Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's Left To Say

See the Philadelphia episode here

On Tuesday night, 15 minutes before the polls closed in parts of Indiana, Kentucky and Vermont, Graham crumpled the last unnecessary scraps of the Philadelphia episode into digital wads and shot them into the virtual recycling bin.

The 18th episode of the 18 episodes in 18 days found itself delivered and uploaded. In the comfort of a Greenwich Village apartment our short crash across the country was complete.

And thus began a wonderfully distracted night through three boroughs. Hours after our two-week tour ended so did the relentless two-year campaign.

America elected Barack Obama.

And that's it. Now we turn our eyes forward. The last week has brought on a return to New York's pace. As break-neck as the trip was, the frenetic cynical cycle of NYC is a culture shock. My goal will be to keep the joys and humility of the journey with me as I scratch away at the intense surface of the city I adore.

And if this is the closing credits there are three groups of people who are responsible for the project's content and the contentedness of your narrator.

First, thank you to anyone who watched the videos, read the blog, sent an email, text, or twit. You're glorious investment of time made the tough moments sustainable and the easy moments easier to come by.

Second, thank you to the rock-stars in Ann Arbor, Chicago, Frisco, Las Vegas, Chapel Hill, Waynesboro, Media, and Philadelphia who graciously gave us a bed, floor, or hot tub to rest up inalong the way. We made it across the country and back in two weeks because of the hospitality of others.

Third, thank you to the fascinating folks who let their voices, stories, and faces fill each of the 18 episodes. Your graciousness, thoughtfulness, and uniqueness made the series work. Please keep in touch.

Lastly, there is no simple way to sum up what the partnership with Graham meant to me. He is unflappable, dedicated, and deeply talented. At so many points, he maintained a calm persistence and openness to challenges. Red Blue Road Trip left a indelible mark on me and a large part of that is due to Graham and the hours we worked together.

Now there's nothing left to say, so I won't say any more.

See the Philadelphia episode here

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reston, Virginia: Tomorrow's Choice

See the Reston episode here

Tomorrow, we as a nation will embark on the wonderful privilege of peaceful transition of power.

Fittingly, our last two stops are in a planned community that is not more than 40 years old: Reston, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the oldest places in the nation. Two very different places with two very different populations that will help select the next President of these United States.

If this trip has taught me anything, it is that we as Americans treasure our democracy and our ability to choose our leaders. There is a sense across the nation that we are about to enter one of the most challenging eras in our brief history and a near consensus that who we choose to guide us through the tumult is a decision of utmost importance.

This is perhaps the legacy of the 2000 election. My own thoughts entering that election was that the system was rigged, that the choice was negligible and that my vote in particular did not matter. We watched as the courts instead of the voters decided the election and were left with a deep dissatisfaction on both sides, not necessarily in who became president, but in how he was chosen.

During, the last eight years there has been an effort to harden our stances and consolidate our associations. Parody maps divided into "The United States of Canada" and "Jesusland", websites devoted to mocking opposition candidates, and discussion of secession and which region represents the "real America." I hope that the legacy of this election is that the country unites in a healthy debate on how to carry forward together rather than deepening the divisions and disengagement from the political process.

No matter whom we select we've come a long way from 2000, both in the quality of our options and in the investment in the process. After speaking with hundreds of Americans of every political persuasion in nearly every region of the country, it is clear that we have narrowed the choice to two exceedingly qualified and inspirational men. I have heard cogent arguments for electing either one. While the campaign has brought out the worst in both, either one will be able to handle the burdens of the office.

John McCain has impeccable foreign policy bonafides, the respect of his colleagues in the Senate, and a well-earned reputation as someone who stands on his principles. Barack Obama has rocketed on to the national scene, building a grassroots campaign based in his experiences as a community organizer that empowers those involved. The biographies of both men are remarkable American stories. It's a wonderful choice to have, eons better than the two spoonfed career party men we had to choose from in 2004.

Only history will tell us if this is a historic election (not another e-mail asking for another $5 donation to a campaign). But the one great guarantee is that this imperfect experiment will result in a change of leadership in the most powerful nation in the world without a drop of blood.

See the Reston episode here

Friday, October 31, 2008

North Carolina: Race And The Race

See the Asheville and Reidsville Videos Here

There's something happening here.

Although we've been pretty much outside the news cycle for the last two weeks, one of our favorite recnt blog posts is this one from fivethirtyeight.com in which the author relates the story of a racist couple in Western Pennsylvania cheerfully and matter-of-factly telling a canvasser that they are "voting for the n*****."

Again our sample is smaller, but in the more than 100 interviews we've done, three people have mentioned Obama's skin color or background as a reason not to vote for him. But one of the interesting shifts from the MidWest to West to the South has been the answer to "what do you think the effect of a (insert the candidate voter supports) will be on this area.

In the MidWest and West the responses focused on the economy, but here in the South there is has been much more mention of race. There is a palable joy among African-American Obama supporters. Many mention all of his qualifications, his tax plan, his health care plan, but there is a sense of pride, relief and amazement when speaking of Obama unlike any of the supporters of of either candidate. To speak very generally, there is a reignition of belief in the American experiment.

The fascinating question will be what will happen to race relations if Obama becomes president? If he succeeds will patriotism continue to trump racism as it did for the white couple in Pennsylvania? If he fails will it make it that much more difficult for blacks and other races to hold on to their share of the American pie?

See the Asheville and Reidsville Videos Here

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Springfield, MO and Van Buren, MO: Show Me Something Good

See the Van Buren and Springfield videos here

Sharon, Janet, and Shirley of Van Buren, Missouri remind me of my mother and her friends. Warm and generous; independent, thoughtful and opinionated.

They are perhaps the most welcoming and most conservative people we have met on this trip. They share a deep concern for this country and speak of this election, without the hyperbole of the campaigns, as the most critical of their lifetime. And they will vote for John McCain.

My mother discusses the election with the same vigor, she cares deeply for the nation and sees the selection of our next leader as among the most important choices she has made in her 60 some years. She will vote for Barack Obama.

As with most people who take more than a passing interest in us and our subject matter, the Van Buren ladies asked after the consensus as to who of the combatants has the most support. Our sampling of a few hundred people is small, but the only agreement we get is not on a candidate, a plan, or a party. But rather a problem.

To hear it out here, America is in trouble. People are mad as hell at the Wall Street bailout. Mad as hell at the Bush Administration. Mad as hell at NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX. There is a deep distrust of institutions.

But importantly, I think, Americans haven't given up on democracy. Although we find our fair share of "I don't care" and "it won't matter," it is counterbalanced particularly among young people of both political stripes (and to hear it from Springfield, Missouri and Sterling, Colorado, the stereotype that all informed and active young people are Obamaites is way off) by an understanding that who our leader is during these unfortunate times matters.

See the Van Buren and Springfield videos here

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thoreau, New Mexico: Got Hope?

See the Thoreau video here

Is there a place for a hopeless place in an election about hope?

That's Thoreau, New Mexico, fittingly spelled like the philosopher, but spoken like the preposition. Surrounded by other worldly natural beauty, but also a place that one is far more likely to pass through, than to stay.

Thoreau has a quiet violence to it. The locals we spoke to called the town, split between a Navajo reservation and a neighborhood of Angelos and Latinos, quiet. And indeed it misses all the noise of urban live tucked miles from nowhere with no signs of industry or pollution.

But our brief stay was colored by stern warnings of afterhours muggings. Somehow gangs from LA have infiltrated Thoreau's calm rural life. With a few notable exceptions the people we meet appear 20 years older than the ages we request at the end of interview. The teens we speak to range from airy agitated and red-eyed rebels to entirely furious nihilists. Surely this is not the whole town, we found serious gentlemen, too.

And stats we saw contradict some of our observations (a median income up more than 100% since 2000.) But unmistakable signs of a very cruel poverty mark the main drag, especially on the reservation: abandoned cars, houses and people. The decay is so severe in parts, it's tough to fathom that this place is a long days drive from the seductive second homes of Frisco or the credited excesses of Vegas.

No matter how much hope and change is offered, it's depressingly tough to see a president, any president, accomplishing enough to make an impact in Thoreau. No slogan can save this place.

See the Thoreau video here

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mesquite and Las Vegas, Nevada: Still Selling Dreams, Hopes and Possibilities

See The Mesquite and Las Vegas Videos Here

Of course, it was from Las Vegas in 1971 that Thompson looked West with the right kind of eyes and saw "the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back" on the momentum his San Francisco generation.

And if San Francisco represented the movements of the 60s, Vegas most definitely symbolizes the bawdy credit-drunk America of the 90s and now. Neon Styrofoam nothing in Nevada. The desert feels like it's the only thing that was here 20 years ago and may be the only thing that remains in another 20. Vegas, in particular appears to be a place that specialized in selling dreams, hopes and possibilities as products.

Would Thompson take any solace that the ideals of a storebought American Dream that he so fiestily railed against have met their Waterloo is this town?

Vegas, which exploded on service and sin economy now finds itself closing in on itself. Sex sells, but only if there's someone to buy it. The economic crisis that so many people identify as the issue on which they will decide this election is not on the way in Nevada. The fallout isn't in the future, it's now.

You don't need the right set of eyes to see the shift from boomtown to something else in Las Vegas. There's no subtly to the signs of depression, its all naked and exposed. Abandoned housing developments, tenantless strip malls, well-stocked tent cities. As one person remarked today, parts of the town feel like a carcas being picked over.

The question is whether Vegas, Mesquite and the other towns that expanded so rapidly across the West will survive this downturn. They don't feel like permanent places more like transient towns that will snap back to their sleepy past now that the construction has stopped. It will be interesting to see if those who moved to Nevada during the explosion will move on to the next place selling dreams, hopes and possibilities.

See The Mesquite and Las Vegas Videos Here

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Frisco, Colorado: Mood Swing State

See The Frisco Video Here

If we stumbled into Sterling running on the potent mix of labor-driven adrenaline and sleep deprivation, we tumbled out of Frisco resuscitated with anticipatory cool.

Gracious hosts, starlit hot tubs, and homecooked chocolate cake in tiny mountain towns have a way of doing that.

Colorado has been good to us. Starting with the two towns we had no plans to shoot in.

Frisco is everything that Sterling is not.

People visit Frisco when they want to be free from the confines of their day jobs. People visit Sterling when they get sentenced to the confines of the local prison. For fun, the post-hippie kids in Frisco blaze up with locally grown pot, while the hard pick-up truck youths in Sterling mix meth in their bathtubs. Sterling's college students plan on getting into the local agribusiness, Many of Frisco's have come from somewhere else with the intention of working so that they can play in the snow.

Both run a deep streak of defiance. And as we've found everywhere, there's a mix of governmental skepticism and confident defiance as the economic news worsens.

Politically colored, Sterling is scarlet and Frisco, deep indigo. It says much about the pendulum position of the state (where our visit overlapped with that of John and Cindy McCain, Obama will be in Nevada when we pass through) that two of the more compelling stories we heard we're from people from opposite sides of the spectrum in the town not atune to their opinions.

In liberal Frisco, Josh Poland, who by all outer appearances could have been another crunchy kid bumming around a ski resort, but in fact is a deeply conservative seasonal worker who finds McCain to be too moderate. He offered an intelligent assessment of the tax system that would have made Milton Friedman's day.

And in traditional Sterling it was stay-at-home dad, Matthew Propst who believes an Obama presidency will give his daughters the chance to get the college education he for which he never had time or money. He matched Josh for his detailed evaluation of tax policy, but his would have had JK Galbraith beaming.

If these two towns are at all indicative of where Colorado and the West are moving, no state save Morman Utah can be considered "safe" for either party. Demographics may change, but independence still rules out West.

(Special thanks to Hope De La Rosa for today's photos)

See The Frisco Video Here