I respect religious faiths even though I belong to none. I was, however, raised as a Catholic and discovered as a child that respecting the religious faiths of others was not something that came easily to many. I had one person in school pass me an anti-Catholic Jack Chick comic and someone on m block who lived a few doors down from me told me I was going to go to hell because I was a Catholic (and that, naturally, being a Catholic was somehow not being a Christian). Sometimes people have trouble even conceiving of people with different ideas about faith. The first atheist I met, a Swiss foreign exchange student in my high school, once brought up in a history class that he was an atheist. “You don’t believe in God?” one female student asked in a shrill voice (it helps to remember this was in Texas). “No,” said the Swiss student. “But,” she cried, “What about the devil???” She couldn’t quite wrap her head around the notion that he didn’t believe in any of the whole ball of beeswax.
After I graduated from college, a million years ago, I moved to Ohio to go to graduate school. Shortly thereafter, my parents sold my boyhood home and moved to a nicer house 21 miles away. So I literally can’t go home again—well, I tried, but after that first time, the new owners got a restraining order. But I at least can go other places again. On November 12, 2016, I had gone on an excursion and had unexpectedly encountered a number of examples of migrant farm worker housing, This fascinated me, so five days later I decided to revisit the area, by another route, and see if I could get some more photographs. This entry is the first of two parts and features the part of the trip before I arrived once more at the muck lands.
Instead of writing these words, I might have been driving around taking photographs today, but the weather would not cooperate. It is very rainy and thundery. Instead, I’ll catch up a little bit on this blog, which, it turns out, I started four years ago this month. In April 2013, blessed with a new camera, newfound knowledge of WordPress, and a new vehicle with 4-wheel drive, a navigation system, and satellite radio, I got the idea of turning a fond indulgence of mine—driving around backcountry Ohio—into something of a hobby, documenting the things that I saw and posting them on-line. Here.
I never worked at a factory. I did, for a few months, between my graduation from college and when I went off across the country to graduate school, work at an oil refinery, which at least is another industrial setting. That was the summer of 1988, which not coincidentally was the last time I was shaven; the refinery prohibited beards for safety reasons. I did a variety of things there; some clerical work, some gopher work, some light manual labor, so I was not bored. I find it difficult to imagine myself in something like an assembly-line job, doing the same thing all day long; I think my personality is not suited for that and it would be very hard on me. Other types of factory work are much more varied.
February 2016. How long ago that seems, and how innocent those times were. Children played and built snowmen, while a Trump presidency was a distant and unlikely proposition. Not so crazy about today’s reality? Journey back with me a glorious twelve months and let’s explore a bit of southern Ohio from those bygone days of 2016.
When last we met, we were in the middle of a sunny but cold February 2016 excursion into southeastern Ohio, just a couple of miles from the Ohio River itself in Washington County, whose county seat is Marietta. Washington County is one of the more prosperous counties of southeastern Ohio—its per capita income is 25-33% higher than that of neighboring counties—but everything is relative. Central Ohio counties have incomes similarly higher than that of Washington County. You can find prosperity and poverty both along the Ohio River here.
A new employee showed up at a place I once worked and a veteran employee quickly came to the conclusion that she did not like the new employee. She began a whispering campaign about the new hire, attributing certain negative job-related qualities to him, and before you knew it, other people were repeating those aspersions when the new hire’s name came up—even though they had never actually seen any of those things themselves. The new employee was suddenly the victim of widespread preconceived notions, without even knowing what was going on, much less having an opportunity to do anything about it. He struggled his entire time at his job under the burden of those undeserved, preconceived notions. What struck me about this incident was how quickly others accepted the aspersions against him, with no proof or evidence at all. They were simply sheep following the lead of someone more dominant. It was a depressing but useful life lesson.
I was born in Pennsylvania but moved to west Texas when I was four years old. I remember nothing of it except a hazy memory of the plane ride with my mother and my sister (my father drove). I did not move again until I went to college at Trinity University in San Antonio, to live in a dorm. During the summer the university sent me a letter with information about my dorm and my assigned roommate. My roommate had one of those ambiguous names that could be male or female, which is relevant, because the dorm assigned to me was the Camille Lightner Women’s Honor Dormitory. Together, these two pieces of information had me a little nervous. However, it turns out the dorm had recently been converted to co-ed and they merely hadn’t gotten around to changing its formal name.
In 1988, I made the biggest move of my life, to Columbus, Ohio, to go to grad school. With the exception of my books and my wargames, every possession I owned was crammed into my 1985 Chevy Chevette. It was so loaded down I almost had to pull it the 1,550 miles to Ohio. The only way I could afford to move my (thousands of) books and wargames was to ship it via freight as scrap paper—meaning if something went wrong, I could kiss them goodbye. That was a nervous waiting period until they arrived at the small apartment I had rented, which would turn out to be miserable and rat-infested. I stayed there two years, then moved into a townhouse apartment in a nicer part of town. I would live in that place for 14 years until I finally bought a house and made my last move, to date. By then I could afford to pay people to move all the stuff—and not as scrap paper, either, so it was in many ways the least painless. After I moved in, I discovered the air conditioning was broken and I had to pay nearly a thousand dollars on my first day in the house to fix it. Even after the house cooled down, I had a hard time sleeping that night, in a strange place that I had just bought, consumed by second-guessing my own decision in the largest purchase of my life to date. But it generally turned out okay. I’m still living in it, 12 years later—though still not fully unpacked.
I never rode in a city bus until I was at college in San Antonio; sans car, I had to beg rides or take the bus. Luckily, San Antonio had a great bus system. As a child and a teen, I was too close to both my elementary school and my high school to take school buses, but I did occasionally go on field trips. The first field trip I ever took, which was when I was very young, was to a dairy. It wasn’t very exciting, but it got us out of school. When I was in the 8th grade, the entire 8th grade went on a day long field trip, first to the El Paso planetarium, then to a state park adjacent to the mountains that are such a big piece of El Paso’s landscape. The picnic at the state park was all fine and good but what my little geek self was excited about was the planetarium. Oh, was I excited about that.
We all got in the buses to go to the planetarium and one of the cool things about not being in school was that you could chew gum. Gum was not verboten in the real world. I have never been a huge gum chewer, but when I was offered a stick of gum by one of my classmates, I took it. Why not live the high life? We arrived at the planetarium and debarked. But as we were filing in from the lobby into the actual arium part, a pinched-face planetarium employee put his hand out to stop me. “Are you chewing gum?” he asked. Well, I was. I forgot to spit it out. I went to put the gum in a trash can but when I came back to the line, the employee would not let me in—he wanted to punish me for nearly having brought gum into his beloved planetarium (heaven forefend). No teacher intervened to help me, and so I was forced to sit in the lobby for an eternity while every one of my 130 grademates got to see a planetarium show. It would be another 10 years until I entered the doors of a planetarium again—although, in a belated soothing of my still-ruffled feathers, that second experience let me know I had not really missed anything with the first. Still, what a fucking mean thing to do.
Sometimes the passage of time becomes abrupt, almost jarring. For example, almost overnight, it seems, people stopped referring to taxis and began referring to Uber. “When did Uber become a thing?” I couldn’t help but wonder. Sometimes it is far less apparent—just as you may not notice that someone you are constantly with has aged. One personal example of this involves the Volkswagen Beetle. Like many families of an earlier age, my family used to play “lovebug,” where occupants of a car would compete to count Volkswagen beetles, the first person seeing one shouting “lovebug!” to claim their prize (there is a less genteel version of it called “slugbug,” the parameters of which are presumably clear to the reader, but we did not stoop to that). Once upon a time, the Volkswagen Beetle—the original Volkswagen Beetle—was everywhere. Then, gradually, it was not everywhere. Eventually, it was hardly somewhere. And that’s when you notice time has passed.