I was preparing an update to being an Urban Nomad, my birthday get away, mixed with the project fit; when I up and decided to see a movie that changed all that. I love movies, but rarely find ones that move me, especially Hollywood films. But I was at the Bipartisan Cafe working on another project and decided to go to the next movie playing across the street. That movie was Promised Land. The film has many of my favorite people involved: Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, put out by Participant Media, and based on a story by Dave Eggers.
Promised Land deals with the many problems that come up when large corporations meet small dying towns. Money. Family. Environment. Health. High School basketball. At various points in the film, the problems of natural gas, and energy in general, get some kind of mention. Damons's character brings up the alternatives of coal and oil (and war that comes with oil). He mentions that no one is willing to talk about decreasing consumption. No one mentions alternatives like solar or wind, although bio-fuel is mentioned.
I could go on. The bottom line is its a good film about a topic that is beyond needing to be talked about, and honestly thought about... but why did it hit me so hard.
I tell most people that I grew up in a small town in Kansas. This is not really true. I grew up in a mid-sized town surrounded by small farming towns. Emporia, where I lived until I was old enough to run away and join a college, has a population of around 24,000 people, a small college, a slaughter house and Dolly Madison Bakery. When I lived there it was mostly small businesses, few restaurants, one high school, and conservative people. Now I drive through there on my way to Kansas City, and it is full of mediocre corporate restaurants like Applebee's, there is a Walmart, and a Starbucks, all at the same off-ramp of I-35.
I use to tell people I was from Emporia, but it soon became disheartening. The would give me this look and say, "Oh yeah. My car broke down there once. It was a horrible experience. People were friendly, but GOD did that town STINK." It is true. If you are at the cross winds of IBP (the beef processing plant aka slaughter house) and Dolly Madison... your olfactory nerves are truly punished for your car's unwillingness to move you on down the interstate. So I no longer mention Emporia.
When I moved back to Kansas (Wichita came next in my list of addresses), after living in Texas for 6 years or so, I just started telling people I was from Dallas. I know some of you are saying, that's not much better, but with Kansas always being in the news for not wanting to teach evolution, Fred Phelps, or one more freaking Wizard of Oz joke... Texas worked just fine.
I left Emporia in 1986. Farm Aid had just started in 1985. All those little farm towns that were around my "home town" were drying up. The farm and seed co-ops (my first introduction to co-ops) were struggling. People were leaving the farms. More and more as I drove down those old country roads, large corporate seed signs were going up. Monsanto was taking over. People were selling out. My friends were trying to get scholarships and get off of those farms. I was witnessing the birth of ghost towns and the death of a way of life.
I am now shamed to admit that I was much like Matt Damon's character: sell and get the fuck out of there before it kills you. I loved and hated those little towns. Everyone knew what you were up to and with whom you were up to it with. When you don't subscribe to the norms of a community, it is a tough life. My blissful sense of freedom and fresh air was quickly stifled with some cruel comment or my own sense of not fitting in, belonging, of being different.
If we were sitting on the porch, drinking sweet ice tea, and some truck went by that no one recognized, everyone was suspicious.... I was curious. I wanted to know what else was out there. Everyone else seemed afraid. I reckon they had good cause, come to find out.
I would later have this same experience in Dallas. Only it was with artists in Exhibition Park, and the fear was of developers coming over from Deep Ellum. This time I understood the fear and frustration. use to be kind of the Harlem of Dallas before the early rounds of gentrification. Then some industry invaded, the punks squatted, then the yuppies invested.
The movie Promised Land hit home because I now miss those small towns. I don't miss the bigotry, homophobia, sexism, and racism that I experienced there. However, I miss the way of life. The slow pace. The home grown food. The care for the land and family.
I have a little fantasy. A bunch of "us" go in and take over these dying towns. We put in some solar and wind energy. We turn the dusty old pub, into a micro-brew public house for a community gathering place. There is a food co-op that "sells" what others grow/make. And then whatever other talents people have for whatever other needs we have. The 2-lane highways become bike paths that join us for trade and adventures. The pace is slow, the smiles are large, and the labor is joyful without much toil. The land of the mid-west is returned to the deep rich black soil that it use to be. That is my dream... well one of them....