i had expected to see signs of a depressed economy and they were there in the little things...more weeds in the cracks on the roads, flaking paint on the light poles, a general sort of lack of road maintenance. but they weren't there in ways i expected them to be. everyone (in the upper midwest, at least) is still driving around in the most ginormous, ugly, ungainly and badly-designed vehicles i've had the misfortune to see in, well, about three and a half years. when i saw the dodges on the road, i tell you, i understood why the company was in trouble (but i wondered why anyone bothered to bail them out, since they clearly had made such bad business/design decisions that they deserved to go under). i know i've said this before, but the vehicles seriously look like tanks thinly disguised as cars. who needs a vehicle that large and bulky? and who can afford to keep them filled with gas, as they must get absolutely rubbish mileage? so clearly the crisis hasn't been bad enough to drive anyone to consider downsizing to a more gas-economical vehicle.
and on the subject of cars, one of my facebook friends was recently lamenting how sad it was to own two cars and have both of them in the shop. i commented that she could have stopped after the first part of the sentence - as it strikes me as quite sad to be one person, living alone, and have two cars. while i appreciate that a single person cannot drive both of the cars at once, it is still a monumentally arrogant act to think that you are entitled to two cars. what if everyone in india and china felt that way too?
|case in point|
at the first snack village (my nephew's name for those gas stations with a mini(?) market) we stopped in i was a little taken aback that there was an entire wall filled with your basic jesus-related t-shirts. and just when i had filled my 42 oz. beverage (i wanted a small one, you see) and recovered my shock at the jesus shirts, i wandered into the pop tart aisle. seriously, like 10 feet of a shelf devoted entirely to pop tarts, swathed in brightly-colored packaging. which brings me to the next shocking thing. people had noticeably gained weight since i was last in the country. like more than just a few pounds. of course i'm not a twig myself, so i don't mean to point fingers, but this was bad.
and it leads me back to the pop tarts and to all of that packaged, processed food in general, which i'm sure is directly responsible for people looking the way they do. it's so unhealthy. and good odin, the bread, don't even get me started on the bread - husband's eye actually twitched on one occasion while eating a slice of it. the sorriest excuse for bread in the world, in fact, it should be labeled like the cheese is in the US - as a processed, pasteurized bread product and not actual bread. and although i know that most of my readers (at least until after this post) are US-based and most of you are concerned about buying fresh, local produce if you possibly can, it's obvious that the vast majority of people haven't caught onto that. at all. and it's really worrying (unless of course you are a drug company that makes insulin or own quite a lot of stock in one #silver lining). no wonder the US has health care-related issues.
it amazed me how little the whole locovore concept has reached the area where i grew up - which is kind of ironic in that it's agricultural country. i had a conversation with my mother, where she was cussing out the locally-produced eggs available in the grocery store, as although they said "large," they weren't large at all in her eyes. she came home triumphant one day, happy that the store had gotten some imported-across-several-states "jumbo" eggs instead of those dreaded local ones. i asked her if she thought about food miles on those eggs and she looked at me blankly. which is weird because she is otherwise quite a fan of barbara kingsolver.
another worrying trend was the amount of religious fundamentalist billboards. so many that it actually began to seem menacing. somewhere south of sioux city, iowa on I-29, husband and i looked uneasily at one another as we passed a stark white billboard with somber black text reading, "are you ready to meet your god?" there was an exit coming up and we glanced at the children in the backseat, wondering if we'd have to somehow defend them from snipers, the billboard seemed so threatening.
now, having grown up in a town with 12 churches, i knew that there was a religiosity in the US, so i'm not saying that it's new, but it struck me that it's become so much more aggressive. it used to be ok to just quietly be your religion, but now it seems that you must display your christianity (because that seemed also to be the only option) much more visibly. of course, i also realize that freedom of religion is one of the basic tenets of what it means to be american. however, i'm not longer sure it would be ok to be a religion other than evangelical christian. not if you judge by the roadside advertising and the lit-up ticker-style signs on all the churches in every little town in the upper midwest. it's undoubtedly different on the coasts and in larger cities, but this is the heartland. and it's worth taking the pulse there to see what's really happening.
but perhaps the most shocking experience of all was listening to the "news." for one, there's scarcely any news it in anymore...just a poorly-argued string of predictions as to the demise of this or that politician or hollywood star. it seemed that there's no reporting on what actually happened or real analysis of it, but just a lot of shouting by heavily-made up, coiffed people who may at one time have been involved with the miss america pageant. at least in south dakota, on the local news they still talk about the weather, but even that is a bunch of more or less wild predictions.
it seems to me that americans are expending an awful lot of energy and resources protecting themselves from "enemies" - behind strident religious slogans, in shouting news-free opinion casts, in tank-like vehicles and underneath layers of fat. and i find it really worrying. and sad. and wonder if it doesn't look an awful lot like the waning years of the holy roman empire, only with evangelical preachers, fox news and reality television.