From Ben: Musings from the Back Roads

We often don’t know what we think until we read what we write (a thought I’ve shared with students for years). For the last 1000 miles of our 3247 driving miles so far, we’ve been off of the interstate highways.

I get the anger a little better now.

Small town after small town on backroads through rural Virginia and North Carolina, the panhandle of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas there were abandoned storefronts, vacant playgrounds, an infinite number of Dollar Generals (a sure sign of poverty and the only non-gas station/convenience store in many towns), empty main streets, decrepit homes either unoccupied or in need of repair. 

In Monroeville, Alabama (home of Harper Lee and a must-stop destination for Sarah), we got into a conversation with the director of the Courthouse Museum. When asked about the ‘state’ of Monroeville (which was pretty obvious when the only seemingly active store on a beautiful square was the local equivalent of Savers) she replied, “When they ‘off-shored’ the Vanity Fair factory, the town fell apart. Yes, we have a small paper mill left but the decision to close destroyed the town. I’ve been here forty-six years, and I’m not leaving, but there aren’t jobs and nothing really for young people especially because we’re thirty miles of the interstate.” Now, I know nothing about Vanity Fair and where they sent the jobs, but I’m 100% sure that there was a decision made to increase shareholder value and profitability that gutted this town. Is it a surprise that people here want to take America back to fifty years ago when small towns and manufacturing created good jobs and solid communities?

So when one combines that daily reality in thousands of towns like Monroeville with the national tragedies in last twenty years — an opioid crisis fueled by big pharma that cost tens of thousands of lives with the support of the FDA, a housing crisis caused by predatory lending when not a single perpetrator from Wall Street went to jail that cost hundreds of thousands of people their homes, a war in Iraq fueled by misinformation that was primarily fought by those in communities like Monroeville, a nation building project in Afghanistan that cost billions after the original OBL mission was accomplished — it becomes much easier to understand why people are angry and have lost faith in their government and leadership. 

And as we’ve learned from so many societies, when there are national problems (imagined or real), there needs to be someone to blame and a desire for simple solutions. Hence…Make America great again

It’s too easy in the bubble of my life (that has been filled with significant unearned advantage) to say, They’re racist or They’re ignorant and don’t understand.

Though I’ve not moved closer to a Trump world, these rural miles have helped me understand some of what people I don’t know feel a little better. 

From Sarah: Palo Duro Canyon State Park (just south of Amarillo, Texas) and onto Santa Fe

We had an amazing hike in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park that appeared out of the infinite, vast flat horizon. We tested our packs that we’ll be taking to Chile. Gorgeous weather and perfect day.

Ben on top of Lighthouse:

The trail we did was Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail to Lighthouse Trail—well-marked and beautiful.

And after a four-hour drive the next day, how joyful to see Julia and T and Isaac and Elsa! Santa Fe is just stunning—snow and sun and family love.

Stay safe. Miss you. Love you.

2 thoughts on “From Ben: Musings from the Back Roads

  1. Ben, that is so perfectly described to those of us with lives filled with unearned advantage ( aka “lucky”) Thank you.

    And Sally, hello to Julia!! You sisters look great.

    Love your blog, XO




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