I was six years old when Ronald Reagan was elected.
And 10 when he got another four years.
Ironically, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned my parents were staunch Democrats. For whatever reason, they didn’t discuss politics much at the dinner table, and in a pre-Internet era, it was hard to know as much about the issues as we do now.
These days, my son watches Hassan Minaj and John Oliver on Youtube for his news, and recently opined about Boris Johnson with one of our Antidote students.
But back then, when Reagan wiped the floor with Walter Mondale in ’84, winning 49 states, I assumed everyone liked Reagan, including my parents.
I was no Alex P. Keaton, (though my Mom did dress me like him occasionally,) but as a 10 year old, a 49-1 victory looked pretty convincing.
Nancy Reagan was up on TV all the time saying “Drugs Are Bad,” so I assumed she was telling the truth. (But maybe that’s another story for a different day.)
What I’d rather emphasize is that in 2019, imagining America as that united on ANYTHING, much less a presidential election, seems quaint, quixotic and antiquated. (Three q words. Not bad.)
How could our country have ever agreed to that degree?
It’s gargantuan, and diverse in its local cultures, landscapes, and populations.
Iowa is to Hawaii as Poland is to the Philippines.
Catch my drift?
This morning, while I’m barely recovered from my crazy August, my mind drifted to the millions of miles of highways that knit this massive country together.
As the future is uncertain, I wonder if some of these places, different in so many ways, will ever again cohere around anything beyond a shared language and currency?
Is there hope for us?
Will we ever be one country again, like when everyone watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” or “Fantasy Island” on Network Television on their small cathode ray tube monitors?
I remember being at Pine Forest summer camp in 1984, chanting “USA, USA, USA” in the dining hall on July 4th with everyone, in unison, and there was no irony in sight. Patriotism was something regular people believed in, not just Red State Republicans.
Why am I feeling so nostalgic for times gone by today?
Or perhaps wistful about the majesty of America?
I’m glad you asked.
I felt like looking at a photo book, but didn’t want to leave the Portland series behind, so I picked up “Somewhere Along the Line,” by Joshua Dudley Greer, published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany.
Alexa Becker, a friend and Kehrer Verlag representative, gave me a copy of this book at the photolucida Blue Sky photo book night I mentioned in last week’s column.
She had it specifically set aside, assuming I’d like it. (As word of my taste might have gotten out over the last 8 years, she was spot on.)
I was smitten.
That a German publisher decided to run with such an exhaustive, almost categorical view of the American “on the road” landscape, along our highway system, is not surprising, really.
Not if you’ve heard of the popularity of American road trips among Europeans in the past, and now tourists from all over the world.
(The German filmmaker Wim Wenders made “Paris, Texas,” for heaven’s sake, and that may be the best American on-the-road movie ever made.)
The drawn line on the book’s cover first made me think of a county line, or state line, or even the Mason Dixon line.
But after the first few titled photographs jump from Arizona to Maine, Alabama to Alaska, you get the sense this book means business, and likely presents the title metaphorically. Photo geeks will recognize, in the sharpness and clarity, the likely use of large format cameras.
And probably film. (The end notes confirm.)
Perhaps its inevitable that Red and Blue State Americans hate each other more than they do our outward enemies.
60% of the country roots for Trump to fail, so he can be ousted before he goes for the lifetime Presidency he’s always joking about.
And Republicans hated Obama just as much.
But for me, a book like this, even with its sad photos and clear depiction of America’s tragic contemporary street class, somehow feels a bit optimistic.
The book, through the artist’s many miles, unites the country.
He went all over, and recorded everything as one in this book.
I’m not being hokey.
Here is the South and the North.
The West and the East.
And it’s awesome.
Fuck all the haters.
America may be a declining empire, but we’re still cool as hell.
Bottom line: Elegiac, razor sharp look at all of America