Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ashland, Ohio: Shotgun Blasts, Sign Wars and a Decimated Downtown

Ashland Video

This morning at 6 am there was a series of explosions outside our tent. We were camped by a lake in Akron, Ohio and its duck hunting season. I warned Graham not to leave the tent without his orange vest for the shotgun blasts continued for most of the morning even as we tried to recover from the nine-hour journey through the blizzard traffic in New Jersey and the deceptively long traverse of Pennsylvania.

The inauspicious start to the day was followed sequentially by a dead car battery (always unplug you’re 12volt power inverter- jump thanks to Al and his giant vermillion truck), a mid-Ohio traffic jam to rival the Kosciusko Bridge at 5:10 on a Friday, and an improvised detour that led to real detour. After our morning meander we arrived in the hard-scrabble town of Ashland round about 12 o’clock in the pm.

Ashland’s the kind of worn town that you find spread across the Northeast and Midwest. It’s a number of factories in various states of decay, with endless strips of strip malls filled with the same institutional stores that fill endless strips of strip malls everywhere.

And at the center is an absolutely decimated downtown that once was, what our source Ron Simmons today called “a bustler,” hollowed out of any hustle or bustle. Since Ohio is the swingiest of swing states, political signs for every imaginable office cover the sides of rural roads like crown vetch and populate store windows like hyperbolic blow-out sale ads.

The hard-luck we found in Ashland is the recent closure of the Archway Cookies plant. Almost 300 workers lost their jobs without notice on October 6 and according to locals it’s the fourth major plant closing in the last decade. Each of the people we met to today, regardless of the candidate they will endorse on November 4, mentioned the disappearance of jobs from the town and only a handful saw the change in the White House as capable of bringing a halt to the city’s economic decline.

It’s obvious that the economy is the central issue of the 2008 campaign, but I’m curious to find out exactly what that means in the different communities we visit. While plant closures in Ashland present a very visible example, the concerns about the economy in New York and Media were more about the future, with most people relating that the changes are on the way. Would love to get your thoughts on what’s happening in your town.

Ashland Video


heath said...

hey, guys, keep those orange vests on in Michigan. When will your dispatches begin on Al Jazeera? We're not finding them.
Godspeed and stay safe!
Dad M.

pat said...

Gunshots on the second day -
that's starting this road trip off with a real bang.
All kidding aside, Chris and Graham, you're doing an amazing job out there. What a great team you two make. One moment particularly comes to mind: the interview with Kurt in Chesterton IN. Chris nodding his head as he listens intently and with respect to this retired printer's feelings about the election; and Graham's very beautiful footage of the steel mills spewing smoke in the skyline and the waves breaking on the lakeshore. Can't close without noting the interview in Detroit with Harold. His words were some of the most powerful spoken. Riveting comments cutting through everything; going to the heart of the matter. Kudos for what you're doing. Keep up the great job and please be safe in this '18 cities in 18 days' endeavor. Can't wait for the next installment. Mom Meriwether