Friday, November 11, 2016

The Redneck Mystique #6: Right Turn, Clyde

I had a hard time getting to work in Manhattan this past Wednesday, what with the rain of frogs and brimstone on the city, the blood running in the gutters, the winged, laughing skulls gnawing on children’s heads, the fire-breathing minotaurs setting everything in their paths alight and the subway cars packed with hollow-eyed Jews on their way to re-education camps in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

What?  None of this happened?  Well, it felt pretty damn near given Donald’s Trump berserk “Dewey Defeats Truman” political upset of our lifetime.  Which wasn’t an upset so much as the media doing its thing: recognizing its own vacant beauty in the mirror as opposed to reality, like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters.  I was as shocked as anyone but should have known better.  History repeats.  I went back and re-read those Redneck Mystique pieces I did a few years back, and I’ll stand by them.  They reiterate what’s happening now.  What will happen again after the next swing to the left.

You want a movie that captures what just happened?  Try The Gauntlet starring Clint Eastwood: everyone, including his own political party, was rattling semi-automatic fire at Trump’s well-armored tour bus, but he somehow made it to City Hall with his trophy blond.  (Of course, the next four years, you might want to watch Every Which Way But Loose to get a grasp of where we’re going.)

For a city that prides itself on being smarter than everyone else in the country, you would figure more people here could wrap their minds about the concept of working class white people.  But it just doesn’t happen, that same low hum of loathing persists, and probably will forever.  It’s a free shot for people who’ve constructed their lives on every other form of political correctness.  But even perfect people need to let their hair down every now and then and cut loose with some blistering socio-economic disdain.  It’s a much more convenient than dumping that same negativity on working-class blacks and hispanics.

Last weekend, I had a strange trip back to Pennsylvania.  Always love going back there in the fall, and this trip was no different: trees slightly past full foliage but still blazing yellow and red, just a pleasure to be back there this time of year.  But I noticed something odd on the way in.  Through most of New Jersey, the bus is on the interstate, and that’s all I see from the window.  But once we cross the border into Easton, PA we switch over to more rural roads leading up the northeast part of the state (where I’m going).

Maybe there was one or two Clinton signs around Easton, although I don’t recall seeing any.  But from that point forward, every road I was on back there, every town, was festooned with Trump signs.  I’d never seen anything like it.  That whole “populist” thing … triggered by a billionaire, who simply spoke his mind with no PR coaching or worries about repercussions … the way billionaires most likely speak throughout their work day while holding sway in their domain.

Did I like this?  Hate it?  Feel threatened? Get a kick out of it?  I’m fairly apolitical, and growing more so with each passing year.  I guess the emotion I was feeling was somewhere between mild amusement and shock.  Well, that’s cool, I thought, a lot of people back here are obviously feeling politically engaged this time around, but boy, how could Trump ever overcome that electoral college deficit, all these polls skewing more than a few percentage points in Clinton’s favor?

Just goes to show how much I know about politics!  But I’m surely not alone here, and lumped in with people who make a living at this shit but were just as clueless as everyone else.  (I’m not sure why it doesn’t occur to media organizations to fire columnists and poll organizers after something like this?)

The really odd thing happened on the trip back on Sunday.  As we were passing through Lehighton, PA I heard that horrible flopping/thumping sound of what had to be a flat tire, could smell the rubber burning.  I could tell by the look on the bus driver’s face that this was very bad news.  You don’t just pull out a jack and unscrew the bolts on a bus tire: a repair truck is involved with heavy equipment.  We pulled over by the side of road just outside of town while he called the company mechanic back in Williamsport (two hours away), who seemed to have a database of available garages along the bus route, the concept being get out the phone and see who’s working on a Sunday and can make the repair call.

Easier said than done.  Think about it.  How many garages do you see open on a Sunday?  Not many, if any, anywhere.  Surely not in rural Pennsylvania.  I guess the trick would be to find a garage where the owner essentially lives there, apartment upstairs, garage down, who might pick up the phone on a Sunday.

The company mechanic immediately found someone in Hazleton, the next town over, who could be there within the hour.  Great news!

An hour passes.  Hour and a half.  Two hours.  The bus driver’s phone rings: the repair truck broke down on the way there and had to be towed back to the garage.  The cavalry wasn’t coming.  At this point in our trip, we’d normally be nearing Newark, NJ, closing in on New York.  Not stuck by the side of the road in Lehighton.  More calls made: a mechanic who works for the company garage in Shamokin, PA (just over an hour away) will drive out and fix the flat.

This happened eventually, nigh on four hours by the side of the road … one of those heavily-trafficked rural/suburban roads leading up to an interstate, “Trump Digs Coal” signs all over the place, a few hundred feet from a forlorn strip mall, and the beat-up diner down the road that used to be the bus stop back in the late 1980’s (but apparently booted out the bus company, I’d wager because of the number of off-white customers who routinely wandered in from the bus).  It’s a crappy feeling to be stranded like that for an obnoxiously long period of time on a Sunday, the only saving grace, it wasn’t raining.

What made it worse was one passenger in particular: a white guy we picked up in Jim Thorpe, PA.  I’d say “young” white guy but his hair was greying.  Sprightly, trim, bespectacled, well-dressed … the kind of NYC tourist who routinely gets off and on at Jim Thorpe, which has all the rustic northeast Pennsylvania charm that its neighboring town Lehighton sorely lacks.  Nobody white water rafts in Lehighton like they do in Jim Thorpe: they just buy cartons of generic cigarettes at the Turkey Hill.

The bus, as always, was an interesting racial mix: white, black, Indian, Hispanic, Asian, and there weren’t that many this Sunday, about 12.  We were all stewing, some of the women asking the driver those pointed “you don’t know what you’re doing, do you” type questions, but the driver simply was following orders and waiting like the rest of us, keeping a cool head.  I think they expected him to pull out a jack and fix it himself, but it doesn’t work that way with large, dual-tired vehicles like this.

We were all stewing, but the white guy who got on at Jim Thorpe was losing his shit.  First he called the bus company and was lighting into the poor sap who picked up the phone with a patented “I’m smarter than you’ll ever be, but regardless of this, I want you to give me direct answers to all these unanswerable questions” speech.  It was an impotent person bitching his ass off to, I don’t know, assuage some inner desire to humiliate another human being in an impossible situation?  It was childish, garish, rude, selfish the kind of thing a prick does … the kind of thing I see routinely living in New York City!

He got nowhere with the underling on the phone who, on a Sunday, was the only person in the office.  This dude seemed to think he was dealing with Greyhound: it’s a small, privately-owned Pennsylvania bus company that runs charters, school buses and, gratefully, these two bus lines going into New York and Philadelphia daily.

After hanging up, he bolts out of the bus to harangue the driver, who’s smoking a cigarette by the side of road with a hangdog look on his face.  I know the driver – he’s a great guy who’s been doing the NYC run the past few years, very friendly, approachable, likes to talk with the passengers.  Well, the Jim Thorpe guy starts laying into him, I’m hearing the word “fuck” and “assholes” being bandied about, which is really bad form with someone you don’t know.  Did I mention the driver is about 6’ 3” and surely weighs more than 250 lbs.?

The driver remained calm while the spoiled brat huffed down the road to the diner to cool off.  I went out and asked him how it went: “Do you know how badly I wanted to kick that guy’s ass?”  Actually, I did.  The thought crossed my mind while he was verbally pissing his diapers on the bus.  But that would be just what I needed: get arrested for assault on a Sunday in rural Pennsylvania after my bus breaks down.  It just wasn’t worth it.  And you don’t lecture people like this: they don’t listen.  As noted, I couldn’t tell how old this guy was.  He looked to be in his 20s but had greying hair, so I’d guess somewhere in his 30’s with boyish looks.  The kind of person who imparts how “important” he is while subtly communicating how “less important” everyone else is.  He looked like he would start crying if either of us punched him.

Just then, the mechanic pulled up in his repair truck.  Window rolls down.  Massive brown streak of tobacco juice squirts down the side of the truck.  This guy was a hillbilly: no other word fits.  Large, hairy, homely, bearded, massive beer belly, pants that slipped below his waist and must have been held up only by his penis, ass crack showing even while standing straight up. In short, one from the “basket of deplorables”: a Trump supporter!

And he knew his job.  We watched him do his thing with his pneumatic impact wrench and arm-length tongs, yanking off the scaly, broken tire, like a snake’s second skin, and pulling the spare out from the compartment under the front of the bus.  It wasn’t a hard process, but you needed the right tools, and not the kind you can store on a bus.  He was good at it, too, could obviously change every tire on the bus in under half an hour if he had to.

Meanwhile, the Jim Thorpe terror ambled back to the bus, seemingly calmed down from his previous tantrums.  He didn’t apologize to the driver, but stood and watched the mechanic do his work.  I knew there was no way on earth he’d cock off to this grumbling, irritable bear of a man.  The guy worked for himself, didn’t answer to anybody and even without that sense of freedom, looked like he might derive great pleasure from laying a monkey wrench upside the head of “city boys” like us.

We got rolling again in a matter of minutes, the driver slipping the mechanic’s invoice into his shirt pocket, the mechanic giving us a weird, gap-toothed grin before gobbing out one last blob of tobacco juice and peeling out in a cloud of gravel.  The driver got us to Easton, where he had to stop due to daily drive time limitations.  We were granted access to take the NYC bus for a larger, Allentown-centric bus company, which was eye opening.  Nearly every seat was taken, and the passengers were mostly white, very urbane, much more so than our rickety coalition of wandering rednecks and black/Hispanic/Asian folk with relatives in the woods of Pennsylvania.  They didn’t have much luggage either which told me it was more "upscale southern PA folks transplanted to NYC" crowd, pulling short weekend jaunts back home.  I felt like the homely kid visiting friends at the country club … and Mom just pulled up in her shitty used station wagon.

In retrospect, it feels like something played out along that bustling two-lane blacktop in Lehighton.  An omen, if you will.  Wouldn’t even know if that mechanic voted, and for all I know the twerp on the bus voted for Trump.  But even at the time, it felt like something more was going on there.


Patricia Brennan said...
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William S. Repsher said...
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