My wife and I are in White House Hamburgers in Claire, Michigan. This is in rural Michigan, in the middle of the state. This is a tiny, six-booth hamburger joint where everything is unapologetically fried and every meal includes meat and starch. There are three other patrons there—an older couple sharing a booth and an old woman at the booth across from them—amiably chatting. My pregnant wife and I are the only people there (including the three staff members) not smoking.
The other diners are talking about gas prices, and what a crummy job the president is doing. "It's a surprise no one's impeached him yet," the lady seated with her husband observes. "Impeached?" the elderly woman responds, "Heck, I'm surprised no one's assassinated him!" and the remainder of their conversation dwells on assassinating the president. Impeachment—an idea being formally put forth in Washington by Detroit's own Representative John Conyers—gets an offhand mention. Killing the President of the United States? This gets full and due consideration, a careful weighing of pros and cons. In public, in a hamburger joint, in front of witnesses, during the dinner hour.
Old white folks in the heart of this corner of the heartland are bread and butter Republican-voters; they're "the base." Yes, Michigan is a Blue State, but only owing to black Detroit and its affluent white ethnic suburbs. The whole rest of the state is as Red as the stripes on Old Glory; our state legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, causing no end to legislative foot-dragging in an attempt to drive our cute, Canadian-born Democratic Governor insane.
Rural Michigan is Bush's Crazy Base World
Grafitti in the bathroom of White House Hamburgers, writ in black sharpie on the red paint of the small, high shelf where the spare rolls of toilet paper wait: "Long Live the Republic"
Friend of the Almanac(k) Jason Polan now works for the Art Train. Several weeks back he was in Albuquerque, New Mexico with the train. Getting in to the Art Train van after work, he could hear, amid the rumble of idling American engines, someone yelling "Sand Nigger! Sand Nigger!"
Jason looked over and saw that it was a man sitting on a bench, yelling at him.
Jason is an Ashkenazic Jew from the liberal suburbs north of Detroit.
Jason craned around, although it was pretty clear that the man could only be yelling at him.
"Yeah, you, Sand Nigger!"
Jason is an Ashkenazic Jew from the liberal suburbs north of Detroit. For all intents and purposes, Jason is as white as a flag's stripes.
"Sand Nigger, you can't drive!"
Jason got in the van and drove off.
Three days later Jason walked past the man in the street, and the man was wearing a knee brace.
My wife teaches at a school in Detroit, on the far western edge of the crumbling post-industrial burgh. Detroit's population, which peaked at 2 million in the 50s, has steadily declined since, dipping below 900,000 by 2004. It is "the most racially segregated city in the United States", the fattest city in the United States, with the highest murder rate in the U.S. (45.3 homicides per 100,000 people.) 72% of all Detroit children are born to single unwed mothers and 47% of Detroiters are "functionally illiterate." Detroit is likely best known for its high murder rate, blond-haired rapper Eminem, and Devil's Night arsons.
Forbodingly, the city's motto reads: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus. Transaltion? "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes"
Detroit is 150 square miles, much of it an such an advanced state of Rust Belt urban decay; in significant portions of the city 40-50% of properties lie vacant. Buildings crumble, sturdy groves of maples and locus trees thrive, vacant lots sport unpassably thick growths of sumac and chest-high prairie grass, and populations of pheasants.
One morning one of my wife's co-workers, a science teacher, was standing in the schools mucky gravel parking lot and happened to look up, high atop one of the overgrown jack pines rooted in the adjacent lot, and saw a bald eagle—a bird renowned for its timidity and aversion to human populations and their trappings.
Long Live the Republic—
It shall rise from the ashes,
But we had hoped for better things.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson