wide. His mustache really reaches each edge of it against all expectations. His cowboy hat is really that feathered, and he wears a black duster that really reaches all the way to his booted ankle, a good six and a half feet from its origin at his shoulder.

His hat, shades and mustache form a profile that has graced the airbrushed tire covers of countless vehicles since the birth of racing.

He looks just as he should look. Richard Petty and Lady Liberty both do. And I'm always surprised.

All right, you can stop laughing now.