October 9, 2008

Roots of a Crisis

From an apple orchard in a beautiful shallow valley and out of the autumn woods of the Dunes Highway that runs along the shore of Lake Michigan and into and through Gary, Indiana.

The rain is steady, the last light of the gray fades quickly into a wet smear of dark colors. The industrial markers are enormous. Train yards, British Petroleum tanks, a harbor canal, the proliferating rusted-metal land of docks. Old buildings on wide streets for trucks are close to the road, bare and lit by street-light. For longer stretches of the two-lane highway, however, there are few signs of people among the homes that sit dark in the side streets.

The only commercial glow is from the scattered liquor stores. Cash checking outlets, not banks. Occasionally a billboard.

Then night, past more and more of the areas marked by boarded-up homes. Some have the look of being lived in, but are paradoxically, and glaringly, unlit, as if the electricity was inconsistent, shut off, or long dead. Block after block of blackness and cold and wet. One after another, the shells of shelter. And in the rain the feeling of something dire that has penetrated every space where the living take shelter, that the city space is being re-forested vine by vine, cracking wood and overwhelming the old asphalt.

There is a presidential debate scheduled for later that evening. The subject is the economy. The working and middle classes are both starting to realize the long term effects of the long established neo-liberal epoch. They are fearing for their employment futures, their wages, and very idea of pension prospects in the face of the great unwinding following the speculative excesses of the rightfully named naughts; fears of an epic recession, another depression. The debate will say nothing to these regions that are spread around the Great Lakes like natural deserts.

They exude the feeling of numbness, immune from political prospects because they cannot be touched by the necessary fear. Stripped of their ties to the collective, it is as if these spaces lack the luxury of a populist nerve. With the welfare state made threadbare, what is there left to lose in these realms that are pockets abandoned to nature, the drama played out beyond tragedy and into the baseless, unacknowledged ruin?

Photo of Gary by Lee Bay.