Monday, April 04, 2005

Back from the Red State

I’m back from Indianapolis, which is – yow – you want to talk Red States? I though I was living in a Red State, here in Northwest Arkansas, but apparently we are just sort of pale mauve. Indiana is what real Red is like.

Not that they aren’t nice folk. They’re right nice, those Red State Folk. So long as you don’t cross’em.

Everyone at our hotel was relentlessly polite, the saleswoman at the Talbot’s, where I bought the shirt I needed to present in, was chatty and sweet, and at the conference hotel (we didn’t stay there, too pricey), all the staff was helpful and kind, though they would not, no matter how we angled the matter, give us free broadband wireless connection for our laptop. (Rats.)

The number and sheer size of War Monuments* – that was the first thing that struck us about Indianapolis.

One war monument after the next, as we drove down Meridian Avenue. To the World War, said one. To the War of 1893, said another – I think (it was rainy and cold and the print was in stone and hard to read, despite the immense size of the monument).

Then a big Greek temple of a monument to warriors of some war, or maybe all wars.

Then a war circle – an actual circle, in the middle of the city, which all traffic must go around, with a giant angel atop it, with a flaming sword, and a flaming torch. I don’t know which war that was to. Maybe a general celebration of war? Yay War? I do not know. But the Angel stood on a Temple atop a giant Parthenon atop an immense marble hummock, and every day as we drove past it swarms of tourists were clambering around it like ants, worshipping the effigy of war, loving the celebration of destruction and death – I don’t know, it just made me edgy.

Then, too, we ate lunch one afternoon, between conference sessions, at Johnny Rocket’s. Most of the waiters and staff were very nice. As I’ve said, most of the people in Indianapolis were nice as pie. But with my hamburger? I ordered French fries.

“I’ll have a hamburger and French fries,” I said.

The waiter gave me a stern look. “American fries,” he snapped.

I looked up at him. “What?”

“We sell American fries here, m’am.”

Which I guess I ought to have know, by the giant American flag they had hanging from the back of their store.

The other thing I noticed about Indiana was the sheer wealth of the place. All those wide farms, all those big elaborate farm houses – as big as small villages, some of them -- with their immense silos, all the tidy fences and vast tracts of green meadow and fields, the roads linking all of this, and every six miles, it seemed to me, another university. (And good universities, too: Indiana has at least three really good universities. Arkansas doesn't even have one.) The joke everyone knows about Arkansas is how we don’t wear shoes down here, ha ha ha. Very funny, right?

Well, guess why Arkies didn’t have shoes in all those pictures, folks? We’re fucking poor in this state.

I didn’t realize just how poor this state was until I was driving past all those rich farms in Indiana. I drive past Arkansas farms every day of my life – shabby, patched together places that have always looked normal to me, with tiny four-room houses huddled under cottonwood trees, or rusting single-wide trailers stuck next to the creek bed, fences made from a couple of strands of rusting wire, or split rail-- I always thought, well, of course farmers are poor. That's what you hear in the media, right? That's why farmers need subsidies, right? Cause they're so poor?

And in Arkansas, they are poor. I don't think they're getting many subsidies here either, though. Arkie farmers in the Ozark are scraping together a living out of cattle and chicken houses and the few flat arable acres. These farms look pretty pathetic next to those vast rich farms in Indiana.

Of course, one reason those farms are so wealthy, I suspect, has to do with those farm subsidies. And I suspect my students who come from those Arkie farms don’t qualify for that particular form of welfare.

So my students come down here, to my university, and try to learn to do something they can earn a living at – and how do they pay for it? (Because their parents certainly can’t afford to pay for it, not off what they’re earning on those scrappy little Arkie farms.) By joining the National Guard! And how does a grateful nation repay them?

Giant War Monuments in Indianapolis!

American Fries in Johnny Rockets!

An education at fine institution in the Ozarks!

And – when they graduate – if they do, if they aren’t killed in a useless war started for fictitious reasons by the worst president ever, what will they get? A job, do you think? A piece of the American pie? A share of those American fries?

Or will the worst president ever have destroyed the American economy entirely by then, as he seems entirely bent on doing?

American values -- that's what matters. Moral values: that's what we should vote for. Who cares whether things are, well, fair or not?

*Obligatory caveat: Of course I believe we should honor our war dead. Heavens yes. Not to mention the men and women in uniform who have and are defending our freedom now. But six monuments in the space of three blocks? One of them the size of an art museum? At the risk of making a hijus pun, can anyone spell overkill?


Anonymous said...

The farmers who practice farming for the public health--those who use organic or integrative techniques--have small farms and get nothing, and it costs more to harvest their crops. The farmers who poison the crops, give cancer to the workers, and destroy the groundwater get help. And the factory farms, where unspeakable cruelty and disregard for the public health are practiced daily, are rich corporations.

The use of chemical fertilizers in the midwest kills thousands of fish and other marine life every year by creating a "dead zone" the size of Massachusetts off the coast of Louisiana. There is always a discussion about what to do about it, but if the farmers just used organic fertilizer, the problem would be gone. They would also have bigger and healthier crops, but there would be an adverse effect on Monsanto, so there you are.

A recent essay in Harper's about organic farming in Cuba (Cuba and Mexico developed vast numbers of organic farms because the farmers could not afford to buy pesticides and herbicides) mentioned that--if the entire world were to take up organic farming--all wildlife habitats would be destroyed. I like to think that there would be a workaround to that problem because it boggles my mind to think that doing something the natural way would destroy so much life. On the other hand, how could we possibly destroy more life than we do with factory farming?

I have always heard that Indianapolis was a scary place. You have just confirmed it.

Unknown said...

I think you've characterized the place well. Mr. Geeky grew up in Indy and his folks (and most of his relatives) still live there. We have to prep ourselves and our kids before we go there. I lived in Bloomington for six years which is an oasis, really. Sure, there are plenty of red state folk around, but less so. Lots of organic farming and the like. But everywhere else.

It's funny. I never thought of those farms as rich, but you're right. They're so green compared to what you see in Arkansas. I always think of Arkansas as a very brown state and I've traveled through most of it. I never really thought of Indiana as so green until you mentioned it. The cost of living there is similar though and is in fact, declining, which I think is a bad sign. I get some sort of sick pleasure out of that.