I woke up with my joints very stiff, and had to move like a sloth for the first half hour of the morning. Here's where I slept. Note the sleeping bag right up next to the window, to get that cool night air.
After a while I felt like going outside, so I cruised around Springfield, and concluded that the entire city was built to serve the trucking industry. It contained one very wide, modern, excellent paved street, shooting right through town, and a rough grid of secondary streets where everyone lived.
The population was a split between crumbling old people, suffering from the cumulative effects of their local diet, and bright-eyed young people, working service jobs and radiating a kind of desperate energy that said, "I'm going to escape this place, if I work hard enough, I just know it!" There were only a handful of people my age hanging around, and they all looked like the type to have criminal records. Angry looking. Or in the case of the women, a fragile cheerfulness that didn't quite mask a thorough disappointment.
There were four places to eat, all focused around hamburgers. One was closed. The other three were like mess halls - dingy, barely sanitary, and not so much designed as ... "repaired" into existence. I ate at two of them. The restaurant that served the better burger - a hand-made 1/2-pound slab for five dollars - used a menu that was crawling with misspelled words. I can't say I was surprised, or even much bothered by it at this point. I walked into the fourth restaurant to look at their menu, which was written on chalk slabs above the counter and only had a few misspellings, and saw a sign announcing that they were closing early in deference to the local high-school football game. An angry-looking man about my age gave me the stink-eye as I walked out.
In general, everyone I talked to was pleasant, and I didn't have any trouble riding around or shopping. I got the sense that everyone here was scraping by, since the people who could make more of a living had probably moved somewhere more interesting to do it. As I walked back from the restaurant, I thought of my biking gear, locked in the hotel room across town. It's mostly toys to me - non-essential stuff - but even if I sold it as used, it would probably net enough cash to make a downpayment on a house in this town. I don't feel any guilt over that - I've kind of moved beyond the guilty phase of being lucky enough to earn good money - but I do feel a sense of discomfort, like I don't fit in, and should be moving on. Over dinner I listened to a podcast from Bill Maher and realized that every single person in the entire town, all around me for miles, probably disagreed violently with me on a lot of fundamental ideas that I talked freely about on the west coast.
And yet ... If I don't talk politics, I get along fine.
It really drives the point home for me, to see all these people. I really understand how tempting it is for them to think that there is a "liberal bias" to the media they see flowing in from the coast, or to think that they are unshakably in the majority and their elections are subverted by some conspiracy of "rich liberals". Back home we are handicapped by complementary illusions: For some reason those mid-westerners are hypnotized by "conservative pundits" and blinded by patriotism and religious righteousness and racism. Turns out the truth is more complicated, and a lot less satisfying.
I don't know. There's always a grain of truth somewhere in these stories. While tweaking my bicycle in front of the hotel, the one black man in the entire town - as far as I could tell - came walking past me. He didn't even look up from the sidewalk.
Tomorrow I'm going to quit this town, and I will never return.