June 18-22, 2017… Days 150-154
I am still assembling my notes and thoughts on the Montana road trip so I am just making this start as a placeholder. News was consumed differently, routines were disrupted, signs of political leanings were watched for, whiteness was pondered, Juneteenth was noted, an attempt at a vacation was made.
June 18, 2017 Seattle, Washington to Wallace, Idaho
Driving out of Seattle. It’s misty. We’re getting a late start. Preachin the Blues is on KEXP and they’re celebrating Juneteenth a day early on the show. They play Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come. I say to Andrew, “We’re going into the heart of whiteness. Red state road trip.”
It’s Father’s Day. We’re thinking about the Philando Castile verdict and his fiance’s little girl. This morning Trump’s lawyer said he was NOT under investigation, even though Trump himself tweeted that he was. No no, the lawyer said, Trump was just referring to a Washington Post article. Andrew switches the radio to a show about whiskey. After awhile, we listen to an episode of the podcast The Dollop. The one about Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first openly black baseball player in the Major Leagues. I say something about Colin Kaepernick. Did he just fail to vote in 2016, or did he make a point of it? Whatever, I wanted Seattle to pick him up.
They’re labeling the crops on the fences. Field corn. Potatoes. Sweet corn. Potatoes. Alfalfa. Sewage Lagoon. We see a pick-up truck painted over with a rippling American flag. We’re 21 miles from Moses Lake, Washington. When I get the internet for a moment, I find out that the police in Seattle shot and killed a 30 year old black woman, Charleena Lyles, in front of her children. When we have the internet for a moment, I read Charles Mudede’s call out of Nicole Brodeur. Saying in her columns, she writes as if only white people will read her columns. Nicole is a friend. I think “Am I doing that too?” Probably, yes. Potatoes. Field Corn. Field Corn. Sweet Corn.
We have dinner at the Radio Brewery in Kellogg, Idaho. “I don’t think everyone in here voted for Trump, do you?” I ask Andrew. He says, “Well, I don’t think that guy in the Sublime t-shirt working in the kitchen is *crazy* about Donald Trump, but I’m pretty sure he hates Hillary.”
At the end of the night, we are at The Metals Bar in Wallace, Idaho. A sign in the window says “We support our miners” and in the back of the bar, a circular sign is lit up, “Strike.” There are several regulars in the bar, and an old guy named Bill starts talking to us in a friendly way. Everyone is white. Bill moves a child’s Father’s Day drawing and some empty Miller Lite cans so the bar is clear and tells us to sit down. He’s sitting kitty korner from us and tells us how his father in law died in the Sunshine Mine disaster of 1972. Two women come in, mother and daughter. They aren’t from Wallace, but the daughter says she wants to move here. She’s got a cute camo hoodie, a camo purse and the butt of her jeans are bedazzled. She and her mom look like really nice people. They look at an old black and white photo of a woman working in the mine. Bill says to them, “There weren’t many women working in the mines. We call them betties.” The older woman nods and says, “My mom worked in a coal mine in West Virginia.” I say in Andrew’s ear, “Everyone here seems so nice. Do you think they all voted for Trump?” Andrew looks at me like I just said maybe the Easter Bunny is real.” He says, “Of course they did.” One of the regulars gets up and puts a song on the juke box. It’s Sam Cooke. It’s A Change is Gonna Come.
June 19, 2017 Wallace, Idaho to Missoula, Montana
“Maybe just acknowledging whiteness as a thing at least means you don’t accept whiteness as the norm, or as the invisible air we breathe. If whiteness is a thing, then it is surrounded by other things, and it is not the only thing.” I am getting too metaphysical early in the morning on vacation. Andrew is always nice about this, and I have to remind myself not to monologue too much, because he’s too generous to send me the correct signals about how tedious I’m becoming.
We’re already tired of driving. When I can see internet, my phone tells me that all my friends back home are wrecked. A 17-year old Muslim girl was found dead in a pond in Virginia. Philando Castile. Charleena Lyles. People are wrecked. I’m supposed to be looking at the evergreen trees and mountain sides, and I’m supposed to be another pair of eyes on the road. In case there are suicidal deer or big-horned sheep or whatever. I put my phone away and rummage for what else is in my bag. I find a slim comic I bought at VANCAF and forgot was in my bag, like that time I accidentally took a yellow onion to the beach. The book is Your Black Friend by Ben Passmore.
The sound of NPR is grounding even when the news is bad. A white man in a van mowed down Muslims leaving a mosque in London. Andrew points out that we haven’t actually seen ANY political bumper stickers, signs, or bill boards. We certainly haven’t seen Trump’s name anywhere. There’s a promo for an interview with Roxane Gay. I say “Someone out here is listening to Roxane Gay.” He said, “Sometimes the NPR station is the only one that comes in.”
We get into Missoula and walk around. In historical downtown Missoula, there are signs of liberalism.
That night in the hotel room, I read that the White House press briefing was off-camera again today. I tell Andrew, “I would have been ON this if I were home.” I have access to Fox News now, so I watch Hannity for awhile. The chyron says “Russian Collusion Hysteria.” I click over to CNN. The Democratic Senators are trying to hold the floor tonight over Obamacare repeal and replace. It’s past 11 pm in Washington, D.C. and they look tired.
June 20, 2017… Missoula through Drummond, Phillipsburg, Anaconda, and Butte to wind up in Helena.
We have breakfast burritos before we leave town. When we walk in, a Talking Heads sign is just ending. “I bet this place is run by white people,” says Andrew. A Greg Brown song starts up — Greg Brown! My favorite! I say, “Shhhhh. I’m flying into the heart of my whiteness.” Today is Jon Ossoff day in the Georgia 6th, so I’m nervous. In Drummond, MT there are anti-meth signs. A mural that looks like it was done by school children shows a toilet and the words, “Meth Makes Your Life Go Down the Drain.” The town is bustling though. Men standing around a giant piece of new farm equipment are smiling and waving at us as we drive through. A few miles out of town there’s a billboard that says “Every Addict Needs His Hook-up.” It’s an advertisement for a fly fishing shop. A sign on a house says, “This Family Supported by Timber Dollars.” On the Bible Broadcast Network, which we like to check in with, a man is disputing that the heat wave in Phoenix has anything to do with climate change. I keep looking at my watch and calculating what time it is in Georgia.
We stop in Anaconda and study the informational placards about the giant smokestack left over from a copper mine. We notice the sign saying there have been 69 highway deaths in Montana year to date. We listen to Baby Geniuses–an episode recorded and posted months ago. It was recorded right before the election, and aired right after the election. The hosts come on and talk for a few moments before the recorded episode, saying they know what happened and how everyone is feeling. “We have to hold onto this feeling,” said one of them. They said if you’re white and can slip into normalcy after the dust settles, just don’t. Remember this feeling of being in the thick of it. Remember wanting to help people.
Butte is beautiful and interesting, but it’s the heat of the day and we’re spooked by all the signs announcing mine deaths. Rolling into town we see a bumper sticker on the back of a street sign: “Anyone but Hillary.” We decide to keep driving to Helena. Jon Ossoff loses the special election in Georgia. I text a lament to my mother and she fires back, “you’re supposed to be resting your brain from this stuff.” In the morning she posts Dan Rather’s calming words on her Facebook timeline.
June 21, 2017… Helena to Great Falls to Missoula.
We still haven’t seen anything mentioning Trump by name. And not much political stuff in general. In Great Falls we see this pick-up truck. “Is it… sarcasm?” I ask. We can’t tell.
Driving on Highway 200 back to Missoula, we see along the highway: “In God We Trust, In Our Country we Trust, In Our Government We Don’t Trust.” We see a sign that says “You want change in government? Let’s try honesty for a change.” We see a Don’t Tread on Me Flag. We still haven’t seen anything about Trump anywhere.
June 22, 2017 … Missoula, Montana all the way back to Seattle, Washington
New dash cam footage is released from Philando Castile’s shooting. Trevor Noah says he is broken. Shaun King says the fight against police brutality is being lost. Senate Republicans release the Better Care Reconciliation Act. It’s pretty bad, but no CBO score until next week. On Facebook, people are saying “I’m not even sure I can do Pride this year.” Leaving downtown Missoula, we see two bumper stickers on a truck. First, “The Precious Metals of Freedom… Gold, Silver, and LEAD.” And then, “NRA: Stand and Fight.” I look at my watch. “Thirty-six minutes till the new Gallup Poll comes out.”
Trump says he does not have any tapes of his conversations with Comey. “Why did he keep us in suspense for 41 days?” someone asks Kellyanne.
Heading into sun-blasted eastern Washington, we’re listening to the Dollop episode about the boxer Jack Johnson. When he beat the white boxer Jim Jeffries in 1910, there were race riots in 25 states and 50 cities. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured. Several white men were reported to have COMMITTED SUICIDE over it. And we wonder sometimes if it’s true that white people would really trash this country because a black man was president for eight years.
Joe Lewis, who came along after Jack Johnson, had a list of do’s and don’ts. One of them was, “Don’t eat watermelon in public.”
Colin Kaepernick announces that he won’t participate in the NFL anymore.
Donald Trump tweets that it’s all a “big Dem HOAX.”
We stop in Ellensburg, Washington for dinner and we see the first Trump sign or sticker we’ve seen in 4 days of driving outside our blue coastal county. And someone’s defaced it.
Back in Seattle we see Charleena Lyles’s name on the pavement.