Tuesday, August 23, 2005

A glimpse of the heartland

08/23/05

AMARILLO, Texas – They’re not taking chances with A-rabs or anyone else here in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, where much of the nation’s beef is bred and the next generation of military helicopters will soon be built.

It may take just minutes to get through the airport security line because there really isn’t much of one. But be forewarned. If you try to drive through to “arriving flights,” two members of the airport’s security force will politely ask you to stop at a checkpoint and pop the trunk. They didn’t actually look inside our bags but you never know when someone will try to sneak through with a box marked “explosives” or “bomb here.” Vigilance, I'm sure they'd explain, is what makes the homeland secure.

We’d come to this land of big sky, deep canyons and cumulus clouds from heaven so that we could join our younger daughter in a remarkable reunion with her birth family. For Kathy and I, educators, Eastern liberals and city folk (though we met 37 years ago in the Colorado Rockies), it also was a chance to tap into the pulse of Red State America, where God and country rank 1 and 2 just ahead of ribs and big-bed pick-ups.

It didn’t take long. Our white Ford Escort from Avis, quite possibly the smallest car in this city of about 200,000, came equipped with a yellow ribbon on the window, an American flag and a “support our troops” sticker. It turned out to be standard operating equipment for the rental car company fleet. We soon learned Texans really do wear cowboy boots and white cowboy hats (I swear). They drive really big cars and eat really big meals (one local restaurants gives away 72-ounce steak dinners free to anyone who can eat one in a single sitting). And they do say “ya’ll,” as in “how’re ya’ll doin’ today” or “ya’ll come back soon now, ya hear.” The twang is contagious, even for a New York boy turned New Englander.

But this isn’t the kind of setting I’d readily find myself engaging in a soulful dialogue on the ethics of war with the burly guy up at the bar. Uh-uh. Unless, that is, I had a hankering to sweep the peanut shells on the floor with my right nostril.

It’s easy to be a liberal in New England. Or in New York. Or San Francisco. Or Chicago.

It takes courage to speak out against the war in the Great Plains or the Prairie or the Lone Star State. Real courage. And that’s just one more reason to tip our hats to Cindy Sheehan, the mom who pitched her tent in Crawford in an attempt to force the president to explain and defend his war.

But I suspect in truth that the people in Red States aren’t all that red and the people in Blue States aren’t all that blue. Instead people tend to lower their voices a bit when they sense their opinions run against the grain of the perceived prevailing social fabric.

It was on the third and last day of our visit, after we’d talked about family and writing, child-rearing and the journeys that add up to a life, that my daughter’s 93-year-old great grandmother and I oh-so-carefully touched on the topic of politics. She’d just read a book about Robert Kennedy’s assassination. I told her I had met him once and much admired him.

“And what do you think of our president now?” she asked.

“I don’t much care for him or his war,” I confided.

And she smiled. “I’m so glad,” she said. “I don’t either. And you don’t meet many folks around here you can say that to.”

We parted with a warm hug.

1 Comments:

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August 24, 2005 at 3:43 AM  

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