• Otter Views: ‘Barrow Survives

    by Tom Stevens

    Sunday’s 49er Super Bowl loss brought on a regional funk so blue and deep it threatened to outlast the month. Luckily, an even more momentous event arose to distract the public from droning, post-game post-mortems.

    Not the AT&T, though that’s certainly a contender. No, the big story broke Tuesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer and was picked up by the Herald: “Monopoly to scrap one of its iconic game pieces; wheelbarrow maker puts up token resistance.”

    Caught up in Super Week, I hadn’t felt the deeper tectonic shifts pulsing through the culture. Apparently the Hasbro Gaming people determined that ousting one of its cherished Monopoly tokens would give the brand a chance card for some national publicity.

    The campaign was well timed for the post-Super Bowl, pre-Grammy slack week. It also dovetails nicely with the rollout of the new “Survivor” season. Taking a page from that TV hit, Hasbro invited Monopoly fans to vote via Facebook for their favorite game token. The one earning the fewest votes would be ousted from the board, never again to pass Go and collect $200.

    Having last played Monopoly in the pre-Super Bowl era, I was happy to see the tokens listed. I remembered the top hat because it had been my favorite, but I needed reminders for the Scottie dog, race car, hand iron, boot, battleship, thimble, and wheelbarrow.

    The Inquirer asked a Hasbro marketer to explain the company’s decision. “We wanted to introduce a new token to the game that’s more representative of today’s Monopoly players,” the spokesman said. He noted that the current tokens date back to the game’s origins in the depression-era 1930s.

    Hasbro’s rationale puzzled me. If the company truly wants to modernize, why replace just one token? The top hat and the battleship are clearly obsolete. And while still in use, the hand iron and the thimble are far less representative of current U.S. culture than, say, a smart phone or a mocha latte. To me, the safest tokens would seem to be the Scottie, the boot, the race car and the wheelbarrow, all still in wide demand.

    But what do I know? When the votes started beeping in, five tokens raced off around the board, leaving three others stranded on Baltic Avenue. The stragglers were the boot, the iron and the wheelbarrow. This may suggest our high-tech internet culture no longer values the hard manual labor those three icons embody. Or it may just be that relatively few ironers and landscape workers voted.

    Whatever the case, one of the endangered icon industries used the Monopoly vote to roll out some marketing of its own. Wheelbarrow manufacturer Ames True Temper reportedly rallied its 1,300 employees and their families to “like” the Monopoly wheelbarrow. Videos promoting the humble barrow reportedly flooded YouTube, and Ames retailers Home Depot and Lowes rocked the vote as well.

    “The wheelbarrow is a staple of America,” Ames marketer Karen Richwine told the Inquirer. “Like Monopoly, we’d like to keep it alive.” The Inquirer didn’t say whether the nation’s boot and hand iron makers mounted similar campaigns. Maybe those firms are all in China now.

    As my first paying job involved boots and a wheelbarrow, I secretly hoped those two tokens would survive the vote. Back when the family’s old Monopoly board still made occasional appearances on the game table, I got a high school summer job on a construction site. Booted, gloved and sweating heavily, I pulled weeds and raked out house pads while idolizing the “real guys:” equipment operators who wore hard hats and drove huge earth movers called D-9s and TD-25s.

    One morning the foreman pulled me off the raking detail. “Promotion,” he grinned. “You’ll be driving the M-11 today, Tommy.” I was thrilled. Though I’d still be making the same $1.25 an hour, equipment operator would be a big step up from manual labor. Maybe I’d even be issued a hard hat. “Wow, the M-11!” I said gratefully. “When do I start training on it?”

    “Oh, you can start now. It’s parked right over there,” the foreman said, pointing to a jumbo-sized blue wheelbarrow. I spent the rest of the summer wheeling tipsy loads of rock, dirt, sand and gravel in the M-11 when not mixing “mud” in it for the masons. The M-11 taught me more about mass and momentum than I would learn in physics class the following year. At the end of each work day, I lovingly restored it with hose and rag to its original blue color. This grew harder as the weeks went by.

    I was relieved Wednesday when a friend reported that the Monopoly boot and wheelbarrow had survived the vote. The iron will no longer be pressed into service. Its “more modern” replacement? A cat.

    Go figure.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 8, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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