Chapter 7: Road Trip

In which newspapers go looking for that rare species, the elusive voteris Americanus

Similar to the Grand Tour tradition of the Victorian age, modern newspapers observe a perennial election-time rite in which an intrepid team (usually a reporter and photographer) sets out across this great country of ours to speak to voters about their concerns. The effort usually results in a series of snapshots and dispatches from small-town diners and country fairs. It’s an assignment for someone with a strong stomach and a fast metabolism. Sometimes there are cliches. And always there’s mention of a pie.

I haven’t noticed too many of these series during this campaign, probably as a result of those shrinking newsroom budgets I hear so much about.

The New York Times’s Road to November sent a duo traveling from San Francisco to New York, a team from the St. Petersburg Times travelled from Florida to Washington D.C., and Grist assembled a motley collection from both coasts.

Here are the pickings from this year’s crop, the good and the bad.

The Good

From Elko, Nevada, a poignant, revealing moment:

“I don’t want to sound like I’m prejudiced,” [a prospective voter] continued. “I’ve never been around a lot of black people before. I just worry that they’re nice to your face but then when they get around their own people you just have to worry about what they’re going to do to you.”

Ms. Vance [a canvasser] skipped no beats. “One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” Ms. Mendive looked tentative. “Well, that’s true.” Ms. Vance said she was so used to looking at Mr. Obama, “I don’t see the color of his face anymore.”

From Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, a glimpse of new immigration patterns:

Then something interesting began to happen. The Russian kids and American kids started getting along. Sometimes, really well.

Crabtree proposed marriage to his Russian colleague in his Toyota pickup, even though his grandmother wouldn’t let her in the house because she feared the Communists. Anna Kirillova became Anna Crabtree, and she now knows more about Tennessee Volunteers football than your correspondent.

Sammy Weeks needed money to buy a plane ticket for his Russian girlfriend to return to the United States. He sold his shotgun.

They’ve been married four years now and are expecting their first child.

Olga Weeks says she’ll name the baby girl Iris, after Tennessee’s state flower.

From Huntingdon, West Virginia, the challenges of being a minority:

Another neighbor, Gloria Pauley, whose husband is a college professor at Marshall University — yes, the one from We Are Marshall — suggests that’s because it’s not easy being green in West Virginia. In their neighborhood, she says, some people dump because trash pickup costs extra, and recycling pickup costs even more. “We used to do little things, like recycle, but they took away the boxes,” and kept making it more expensive. Wonnell tells Pauley that she finally canceled her recycling service after her husband saw the trash collectors picking it up one morning — and throwing it in with the rest of the garbage.

The Bad

From Rock Springs, Wyoming, an insensitive take on a complex situation:
The women [strippers] in Rock Springs, off Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming, seem to like Mr. Palmer and his ilk, which is why they travel from cities across America — often places where the economy has tanked — to make thousands of dollars a week at places like the Astro Lounge. Most of their customers are men who work in natural gas exploration and production and who have few other ways or places to spend money on their rare days off.

From Kenner, Louisiana, a saccharine portrayal of the American dream:

At a little table near the door, owner David Montes ejected some lead from his mechanical pencil and inched a little closer to understanding his new world. He had a vocabulary assignment for an English class at Delgado Community College.

Write the opposites, the workbook instructed.

mother — father

a little — a lot

can —

What’s the opposite of can?

From Stanardsville, Virginia, points off for cheesy county fair dispatch:

A harvest moon is rising over the cornfields on the last night of the Greene County Fair, just hours before the carnival rides are packed up and the local politicos break down the vast GOP tent, where yard signs and balloons are being handed out, and the much smaller Democratic Party tent, where you can shake hands with the local congressional candidate.

The Pie

From Madison, New Jersey:

“Mr. Nielsen’s friend Joseph Spendley dipped into a little piece of pumpkin pie and explained why he is most likely going to vote D next month.

“I feel disappointed by the lack of oversight in government,” said Mr. Spendley, 67, a retired fund manager. “I think the party in office has a greater responsibility for this problem in its selection of the people in the various roles, the regulators and so on. They took a passive role. It’s time for a change.”

From Little America, Wyoming:

Between my Cowboy Joe burger and slice of coconut cream pie, I chatted with some of the people who work in the rest stop, truck stop, and hotel, pretty much the only businesses in this spot of a place off Interstate 80, about 60 miles from the Utah border.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Katia Bachko is on staff at The New Yorker.