Saturday, March 28, 2015

Post Melissa Deindustrialization

I'd gone for an evening ride on my new 2000 Moto Guzzi motorcycle with my then girlfriend Melissa on the back. We ended up crusing through downtown Kenosha when I noticed we were riding along a brand new trolley car line.

I was living in Kenosha, WI, in the late 90s and early 00s. I'd ended up in Wisconsin when I moved to Racine, a few miles north of Kenosha, to move in with Sandy, a woman I met on the internet. If you saw her, you'd understand. If you'd spent the night with her, you'd start packing. Why is it that the more beautifual a woman is the more uninhibited she is in bed? I don't know, but it's true. But when that ended, there I was, in Wisconsin. I'd gotten a pretty good job driving local in the Chicago area and had actually bought a house in Kenosha, a big hundred year old hip roofed house that looked like an old farm house the town had grown up around, that someone had converted to a duplex at some point.

Joseph McCarthy Transit center - looking toward downtown - across vacant lots

The trolley tracks made a little loop around the downtown lakefront area, which is practically deserted except for the city's lakefront development project with "upscale housing" and hopefully someday shopping and includes a marina full of sail boats owned mostly by people from the Chicago area who summer or live in Wisconsin. Kenosha, on Lake Michigan, has become basically a big bedroom community. It's at the far north end of the greater Chicago area and 40 percent of the the people of Kenosha work in Illinois.

It didn't used to be like that. Kenosha used to be a two-fisted, smoky Lake Michigan port, full of industry and economic activity, one of those old industrial towns you see all over the Midwest that's fallen, as they say, on hard times. Before deindustrialization. Deunionization. Outsourcing. Reaganomics. Jobs shipped overseas.

Those cities, for awhile anyway, tried various ways to revitalize themselves. They tried to recruit new industry, with land incentives and tax free economic districts and promises in lieu of taxes schemes. Downtowns were converted to pedestrian malls to try to bring back shoppers from the malls and big box stores. Sometimes they built convention centers, like the infamous one in Flint, MI, featured in Michael Moore's breakout movie Roger and Me, that drew no conventions and closed in a few years leaving the city even deeper in debt.

American Motors site
I followed the trolley tracks to the trolley garage, the nice new building in a post modern style pictured above. Along the front were big glass windows through which you could see the trolley garage and the brightly colored trolley cars parked inside. As we cruised past, something made me slam on the brakes. The name on the building. The Joseph McCarthy Transit Center.

Melissa saw it, too. We sat there in silence, staring.

Although she'd grown up in Mexico City, Melissa, having an American father, had dual citizenship. She'd lived in San Francisco. She was more what I thought of as world citizen. She was of the upper class and identified herself more as that than a citizen of any country. In my time with her I gained a lot of insight into that class of people. What was good for her was good. She had no moral compass whatsoever, except in an abstract intellectual sense. She told me how she had gone with her mother to take soup to the striking students in Mexico City in 1968. She was a Leftist, except when she wasn't.

But she was well informed about the US, especially its politics and culture. She knew who Joe McCarthy was and what the the McCarthy Era had been. It had gotten its name from Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy who'd chaired one of two congressional committees, senate and house, that had conducted highly publicized Communist witch hunts in the 1950s. The committees were in practice part of Capitalism's efforts to roll back the New Deal. They were convened to root Communists out of the government -- i.e. holdovers from the Roosevelt Administration, those nasty people who came up with things like Social Security and Unemployment Insurance and created millions of jobs to get the US out of the Depression -- but the hearings ended up focusing on Hollywood and going after the many left leaning writers, actors and directors there.

American Brass workers in Kenosha
The committee members would ask those "hauled before the committee" if they were now or had ever been a member of the communist party. If they said yes, they'd be ordered to name other members.

If you refused to name names you were held in contempt, thrown in jail, and blacklisted from Hollywood. Those who didn't name names included folk singer Pete Seeger, writer Ring Lardner Jr., composer Elmer Bernstein, and the people who got together to make the iconic movie Salt of the Earth (now on youtube) about a strike at Empire Zinc Company's mine in Bayard, New Mexico, which is a good movie but is iconic primarily because it was made by people who were on the Blacklist.

If you named names, as did people like Walt Disney, or then president of the screen Actors Guild Ronald Reagan, or Burl Ives, director Elia Kazan, and writer Budd Schulberg, you were never forgotten by people on the Left, and never forgiven.

The hearings destroyed many careers and a few lives. The McCarthy Era still holds great symbolic importance for Leftists and is brought up any time anyone tries to argue that a little bit of security is worth giving up a little bit of liberty.

If you Google the Joseph McCarthy Transit center you find other people who've had the same reaction as Melissa and I did. They stop, take pictures and post them on their blogs with comments like "the only anti Communist transit center in America."

Except that it's not named after that Joe McCarthy after all, I've learned. It's named after a Jospeh McCarthy who'd directed the Kenosha Transit Department and who'd died of a heart attack while out rollerblading with his wife, whose dedications call him a "visionary," and who had come up with the idea for a trolley through downtown Kenosha.

Which is still deserted. If you drive around Kenosha you still drive by huge, open grassy areas where American Brass used to be, or where American Motors used to be, where union built Ramblers, AMC Javelins and Gremlins were made, and before those the Nash Rambler, considered the first compact car and a milestone car of the once formidable US auto industry.

1717 75th St today - the front porch was a nice place to have breakfast

Note: Being president of American Motors meant you were a prominent person. A past AMC president, George Romney, would later become Michigan's governor, and father to a kid named Mitt.

No comments:

Post a Comment