The wife and I, along with my two dogs, just completed a road trip tour of the heartland. I have previously visited most of the places we traveled, in my old life. Back then I was always in a hurry, either on leave or busy moving the family to a new duty station, I seldom took the time to stop and look. This trip was meant to be all about that, to look and reflect. The route was intended to cover most of real America, the flyover portion out west at least. I carefully selected just those states and a route that still respects my rights (Colorado and Illinois were avoided for that reason and obviously, I never considered entering any of the three western pacific states).
I grew up in South Carolina, mostly in what people would consider rural, at least until the developers came. I have lived all over the world but felt that God had intended for me to be a Texan when I lived there and some mistake surely occurred in the delivery process. I retired in South Carolina; the overcrowded east coast conditions are ignored so that I can be near enough to my mother. I am, you might say, not a novice traveler. In my three decades in the military, I traveled the US via bus, car, and plane many times. This trip was different, slower, more intentional, avoiding the interstate as much as possible. I took time to talk to people, to listen to AM radio stations to get a feel for things – to see and observe.
I am not certain that a trip like this, done the way I did it will be possible in the future. I wanted to go see it, to feel it and sense it while it is possible for me.
I did a poor job of chronicling the trip, with precise locations or notes along the way. I was too busy looking, listening and pondering. Herein are a few broad points that stuck out to me.
Towns with no jobs. These exist, there is a county south and one north of my home where most of the population is on government support, rural counties yet what I found out west were different. We found several along the way, one made semi-famous in an Eagles song. However, in the high desert of Utah, a hundred miles from another population center we stumbled upon an old mining town. The mining operation ceased several decades ago, no farmable or ranch worthy land around, two businesses (a diner and a one-pump gas station), and yet, about 1000 people live there. They occupy modest homes, not run down but also not well-kept. How is this possible? How do they live? An internet search indicated a high percentage were on government assistance. There is much to unpack in that.
Green River and railroad crew. One evening we stopped at one of those suite-type hotels along the Green River. The entire guest population, with us being the exception, consisted of railroad crews. The parking lot was filled with their trucks. In the morning at breakfast they were all up early, before the sun, preparing to head out. In the west, you get a sense that there are a lot of train tracks and trains. Looking at a rail map indicates there are many more in the east, but the terrain out west allows you to see them more. These guys, the men maintaining the tracks, go unseen to most of us. Spending nights in remote hotels, up before the sun and then off to locations out of sight to work, it is possible to forget them. Most of the cities in America, filled with people that either commit crimes or complain and protest or vote to pass absurd laws could not exist without these men doing their work – yet, most of the inhabitants of those cities would look down upon and hate the men doing the work.
Pro-life and Trump signs. It began in earnest in Missouri, billboards asking simple questions. A picture of a baby asking “where is my right to choose?”. Occasionally, and not infrequently, billboards and signs supporting Trump and not infrequently signs disparaging Biden. The pro-life signs were particularly prolific, continuing into Nebraska and Wyoming. In the South, with some sort of building that represents something that once was a Christian church on every corner, I see so very few such signs.
“I did that” stickers (and more). I did see, on over 90% of the pumps out west “I did that” stickers with a picture of Biden smiling and pointing at the price of fuel. I saw “F&%K Biden” signs and murals many times in many locations. The Cherokee maintained a robust selection of interesting hats and tee-shirts related to this topic. (The Cherokee have always been a noble and correct tribe, more on that another day).
Nebraska nice and Lincoln looney. Nebraska was a real pleasure to visit until it was not. The people are friendly, not overly friendly like I was raised, but friendly. Sitting in a small diner, in the largest town for miles (it had a population of perhaps 300) I listened to tables of men talk about real concerns related to crops, livestock, weather, and water. These seemed to be hard men in a hard country. Lincoln does a major disservice to these men.
My first experience in Lincoln was unloading the vehicle in a parking garage about midnight. It was cold, very cold, the streets were empty, everything seemed closed. And yet, a couple walked by, perhaps a hundred feet away, all masked up – they looked at me as a pariah. I was soon to learn why.
Demographically, Lincoln is lily-white and as they say, they are “Nebraska Nice”. It is incomprehensible that they have any problems of discrimination there. Yet, all of the shops had signs in the windows concerning BLM and “stop Asian hate”. It reminds me of a fellow I was in basic training with way back in the 80s, he from North Dakota. He had never seen a black person in real life. In the barracks, he thought all the black guys were going to fight all the white guys – because he did not understand the culture and had only seen movies and TV. It seems the liberals in Lincoln believe the hype on social media.
Rainbow flags, Lincoln NE and Salt Lake City, UT. I did not observe a single rainbow flag, anywhere other than those two cities. Odd anomalies, all things considered. I suspect the fact is that people that live hard lives in hard places do not have the luxury of being confused about natural facts.
The government spends a lot of money on AM radio ads, speaking in the voice of locals, trying to get them vaccinated. They use ‘rancher’ voices in ranch lands, Indians in Indian territory – spending our money to convince people to do as they are told.
Indians are very serious about masks, not so much about jabs (it appears). The first Indian I encountered, probably a Sioux, seemed very serious about his mask. This trend continued and increased once we turned south and moved through Arizona and New Mexico. Paying attention to billboards and commercials on radio stations it appears that the Indian population is very hesitant to take the jabs but is perhaps concerned that there is something in the air that will kill them. Considering history, I understand and respect their skepticism. I was a religious mask wearer in Indian territory.
The colder it got and the more one needs a jacket, the less likely it is that people will wear them. In South Dakota, where it was snowing and below zero, guys only wore sweatshirts. When I arrived on the banks of the Great Salt Lake, where it was in the 40s there were people with beanies, gloves, and puffy jackets….
It is still possible to drive east to west, north to south carrying your pistol. It is a uniquely American thing, to strap on your pistol and know that the laws in the states you are visiting still support the use of self-defense.
Nobody, anywhere, seemed to care at all that the media and government do nothing more than talk 24/7 about a cold virus (except Indians, the tribes in Oklahoma did not care, just the western tribes). Beyond the tribes out west, and those weird people in Lincoln, Nebraska, nobody seemed to care. The radio and billboards were filled with scary stories and pleas to care, but almost nobody I saw paid any attention.
The vast majority of the people in the places I drove through want none of it. That was my sense. They want none of it, none of the baby-killing, fear-porn, freaky absurdity, or government overreach. These are the people that feed us and keep things moving – without them, nothing else is possible. They ought to be a lot more important than they are, their voices ought to hold more weight.
Truckers and trucking have changed. I carried a small Uniden CB radio, it can only transmit and receive a few hundred yards but it was fascinating. Basically, you can only hear people talk that you can see. Truckers have it tough and you can tell listening to them. I never recall, from years ago hearing one curse out another – but it happens now. These guys have a hard job, it seems some are frustrated, all of you soft city dwellers would be in a bad place if these guys quit.
Churches. I noticed no mega-churches out west, but as soon as I crossed the Mississippi they were there. I am sure they exist out there, but certainly, not in the frequency, I see them on the east coast. There is something to this, something to ponder and write about later.
I was shocked at the number of churches other than Mormon in Utah, and the fact that the AM dial was dominated by Baptist preachers.
Bacon is better. Much better in Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. So much better I am not even sure the stuff I buy back east is bacon at all.
Too many damned people east of the Mississippi. It is horrible.
America is beautiful and large. We planned to see much more; it was too much in one bite. Americans, those that do real work in real places, are not what social media portray. Nothing that exists is possible without those people and yet, their voices are small and unheard. Driving through Indian reservations one is reminded that a proud and noble people can be broken, culture can be eliminated. It is not impossible to imagine that what was done to them might very well be occurring to American culture writ large – dominated, broken, outlawed. It is possible, through fear and intimidation to break a people.