Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Pulse of America

I spent most of my time in battleground areas. Granted, my first destination was New York State, but it was South Central, almost Pennsylvania.

My travels took me east on 94, driving through Chi-Town (we went right through downtown on the Skyline, no 294 by-pass necessary). Once through the big city, and into Gary IN we hooked up with I-90 that would take us all the way through Cleveland, and into Erie, before ducking onto I-86 for the final approach into Binghamton, NY.

The first thing that really stuck out, was the amount of law enforcement. It seemed every turn-around, rest area, or weight station had a squad car in it. I can appreciate how financially depressed these areas are, but this seemed pretty extreme way of generating revenue. I am a common traveler through these parts, but have never seen the Wisconsin roads saturated like this.

I was more surprised by the lack of bumper stickers on the road. If both sides claim to have energized their bases, I am not sure what they are using as a gauge. The only bumper sticker I saw all weekend was a 'Kerry:Edwards' and it was on a North Dakota (red state) vehicle. Maybe that says enough right there.

My only political conversation with a local, was Friday evening. He was a Pennsylvania resident in town for the 'Empire State Games' a high school athletic Olympics. His son was on one of the rowing teams. I sensed sincere dissatisfaction with the current administration. It appeared he was a conservative, who probably voted for Bush in 2000, but It sounded to me like there was no love loss there. The discussion began with me bagging the high tax environment we were in. Gas over $2.00/gallon, smokes almost $5.00 a pack. (he said they just passed another increase, and smokes would be jumping another 50 cents). I revealed my political leaning in the spirit of full disclosure. That is where he admitted his frustration.

The economy is much higher on the priority lists of voters in these distressed areas. GW continues to say it will get better, or it is improving, but that is clearly not the case. Monster tax cuts to the rich don't stimulate the economy. It just gives them more monopoly money to play with in the stock market. The bump in the economy we saw a few months ago was the result of seasonal tax refund spending, and the numbers have now settled back into their mundane state. This Pennsylvania citizen not only shared the job loss of some friends, but stressed the insecurity of his own employment status. He all but told me that Bush would be a very hard sell for him this year.

We returned through Cleveland again, stopping at the Rock Bottom Brewery in the West Flats right near downtown. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, and we were the only ones in the place. Now, granted, that is not the busiest time of day for a brew pub and restaurant, but still not a very good sign of a robust economy, especially in the crucial battleground of Ohio.

Continuing on to Flint, MI, where we were picking up some family heirlooms from my in-laws, we had just got the word that the Kerry:Edwards campaign had pulled out of their stop there. The strong support, and delays related to the Grip and Grin at these grass roots whistles stops required them to modify their schedule.

Flint has not been an economic hotbed, even under the robust Clinton economy of the 90s, for quite sometime. They had their boom years, as an automotive town, but those days are long gone. Although my wife, who spent her whole life in Flint until moving to the Twin Cities, states 'Roger and Me' is not the best look at life in Flint, she admits that it is a pretty good snapshot.

I was able to take this photo of a small business displaying their support for the next president. Seems they are looking forward to change here as well.

The return trip was uneventful. We made great progress while flying through the windy city in record time. It took us about 9 hours (including a couple grab and go gas stops) to navigate the Interstates between Flint and St. Paul. I tend to use the +9 rule with my cruise control. In Michigan, with a speed limit of 70, meant 79 on the cruise, everywhere else was posted 65.

I tend to be a little more leery of my speed in Wisconsin, especially with the show of force witnessed on the way out. I've never received a ticket on the Interstate, but I hear Wisconsin Smokies can be pretty anal. I eased off at their favorite hiding places, rest stops, weight stations, entrance ramps. There weren't as many of them on the way back, but a strong presence nonetheless. I risked it, with cruise at +9, and not a single one of them even budged. I thought that was kind of strange, especially since it was about midnight at this time, and then I noticed why. The cars were empty. There must have been a half dozen of them that were just sitting in the emergency vehicle turnarounds, the spot that divides most major Interstates. Maybe their budgets have been butchered to the point that they can't man their vehicles anymore, and now they are doing the best they can, using the 'scarecrow' philosophy.

I look forward to my next journey, when the economy is truly rebounding, the distressed lands are recovering, the country is no longer cowering, and John Kerry, is President of the Untied States.


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