Tuesday, August 04, 2015
When I first drove into the Great State of Maine, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts shop in some town I don't remember. The guy in front of me had a beard about 6 inches long. The next guy to walk in behind me had a beard about 12 inches long. I was sort of taken aback. I come from down South, in a place so rural that we joke that camouflage is a fashion statement. People here actually know the difference between ™Realtree and ™Mossy Oak. Guys with "that look" are a dime a dozen down here and they're usually carrying a gun. I just didn't expect it up North. Walking out the door, I whispered to my wife, "I think we've stumbled on Duck Dynasty North."
I thought about this -- and other things I saw -- throughout my drive to Maine and back. In short, America looks beat up. We look run down. It's not about Civil-War-style whiskers. If that's the look you want, have at it. It's about what is under it. The unkempt clothes. The paunchy bodies. The slovenly habits. It's the beautiful, cute and wonderful houses I saw that needed a coat of paint. The yard needs mowing, the bushes trimmed, the garden tended and the front porch mended.
There were exceptions to this unruly rule. After driving through the bone-rattling despair of Troy, New York, we entered the beautiful town of Bennington, Vermont and went out for dinner. It wasn't a fancy dinner -- pizza and beer -- but it was a memorable one. Nice, friendly people in a very local joint (Ramuntos Pizza). Young people were playing corn hole (tailgate toss) in the side yard and -- I swear -- kids were riding bicycles down the sidewalks of Main Street. It was almost perfect. Close enough that you tried not to notice a couple of empty storefronts smudging the Norman Rockwell painting. And that the magic faded away to modern Americana just a block or two off of Main Street.
©Don Brown 2015
There were the Big Money exceptions of course. Shore Drive in Cape Elizabeth, Maine is doing just fine, thank-you-very-much. No problems with the lawns or painting the houses there. The residents can hire all the help they need. That isn't the problem in America. It's the people that don't have the time and wherewithal to take care of their homes -- should they be lucky enough to even own one. (Or pay the mortgage on one.) It's the people that are piecing together two and three jobs trying to make a full-time living. The families where living on a single income is no longer even a dream. They have no benefits, no retirement and -- seemingly -- no future. Or maybe, it's just that they have no hope.
America can do better. We can still do Big Things. I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge on the way back home. Thankfully, we are building a new one before (hopefully) the old one falls down. It's a multi-billion dollar project. You can create a lot of jobs for a billion dollars. You can create a lot of full-time, union-wage jobs with good benefits if you put your mind and politics to it.
©Don Brown 2015
But it's not the big things that were bugging me on this trip. It was the little things. The important little things. Maybe it was because I heard the most interesting story on This American Life while I was waiting for the Sun to rise on the Blue Ridge Parkway one morning. It's a story about something that seems so small. It's so small I'm not sure I know how to name it. But I have the feeling that we need more of it. Gumption? Resilience? Standards? Hope? I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting old and sappy. But this story makes our current troubles seem trivial. It shows that if we have even the tiniest of things -- the right things -- to cling to, just what the human spirit is capable of. Have a listen. Stick with it until the end.
This American Life -- Episode 559 -- Act One
August 4, 2015