This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture



This Magazine Staff

A week ago, my friend and I left Vancouver, planning to hit Seattle, Portland and the Oregon Coast.
One interesting thing about driving through rural America is the way the war manifests itself in the endless stream of bumper stickers, pins and billboards. In coffee-crazy Washington state, even the smallest hamlets have three or four drive-through espresso stands. The stereotype of Latte Liberals and Seven-Eleven-drip Republicans doesn’t have much currency here. One stand we went to, in the parking lot of the “Faith in Action Thrift Store,” dished out Cappucinos to guys in pick-up trucks. It’s wall of local soldiers’ names had turned into a shrine of sorts, flowers adorned with those little flags Americans love so much.
In the tiny town of Drain, Oregon, every filthy little thrift store was covered in “Support the Troops” stickers. A bridal boutique display had dresses in red, white and blue and the old man outside wore a stars and stripes singlet. Fifteen miles down the road, we arrived in a considerably different town: one with vegetarian cafes, a freshly painted pub/bakery/bookstore celebrating it’s monthly Art Walk. Baby boomers and some even older dressed in the rural ideal (immaculate leather boots and LL Bean hats) waved large rainbow peace flags as they marched down the block with placards reading “Bring the Troops Home Now.” We were the only audience.
The next day, in a suburb south of Tacoma on the edge of a highway on-ramp there was another flag waving ceremony, this one “in support of the troops.” It’s where I took this picture.

Another striking part of driving through the states is the trailer parks. Although we certainly have them in Canada (see The Trailer Park Boys), they’re less apparent than the large fields of cheap siding and rust glimpsed from the interstate.
Jokes abound about bad weather and trailers, the most common is calling trailer parks, “tornado magnets” or “tornado bait.” This is nonsense of course. Bad weather hits other buildings too, but it’s the trailer parks usually suffer complete devastation. These are homes with no foundations, built from the flimsiest of materials and completely at the mercy of the weather.
I’m guilty myself of using the saying “attracted to him like a tornado to a trailer park.” The implications of such quips never occured to me until this trip. I mean, all kinds of attention is given to the shanty-towns of the underdeveloped world, even the dilapidation of American inner cities; but I’ve never thought about the sheer number of rural and suburban North Americans who live in substandard housing. There aren’t a lot of tornadoes here in the Pacific Northwest but there’s consistent flooding. Images on local TV of mobile-homes being washed away is common. Outside the staggeringly wealthy centres of Seattle and Portland one can see whole towns, endless subdivisions of mobile and manufactured homes.

Show Comments