Looking for America...in which Uncle Duke finds remnants of life in a beleaguered City
On Tuesday, November 3rd, after I voted, I went out to look for America. And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure it was still out there. There were accounts of widespread rioting, and anarchists torching and looting America. I hadn’t been out much of late, and I was afraid it had all burned down.
There were stories of thugs and Marxist revolutionaries running amuck in the streets of our large cities. Death and destruction trampling law and order in our urban centers. Living in a large city, an urban center, I was a little reluctant to venture out. But I was determined to find out what remnants of America, if any, were really left out there. What had I actually voted for? And was it worth the effort?
For this assignment, I chose my old jeep. It’s an ’81, so if any BLM gangs or Antifa brigades attacked me and stole it or set fire to it, I would be out about $300. They sure wouldn’t be able to hold it for ransom. I was willing to risk it.
Though I admit I would miss it if were gone. It has in the past had a way of sniffing out the best in America. People see it and smile because it is so bedraggled. They honk because it lost its top and its doors years ago, but it does not seem to much care. Even in the rain. It is proud of what it has left and somehow people like that about it.
Kids wave at it because it is beat up and dog-eared and beyond its years, all of which is somehow endearing. I sometimes manage to convince myself that it is me that those young women are waving at. But of course, it’s the jeep that is really the celebrity. I am just along for the ride. But I accept the 2nd hand attention and try to give it back with the same enthusiasm with which I get it. I respond for the both of us, and somehow we are all enriched by the experience.
So my jeep and I went out to look for America. As you recall, it was a beautiful day on November 3rd. The Midwestern climate gods were not aware that the World as we knew it was up for grabs. They were blissfully ignorant that one of the largest and most powerful countries in the history of the World was having an election that would determine whether they would be presided over by Absolute Good or Absolute Evil. And that the Country was pretty much divided equally as to which was which. The climate gods have never given much weight to our comedies and tragedies. They care little for our pathetic, little dramas.
So, as I believe I mentioned, my jeep and I went out to look for America. We poked our timid little heads out and drove gingerly into the very heart of this Country. Or in this case, the heart of this City, the much maligned, slandered and denigrated urban enclave, St. Louis. This hotbed of Crime and Depravity and Revolution and Rebellion. We drove right out into America’s Heart of Darkness. For better or worse. To see what we could see.
With trepidation and extreme caution, we moved about, heads low, darting from stop sign to stop sign, peeking around corners, speeding under overpasses. Vigilant, we were. On High Alert. But we crept onward, on a Mission from the Electorate. Was there anything left to salvage?
And, my stars, who would believe it? It was still there! Just as we had recalled it. This City at least, this odd assortment of neighborhoods and parishes and political wards, this former Cornerstone of the Midwest, this cultural and artistic center of Missouri, was still there. Its diverse and disheveled self was fine and dandy and unchanged, as far as I could tell. It was just as marvelously functional and dysfunctional as it was before. Rumors of its conflagration and demise were, it would seem, premature.
For all that others had tried to starve it and lock it up and dishonor it and slander it, for all of us who had tried to renew it and bulldoze it and rebuild it and demolish it and revitalize it and burn it down, it remained as stubbornly imperfect and half-finished and vital and flawed and full of potential as we deserved. My jeep and I, who both consider ourselves ‘full of potential’, were both relieved and delighted. “Hah! I told you it was still here,” I yelled, to No One in particular. And Everyone in general.
Though it must be said, we are a motley crew. A curious assemblage of 19th Century parts and 21st Century pieces from around the world. We are a collection of characters not always appealing to the discerning eye. Our corners are not plumb, and we have hair colors that jar and scream, sometimes from a great distance. Our streets are much pitted, and our fashion sense is dubious. And it would appear that many of us have made poor dietary choices. For quite some time. Our streetlights blink on and off, and we come in all shapes, sizes, attitudes and mental capacities. But as I live and breathe, there is a resilience there that I would bet the ranch on. Here and now.
We took the better part of a day at it and drove block to block and neighborhood to neighborhood. We found a heartening mix of boarded-up buildings and structural scaffolds with dumpsters out front, collecting a century of abuse. Folks putting on roofs and cleaning up graffiti across the street from boarded up windows and toppled chimneys. People cutting grass and even pouring new foundations next door to abandoned properties with crumbling walls. There were hulking old factories, long forgotten, empty and spooky, becoming apartments. And churches becoming condos. Bless my soul, I say to myself, it is the best of capitalism. Primal optimism fueled by realistic indicators and smart, bold money. Buy low and sell high. It is a vision and a goal beyond the obvious. I term it a noble cause.
My old jeep and I are positively jubilant as we encounter people young and old, light and dark, in motorized wheelchairs and golf carts. They pass us on motorcycles and shout out from their skateboards. ‘Hey, dude,’ they smile and point. They are walking dogs and pushing baby carriages, picking up kids from school and chatting with neighbors.
And I realize, I know these people. I have known them for 50 years. They are folks who believe we can all get along. That we can figure it out. They were smart enough to ignore all the ‘scare’ talk. And in a City with plenty of faults, with blowing trash and many other intractable problems, they were bold enough to put their money down and confident that they could make it work.
And I realize, at that instant, that I just voted for these folks. For their courage and their insight and their open minds. I voted for each and every one of them. And I would do it again.
It’s a long story, with a long cast of characters and a lot of twists and turns, but we are churched and unchurched, Baptist and Buddhist, bathed and barbarous. We are pious and Pagans, Hetero and Homo and all things between. We are too rich and too poor, genius and guileless. We picnic in the park and sit in bars with our buddies. We are crude and polite, educated and profane, lawful and lawless, misguided and well-meaning.
We are lovers and losers, looking for our place in the sun. We are walkers, runners and bikers, homeless and hopeless. We are sinners and saints, thieves and scalawags. We drink beer by the bucket and smoke weed by the bale.
We wait for the bus, for our ships to come in. We keep waiting for our Lotto to land. We are artists and entrepreneurs and deadbeats and hucksters. We are poets and actors looking for a gig. We are out-of-work stagecoach drivers just looking for a hand up. We are preachers and politicians and lawyers and grifters. We are shining stars and has-been athletes and wannabe writers. We wear head wraps and burkas and slouch hats and ballcaps. And we are always honest, except when we lie.
It is a marvelous place, this place where we live. I wish all Missourians could get in the jeep with me and go on a ride-about. I have a back seat now, so I could take up to three at a time. I would show them the City. It is a world of many different hues, styles of dress and languages. It’s sometimes hard to understand. But the jeep seems to speak a universal language.
I would drive them around, and we could look for America. My jeep knows the way.
Happy Thanksgiving, All