The Human Factor of Higher Gas Costs

7 07 2008

I realize that at this moment and for roughly 36 days, my car, Steve Austin, has been AWOL.

I was already carpooling before Austin’s disappearance but with news like this, I’m wondering if I should just set him free.

Oil’s historic ascent from $100 to nearly $150 a barrel in just six months is lending weight to a far grimmer prediction: Crude could reach $200 a barrel by the end of the year.

I have been telling you guys this for awhile.

There are no utilities and no public transportation in this unincorporated town of a couple hundred people along a narrow road that winds through the mountains 314 miles north of Sacramento. Many people here buy gas for their vehicles and gas or diesel for generators that power their homes.

“I’m scared to death” of rising fuel prices, Hanley says. At the store, the hub for visiting whitewater rafters and residents of other isolated towns, gas cost $5.30 a gallon on a recent day when the national average was $4.07.

This community may be an extreme example of how rising gas prices are hitting rural Americans particularly hard, but people in small towns from Maine to Alaska are in a similar bind as those here.

Aunt B. wrote awhile back about how the suburbs of urban cities were also going to be hit.

I can sit and talk about this all day. I have no idea what rural Americans are going to do. My income has only gone up slightly in the past three years. My cost of living has skyrocketed. Due to a very good network of friends and family, we are doing okay.

But what about the folks that make roughly $7 bucks an hour? It might not be common in larger cities but it’s very common in rural America. Salaries are just not as high. It used to not matter. It does now. Food expenses, which have to be trucked in, have gone through the roof in small towns across this country.

The options are limited. Do folks like Squirrel Queen and I move to a place with public transportation? I took the trains and trams in Amsterdam and Montreal when I lived there. It was no problem. I actually kind of liked it.

And this happened recently. We will no longer be able to go get a Commercial Appeal (which is having it’s own problems) or a Tennessean, which will cut services to northwest Tennessee on July 27. Fuel costs are just too high although they say it’s only a “factor.” Many folks who deliver papers are subcontracted out, including route delivery people, and the cost of that I’m sure was just too much.

It’s a cost-cutting measure, of course, but it’s still frustrating. I liked the Sunday papers.

No Sunday papers in a ten-county area, gas prices looking like they’re pushing towards five bucks a gallon, and I just noticed my dog’s usual (and previously relatively inexpensive) dog food has gone up nearly an entire four dollars a bag. My salary’s certainly taken a big hit this year catastrophically – and I’m obviously not a “normal” case – but even if I was still working the same job, I’m pretty sure my salary wouldn’t have gone up much (if at all), and I imagine many others are in the same boat. What’s next? I’m honestly beginning to dread to even wonder.

What’s next?

Harold Ford Jr. Advises Barack Obama

27 05 2008

I saw this on Twitter from the Memphis Flyer.

Harold Ford. Jr. has a column in the June 2, 2008 edition of Newsweek. Here is a snippet:

The night Barack Obama is expected to accept the Democratic nomination will be Aug. 28, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King had a dream, and Barack Obama is part of its fulfillment.

We live in a more just and open country than we did 45 years ago, a country where an African-American may be elected president. That doesn’t mean the country is perfectly just, or that we live in a new, post-racial era. But concerns about race in this election are overstated.

Do many rural or working-class people have questions about Obama? Sure. But these are less about race than about culture. Obama has not lived their lives.

The last two sentences I agree with. But, I think I would like to add that none of the candidates truly understand rural America but I also agree it’s more about culture from what I’m hearing in the trenches. That is the reason that John Edwards resonated so strongly here in northwest Tennessee.

It’s a compelling read.

Annoying Autobiographical Pause #034

7 05 2008

Last night I went to a third grade concert where Bear sang songs with her class. It was adorably sweet (shut up) and I found myself quite smitten with the whole thing.

This may sound weird but it was very NPR-like. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.

I know, I’m a softie. As it is tournament time for high schools here in America, Squirrel Queen walked in as the festivities were ending but we got Bear flowers which her older sis gave to her.

There isn’t anything nicer than seeing a kid beam with pride of a job well done.

I sometimes watch their lives from the sidelines. It’s funny that all the kids at the school call me “Tick” but I’ve noticed they have dropped the Aunt part. (For those of you who don’t know, my oldest niece started calling me Tick when she was a baby because I tickled her. Thus, Aunt Tick was born.) The amazing thing to me is that the other kids picked that up as well. I am secretly pleased about this and love it when my peers will hear this endearment and look at me bewildered. Oh, it’s fun to have an in-joke with kids.)

They are getting older. So am I. As they spiral towards their tweens, I sometimes feel like an accessory with them. But I think that’s just part of it being an Aunt. I’m not a mom or a grandmom, and I’m still somewhat of a playtoy for them, and that’s more than all right. Right now I see Homer running herself ragged to keep them involved in school, sports and their community. She is not only teaching them to be part of the world around them, but she’s also creating opportunities for them to learn discipline, tolerance and responsibility.

I salute Moms. You guys have a hard job.

I’m going through a period of time where I’m very tired but oddly content with the world around me. To quote one of my favorite bloggers which I have done before, it is what it is. I’m learning at my advanced age that things have to grow organically and that rushing my life is self-destructive. Bills still have to be paid, dogs have to be fed, laundry has to be done, I still have to go to work but with all of that said, I’m thinking a bit more optimistically. As you know, it’s easy to fall into the cracks and let the bad stuff eat at your soul.

Early morning ponderings from Hooterville.

Food Porn

1 05 2008

In the last few days, as the community has been celebrating it’s annual flower festival, I have gone to several events where there has been an overabundance of food.

As I am a fan of food, I dig this.

Now this isn’t of the vein of what you might be thinking. We are talking country cooking with recipes handed down for generations and it’s been amazing.

Monday night, there was a tasting where hundreds of people showed up for a nibble of dozens of dishes and there was a luncheon with judging yesterday. Corn casseroles, green beans put up fresh last year from private gardens slow cooked for hours, meringue piled high on a variety of chocolate and coconut pies, berries piled high on homemade pound cake and dressing from several different people all adorned long tables. Waldorf salads, tomato dishes, canned pickled okra and slow cooked tenderloin marinated in basil all set waiting for those of us who attended. We were like zombies waiting for brains and you couldn’t help but drool a little bit as you stood in line waiting to pile your plate high.

And a country ham smoke and cured for two years that was such a salty delicious treat that my tongue exploded in my mouth (and I’m sure it taxed my heart.)

It was that good, campers.

The most curious thing about the food is that it continues today and tomorrow in several events and it’s all made from recipes that were never written down but were instead taught to some of these women (mainly it’s older women who provide these delicacies) while standing in the kitchen with their mothers in a time where ingredients for dishes came from the family farm.

As it is a rural festival, there is the judging of baked goods with the winners smiling softly that they knew their dish was a hit in their home but is given validation with a blue first place ribbon.

Bragging rights is what it’s all about.

My mother was a baby boomer and she had her feet planted in both worlds of cooking. Those recipes where she and her mother would work in the kitchen together, talking about the events of the day while using what they had available.  They could cook the best fried chicken ever. Homer and I have tried to recreate this (me, of course, under Homer’s wise supervision as I can’t cook) and it cannot be recreated. She could also prepare some exquisite veal scallopini and chicken marsala that would make your eyes water.

But this post is about the hidden world of southern cooking where dishes aren’t made with cans of Campbell Soup but with the embrace of history. As I said, there are no recipes to follow, these dishes haven’t been documented on paper but instead it’s an oral history of food.

And so when I see these women fussing over their dishes, I can’t help but smile to myself because it is their art which will never hang in any museum but art is is.

Real Conversations By Real People About Politics

19 04 2008

I’ve talked quite a bit about how I wish we were having a more “adult” presidential campaign right now. It makes me cranky listening to all the political rhetoric when there are more important issues to discuss.

I realize that it’s just not “sexy” to have conversations these days about politics when you aren’t looking somebody in the eye. That’s part of what is missing, I think.

When I’m sitting talking to friends and acquaintances I have who have and will vote differently than I will in November, I find that we never raise our voices, yell obscenities at each other and start threatening to throw fainting goats at the other’s family promoting a riot of some kind here in Hoots.

We have adult conversations. Not always perfect, mind you, but pretty decent.

I find we agree on what needs to be addressed, we just have different ideas on how to fix it and our ideologies on who the best candidate is to take over a government that appears to be nuts right now. Why anyone would want to be president right now is mind-boggling. There is no quick fix.

Where we agree is that the economy is in the toilet, the war in Iraq is a mess and when are we going to have to repay our debt to countries we’ve borrowed money from. Credit card companies will call you when they don’t get paid. We keep wondering when the United States is going to get that call, from let’s say, China.

I wonder what the interest rate will be? I wonder who’s going to pay it. Oh, wait …

We agree that the middle-class in many ways is not the middle-class anymore. We talk about rising gas and food costs. We talk about having health insurance (most of the people I know do) but that we really can’t use it because our health insurance companies won’t let us and the deductibles are killing us when we have to go to the doctor.

So, I mentioned earlier this week about how terrible I thought the Gibsonopolous debate was for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They waited nearly an hour to ask about the economy?

Politics is like a chess game. But real people with real problems don’t want to be pawns.

They just want to know when they are going to see light at the end of the tunnel.

I’m usually an optimist about most things, but right now, I’m worried. And if you sit down and look your neighbor in the eye and talk like an adult about the issues this country is facing, regardless of who you think they are, you will find out they are most likely a bit worried too. Or this has been my experience. Sometimes it’s talking to one person at a time where we see our similarities and can put aside our differences.

The Disenfranchised Voter

14 04 2008

Right now, I know who I voted for in the primary and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m sitting back looking at the different candidates’ behavior. Thus far, I am not liking what I see. I still feel I voted for the guy I wanted to win but I’m seeing some things from everyone that makes me think of the race in 2000.

I don’t like it. Not one bit.

First out, John McCain. He gets information on global policy wrong sometimes. Here’s what bugs me: we have a president that does that now. Whoever is our next president needs to know about the different cultures all residing in Iraq and their different philosophies especially when you are in their country when you are on a political junket. We’ve buried four soldiers here in Hoots. Singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb” to the tune of Barbara Ann did not endear me to him nor did it to others I’ve spoken to. I used to, before the Savings and Loans fiasco, though McCain was a moderate. I can’t help but wonder what deal he made with Bush and Co. back in 2004 because I think he did. He was one of their harshest critics and then they are doing a group hug? We don’t need Bush Lite in office in November. I think he’s smarter than Bush. Of course, Cheney is the president and likes money so I digress. We have MORE government from a party that promised us LESS government.

Remember that political spin?

Second out, Barack Obama. I didn’t see anything wrong with him talking about bitter, disenfranchised voters in Pennsylvania. His comments, although not the most well-thought out when spoken, does hit on a very crucial element about people are hanging on to the familiar because they are tired of struggling. Regardless of what one might thing, we live in hard times. Hell, Bill Clinton did a version of it himself back in 1992 and you didn’t see people going ape-poo. Let’s take rural voters from my neck of the woods for an example. I can beg, plead, cajole and talk about what a wonderful thing it is to vote and they don’t. Our last few elections, state, national and local have seen less than 25 percent of registered voters hitting the polls. People are bitter about government and disenfranchised by hearing words that aren’t backed up by actions. What I don’t like that Obama has done, and I’m trying to be fair about it, is that sometimes he backtracks. Here’s the thing, just own it Senator which you do sometimes and don’t others. I believe faith is important and it goes without saying that many people tie in their faith with the way they vote. But it seems that, once again, faith (an important personal issue for so many Americans) is being used as a political weapon. I was raised Presbyterian and I understand the importance of feeling connected. My dad was Church of Christ growing up (imagine my confusion with those two denominations mixed in the bag.) But, you know, it just seems disingenuous at times when it’s brought out conveniently for a speech or a jab. I have a friend who is a Buddhist. I don’t see them talking about that. Obama is going to have to take the heat and he would make me a happy camper if he starts talking about those changes again he mentioned a few months ago. Focus on the long-term goals of the party, just don’t change the party’s mission for the sake of the win.

On to Hillary Clinton, to my dear friends who support her, I respect your commitment to her, but I don’t like the way she’s running her race. There, I said it. She pounces on Obama when I think she needs to be pouncing on McCain. She may have expected an easy race, but in the long run, she didn’t get it. Right now, what I’m hearing is give McCain a shot if I can’t have it so I can have it in 2012. I know she isn’t saying that but it’s the vibe I’m getting. I think Clinton’s policies are basically the same as Obama’s. I think she is a savvy and clever woman, but if anyone is utilizing the tired Rovian playbook, it’s Clinton. Don’t get me wrong, it okay to be critical and I don’t think she’s a bad person I just think she wants to get the win more than anything. And at this point, I’m thinking she just might.I said months ago if she won, I’d happily vote for her before all this crap started. Now, I will begrudgingly vote for her if this kind of behavior continues. She spoke of change too. I’m ready to see it. Ms. Clinton, make me believe. I could care less if you shot a duck and had a shot of whiskey with the boys. I want to know if you can fix the economic mess in this country. Remember, people voted for Bush because he was “the guy they wanted to have a beer with.” Clinton’s policies are sound. Obama’s are similar. Let’s talk about the issues, not pulling phrases out and bashing the hell out of him.

And, as my head is filled with many things this morning other than just politics, we had to have a forum on COMPASSION?

Jeez, I thought that was ingrained in us. Golden Rule stuff. Treat others they way you want to be treated. Candidates, you don’t want to see people losing their jobs or eating six-packs of chicken ramen noodles because that’s all they can afford, then start talking about ways to stop this nonsense.

The news cycle in this race is short. We have new media bombarding us with information so quickly it’s hard to keep up. It’s time for our candidates to keep up to.

Most of the folks I know here in rural west Tennessee are second amendment, blue dog Democrats. (I know, I’m largely in the minority. Guns and church are a way of life here. I don’t participate in either one but I have no problem with it, quite frankly, which may put me on the list of some liberals.) They vote too (and sometimes Republican nationally, but I have a feeling they aren’t buying any of it. We are smarter than you guys stereotype us to be.

Start remembering you are campaigning for votes from average people. I think the Superdelegates are eating just fine and aren’t rolling pennies to put gas in their cars

I said this before and I will say it again, it’s too fuzzy.

Rural Voters

23 02 2008

I keep telling you that rural voters are sometimes disenfranchised from the big picture.

I’m not the only one.

RuralVotes is dedicated to energizing and building a solid rural constituency, promoting initiatives and ideas supporting the revitalization of rural America. Much of our nation’s wealth and many of our greatest leaders are products of rural America. But lack of foresight in public policy has resulted in less opportunity, lower real wages and a lack of economic growth in many rural communities.

If you life in a rural community and are interested in politics, I suggest you read RURAL VOTES because I believe what they say up in those few lines are true. And I live here so I see it everyday.


Beauty Within The Cracks

16 11 2007

Last night, I went to a photography exhibit at the local college to see a new friend’s photography work with SQ and Badger. I have to say, I was absolutely inspired.

My new friend, who we will call Robert as that is his name, has a day job running an after school program, which was the same one I read Dr. Suess to last week.

Now, why was it inspiring you might ask and I can say that the best way I can explain it is that I get bored and in routines that sometimes aren’t very exciting. You know how it is, you get up, you go to work, you stumble around in your day to day life and then you head home and order a pizza.

Yeah, I’m just as exciting as tofu.

But, with that said, Robert is one of those intense men who stirs things up within the people he meets. He recently returned to Hooterville after living a great portion of his life in Indianapolis teaching art. His parents are elderly and he decided to stay to be with them as there are a multitude of health problems and his dad suffered a stroke recently.

But, back to the exhibit, it was good. He took local shots of things I’ve seen my entire life (with a little Canon ultra-compact mind you) and I found myself looking at things in a new light. During the presentation, he had three kids and one matriarch of our community read small excerpts of poetry and writings. This took less than ten minutes, but all three of us just got misty-eyed. There was something buried in the small presentation, almost as if we were allowed to walk through a door and see things that were always there.

He had taken small little things that are in our world and made them special. The colors were vibrant, the pictures tight and focused. But there was more to it.It was a message of possibilities and hope, finding beauty within the cracks.

We dig our friend Robert.