Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Wee People And On The Road Again

The road from Massachusetts to Oneonta New York is peaceable. You can take time to follow U.S 202 away from the Interstates and toll roads and the rush to be where one has to be. It was a quiet, albeit busy Monday morning with a frost on the ground in the unlikely month of May. Yet there was a relaxation in knowing that there is time between now and Friday to reach safe harbor from the vacationers on Memorial Day.
The wee people and the families of the Right Coast are behind now. It has been an enjoyable time even if there are fewer small people than on past trips. Ones who seem to have been mere children are no longer, yet there were still a few to charm me and two more to see as I start back west and then it will be time to wander again. It has been a good time for me. I hope a good time for all.
I had hoped to see the parts of the Lincoln Highway that has been restored now until seeking refuge from the masses at my brother’s house for Memorial Day, that faux weekend of “summer” passed and the campgrounds were again sparsely populated. It became a shorter journey to Stephen Foster’s home place and the site of the Camptown Races. They are both in far northern Pennsylvania. I expected it would be in the south.
A weekend in what is known here as the “Upper,” that part of Michigan above the Mackinaw Straits is a place to sleep and enjoy the scenery before moving on to Canada. The weather is still annoying, although it has taken a new approach. While rain comes in brief showers, cold and wind has replaced it. Two of the days are actually quite nice and there is certainly no humidity to complain about. But Mornings below 32 degrees are not normal even for here in May. There will be the month of June in Canada with no one I know and places I have never been, a time to explore another part of the Nation to the north. My route starts at Sault Ste Marie, better known here as “The Soo” on both sides of the border. It will end either in Fort Frances or Thunder Bay, depending on what I find, how fast I move, and inevitably, the weather. Since the wireless service I use is spotty in these remote areas and charges a great for packets of data moving from Canada to the United States, I will post what I can by “network stalking” and the rest when I leave the Maple Leaf Nation behind.
The trip back into the Midwest brought me face to face with the real recession. California is bankrupt the Governor says. You can see the results, but at the local Starbuck’s you have a very different understanding of the recession than the people of the heartland.
The realization comes in small ways. Buy something in the local Verizon store and they ask for cash. It can’t go on your account because, as the nice lady explains, ‘“we have had trouble with people charging to accounts than their own.” The man next to me is paying “what he can” on his account. The campground in northern Ohio has no “honor system” of “check in” after hours anymore. A volunteer comes to your camper to collect and looks at your driver’s license and writes the number on your check.
This trip taken through the middle of the country, through cities and towns where there were vibrant businesses just a year ago which are now closed and gone, likely forever gives one a startling picture. The fear is real here, the taste of defeat, and the flat look of the eyes. The grinding poverty is there for all to see. It is not everywhere, but unlike my small world on the Left Coast, it is more evident, more palpable, and real. The thousand yard stares of the not so elderly men in the park enjoying a rare day of sun in the new spring with anxiousness they have not known before. The theater you remember from a trip two years ago is still there, but empty. A forlorn “For Sale” sign hangs on its side having made it through the winter a good bit e worse for wear.
The campgrounds are different. The people there are fewer in this early part of the season. Those there are from nearby as they seek entertainment closer to home. They find the long distance traveler an oddity, unlike in the past, and they are less likely to welcome you heartily as if they fear you will ask why they have time to be here on a Wednesday. There is awkwardness in the silence of the moment after the question is asked. One learns not to ask it. The look in their eyes is hard to see. Life is hard here now. Harder than before when it was hard enough. It used to be a time of two jobs and now it is a time of none. Unemployment in some states, should one count those no longer looking and those under employed and working part time who do not want to be is in the staggering high teens and nearing twenty percent. Everyone knows someone who has lost a job or a business or a house. It is not an academic exercise here. The humor of the people survives, but it is thinner now. It is, like the weather this spring, a grey, cold and stormy time. It does remind me that the bubbles some of us are lucky enough to live in are places of refuge in this lonely, frightening, and uncertain time.
Tomorrow it is off to the land of hockey, “O Canada,” the “loony” and perhaps better weather, but surely more moments to take home for the summer and remember.


  1. Your observations are enlightening....about what's happening in the trenches of the financial downturn. It is a depression and sounds just like how depression feels in one human being....fear, anxiety, defeat, flatness. Yesterday I read that the John Deere plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, is shutting down until further notice, so the slump is now hitting the ag sector.

    But, on a brighter note....its great to read of your adventures. Wishing you safe and happy travels and plenty of successful "network stalking"!

  2. Great post. I know that area as I have relatives on the tip to the south (Petoski).
    Michigan has been suffering for some time and now this. It's beauty can't quite hide that fact can it?

    Safe journey.