Monday, January 10, 2011


David, from Texas, with the Coke bottle bottom glasses and the I don't kiss no ass attitude, who says he's a new driver with the company I work for, came up to my truck in Lexington and pounded on the door.

"Did I wake you up man, sorry."

David had that little grin. I never know whether that little grin is one of embarrassment or whether they're filled with glee knowing that they are the cause of your annoyance, like when you walk into a place of business and someone says, "Sorry we're closed," and they have that same little grin.

David asked questions that had painfully obvious answers. "Did you tarp that load..oh yea,  you did, it's tarped." "We always get fuel with these fuel cards?" was another one. The company places a sticker in the cab of every truck that says "Never pay cash for fuel," and repeats that warning in other places on our paperwork and forms -- and they will not reimburse you for any expense for which you haven't called in and got prior approval, as I well know. A couple hundred dollars worth, I know.

David, although new, had already bought fuel with his fuel card so I wondered why he was asking about it, but now thinking back, there are scenarios where you have to buy emergency fuel someplace where they don't take the fuel card, and other arrangements are made. I guess David just wanted someone to listen to him. I say it that way because I didn't do very much talking.

David is of the thinking that we need more guns, not less. "If it'd been me I'd a pulled out my Rueger and popped him," he said, referring to the shooting in Tucson of US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and several others.

I just checked Sarah Palin's Facebook page, the one where there is a map and Giffords' congressional district is labeled with a circle, overlaid with crosshairs. The map is still up there, two days after Giffords was shot through the brain, and Giffords' name is still on the list of names off to the side that Palin wanted to target in the November election.

The shooting, by the way, has put a rapid halt to the Republican steam roller that has been controlling the agenda and the daily news cycle non stop since the election. There was to have been a vote this week to overturn Obamacare but that has been called off, now, postponed. The news has no John Boehner, no talk of how the political landscape has shifted, no worrying over what the tea baggers want and whether the Republicans will be able to pacify them without losing any of their power and corporate fundraising ability.

There's talk about the hateful rhetoric that is the Republicans manna. The hateful rhetoric they have employed since Nixon to divide us, to peel off the amount of working class support they need to stay in power.

On Palin's Facebook page there is comment after comment from her supporters denying that rhetoric or guns or Palin or anything had anything to do with Giffords' shooting. Everyone thinks society has nothing to do with how people behave. Everyone has free choice.

Of course, these same people take the other side of the argument when it comes to something they want to make a case for like anti-homosexual laws.  If their kid had a gay teacher or Boy Scout leader, the kid could become gay. Keep sex off TV. It could influence our kids in a bad way. Don't give people like Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro a platform, or any credit for what they have achieved. Our own working class might get the wrong idea.

It's difficult to separate how we feel from our judgments and observations, and it would be difficult to prove that Conservatism, which has been the dominant paradigm since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, has made this a more surly country. It would be hard to prove that the country is a less friendly place because George W Bush always walked up to the podium at a news conference with sneer on his face and a snarl in his voice  (like New Mexico's new Republican governor Sussana Martinez does, I notice). It would be just as hard to prove that our increasingly fragile economic conditions have made us more worrisome, less secure, more prone to irrational outbursts. It would be hard to say whether the fact that real wages have not increased since the 1970s has taken its toll.

I can say this, however, most definitely, from personal observation, that when you go into to a store now and buy something, it is unlikely that you will be thanked for your patronage. This is a fact. I noticed the change beginning around the year 2000. It was here and there at first. I am in all the 48 states, and I can tell you that the Northeast was the last place it disappeared. It was young people first. "Have a nice day," began to replace "Thank you." The business owners picked it up from there, right away, and you could hear the relief in their voices at not having to feel beholden to you any more. The link, in their feeble little Republican minds, between the fact that you have a choice of where you spend your money, and their success, was broken.

I remember late last summer sitting in a restaurant in Washington state, along the coast, a little lumber mill town. The husband was in the kitchen and the wife was waiting tables and I overheard her talking to some customers. "It's been a rough year, but we're still here," she told them.

In other words, they were just hanging on, but when I paid my bill she handed me my change and told me to have a nice day. There must be something psychological going on there. Everything her and her husband have been working for hangs in the balance, but it is not worth it, to her, to say thank you.

As I say, it was here and there at first. Young people, and the rest followed. This way of treating customers literally swept the country in the summer of 2004, during the election campaign between George W Bush and John Kerry. I had a CB for a short time then, and there were truck drivers on the CB almost slobbering with hatred for Kerry, calling him a socialist and whatever else they could think of. Imagine, John Kerry a socialist. Imagine, Barak Obama a socialist. And Hitler was a feminist.

The deterioration of civility has been noticeable, to me. The Obama election was an aberration, a temporary ebb in the flow. There was a difference the other way for awhile, but that is long past, thanks, as Jim Baca notes, to the Palins, Becks, Limbaughs and O'Reilleys, and thanks to the deep pocket Republican funders of the tea bagger movement.

The National Rifle Association says there are 250 million guns in America. Thanks to laws pushed through by the NRA many of those are now assault rifles or automatic pistols like the one used to shoot Giffords, which the young thug bought, legally, despite clear indications that he had problems, thanks also to the NRA which, despite its home boy public relations face is largely funded by gun manufacturers. With that many guns you will never find them all. The thing to do, then, is to outlaw ammunition.

Meanwhile we can start making this a more civil place to live. We can make sure that people have access to information, the only thing that can empower them, by ensuring net neutrality.

Then we can start giving the people whose labor creates the wealth of this country the wealth that their labor creates. Like we did until the Reagan era, the post war period when labor unions were at the height of their strength and when the resulting increase in the overall rates of pay and benefits meant that one person working in a family could pay for a house, a car or two, maybe a new car and a used one, and college for the kids. And you had a pension. Social Security and a pension. You worked 40 hours and went home. Both people work in almost all households now, they are maxed out on credit, and they work more hours, and it's still hard to keep up, and forget about college for the kids.

Keep on putting Republicans and and conservative Democrats in office, let them hand over the Social Security Trust Fund to Wall Street, and forget about a dignified retirement. Forget about going to the doctor unless it's a grave emergency. Those little problems, the nagging pains, that little bit of blood you've been passing, all that will have to take care of itself.

Well. I do go on. I should be sleeping. I have nice long run, more than 2,400 miles, but the thing with long runs is that you have to drive a lot. Anything you do takes time away from sleeping time -- fueling, eating, showering, writing.

I'm parked at some exit out in the middle of Montana. There's nothing here, nothing in sight. I stepped out into the frigidity to empty my pee bottle and the sky is breathtaking. Spectacular. There is a difference in the sky in the West, when you are at elevation, I am sorry to inform you of the East and Midwest and the South. It may be the lack of light from cities and towns, but I think it is mainly because when you are up high there is less atmosphere for the star light to pass through. The night sky is three dimensional here. You can see depth in it, and the Milky Way is almost a solid brush stroke across the sky. And there's no time here. Except for millions of years of history. There is death, but no blood.

And yes, I did the picture of Sarah Palin. If there is a hell she will be there charging rent.

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