Crossing the Country by Greyhound-Detroit to San Francisco

April 13, 2011 2 comments

 

Leaving Detroit

I arrived at the Detroit Greyhound station at ten PM though my bus wasn’t scheduled to leave till the wee hours. Bill and Shirley gave me a ride, and I didn’t want them navigating that neighborhood too late at night. Besides, once I was in I was safe. Modern Greyhound stations are like forts, with lots of security. The first stop would be Chicago, at the crack of dawn. I spent the time discussing progressive and Detroit politics with a lovely educated woman. Once on the bus, everyone either slept or tried too. Sleep is a very valuable thing on a long haul by bus.

 

Chicago

I had a five hour layover at this station, the largest of all the Midwest hubs. This may have been the most uncomfortable five hours of the trip, but a person gets to watching people. It is dangerous to relax completely because of the luggage situation. I found a seat close to my gate and hunkered down. A party of three, an old man, a girl, and a young man, all tumbled in and dropped their bags. I thought they were together, but when the old guy and the girl took off (he was her grandfather) the young man said that he “didn’t know them from Adam” and that the girl had been driving him nuts. He was from Kentucky, going to North Dakota for work. He said he had tried every fast food place for miles around his home and come up empty. His mom had something for him to do in North Dakota. Times are hard when a willing seventeen year old can’t find work in a fast food joint.

At last the bus pulled up, an older model with no electricity and no internet.

Through the Midwest

I was surprised at the beautiful scenery across parts of Iowa and Nebraska. I had no real knowledge of the fact that

Iowa City

both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers cross the Midwest. Davenport in particular looks like a good place to explore further. An old river town. The sun set over the plains as we headed for Omaha. It was then that I realized that there was a contingent of people going to San Francisco. We formed a little mutual protection society, making sure we were all aboard when the bus left a god-forsaken “rest stop” at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere, watching each other’s stuff on layovers, and hunting for the ever elusive plug. My favorite was a tattoo artist from Wisconsin who was heading to Sonoma County, my home.

I started counting the Walmart trucks in Iowa. There seemed to be hundreds of them. This began to make sense considering the number of giant Walmart super stores we passed. I know we have them in California, they are just hidden better.

Riding the bus is a little like jail, except you can walk away. They remind you over and over again that you can be arrested for one infraction or another. One driver claimed that if anyone were caught with a bottle of booze, everyone on board would have their luggage searched and warrants run. I doubt it’s true, but I was fantasizing my constitutional search and seizure suit, if they tried that on me.

 

 

The Rocky Mountains

We reached Denver at daylight. There is a great charging station there and decent coffee. I will not eat most of the food proffered by the outfits associated with the bus-line. Normally what I bring keeps me from outright hunger. But coffee is a tricky thing, and I was glad to have it.

It turned out they had routed us over a gorgeous stretch of the Rockies, through Steamboat Springs. It took several hours longer than taking I80, but it was worth it.

Salt Lake City to Home

We arrived in Salt Lake City in the early evening. It seems like this is always the case. I would like to see this town by daylight one day. By this time everyone on the bus was sleep deprived, and I was a little hungry. I had powered through my apples, cheese, nuts, and most of the candy. Note to self-bring more food next time. The only big stop was at the Reno station, a true pit. No coffee, broken vending machines. But, by then I was close enough not to care.

 

Categories: The Midwest, The Road Tags: ,

Detroit is Misunderstood

April 12, 2011 3 comments



The Spirit of Detroit

When I arrived in Detroit I had, like most Americans, many misconceptions. The first thing I noticed as my cousin drove me through the downtown area, then along Jefferson Avenue, and then out to her suburb, was what a beautiful old city Detroit is. It was founded by the French in 1701 and is the second oldest city in the United States, after Saint Augustine in Florida. Many of the buildings now standing were built in the 1920s and 1930s and have gorgeous art deco architecture. Once the fourth largest city in the nation, Detroit had a storied history during prohibition due to its proximity to Canada. As the auto industry grew the people of Detroit became prosperous. Midwestern money, mostly from Chicago and Detroit built the Los Angeles we know today. The Big Three were very important in creating the American Middle Class, which is now on life support.

Yes, there are ruins, and yes, the city has been hit hard once in the sixties and seventies and again in this most recent

Some Ruins

economic crisis and the ensuing depression. But, there is also much reason to love Detroit and to work for a renewal and a return to prosperity. Long stretches of wasteland and ruins are punctuated by thriving areas where the more well-heeled Detroiters watch sports, dine on fine food, and drink at their favorite watering holes. And even in the wasteland there are signs of life. I plan on returning to the area in June to see the gardens that are being cultivated in those beleaguered areas.

What happened here in the time span from 2004 to 2008 should have been a wake-up call to members of the middle class everywhere. But not many saw what any of this had to do with them. Very few connected the dots until those weeks at the end of 2008 when we all watched in horror as Wall Street went tumbling down. Of course Wall Street was bailed out by our tax dollars and is back to business as usual, while Main Street sags under the weight of what appears to be just the beginning of a long depression.

Most people love the place they were raised in and that they call home. Detroit is no exception. There has been no poison rain, no salted earth, no nuclear disaster here. Just a string of economic decisions, by companies, governments and private citizens that have caused an entire region to lose economic viability. If this slow motion catastrophe has happened here, in this beautiful, old, once prosperous city, how can any of us feel truly secure?

 

Help send Annabel to the Netroots Nation Conference in June!

My friends—would you do me a favor? I am trying to get a scholarship to be at Netroots Nation, a very large gathering of bloggers, in Minneapolis this June. There are only 40 scholarships available. The top three in each round go for sure and the rest are selected by committee. Would you give me your vote? Just click the link and fill out the little form and that is it. There is a place to say something nice about me if you want, with an unknown character limit. I am very excited about this! Thanks to all of you who vote.

http://www.democracyforamerica.com/netroots_nation_scholarships/1187-annabel-ascher

 

Is America in a Recession or a Depression?

March 26, 2011 3 comments

Signs are Everywhere

In the hostel in Madison late one night a few of us were talking about the affairs of the day. I brought my reason for travelling-that is, documenting the depression in America. I was then asked “why do you think this is a depression?” I realized somewhat sheepishly that I have never publicly defended this point of view. So I will now. The available literature is somewhat unclear on the definitions of either term. But all the literature seems to center on the health of the Gross Domestic Product (GNP). But, I would argue that in an economy that has seen tremendous gains in productivity without the need to hire more workers, and that is capable having a “jobless recovery” as we are now, has to come up with a better definition, one that more accurately reflects the human costs of an economic crisis such as this.

I would suggest that we look instead at the true unemployment rate, at the foreclosure rate, at the bankruptcy rate, and at the rate at which small businesses are being forced to close their doors, among other indicators. We could also look at increases in the use of the social safety net such as food stamps, and the increase in homelessness.

A February Gallup poll finds that the official unemployment rate is at 9.8%, which is already quite high, but as we know, the official rate consistently understates the problem. It does not count the 99ers who have exhausted their benefits without finding work, or other “discouraged workers” who have simply given up. It doesn’t count the under-employed worker who lost a job that paid a healthy living wage but now works part time for far less. And it does not count the small business person who has had to close up shop and can’t find any paid work. I don’t know what the exact figure would be if these people were included in the unemployment rate, but I think it would be fair to say it would triple, giving us a rate of 29.4%.

A recent Real Estate Investors Daily states that the foreclosure rates have actually climbed in 2011 from a already alarmingly high rates in the last several years, and warns that “while we are seeing some markets in the US showing signs of “hitting bottom” and some are evening saying some markets have begun a “recovery“, I think we should be very slow and cautious to say the worst is behind us. Perhaps for those markets that had extremely high concentrations of the foreclosure activity (Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida) most of the damage may be done, but for other markets foreclosures are going to continue to put downward pressure on home prices.”

As for personal bankruptcy rates, numerous sources state that they are at a five year high and expected to rise in the coming year. Multiple sources also state that the poverty rate has gone up substantially, and this is poverty defined by an antiquated metric that does not reflect the actual cost of living in the 21st century.

That is why I am calling the economic climate in March 2011 a depression, and not the “great recession” as it has been termed. I may not be an economist, but there are some that agree with me. Columnist Jeff Cox quotes economist David Rosenberg in a 2010 article “Positive gross domestic product readings and other mildly hopeful signs are masking an ugly truth: The US economy is in a 1930s-style Depression, Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg said Tuesday.” And he is not the only one to say so. The fact that any economist is using the term depression, given the emotional charge of the word and the deeply conservative nature of that profession, should give credence to the feeling that is already shared by millions of Americans.

http://realestateinvestordaily.com/foreclosures/us-foreclosure-rate-and-mortgage-delinquency-rate-continues-to-rise/

http://www.gallup.com/poll/145922/gallup-finds-unemployment-slightly-january.aspx

http://www.mybanktracker.com/bank-news/2011/01/05/personal-bankruptcy-filings-reached-5year-high-2010/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/38831550/Economy_Caught_in_Depression_Not_Recession_Rosenberg

 

Madison Wisconsin- The Protest Continues

March 22, 2011 3 comments

Capitol Square

I arrived in Madison WI on Saturday March 19th. When I got to Capital Square there were several hundred protesters walking around the Capitol Building. This is a small number compared to the week before, when at least 200,000 people had descended upon the capitol to welcome the 14 senators who had fled the state several weeks earlier to prevent Governor Walker’s union busting bill from being passed. They left because the GOP dominated senate still need them to create the necessary quorum for a vote on any bill that is primarily fiscal in nature. In the end, Walker had tried to do an end run by saying that the “Budget Repair Bill” had nothing to do with money. So the senate passed the bill without the 14 and without the required 24 hour notice. There was an immediate legal challenge which the governor lost and has now appealed. Now focus is on recalling him and his cronies.

But, even with fewer numbers the signs of protest were everywhere, and the protesters themselves were filling up every café and bar as they ended their day with some hard earned refreshment.

At that point I had checked into the local hostel, and though I no longer had three days of road grime on me I still had not slept in some time. The moon was full that night, and I decided to go find some food. The first people I met were a couple of local progressives that had been here for the whole thing. I will never forget sitting there at the Old Fashioned across from the capitol as the sun went down. They bought me a couple of beers and shared their dinner with me as they explained some of the fine points of Wisconsin politics. I can’t remember everything we discussed, but I do remember feeling so much better after a hard three day ride. Also, I learned that the place I needed to go was Williams Street (Willy to the locals) and there I would find a great thrift store, a food co-op, and plenty of good coffee.

Everywhere I go in this town people are talking about this. I asked a woman in a bar what her favorite thing was about the protests. She replied that it was the amazing sense of community. For several weeks there had been a little city

Everywhere There Are Signs

within a city in Capitol Square. People from all over the world, including Egypt, were sending food for the protesters. An amazing gift economy sprang up. For her, it was the community. But her friend had a different idea. He said he loved it that no matter where you went in town, everyone was taking part, even as they went about the mundane business of living. If you saw someone taking out the trash, they would be wearing a recall Walker t-Shirt. A baby stroller passing you miles from the square would be sporting a Kill the Bill sign. There were and are signs everywhere.

A bartender at a brew-pub across the street from the hostel told me about the day Walker pulled the skullduggery. Everyone was getting ready to go collect signatures for the recall effort when he got a tweet to get to the square right away. By the time he arrived there were 10,000 people. The capitol building is supposed to be the people’s house. It is supposed to be open to the public. In the first several weeks of the protest people had been sleeping inside the building. Then the governor had ordered the building cleared for “cleaning” and pushed everyone out. Now, people were pushing back in again. The police, whose sympathies were clearly with the protesters, would leave one entrance unguarded as they rushed to another. Many officers would change in to protest t-shirts as soon as they got off shift. Now, all but one entrance to the building is nailed shut.

Don't Mess with the Badger

Yesterday I walked up to Willy Street and finally got completely full at the salad bar at the food co-op. I got into a conversation with a substitute teacher who filled me in on the process for doing a recall. As the conversation developed we began to get into the psychological and philosophical problems presented by the dirty politics of the 21st century. She said she believed that Scott Walker is a sociopath, and I concur. When it comes to voting, people on the left are so often left with voting for an ineffectual or corrupt representative to keep a patently insane candidate from winning. But I have come to understand that though the candidate may be insane, and the citizens who vote for the candidate may be duped, the ones financing the whole thing are neither crazy nor stupid. They are just plain evil, and they have a well thought out plan that they have been in the process of implementing it for a long time. The great instability we are experiencing now is the end game. As we discussed this we began to wonder aloud-What makes a multi-billionaires so discontent with their lives that they have to go after even more of the available resources in the world? Why can’t they be happy and gracious and pay their fair share gladly? Why do they need ever more power and money, grabbed at the expense of those less fortunate? Why do they want to consign the entire world but themselves to slavery or starvation? And that, my friend, is the very definition of an imponderable.

 

Good Bye to San Francisco-For Now

Great Poverty Exists

San Francisco has had a large income gap for a long time. For as long as I can remember, shapely high heels would step over the prone, nearly lifeless bodies of the homeless to get to their meals of Filet Mignon and Chocolate Decadence. It is a good thing I am coming back here in a few weeks because I was not able to meet with even one of the people I had

Side by Side with Great Wealth

hoped to. On my last day here, Wednesday, I made it to the Food Cart Wednesday under the Chronicle Overpass at 5th and Minna. I sat with a large crowd of the neighborhoods workers at lunch and listened to music in the sun.

At midnight my friend gave me a ride to the Greyhound station on Folsom and I started out towards Madison by way of Salt Lake City and Denver. The Greyhound station is new. It used to be a very scary place, dangerous even in daylight, situated in one of the city’s

At the Greyhound Station in San Francisco

worst areas. Now it is in an industrial area, and is under guard. You can’t come in to the lobby without a ticket.

The bus itself is cleaner than I remember from another long ago trip east. There are no rowdy drunken men in the back of the bus. But, it no longer stops at stations with diners. Instead it stops at Chevron Mini-Marts. I am very hungry

Salt Lake City View from the Bus Station

right now because I could not find one thing I consider to be edible in any of these stores.

Now I am enduring a three hour lay-over in Salt Lake City. I was lucky to find a plug. There is no food here either. By dawn I will be in Denver.

 

San Francisco-Days One and Two

The Journey Begins

The trip began in a light rain, which seems appropriate. My first stop is San Francisco. I have been doing a lot of walking, getting the lay of the land. It is an interesting phenomenon. I know this city, have lived in it years ago and around it for what seems like forever. But now I am observing closely, looking with new eyes. I am staying with friends, and the time I spend at the home base is companionable as we share a meal or a bottle of Zinfandel. But I can see that this will be a lonely venture.

On the Road

I spent the day in the Union Square area yesterday, checking in at the dying Borders Books where they are having a closing sale—“Everything Must Go!” Including the employees, who will soon be battling astounding odds as they try to find new jobs.

In the evening I went to a Couchsurfing.com event at a local watering hole, the Café Royale.The way couch surfing works I have a better chance of finding places to stay along the way if I have people to vouch for me, and a few couch surfing “friends” on the website. The people were really great. There were a lot more men than women at first, but by 9:30 PM it had evened out a bit. They came from all over the world. It is a truly international crowd. I may have been the oldest person there but it was not an issue. And I have my first Couch Surfing friend, a young

Everything Must Go!

man from Santa Cruz who is in the process of moving to San Francisco. This may actually work.

Meanwhile, in other news, Governor Walker of Wisconsin by passed the need for a quorum which he couldn’t achieve without the fourteen Democrats who left the state three weeks ago, and used some procedural skullduggery to push the union-busting bill through. That leaves me with a little logistics problem. I want to go to Madison first thing, but my plan was to go south and cover California first. It takes a little over two days to get to Madison WI from san Francisco by bus. I am torn…