“Sometimes the light’s all shining on me.
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me,
What a long, strange trip it’s been…” “
Truckin’”- the Grateful Dead
Yes, you read that right. I would suspect that the title above caught more than a few people’s attentions. Perhaps it turned some people away, while drawing some in to see what this seeming desecration of America the Great is all about. First of all it is about words and their meaning. Personally, I find the terms n-word, f-bomb and s***hole to be a cop out- a pass on the raw power that these words have in their unsterilized versions. It is why these words exist- to have a jolting effect. To otherwise gut them of their intended missions is to unchallenge their intended targets in the reading populace- to make things a little easier and more digestible in their perhaps already overburdened lives. But, like edited for TV movies or Cliff’s notes and Reader’s Digest condensed books, the originally intended messages conveyed by truncated and edited words of power have been subverted or at least tempered to make them more “accessible” to the masses. In other words, the message has been reduced to a milquetoast porridge that is bland and fodder for all. It is the lowest, common denominator, something I was always taught we were supposed to strive to rise above. It is this core belief in the dumbing down of the American story and dream that I find to be the most offensive action in the ways and means of the current occupant of the White House, and it has become the primary lie that is coming out of the flapping mouth of the Fascist, Bloviating Pumpkin- that he is in anyway concerned about making America great again.
And so it is that the curious and concerned reader who is still reading might ask how it is that I have come to this conclusion and observation. If any of those curious or concerned have been watching this space over the past three issues, or if they had been following me on the facebook or in the e-realms of the instagram, they would know that I have been on a bit of a quest. Some have referred to it as an odyssey or a pilgrimage- it has been a lot of driving. For forty-four days I was out on the byways and highways of these United States, rolling up a total on my trip odometer that read 1,702 miles when I arrived at the Pt. Defiance dock just the other day. This of course was not fully indicative of the other 10,000 miles I had traveled when said trip meter rolled over and back to zero somewhere east of Reno as I was heading west on my return leg of the grand loop. For some reason, my TV memory always tends to wind back to Walter Brennan and his role in that show, ‘ the Real McCoys’, whenever I am inclined to state some grandiose claim. As I am remembering it, he would, when confronted with the veracity of a statement he had just made, simply state: “No brag, just fact.” This was back when facts were something one could count on as a basis for basic truth and not to be questioned as a transient belief or be casually, if wrongly, dismissed as news that is in some way proclaimed as fake by someone who cares not whether it is true or not.
I have not gone back to read the past three columns written out in the fog of the road, so I am hoping that the curious and concerned and intrepid reader following along here will excuse me if I repeat myself. It should be stated that my reason for staring through the windshield day after day on this trek was to follow the route that Horace Greeley took on his overland journey from New York to San Francisco in the summer of 1859 in order to have a first hand look at this country of states and territories and to publish his observations in his paper, the New York Tribune, in order to promote and encourage the completion of the transcontinental railroad. At the time, Greeley was in the position to influence the thoughts and opinions of the entire country since he saw to it that his paper had a distribution that spanned the whole country, and in so doing he was able to claim that it had the largest circulation nationwide, if not the largest of any paper in the world. Along the way across, Greeley was not only writing and sending the dispatches back to the Tribune that were to form the book titled ‘An Overland Journey’ that inspired my trip, he was also giving speeches to support his abolitionist views in territories where the populace had been granted a choice as to whether they would eventually become a free or slave state. One of the journal entries I read along the way at one of the museums I stopped at was from a local farmer who had attended one of Greeley’s meetings. It stated that while Greeley had put forward some important ideas, this person felt that “Uncle Horace” (as he was known to much of the country then) was ahead of his time and at the same time just too liberal for this particular audience.
So- some might still be wondering about the title at the beginning of this ramble. It is in part about what I have seen over the miles. To be truthful, there is a wealth of amazing out there in the expanse of this land. But there is crap too. On the way east I was talking to one museum official who had been out with a long time area resident who was along for the ride to identify emigrant trail ways that he had known for years. But when they got to where all remnants of the trails and their landmarks had been, they had all but been erased by the fracking and drilling operations that had been given lease rights to the area for $9 an acre with no accountability for what they did to the land or how they left it. On the way back through that part of Wyoming, the prevalence of pumping stations and holding tanks made it seem that that part of the state had been completely fracked. Earlier on in the trip back across I had stopped outside of St. Louis at Cahokia, a series of immense dirt and rock mounds constructed by the native peoples somewhere between 900-1300 AD. Visible from the top of the largest mound was an immense mound between there and St. Louis that turned out to be a retired landfill. I couldn’t help but reflect upon how that mound differed in presence from the sacred status of the mound I was standing on and how it was still held with reverence amongst its peoples, versus how a closed landfill was seen in our time. On another tangent, within the first couple of days at the beginning of my trip I began to run into the evidence of the summer of wildfires that continued to pop up nearly everyday that I traveled through the west. On the stretch of I-5 between Weed and Redding,CA there were miles and miles of the charred remains of forest- some still smoldering. I was shocked to see a similar scene in Yosemite, with standing dead and standing burned trees seemingly in the majority in what was supposed to be a national preserve of forest and natural beauty.
It was however the last few days out there that really affected me. I arrived at night in Reno to meet with a couple of people who lived in the area from the Trails West group on the following day. I went walkabout in the streets of Reno that night and felt like I had stumbled upon the making of the sequel to Shaun of the Dead. A few steps from my motel there was a guy with a backpack laying down in the middle of the sidewalk, waving his arms around and taking off his shoes. Next there was a skinny woman in shirtsleeves and a blank stare who drifted by, followed by another guy in a t-shirt and backpack who asked me for spare change, and to which he seemed uncertain as to how to respond when I gave him some. There was the guy in the wheel chair with the guitar who started strumming furiously as I walked by. My attention was immediately drawn away from him as I passed since there was another figure a short distance down the sidewalk who was apparently also in a wheelchair, but they were completely covered from ground to head by a large quilt. I was glad to get out of there.
I traveled north out of Reno through Nevada, California and southern Oregon on roads I had never driven before. While this general area of the country has some of my favorite scenery, my attention there was drawn to the poverty and abandonment in the communities I passed through. It could be easy to imagine how people from these towns and hamlets might be convinced that it was time to make their America great again, whether or not the person saying that had any plan or intention of making it so other than by handing out red hats and telling them he was making sure with troops and threats that immigrant hordes would not get here to take what little these people had left. One of the things that Horace Greeley was at one time known for was as an advocate for utopian communities where the residents all had jobs that were complementary and mutually supportive of that community. It was a concept and perspective that promoted self-worth and sustainability. I know that there is more out there in this country than shotgun shacks and broke down palaces, but until something real is done to change that aspect of this place, it’s hard to imagine that what some call flyover America will be able to avoid sliding ever further into shithole status for some time to come, regardless of what their yard signs and bumperstickers and unfounded beliefs may proclaim.