Day 2 – Resting in Springfield

A day off. Aaaah!

I woke up with my joints very stiff, and had to move like a sloth for the first half hour of the morning. Here’s where I slept. Note the sleeping bag right up next to the window, to get that cool night air.

My quarters in Springfield. Not bad for 34 bucks a night. Except for the reek of cigarette smoke bleeding from the walls.

After a while I felt like going outside, so I cruised around Springfield, and concluded that the entire city was built to serve the trucking industry. It contained one very wide, modern, excellent paved street, shooting right through town, and a rough grid of secondary streets where everyone lived.

The population was a split between crumbling old people, suffering from the cumulative effects of their local diet, and bright-eyed young people, working service jobs and radiating a kind of desperate energy that said, “I’m going to escape this place, if I work hard enough, I just know it!” There were only a handful of people my age hanging around, and they all looked like the type to have criminal records. Angry looking. Or in the case of the women, a fragile cheerfulness that didn’t quite mask a thorough disappointment.

There were four places to eat, all focused around hamburgers. One was closed. The other three were like mess halls – dingy, barely sanitary, and not so much designed as … “repaired” into existence. I ate at two of them. The restaurant that served the better burger – a hand-made 1/2-pound slab for five dollars – used a menu that was crawling with misspelled words. I can’t say I was surprised, or even much bothered by it at this point. I walked into the fourth restaurant to look at their menu, which was written on chalk slabs above the counter and only had a few misspellings, and saw a sign announcing that they were closing early in deference to the local high-school football game. An angry-looking man about my age gave me the stink-eye as I walked out.

In general, everyone I talked to was pleasant, and I didn’t have any trouble riding around or shopping. I got the sense that everyone here was scraping by, since the people who could make more of a living had probably moved somewhere more interesting to do it. As I walked back from the restaurant, I thought of my biking gear, locked in the hotel room across town. It’s mostly toys to me – non-essential stuff – but even if I sold it as used, it would probably net enough cash to make a downpayment on a house in this town. I don’t feel any guilt over that – I’ve kind of moved beyond the guilty phase of being lucky enough to earn good money – but I do feel a sense of discomfort, like I don’t fit in, and should be moving on. Over dinner I listened to a podcast from Bill Maher and realized that every single person in the entire town, all around me for miles, probably disagreed violently with me on a lot of fundamental ideas that I talked freely about on the west coast.

And yet … If I don’t talk politics, I get along fine.

It really drives the point home for me, to see all these people. I really understand how tempting it is for them to think that there is a “liberal bias” to the media they see flowing in from the coast, or to think that they are unshakably in the majority and their elections are subverted by some conspiracy of “rich liberals”. Back home we are handicapped by complementary illusions: For some reason those mid-westerners are hypnotized by “conservative pundits” and blinded by patriotism and religious righteousness and racism. Turns out the truth is more complicated, and a lot less satisfying.

I don’t know. There’s always a grain of truth somewhere in these stories. While tweaking my bicycle in front of the hotel, the one black man in the entire town – as far as I could tell – came walking past me. He didn’t even look up from the sidewalk.

Tomorrow I’m going to quit this town, and I will never return.

2 Responses to Day 2 – Resting in Springfield

  1. Erika says:

    What an unpleasant-sounding place. I know it is not a singular kind of town though. I suspect things haven’t always been that bleak in many of these towns, but as the 20th century has swept behind us and the 21st century steamrolls onward, these small, backward towns get left further and further behind, and the hot anger that engenders is not able to be well-articulated by those feeling it, as it come from a place of blind reaction, much the same way one gets angry at being shamed by a stranger. I don’t know what will happen to these places in the next 20 to 50 years. I think it’s very instructive to go to those places, to see that actual people are having the insane opinions that get bandied about as “popular sentiment”. It can deeply uncomfortable (as you experienced) to confront the lives and attitudes of these people, but that’s the nature of culture shock.

    • For sure. And wow … after a week riding under the Kansas sky – that great boiling vastness, pressing down from above – I can imagine why people out here may be more Republican than Democrat, at least by the modern definitions. That sense of isolation can make a person a little less confident in the power of collectives.

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