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Monday, April 21, 2003

Red America

Going back for Grandpa's funeral gave me a chance to see what Red America is up to.

For those of you playing along at home, "Red America" is a term used by some to denote those who voted Republican in the 2000 election: states whose electoral votes went to Bush were colored red; those who went to Gore, blue. Generally the term means a more conservative, often rural, demographic---but my grandfather, a staunch Democrat, would be incensed to find he was being painted as a Republican.

In Red America, as here in Houston, there are flags on houses and cars, and signs exhorting us to support the troops. (Those of you who may have thought Houston was also Red America may now learn your error; it's more like Violet-Red America. Being a large city with universities and museums and suchlike, it has a blue tinge to it---much more so if you read the Chronicle.) There, however, some signs said "Support Our Troops in Action", and I didn't see any signs urgin "No War".

In Red America, downtown is drying up, leaving an ugly scar. My grandfather lived in a town whose city limits sign says "Population: 1500", but I think that must be the highest population it's ever had, back in its misty heyday. Now, near as I can find, it has about 300. It was always a rinky-dink place, but now its one-intersection "downtown" is deserted.

So Grandpa's funeral was held in a nearby town of about 3500, which is where everyone in that part of the county goes for groceries when they don't want to run to the county seat (a big city, pop. 20,000), 20 miles away. That town used to have a small factory on its main street, plus the usual assortment of businesses (including a silvery diner called "The Streamliner", and the "Stag Bar"---men only, please). Now there's almost nothing. The buildings are still there, boarded and sullen. All the businesses have moved out to the highway (they have a McDonald's now, oh the horror), by which I mean a two-lane state highway, not an interstate.

In Red America, they stop for funerals. My sister worried that we would not have a "funeral" flag to stick on the antenna. We might get a ticket for going through stop signs and such. My stepdad told her not to worry. "This isn't like St. Louis," he said. "People will stop." And so they did, not just at the stop signs, but oncoming traffic pulled over to the side and stopped. I'd never seen that, didn't know you were "supposed" to do that. That would wreak havoc in every town I've lived in for the past 20 years. And getting a ticket would've been unlikely, as one of the town's two police cars was dispatched to stand athwart the state highway and halt traffic for us.

In Red America the neighbors bring over tons of food, and after the funeral you go to the church basement where the church people have more food for you. Some of it was straight out of the jello salad section of The Gallery of Regrettable Food, and I LIKED IT.

At the church a lady asked me about Australia, and when later I asked my mother who she was, my stepdad stage-whispered, "That's the wife of one of your mother's old boyfriends, ha ha." Of course, my mother had previously introduced me to her cousin by saying that my stepdad only married her (my mom) because the cousin dumped him. This pattern repeats itself throughout my family, e.g.: my mother's aunt had a high school friend who became my father's sister-in-law; my father and stepfather were both in the same graduating class (numbering maybe 25, tops), etc.

Everybody's comment about everybody else was: "I didn't recognize them!"

It's a small world, Red America.