We're finding wonderful people, everywhere. One young man, several grocery stops ago, was charmingly uninformed. When asked if the chicken was organic, he said, "Honestly, I don't know." When we asked if he knew if it was range fed, he answered, "Honestly, I don't know." The conversation continued on like this, with him responding each time with "Honestly, I don't know." Yet, each time, with a big, apologetic, kind smile.
In Needles, CA we were looking for a grocery store. We stopped and asked a woman working at a gas station where to find a grocery. Apologetically, she said, "There isn't one." In our stunned silence, she went on to say, "Nope, no grocery store in Needles. It's across the state line in Arizona, about 20 miles away." But, with a shrug of her shoulders, she went on to say, "We have five marijuana stores." Town after town, grocery stores are surprisingly difficult to locate, but in Needles, a town of several thousand people, there wasn't even one.
In small towns, and in larger towns as well, the shops with real products and real services are disappearing. Empty, boarded up buildings take their place. There is a sadness in people's eyes when they tell us they have no grocery, or coffee shop, or hardware store, or bakery. They always add, "We had one until ..."
Along the highways, there is a proliferation of fast food restaurants, gas stations, junk food groceries, dollar stores and huge box stores. Each larger town greets visitors with a lineup of billboards announcing the usual corporate America logos. These businesses do provide jobs, but they are jobs that do not pay a living wage, never mind job satisfaction. Yet the people working at the few such businesses we've visited, treat us with respect and a cheerful resignation.
As we travel, we find the beauty of this country's lands stunningly dramatic and awe inspiring. Yet, we are concerned about the towns, which seem to be either dying a slow death of poverty or of an ugly death of corporate sprawl. The few exceptions we find are noteworthy. And our parks, well, quite frankly, our beautiful and wonderful parks and public spaces, like this country's infrastructure, are in rapid decay.
Our campfire is the quiet, safe place we question what we are seeing and what we are experiencing and how our experiences are stacking up against our expectations. Although we both acknowledge that 45 days is too soon to know for sure the accuracy of our observations, we do share a deep concern for our country's health and welfare. Decay and poverty throb at the core of local businesses; streets and highways are in disrepair; entire towns are dying; parks, schools, and public spaces desperately need maintenance; homelessness is wide spread; and people's homes are falling apart.
Economic recovery? No, not yet, at least not yet at the level of the ordinary man.
“There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success.”
- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath