Thursday, December 4, 2008

Main Streets

If you take a turn off the interstate and get lost in a small town you'll come to a main street and more than likely that main street will be full of empty store fronts. Driving around, time and again, I'd come across shuttered businesses and was saddened to see so many of them rotting away, covered by cobwebs and dust. At one time individuals kept these places up and supported their lives and families with them. Each store I came across was different and I loved finding new things, little pieces of personalities that made up the town, that made me feel like I was in in a new state, with its own distinctness and idiom. For the most part that has all been sucked up by Wal-Mart, and crushed by the recession, or to the ones who lost their businesses, depression, another aspect of American individuality gone.

This series began in Shendenoah, Pennsylvania as the first bailout was brewing--no doubt the men and women who owned these shops could have used some of that money. Looking into them I thought that they where the places that politicians use to buddy up to Joe the Plumber types; for the ones with the purse strings they exist only as carefully orchestrated backdrops and once they order their corn beef sandwiches are forgotten about. When it comes time for bailouts the guys in the suits give to guys in the suits and the ones in the flannel are foreclosed upon.


In Shenendoah I walked into one of the few businesses that was open at the end of Main Street, a barbershop. I spoke with the owner who opened the place up in the afternoons. He's been there for years. As evening approached aging men sat around and talked about life and what's going on in the world. I asked him what Main Street was like when he was a boy. He told me that he remembered the weekends most vividly.

On Fridays and Saturdays foot traffic would be so heavy that the sidewalks would overflow into the street and the only way to walk was in one direction, on one side. He said, as he became a teenager, he'd go there to flirt which was always difficult because there where so many people on the street. Due to the ongoing tide of people it made it almost impossible to stop or slow down and have much of a talk, but if one was diligent enough, he said, they could maneuver between the masses, duck into a storefront, wait until the one they where interested passed by and then try to catch their attention. All that is gone now, the streets are empty as they are in every other main street I walked or drove down.

The accompanying music was recorded in Mississippi on Yazoo City's Main Street. Someone on the city council thought that elevator music would make the street more pleasant. So far it hasn't lured many people.

America Abroad, Part 1

These photos where taken far away from the United States in Kosovo and Albania. This is one in a series that I'm calling America Abroad. On my travels I often witness the results of American policy and when there is a direct connection I'm going to include those stories in these postings.

Yesterday (3 December 2008), 93 nations agreed to ban cluster bombs at a conference in Oslo, Norway. Notably absent, was the United States along with Russia and China.

Cluster bombs maim and kill indiscriminately--their victims are usually civilians and most notably amongst them the young. Last January I saw the results of these bombs firsthand in Albania and Kosovo. In 1999 during NATO's war with Serbia all players in the region deployed land mines and dropped cluster bombs on the Albanian border. While those affected by mines in Kosovo received a high concentration of attention from the press, NATO and NGOs those affected in Albania, who are much poorer and in greater need of aid than their neighbors across the border, have gone largely unnoticed. During the past 9 years 272 people have been injured by mines and they have received only the most basic of care.

Highway 61, Mississippi

On highway 61, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul, I decided to get lost. It was an off day and I didn't really know where to go or what to do, so I just drove and ended up in two small towns in the delta, Rolling Fork and Carey. Since I collected interviews for this piece I'll leave it at this and let the people of Mississippi speak for themselves.