New Orleans Eventually no matter how much work you do on vacation, the clock on vacation itself winds down, and real life, real work comes crashing through the different days and unique ordering of experiences and tasks we assign to our so-called “free time.” The big task of my own vacation this year was a 4000 mile road trip with my son, Chaco, where the main objective was taking our 20 year old Suburban, long retired from long hauls, and moving our old Airstream Katrina trailer from 22 miles up Rock Creek in Montana about 50 odd miles in a direction no crow flies from Missoula south to the back acres of a friend’s property between her garage and the Nowood Creek in the small town of Manderson in central Wyoming on the back side of the Big Horn Mountains. It all worked out, and that’s the good news, and we both loved our time in Wyoming exploring, fishing, and acclimating, so that we look forward to the next trip.
My last few annual western vacations have been mixed between fishing, working to finish a decades-old book project, and reading. This year, the book had been edited finally before I left, so I could rationalize finishing the last pieces when I returned, and the reading list was thinner. I read Shattered, the volume on Hillary Clinton’s miscalculations and defeat in the middle of deep red Wyoming, where there were still one or two Trump-Pence bumper stickers on cars, but no other evidence of the election. I knocked a dent in Lincoln Steffens classic biography of the Progressive era and muckraking. I though a lot about the country and our people while reading One Another’s Equal: The Basis of Human Equality by the philosopher Jeremy Waldron exploring the issues of equality of course and Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett about the efforts to create less equality through cultural signals of conspicuous consumption that may become impossible to bridge in the creation of ever widening class distinctions in America.
All the while, we watched the rest of world through the internet, while we observed people in Wyoming ignoring it all, feeling every bit the same as when I’m immersed with our organizers in a foreign country, except more comfortable with the language, and more invisible, more from here, than from there. There were no daily papers. News was filtering through CNN and the Weather Channel where we would stop. People worked and went about their lives with their families and communities. They had ambitions to go to Colorado or the West Coast. They kept to themselves, and didn’t pry into our business. There was no, “hey, what are you doing up here from Louisiana?” They stopped and offered to help, if we seemed stuck, but if we said we were good, they went on. The ultra-rich enclave of Jackson, Wyoming and its annual meetings for tech moguls and others would be as foreign to most folks as New York City, Paris, or London.
But, these are good people. How do we bind the country together to what speaks to the best of our people and the wide diversity of their lives with this galloping chasm of inequality?
Yesterday, back home again, I had to reset Alexa on the other side of the bridge between my birth in Wyoming oil fields and my life now. I asked Alexa to play alternative-country, and a soon listened to a song that spoke to the cultural signals of another class, rather than the “aspirational class.” It was “Out Here in the Middle” written and sung by Texas singer and songwriter, James McMurty. Here’s part of it:
we got justification for wealth and greed~ Amber waves of grain and bathtub speed We even got Starbucks what else you need? (chorus) Out here in the middle Where the center's on the right And the ghost of William Jennings Bryan preaches every night To save the lonely souls in the dashboard lights Wish you were here my love Wish you were here my love (chorus) Out here in the middle Where the buffalo roam We're putting up towers for your cell phones And we screen all applicants With a fine tooth comb Wish you were here my love Wish you were here my love As Waldron argues, we need to do more equality “work.”