“Why do so many people visit Mount Airy?” I ask the old man at the antique store.
“Hmm?” he answers.
I’m in North Carolina. Andy Griffith’s hometown. A humble American village that receives approximately three kajillion visitors each year.
“Say again?” the old shopkeeper says.
The man adjusts his hearing aids.
So I re-ask my question. Why do so many people visit Andy Griffith’s hometown? And I ask this question, mainly, because it’s always been a minor mystery to me.
I mean, I love Andy as much as the next Joe Six-Pack. But Andy Griffith wasn’t The Beatles or Mick Jagger. He wasn’t a historic figure, a religious icon, a Renaissance sculptor or a sex symbol. He was a TV star, for crying out loud. Which puts him in the same category as, for example, Regis Philbin.
“People come to Mount Airy,” says the shopkeeper, “because you can’t never have too much Mayberry.”
It’s a trite answer, ultra cliché and a little too neat and tidy for me. Although it’s a great line that probably woos the tourists.
But it doesn’t explain why later this
afternoon, when visiting the Andy Griffith Museum, I encounter biblical throngs waiting outside the gates. Think: the Children of Israel wearing Reeboks.
Where do they all come from? And why?
It’s 90 degrees outside, but the weather doesn’t stop them. There isn’t a single pair of pants in the crowd without a sweat stain on the butt. And yet everyone is cheerfully waiting in line.
Why? I keep asking myself. Why are we here?
We come from all over. Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, New Mexico, Minnesota and South Dakota. I didn’t even know South Dakota was a real place.
I ask one man how many miles he traveled to see the museum.
“It took us 29 hours by car,” he says.
I ask why he came.
He shrugs. “It’s Mayberry.”
After the museum,…