Friday, October 28, 2016

"I've come to look for America"

This post is titled from a line in the iconic song "America"  by Simon and Garfunkel:

It's a Presidential election year and America seems more divided than I remember in my lifetime of 65 years.  So, what an opportune time to take a road trip through the Heartland of America which is what we did this past summer.  Our pretext was to visit Ron's children and grandchildren and see some of this great country's landmarks and cities.  So click on the Simon and Garfunkel video, turn up the sound,  and join me as we all go look for America

We spent 17 days on the road as we traveled through Amarillo, Texas and stopped in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the midst of Thunder basketball playoff madness.  

This capital city of the state that gave us the preeminent American humorist of the 20th century, Will Rogers, was crazy united in their support for their basketball team that was fighting the Golden State Warriors for a shot at the NBA Championship.  This place where the National Cowboy Museum and the Rodeo Hall of Fame is, where several native american tribes and freed slaves were relocated from the American southeast in a forced march called "The Trail of Tears" between 1830 and 1850, and where the biggest domestic terrorist attack occurred in 1995,  was all in for their hometown team predominated by African American players and international players from New Zealand, Republic of the Congo, and Switzerland. Yes, this is America, celebrating its diversity in the heart of "cowboy country".

Traveling through Texas and Oklahoma which have strong oil and gas production, we noticed hundreds of new wind turbines providing a new source of jobs and revenue along with clean renewable energy.  This was very reassuring.  

Heading into beautiful Arkansas and the Ozarks, we had lunch at a swiss winery just off I-40 near Ozark. Who knew that Arkansas had wonderful immigrant settlements producing vineyards and fine wine?  We know about Walmart and Tyson Farms as strong components of this state's economy, and transportation and logistics and hydroelectric power are also big employers.  Wind power and aerospace are growing new industries for this state.  This is America, continually developing a diversified economy.

We spent the night in Memphis, the "Birthplace of Rock and Roll." Memphis was undergoing a crime wave fueled by drugs, gang violence, and poverty but is on the mend with less poverty and a jobless rate at it's lowest in 9 years in 2016.  We couldn't find a vacancy in the name brand hotels in Memphis, so we had to stay far out on the east side in a small motel operated by an east Asian immigrant family.   Yes, this is America, getting better and recovering from a shattered economy but still with pockets of poverty, despair and violence. 

We traveled on to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.
Crossing the Cumberland River into Nashville, Tennessee

Downtown Nashville

We loved the exhibits and special nature of America's home-grown music with its roots from immigrants like the Scottish, Irish, English, and Africans.  This is America singing it's songs of freedom, love and sorrow, of God and Faith, of our hopes and dreams.  

We headed north to Louisville where Ron was stationed in the 1960's at Ft. Knox in the army.  We stayed at  the historic and elegant Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.  

In this town where the venerable Kentucky Derby is celebrated each year with fine hats, fast horses and expensive soirees, where the great boxer Muhammed Ali was born as Cassius Clay in 1942, we saw a renaissance of re-purposing old buildings, a vibrant small business community, a city with a grand plan to redevelop the downtown. We enjoyed one of the newer bustling independent restaurants as we dined on fresh oysters, fried green tomatoes, slow cooked ribs, and local crafted bourbon at a converted bourbon distillery warehouse called  Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar just off Mohammed Ali Blvd.   This preservation of the old culture with new millennial energy and entrepreneurship is America.  
Entering Cincinnati, Ohi

The next day we drove through Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio on our way to Cleveland, Ohio to visit my husband's daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  These cities were bursting with economic activity and new construction everywhere. Ohio was very prosperous-looking as we drove along the interstate highways.  The use of the term "rust belt" for Ohio is outdated. One bright light is Honda that has built factories in Marysville, Ohio. Ohio is recovering from the recession but the recovery is uneven for Ohioans and there are still pockets of high unemployment, high rates of opiate addiction and thousands of non-college educated workers who will never work again in highly paid manufacturing jobs.  This is the transition economy with winners and losers that is America in a global economy. 

Downtown Cinncinati

Cleveland was the birthplace of my husband, Ron and he happily re-visited many places he had known as a young man.   His daughter promised to treat him to some of the great ethnic restaurants of Cleveland.
Sylman's in downtown Cleveland

Matzo Ball Soup a at Sylman's

Huge plates of pastrami, corned beef and french fries
Of course, we visited the great Rock and Roll Hall of Fame overlooking Lake Erie.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Max

Max learning about the history of rock and roll

A tribute to the inventor of the electric guitar - Les Paul

Our Nobel Laureate of Literature - Bob Dylan

A tribute to Roger Waters and Pink Floyd's The Wall
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the shore of Lake Erie was designed by the great Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei. Born in China, Pei came to the US at age 17 to study architecture and today is one of the world's greatest living architects.  This is the America of dreams where young unknown hungry artists feel the freedom to explore their desires to make an enduring culture that all the world admires.

Ron's daughter, Margaret, moved back to her birthplace of Cleveland from Davenport, Iowa a year ago.  She is now the Dean of Arts and Sciences at a liberal arts university.  Her son, Max, is 5 years old.  Her husband, Jeff, found a new job teaching in Cleveland. So life is busy for their family.

In Margaret's office at her university

Ron and I toured the beautiful campus at his daughter's workplace
One morning we went  to dine at The Flying Fig which bills itself as a "small eatery and bar," one of the newer businesses that have been opening up in the downtown area near the Westside Market.

Max perusing the breakfast menu

After brunch, we enjoyed the ethnic delicacies at the Westside Market, a place Ron hadn't been in 55 years.  Cleveland is a great city with so much to offer.  The city was looking forward to hosting the Republican Convention in June.  

Westside Market in downtown Cleveland

We enjoyed an extended family get together on Memorial Day at his daughter's home in Shaker Heights.  Nephews and a grand-niece and grand-nephew visited from Ron's birth family (he was adopted as a baby and has only recently discovered his birth family). Raised in a family with a Polish grandmother, he has now found his ethnic background is 100% Slovenian.

Memorial Day get-together at Margaret and Jeff's Shaker Heights home.  Ron with his nephews, Dan and Greg, Dan's wife, Lori, and their daughter, Lauren

Ron's extended family: Lucas, Lori, Dan, Lauren, Margaret, Ron, Max, Jeff and Greg
Jeff is a school teacher.  Margaret is a college dean.  Lori is a college professor.  Dan is a small business owner.  Greg works as an account manager.  Lauren and Lucas are college students.  Max is a kindergartner.  Ron owns a small business but is mostly retired.

This is America where the intact nuclear family with a stay-at-home mom are not the norm anymore. This is America where family traditional ties are still valued while embracing modernity. 

We left Ohio on May 31st and headed up to Michigan to Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Mackinac Island for 3 days of northern Great Lakes culture (good beer, whitefish and walleye). Charlevoix is a town settled by the French originally.  It has a place in Mormon history when James Strang declared himself King of a Mormon colony in 1848 on Beaver Island just offshore in Lake Michigan.  Strang was assassinated by disgruntled followers in 1856 and the Mormons were driven from the island and replaced by Irish settlers and Gaelic became the common language. Today, Beaver Island is a park reached by ferry boat from Charlesvoix. The weather was a bit unruly so we decided to skip the day-long tour of Beaver Island and instead explored the northeast shore of Lake Michigan.  This area has many fine homes and was and is the vacation destination for the wealthy.

We stayed in a condo in Charlesvoix.MI

Charlevoix is on the Lake Michigan northeastern coastline

Ernest Hemingway spent many summers near Petoskey as a young man at his family's lakeside vacation home.

We had lunch at The City Park Grill in Petoskey where Ernest Hemingway used to write. 

We drove a long, slow scenic drive around the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan from Harbor Springs through the Tunnel of Trees.  This area has full time residents but the economy primarily depends on summer and winter tourism.  There is even a ski resort near Harbor Springs.  

We took the ferry to Mackinac Island where there are no automobiles.  You must walk, take a horse taxi or ride a bicycle.  We stayed at the Inn on Mackinac and, although the season had just opened, there were no vacancies on the island.  We got one night at our B&B due to a cancellation. The island was very busy with visitors and a large Detroit Chamber of Commerce convention.  

Returning to the mainland, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Pennisula of Michigan and drove along the Lake Michigan shoreline toward Wisconsin.  Along the way, we stopped at one of the many "mom and pop" stores and tried pasties (a meat pie that originated as a meal for Cornish miners).  I purchased wild rice and maple syrup to bring back to Albuquerque. It was still early in the season, so visitors here were few.   I believe the auto industry probably fueled the development of this area for vacations and second homes in the last century. Now, that money is mostly gone.  In summer, people stay in cabins along the beaches for boating, fishing and swimming.  In the winter, snowmobiling and hunting are the main sports.  Still, it is clear that the demise of manufacturing in the Detroit area of Michigan has affected the economy of this rural area. We saw many tourist cabins and motels that looked abandoned.  We passed through northern Michigan towns on our way to Wisconsin. The towns looked like they were just hanging on with pensioners as their main residents.  This is America where manufacturing in the 20th century created and maintained a large Middle Class that now was shrinking. 

We spent the night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where the clear and abundant river water has produced wineries, breweries and great farming. The Hmong people are the newest immigrants to an overwhelmingly white population in Eau Claire and they represent the largest minority community with about 3% of the population.   "Now Eau Claire’s largest and most visible ethnic group, the Hmong make up over 80 percent of the venders at the city’s farmers market, run successful local businesses, and have their own churches." This is America where long term majority white communities have pockets of new non-European immigrants bringing new perspectives and economic entrepreneurship. 

 We tried fried cheese curds and beer cheese soup at The Milwaukee Burger Company.  It was Friday night and there were long lines at this place.  People waited for more than an hour to be seated.  It was family night out as workers relaxed for the weekend at a popular hangout. This is America where family and friends still gather together for a weekend of good food, drink, sports and music.   

Trying fried cheese curds

Finishing off dinner with an ice cream sundae

The next morning, we drove through green farmlands in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota until we arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We were struck by the many corporations that are located here.  This area looked very prosperous.  Even though it suffers from long and freezing winters, Minnesota is well-known for good government, good business, good health care, good schools, high employment and prosperity. We arrived in Chaska, Minnesota to visit with Ron's daughter, Anne, and grandson, Will, and grand-daughter, Milla. We visited The Landscape Arboretum and watched Milla play soccer and watched curling at The Curling Center in Chaska.

Milla, Anne and Will at the Landscape Arboretum
Milla playing soccer

Will, Anne and Ron watching Milla's soccer game

Watching curling games at The Chaska Curling Center while enjoying dinner at The Crooked Pint

After a couple of days in Chaska, we decided to cut our road trip short and go home without going on to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota.  We had two days of travel to get home to Albuquerque.  We drove to Kansas City, Kansas for the first night and then Guymon, Oklahoma for the second night. Guymon is a tiny town with an economy based on cattle feed lots, pork farms, natural gas and wind energy production in the panhandle of Oklahoma.  We found a delightful new restaurant in downtown Guymon called The Galleon Restaurant featuring a nice wine bar and Spanish-Mexican-Filipino fusion cuisine.    The place was packed with a majority of cars sporting Texas license plates for some unique ethnic dining in this town of mostly chain restaurants. It was very cool to see the local people, farmers and oil and gas workers, embracing new ethnic foods amid the standard barbecue, burgers, shredded pork,  biscuits, gravy and grits.  

Yes, this is America today.  Young entrepreneurs opening up new businesses and expanding our cultural depth and breadth, creating new prosperity even in older communities that seemed to be crumbling.  This trip taught me that Americans throughout the Heartland are a lot more open, positive, tolerant and hopeful than the daily news presents to us and it's clear that America has never stopped being great!  For it's many problems, there are an endless number of problem-solvers.  For it's many social and economic fissures, I believe America has far more people who are unified around common values and goals.     

1 comment:

  1. Most interesting road trip. I really liked your optimism and conclusion...:)