Archive for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

American Wasteland

Posted in 911, Alabama, America, Autobiographical, Country Music, Johnny Cash, June Carter, New York City, Non-Fiction, NYC, Poetry, Pop Art, Pop Culture, Punk Rock, Rock and Roll with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by Paulette Powell

For many years on my annual pilgrimage, I drive the spine of the Appalachians to their foothills in Alabama. I’m eagerly welcomed by my family, the city girl back in her American small town. I recall Charlie dubbing an early trip “The Last Picture Show”, in the role of Cybill Shepherd, I camped up for his camera.

This was 1990s, a picturesque American Dream. Lively urban centers, from Pittsburg to Nashville snuggled by suburbs and exurbia, then miles of highway connecting rural towns from North to South. Blue Ridge Mountain Mama makes you believe in God, and the American Dream.

Our visit would begin homesteading at my sprawling family farm. City kids off the leash, like wild critters excited to run free. Granny would fill them with junk when I wasn’t looking. I did my ritual BBQ and entertained my old friends with tarot and Mt. Eagle blackberry wine. Fireworks, not legal in NYC but in Alabama you could hear BOOM, all summer long. Roman candles and sparklers would delight. And little light pollution allowed us to view the Big Dipper, sometimes watch spectacular meteor showers.

The days ahead we’d make our rounds to visit kinfolk. At Powell’s Chapel , Paw Paw Powell was always thrilled to see his “Blue Eyed Girl”, my daughter Cortney and welcome Charlie’s children as his own. Later we would head down to Berry, bout 30 minutes outside of Tuscaloosa to visit my favorite Uncle and his clan. His farm was off a mile from the rural road, at night the Katydids became an orchestra.

When it was time to leave we reluctantly packed to head back to the Big Apple, and were always asked, “Why don’t y’all just settle down here?”, Jimmy Powell or Uncle James would croon. There were beautiful homes to acquire with a veranda and widow’s walk. For a moment Charlie and I would fantasize about relocating and perhaps snag for our own, Fox Run Plantation.

Over a decade ago those good old days are like fleeting dreamscape when life was easy and the cotton was high. President Clinton was in office, America was prosperous, 911 catastrophic was only a fathom in a Man in Black movie and we had yet to embark on a decade war in two hostile foreign countries.

On a recent trip driving off the beaten path, things were not the post card perfect memory I carry in my head. But sad people in old automobiles and towns in much need of repair greeted us from state to state.

Outside Roanoke, Va, we stopped to fill up, to be asked for help from a family with two small kids. I gave them a few bucks for gas. They thanked us and apologized, their desperate eyes grateful. It seemed every thing they owned was piled in an old beat up Ford, even the kid’s bicycles. I wondered if they were on their way to stay with family, I hoped they had family.

Back on the road I had hours to burn before we stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and decide if the Blue Eyed Woman (my grown daughter) and I, would stay in a motel before embarking on the last leg of our journey. Amid baby boomer travelers and typical tourists, something disturbed us. There were younger people and older who looked lost, homeless, nowhere to go.

Cortney and I speculated their stories, one man looked serial killer creepy with wildness in his eyes, gaunt from a lack of sleep. We made bad jokes but they soon turned to empathy. Is this what our country is turning into, “The Great Recession, an American Wasteland“ ; resembling James Agee and Walker Evan’s era of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”.

We made it to Alabama exhausted as always, to hear stories of who lost their home, job, got cancer, “went for treatment” and what company was sold to multi-nationals. Cortney and I whispered in agreement, we no longer enjoyed our visits, too damn depressing, especially since Paw Paw’s been gone.

On a Sunday we attended church with my Great Aunt Greet, afterwards a church covered-dish supper. We talked of family, work and politics. Cousin Edward told me things have changed, with sons who serve, he speaks of fear that future generations will not know the prosperity of his generation. Then the conversation becomes darker, when I discover that the little boy I took a shine too, belonged to a Father in prison and a recovering addict Mother who doesn’t attend church, but relies on Edward and the community to raise her children.

In Morgan County I hear more horrific tales, the fate of a friend’s close family member. Avoided death in Iraq to fight his own demons. He blew himself up making crystal meth (white man’s crack) in a two car garage, leaving a wife and two babies behind. “The war didn’t get ’em, the drugs did” my friend shook his head and swallowed the last of his bud.

All across the country, from the Southland, Heartland, Western Seaboard, The Great Plains, New York State and the Great White Way, the stories seem to be the same, just with different names. Few job opportunities, industries move abroad and over 14 million Americans are unemployed.

Corporations cut costs while CEO and shareholders have bonus record years, less reliant on our American market they are whores to emerging foreign economies. Even telemarketing is relocating to bilingual countries. Where children learn English as a fluent 2nd language while our schools close for lack of funds and taxes.

Another historical work stands out in my mind, “How The Other Half Lives” written and photographed by the great “Muckraker” Jacob Riis. Depicting the two Americas, the very privileged and very poor, no middle class. His works inspired reforms and regulations introduced by that famous Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. Along with other great men, carved a piece of pie for working class and made our country what it became. What happened?

A perfect storm to blow away dreams and wake up in the American Wasteland.

The solutions are not in play!!!! Instead there’s a feeding frenzy and a political last stand holding our nation hostage, leading to an August 2nd deadline. Who are these folks we have elected? They seem not to care for the greater good, like our leaders of the past. But resemble a new breed of “Carpetbaggers“, who are rock star wannabes. They use public office to enrich themselves, from million dollar book to reality tv shows. Sarah Palin, the tip of the iceberg.

But something inside me, maybe God, maybe not, is telling me, it will all be okay. And these are the times that build character, community and inspire greatness. We have seen it all before, struggle, reminding us not to take our freedoms or our nation for granted. We will survive and still be the country the world aspires to beat and to be!

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