Tunes of De-Industrialization; From the Heartland
Five-Mile Town is the nearest outpost of civilization to my retirement abode. It is built around a town square like so many towns of its vintage here in Heartland America. The most prosperous and utilitarian commercial enterprise on the square is South Side Hardware. Everything needed to sustain life, other than food and medicine, can be had at South Side Hardware. Food and medicine can be acquired at the local supermarket or at Pilgrim's Prescriptions.
A casual observer might find all three of these establishments oddly named. South Side Hardware is located on the west side of the town square. Five-Mile Town is so far off the "beaten path," hardly a single pilgrim has way fared into Pilgrim's Prescriptions in the past century. The "supermarket" is more closely akin to a grocery store and bears little resemblance to a big-city supermarket. Five-Mile Town insiders, however, know the truth behind these names.
South Side Hardware is a branch of a much larger store in the neighboring town. The mother store is appropriately located on the south side of that town square. Pilgrim's Prescriptions is named for the store's founder, John Pilgrim. The supermarket is as aptly named as any competitor within a fifty mile radius, and therefore acceptably appropriate.
The new salvage yard a few miles outside of town also seems appropriately named. In years past, it might have been called a junk yard. But the volume of trucks transporting neatly bundled loads of material out of the salvage yard and off to distant processing plants is testimony to the vibrant nature of this business.
What seems less appropriate to Five-Mile Town insiders is the nature of the salvage yard's employees. It appears the yard only employs Hispanic workers. Many of these are rumored to be illegal aliens. The word on Five-Mile Town's quaint street is the salvage yard only pays minimum wage and offers no employee benefits. This type of employment offers nothing to the young people of Five-Mile Town. They travel far afield seeking economic survival and seldom return to Five-Mile Town once they leave its yet cozy nest. It's not that they "don't want these jobs" as political shills proclaim. They just don't want to work for nothing. So they leave.
The irony of this situation does not escape the citizenry. That which is discarded, used up, obsolete, or damaged is salvaged and put into productive use elsewhere. The young people of the area, the future lifeblood of the community, are also leaving in what constitutes "droves" by Five-Mile Town standards. It seems like the economic ship of Five-Mile Town has sprung a slow leak. And time and increasing pressure from a relentless tide will eventually send her to a watery grave leaving the offspring of Five-Mile Town vagabond waifs in an unforgiving economic sea.
The illegal aliens are economic slaves just as surely as those held in pre-Civil War bondage. They have to become law-breakers in a foreign land, take only work and wages that their illegal status can allow, keep their mouths shut and don't rock any boats just to support families in places like Mexico and Cost Rica. The young natives, who leave Five-Mile Town, have to become yoked to the global wheel of progress due to things called Globalization, the New Economy, and the New World Order. And one can only wonder how long before our young wandering youth become too well-paid, too vocal, or just too old for the jobs they're finding elsewhere, and like the discarded material from Five-Mile Town, are discarded themselves, miles from home, and without the heritage of generational community for support.
A further irony is that Abraham Lincoln grew up, studied law, and entered politics a mere stone's throw from Five-Mile Town. The man who ended slavery in this nation (or so we thought) and led us through the most difficult time in history could have been a Five-Mile Town resident in 1840. Many in Five-Mile Town are murmuring that it's time for another Abraham Lincoln to rise on the scene. It's time for a political giant to rise among the midgets from which we must choose. We need a third-party giant such as Abraham Lincoln, to lead this nation today.
Until then, back in Five-Mile Town, the annual bluegrass festival just concluded. We listened to songs about driving spikes for the railroad, digging in the coal mines, sawing timber in the mills, and feeding corn to a few pigs to buy a new calico dress. These songs were from a bygone era. An era of hard-work and economic prosperity bought with sweat, tears, and sometimes...blood. An era which our grandfathers and great-grandfathers hoped would provide a future for their descendants' right here in America's Heartland...in thousands of towns just like Five-Mile Town. It's not that the youth of Five-Mile Town don't want these jobs...but they will not work for nothing. Only the end of collusion between business and government aimed at providing a steady stream of cheap labor to business, and cheap votes to politicians, will staunch this economic drain. Only someone like Abraham Lincoln has the courage, compassion, and vision to do what is needed to reverse this tide.
Dallas Wilkinson is a novelist, satirist, and social commentator. He can be reached at wilkinsond71@gmai;.com