Looking For The Base


I was hiding from the Editor in the basement stairwell, when he appeared beside me and started eating the sub I was saving for lunch. “Gale,” he said in that gentle voice we all hate more than his roar. “I want a story about the people who still support Bush.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, but he can read minds. “No! No retired Marine colonels or bugger-you-I’ve-got-mine-now-don’t-raise-my-taxes suburbanites. It’s summer. Take a nice road trip. The base in the heartland… that sort of thing. We know our local morons; let’s put a face on the rest of them. L4L’ll pay a carbon offset for your gas.”
I accepted my fate, packed, and drove north until I came to storefronts boosting their sales with posters like “How can we get Bush to go hunting with Cheney?” or “Bush’s approval rating is approaching his IQ”. I bought a t-shirt with my usual “I think, therefore I am an Independent”, and turned southwards, looking for the devils with Red State hearts and lobotomized brains, whom we could blame for the ills of the nation.
At first, the mountains of West Virginia seemed more interesting than politics (we do, after all, live on a sandbank in Florida) and further south, my search for the devils was fragmented when a promising town was hosting a dog-show. Somehow, the conversation was more about dogs than Bush, politics, Iraq, or the economy, although Michael Vick and Mitt Romney were both toast in the eyes of the locals for their treatment of canines.
In North Carolina, I spotted a flag that was a composite of the NC and confederate flags. Paydirt. I had found some devils and I could bring the editor more than stories of scenery or beautiful bull terriers.
I booked in at the nearest cluster of economy hotels and checked out the area. Tidy, unostentatious, peaceful, with few signs of wealth. Everything was neat, with few movie-style broken-down redneck nests. There were churches, but they were large and established, not the one-church-per-mile crazy-named sects of the northern Florida Bible Belt. No more confederate flags. Schools, small businesses, manufacturing plants…
In the diners, the devils were enjoying themselves. A bowl of watermelon pieces cost a dollar, a chilidog cost two. Everyone knew everyone else, and the laughter and lilting Southern accents hypnotized visitors. A kid climbed warily into my arms. Good people, friendly people, pleasant, honest, simple, ordinary people. Red state voters who still support Bush.
The floor of the diner looked at least thirty years old, worn, old fashioned pale blue mosaic. I asked, and listened, and the world views of the people were the same… set in cement in a well trodden pattern, held in place by all the other matching little pieces.
Outside, the world changes too fast. Earning a living is harder and more complex every year. There are so many things to understand. Everyone says something different. It works for us to stick together, and we need to keep to what works for us.
I tried to imagine any one of the tightly knit communities stepping back to reassess and analyze the current US political morass, and break out in a new direction.
Some of the red-hearts are finding the energy to face up new and bewildering economic challenges. Tiny rural businesses have websites. Ex-millworkers are venturing into e-commerce, or testing the national market… terrified as they do so.
Can they also afford to question the unchangeable comforts of their communal life at the same time, hang out a rainbow flag and an anti-Bush banner, rethink the meaning of the universe and spurn the church picnic for the angry isolation of blogging about avant-garde art and the nuances of civil rights?
They put their trust in George W, and he led them in to a cul de sac. Now, with no place to go, they “support” him because they see no other options. But they don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to think about it. Focus on making a living, do the best you can by families and friends, and if anyone asks, agree that you support the president, then change the subject immediately.
The base is a political wilderness where the main survival technique is “think about something else”. Like watermelon, or pie… peach pie, said with that lilting Southern accent.
I told the Editor how nice they were, how friendly, how kind, how betrayed. He was furious than I hadn’t brought him any pie.

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