The Blue Center in the Red States

Yeah, I’ve been overdoing the blue state/red state imagery of late. But chalk today’s usage up to a lack of sleep; I had to get up at about 2:45 a.m. on Monday morning in order to catch a 5:40 a.m. flight out of BWI — by a long shot the farthest metro-area airport from my Burke home.

Yes, I’m off on another work-mandated midwestern tour. This time, we’re killing two birds with one stone, with one interview in Little Rock yesterday, and another in Dallas today. Of course, given the difficulties in getting the equipment between the two locations, we opted to drive the five hours between them, finally getting to our Dallas hotel here around 10:30 local time (11:30 on my internal clock). Granted, I only had to drive as far as Texarkana, about halfway between the two — but still, it was one loooong day. Tonight’s flight back won’t see me home until about 2:30 a.m., so I apologize in advance to those of you who’ll have to deal with me on Wednesday.

(I suppose I really shouldn’t complain — my assistant on this shoot, Matt Cummins, not only had to deal with the same things I did, but he also had his already-packed luggage stolen a day before the flight and watched his flight reservation mysteriously evaporate once he arrived at the airport. Still, as complaining is one of the things I do best, I’ll let it stand.)

Still, we had a bit of time in Little Rock before our scheduled interview, so we did about the only thing there is to do in Little Rock — well, after I’d had a chicken-fried steak for lunch. We went to see the Clinton Library. We only had about an hour to look around, but that proved enough to get at least a feel for the place. Sure, they’ve got the big things you might expect — including full-scale reconstructions of the cabinet room and the oval office — but I found some of the small things more impressive, like his daily agendas for every day he was in office. Man, that’s a schedule I sure as hell couldn’t keep for more than a few weeks. (Small wonder that a substantially lesser man like Duh-bya spent so much time on vacation.)

Going through the library, I couldn’t help but notice how almost everything that Clinton worked to build, little George has managed to destroy. The economy, world peace, scientific advancement, education. The “Fight for Power” alcove was the most damning of the G.O.P. conspirators, naturally, from the Contract on America to the Ken Starr inquisition to the outright coup attempt. It aptly demonstrated the right’s agenda of power for power’s sake alone, and providing me an ample reminder of why I will never vote Republican as long as I live.

After the interview, we started our long drive, making just one more stop along the way (when else are we going to be in Arkansas?): Hope. We’d planned to grab something to eat there, but after a quick drive past endless rows of corrugated-metal diners and minimarts, we wisely decided to postpone eating until Texarkana. We did, however, manage to see Bill Clinton’s birthplace and first home; we didn’t have time for more than a drive-by (okay, two drive-bys), but at least we saw it.

After dinner in Texarkana — thankfully, we managed to find a halfway decent Tex-Mex eatery amid the ostentatiously-lit fast-food joints — we ventured deep into the heart of enemy territory: Texas. Our rental car had Texas plates, which we hoped worked in our favor, but we still felt sure that we exuded an unmistakeable Yankee aura that would mark us as prey (not to mention the fact that we weren’t driving a pickup truck).

I think our caution was warranted — I have never seen so many cops with driver pulled over in my life — several of whom were getting the full car-search routine. I suppose when you’ve got that many officers on the payroll, they’ve got to do something to justify their salary. In any case, we kept the speed reasonably slow (but not so slow as to attract attention) and drove past the interminable rows of churches, mobile-home parks, tractor-equipment lots, and “Repo Sale” signs.

Once we got out into the middle of nowhere, things looked a little brighter. Or darker, as the case may be. With nothing resembling civilization for miles around, the sky positively lit up with stars. It was a view I hadn’t seen in memory (the occasional shooting-star punctuation didn’t hurt, either). I couldn’t help thinking that if an outer-space movie put that many stars in the background, it’d be derided as fake — it’s just not something that fits in with most of our experience.

It couldn’t last forever, of course, and eventually, our view diminshed as we found ourselves approaching the little towns on the outskirts of Dallas (and the attendant miles of Hummer and pickup truck dealerships).

I found it particularly apt that we traded a town called “Hope” in Bill Clinton’s origin state for a town called “Fate” in George Bush’s.


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