Land of mystery

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Last updated on March 6th, 2018 at 12:30 am

The Washington Post’s David Von Drehle visits an alien world:

Early in December, with a photographer and his assistant, I drove from Nebraska, near the geographical center of the United States, to the heart of Texas—more than 700 miles, through empty spaces and sprawling cities and all or part of four states. We headed pretty much due south, no dodging or weaving. And never did we pass within 100 miles of a county that voted for Democrat John F. Kerry in the recent election.

Scary! Von Drehle attempted to converse with the inhabitants of this curious land, who, helpfully, turned out to speak English:

We asked them about themselves, about their communities, about their votes. Some were leery of us. Several asked politely: “What are you trying to accomplish?” Others were more blunt: “What’s your angle?” Another version: “What are you hoping to find?”

Having survived these encounters without being boiled in a stew, Von Drehle continued to record, Darwin-like, his findings:

Here, on the eve of the president’s second inauguration, is an honest effort to set down what I saw, what I heard, what I thought and what I learned.

We’re learning rather a lot about Von Drehle, aren’t we? The areas he visited are mere hours from the east coast, yet he writes of them as though he’s revealing secrets deciphered from hieroglyphs inside an Egyptian pyramid.

We set off from Lincoln heading west along Interstate 80 through wintry fog that blurred the landscape and erased the highway before and after us. Within our gliding cocoon the land was nothing but tawny stubble and chocolate-colored mud. Now and then a few cows half-appeared like ghosts in the gloom, huffing steam as they grazed, and the irrigation sprinklers stood idle in the fallow fields, looking like skeletons of giant wiener dogs.

Translation: “It was wet and cold. I saw cows. Sprinklers were not in use. Mud is mud-coloured.”

One of the first things worth noting about the Red Sea is that people live there because they like it. (Several people proudly pointed out to me that there are no houses on the market in Waco.) This basic fact strikes wonder in some city dwellers, who live in cities because they love cities. They love the bustle, the myriad options, the surprises and the jolts and the competition. It can require a leap of imagination to perceive that there are people who seek precisely the opposite, and not just on weekends and vacations.

It shouldn’t require that much of a leap. Our brave explorer next finds Paul Kern, who actually abandoned city life for rural Nebraska:

“I like being able to shout and have nobody hear me. I like to be able to throw a snowball as far as I can and not hit anybody or anything. See, I was raised in a city with houses on each side of ours just five feet away, and an alley, and a—aw, what’s the word? A curb! The inner city. My father wouldn’t let me have a dog because he said it would bother the neighbors. Out here I can have a dog and a cat. In fact, I have four cats.”

He volunteered this as a way of explaining why he voted for George Bush.

Oh, but there are other reasons, sinister, non-cat reasons, which Von Drehle presently lists:

I couldn’t help noticing that among the people Paul Kern won’t likely hit with a far-flung snowball are black people, openly gay people and people born in foreign countries.

The Washington Post, like liberal broadsheets worldwide, often complains about the gap between rich and poor and other supposedly damaging social gulfs. By those measures, Waco, Nebraska, ought to be celebrated. Instead, Von Drehle despairs over its “sameness”:

Homes are all modestly scaled; on a random day near Christmas, of 62 houses for sale in the nearby city of York, only one cost more than $200,000. The stories Nebraskans hear of members of Congress struggling to live on $150,000 a year in Washington simply astound them … I wondered if all this sameness created a pressure to conform to prevailing political views.

What a strange notion to enter Von Drehle’s head. Earlier in this bewildering report, he noted that the District of Columbia, where he lives, voted 10 to 1 in favor of Kerry. If he sought “pressure to conform”, he shouldn’t have left home.

The whole thing runs for another several thousand stupid words.

Posted by Tim B. on 01/17/2005 at 01:35 AM
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