Dedicated to the belief that we aren't so different as we are told we are. Stories and conversations with Americans across the country
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“When he used to drink he would go out of control. He used to come straight at the door and if we wouldn’t open it, he would run down and get a hatchet from his trunk to start breaking the door. When we heard that, it was everyone out the fire escape because we knew he was out of control. Sometimes he would come after us with a gun. And there was a trail we all knew, up and out, the 6 of us, with my mother last, and he would start shooting. Didn’t care who got hit, he was shooting because we were running from him. He did the same thing in the Grand Concourse once after we left the apartment. He seen us crossing the street and just stopped his car in the middle of the street got out and aimed his gun at us. Next thing we heard BANG someone behind him totalled his car. He got what he deserved.
Back in those days though I tried to hurt myself a couple of times. My brother was worried I would keep trying to hurt myself. I was so tired. Every night it was the same thing. Blood on the floors, them trying to kill each other, my mother running around with no shoes on, the pieces of broken glass sticking out of her feet leaving blood tracks everywhere. My brother started giving me edibles, valium, he’d say take a sip of the beer or whatever. And I would fall out into the couch. Next morning I’d wake up and help the elder ones clean up from the night before, My job was to pick the glass out of my mom’s feet with a tweezer. But when the pills stopped working, my brother started giving me a little heroine every now and then. He died when I was 13 of an overdose, but I was hooked by then so I went to his friends for more. It wasn’t till my kids had kids and I saw their faces that I finally got clean. But I did. Been clean for 13 years now.”
“I’m Welsh, not English, I like to make that very clear. But I did a PhD in Britain and then jumped across Atlantic to do my post-doc in Houston. That’s where I met my husband. Thinking about it, I’m so happy I married a Texan, not an Englishman. I don’t think I or my parents could have stood an Englishman.
Now, when I think back to growing up, I compare it to what it is here in the US. So when I go home I notice all the little shops and bakeries. Really silly little things that, growing up, I thought everyone had. I used to meet the midwife who delivered me, I was born in my house, not a hospital. It’s just much smaller, and I think to some people it’d be claustrophobic but I felt it was nice. It feels like Houston and American cities are pretty anonymous. There are pockets of neighborhoods but I think the vast majority is pretty anonymous.
When I came to America I was struck by the excess of everything. When I first came here I went to the supermarket and there was an entire aisle of BREAD. You know, we have a few. It was just everything, the food, the cars, everything is so much more here. I think people may value things more than how it was for me growing up.”
“When we were younger, America was different. People were, as a whole, more self sufficient. They didn’t feel like they deserved anything. If they wanted something, they’d work more, if they were in the army, or get another job if they were a civilian, or they’d make it from scratch with their own hands. Now there’s a sense that people should just get something because they want it. I definitely think America is not going as straight as it used to be. These days if people don’t like something they protest, break windows, loot cars, instead of working from the start to change things. People feel entitled to getting everything they want without working for it or respecting the authority of those who are
In the army, we knew the importance of authority and order. Without it, nothing gets done. Even when we disagreed with the order from the top you needed to give the benefit that maybe those people calling shots had some idea of what they were doing. It’s the same in politics: when you disagree with someone they’re the enemy but there’s no sense that maybe they have good ideas too.”
“Juarez is our sister city. Those people that cross the border and come to El Paso everyday are just as much our people as we are theirs. Everyone is so friendly with each other. People call you “mijo” or “mija,” even when we might be complete strangers. But now, with the 2016 election, El Paso has become a focal point and that bubble has been shattered. It’s just wild to see that people who were living harmoniously aren’t anymore.
There’s this whole notion that if you funnel money into border patrol, customs, surveillance and immigration, we can better know who is coming in and out of our country. If the issue really was logistical and security-focused, then we would really just adopt more realistic policies. I think people are scared of people they don’t really know, and that’s why they want a physical wall. This whole notion of a wall is so childish, in my opinion.
I’ve seen the split in my family, and it’s made me kind of uneasy. My grandparents think the biggest issue is the lack of respect for life, whereas if you ask me, it’s a lack of respect for women, and more generally, a lack of respect for each other. Also, my grandfather is in favor of the wall and I can’t wrap my head around it. We already have a physical barrier between us and Mexico, so there’s no need for a wall.” at El Paso, Texas
"I grew up in Edmonds Washington. Dad was an electrical engineer, Mom was a stay at home piano teacher. It was suburb living. I loved where I grew up, love my friends and family there but I’m glad I’m not there anymore. I just found better things, simpler things. I was a snowboard bum, went and spent a winter here and there until I landed in Whitefish. Went to Hawaii for a year after that and felt like I had to come back here. So I did. And I stayed for 17 years. Just couldn't resist the place. It was everything I wanted, you could get work for the tourist season and then snowboard or hike or bike the rest of the year. That's what everyone is here for, they have the same spirit. It's a bit like paradise.
I’m glad I left. I don’t like the area I grew up in anymore. It’s just kinda grown out of control. It’s always been a busy place but now it’s lost it’s soul a bit. It’s just one big megalopolis of Gold’s Gym, Home Depot, just chains and no real township. The growth has been incredible, but not my thing"
"I wrote a book, and it’s a horrible book as far as feel-good stories go. But I wrote it for my boys, so they could know why it took me 11 years to get out of an abusive marriage. The real reason why. Because I had nowhere to go. There was no way out. I wrote it for my boys but I had to make so many copies, a hundred or so, in order to pay for the binding of the book. There are still probably a couple copies in the Ault library. I got some flack from some people saying it wasn’t accurate, especially from the older people in town because it was the story of my time here in this town. And people don’t always like to remember parts about their town or their stories that aren’t pleasant. They couldn’t believe that really happened. And I always felt, that’s fine, just don’t read it. It’s not for you. But I didn’t talk bad about anyone, I just said how it was and how it is. Back in those days, you got pregnant, your parent’s said you get married you settle down, you don’t give this baby up, you raise it. That’s just how things were, but that meant I had no way out for a long time. In all that, I’ve had a blessed life to have all of this. Every one of those memories is just a lesson learned. I’ve owned a shop, I’ve lived on a farm, had three wonderful boys, I had an unlucky 11 years, it’s all just a part of my life. Everything is a lesson learned."
A Soda Fountain Conversation: "Jimmy! It’s great to see ya brother!
Oh hey there Bob! Good to see you man, you remember my wife Amanda right?
Oh sure, sure. Since you were gone, I was married too! Got divorced though on account of religious reasons… She thought she was god and that turned me atheist!
Well I’m glad to see you’re still doing well.
Oh you know it, I’m still rocking. Gonna head down to the Stampede, I’ll see you down there later?
Yeah I’ll be in town a while so I’ll be sure to see you there. “I thought they were down there shooting a video?
Yeah they are, that’s why Bob’s in his nice shirt.
Oh they’re still at that video down at the bar? I’m going down there right now, I’m sure I’ll muss it up! You got your badge right Jimmy? I might need your help. Don’t spend all your money there on candy and soda-pop because I might need to get out of jail or something!
Sure thing, Bob, don’t get in too much trouble!" at Chugwater, Wyoming
"The local game warden was on my case because he knew I was a kid from Jersey. He wouldn’t even talk to me, a real crotchety old guy. One time he tried to write me up for purchasing a resident fishing permit. But I had already registered to vote and moved in fully to Montana. Seems he really couldn’t think of me as a local. When I eventually opened up my shop here, he wouldn’t ever give me permits to sell out of my shop. Denied my application a number of times. But I went and made friends with his boss and applied once more, this time with a letter to him and his boss. I was denied by the warden but after another couple weeks, he was in my doorway with permits. I've been here over 50 years since."
"I’ve always been that guy where people say “he’s going to do great things” but I never really did those things. I suffer from a handful of diseases and have to take a battery of pills just to get up and function. Two of them just sucks the motivation right out of me. So the ambition part just really kinda died. Everything has mostly been a “till I get a better job” gig and then I get complacent because I don’t have that energy to find a new better job. I was in government for 11 years, I went to a dry cleaning company and the schedule just fell into a groove that I never ended up leaving. I ended up here at the record store when the dry cleaning plant just up and burnt to the ground. I did what I normally do, went and traveled a few months not bothering to get a job and I saw the owner of this place, school kids records on TV the day that David Bowie died and he was wearing a hat with the shop logo on it. I said to my girlfriend “That hat looks dope I’ve gotta go pick one up” and ended up talking to the owner and picking up a couple shifts. Few months down the line the manager quit so I filled the spot.
As much as I say that though, I’ve never understood people that can’t get themselves to do the work. I understand where I’m at but I was raised by a family and a community that didn’t put up with slackers. Every single person I knew growing up was the hardest working mofo there was. There were no slackers. And so I may not have the ambition to go out and run for office or change the world but it instilled in me the value of work. You did the work. You give 100%. You don’t slack off. Whatever it is you’ve gotta do, you say yessir and you take care of it."
"I was in junior college and Charlie was in the service in Panama. When he came back from service I was in charge of a May Day pageant at my junior college. I got a call from him from New Orleans and he asked on the phone, “You ready to get married?” And how could I say no? But my folks they were so against it, They were saying, ”oh no no no, you can’t stop you’re education, you were planning to become a teacher, besides you have a job lined up this fall.” Under wartime emergency at that time, a 2-year program would get you your certificate so I was almost graduated with a teaching certificate and my parents couldn’t stomach giving their blessing. Well, I couldn’t say no after my boyfriend had been gone for 2 years in the service. Couldn’t have him come up to Wyoming and meet one of his old girlfriends. I was afraid of taking that chance. So he came by my town for a week of the pageant and eventually got my parents’ blessing. I wrote up the script and narration for the May Day program that was a story of a boy and girl that meet in grade school and date in high school and eventually get married in front of the king and queen. It was the story of our lives up to that point and the marriage scene in the pageant was our real wedding. Of course, the audience had no idea, they thought it was just the script for the pageant. But that was how we got married. And then we headed up here to Wyoming and had some hardships but made it work. Found this little shack for $600 with no refrigerator and bought it. Bought a refrigerator on “time” and started having our kids and making it work. It was hard times early on but we always came through." at Dubois, Wyoming
"My grandparents worked in the vermiculite mines. I don’t know too much about all that but I know it gets in your lungs, you have it, they detect it and people go on medical for it. Back then no-one knew. They would build with it, they would plant their gardens with it. My grandpa would come home and there would be dust, just the dust. Now we’ve got that… everyone’s got that asbestosis and all that. When that became public everyone thought we were a dying town. But actually we’re not a dying town from that. It’s the economy. When the mine closed we were still okay as a town, we still had jobs. Now it’s hard to find jobs here. Our school system has gone down. A lot of people think it’s the asbestosis, and they can think that. All my grandparents, and my mother has asbestosis, but we’re like, what are you going to do, we’ve still gotta live our lives from day to day. So the asbestosis is there but it’s bigger than that." at Libby, Montana
"I left home and school at 17 when I was in my third year. I would have graduated in my 7th semester but I didn’t feel like I was learning anything useful there and the rules at home were, if you didn’t like the rules you leave. So I left. Ended up outside Toronto in a really rich area. Most of us here in Naples at some point want to see what’s on the other side of the mountain and end up leaving for a bit but this is home. I didn’t fare well in the city. I was one of two stay at home mothers in the area so every day after school I’d have 30 kids at the house all looking for a person in their life to give some structure and support. The cultural diversity up in Toronto was really cool, I’m glad my kids got to grow up with that. Canada takes in people from all over the world, like my neighborhood was very East Indian, and it was an interesting experience but overall the city was hard on me. When I moved back home I was 300lbs and depression off the charts. City life wasn’t for me. But when I came back Naples changed a bit, the kids were different, it seemed like stupid crime was more common. Vandalism, stealing, that kind of stuff. Seems like an economic change. The economy left and now it takes two parents to pay to raise a kid, there’s no one at home giving them structure or anything." at Naples, Idaho
"On the news a plane crashed in the 50’s. It was on the TV and it always stuck in my mind. Probably from the fact that we only had a TV for about a year then. Didn’t get another one until the 80’s. It was an old tube-type machine and the tubes on those things would burn out all the time. My dad wasn’t going to go around on it a second or a third time, it didn’t interest him enough I suppose.
We all had plenty to do without TV. In the winters we shoveled coal. I shoveled so much coal. You’d shovel it into the truck, and that’d warm you right up in the dead of winter. Then you’d shovel it into the storage when you got home, and you’d be warm. Then you’d shovel it into the fire, and you’d be warm. Then if you were within 10 feet of the fire you’d be warm, but of course you never had a chance to be that close. Then you’d shovel the duds back into the truck, and that’d warm you up again. And you’d shovel the duds out of the truck when you brought them back, and you’d be warm then. It’s funny, just about the only time I wasn’t warm in the winter was when the fire was burning how it should in the corner of the room."
In a little Wyoming town America froze in time. Can you guess what year this picture was taken?
"As sheriff, people expect you to be a role model. I have a lot of people that will come to the house and want to talk about their problems. Doesn’t matter if it’s 7:00AM or 10 at night. They expect you to be there for them and I try to be. I try to answer every call. And for me it can be pretty heavy. I have no deputies, it’s just me.
Our biggest problem now is with meth. That came when oil hit the northern part of the state, that’s when we seen a big change. When the oil boom first started, they were getting people from you name it. They were all flocking in from all over and you’ve got the good people and the not so good folks. Lot of them introduced meth to the area.
Once the oil got established, the gangs came in. Gangs out of California, Florida. They were more or less setting up territory to sell to the oil workers.
It’s a toss-up about oil. Some people are for it but a lot of people are against it because they see what that oil did to the northern part of the state and they don’t want to see it happen to our community. I think that’s what set it off, was oil. The oil boom started off the drug problem in the community. And I don't know if it can be stopped." at Selfridge, North Dakota
"Before the state took me, when my mom was drinking a lot, there was never enough food in the house to eat. So I had a little shoe box and I would go out and shine shoes so I could have enough money to eat. I wouldn’t sleep in my mom’s apartment because I was afraid of the people that came in from the bar next door that my mom owned, so I slept in the hallway in a closet. She would have people overnight and I didn’t like that so I slept in that closet on top of suitcases and stuff. Eventually, my mom and step-father divorced and my step-father wanted me to go with him to Oklahoma City but I refused to leave my mom. So I stayed with her in St. Paul.
When we lived there I hung around with bad people that got into trouble, and of course, I went along with them so I was just as much to blame as they were. We did burglary, we were burglars. Breaking into shops and taking stuff we could sell for some extra money. None of us had money, we didn’t have jobs so we figured we needed to steal and pawn off stolen stuff to get what we wanted. We were on a rampage. That landed me in Boys Totem Town for 6 months for getting caught stealing.
My mom got me a job in a parking lot, which got me out a month early. From there I got into work as a yarnboy at a knitting mill for years until I got to work on a machine. It was going well until my father-in-law asked if I wanted to go on a hunting trip upstate for a week. I asked my supervisor if I could take the time off and he said “sure.” Well, it wasn’t until I got up there that I found out he hadn’t meant it. But I couldn’t get back in time so I lost my job there. That’s around the time the State sent me off to watch making school and from there I learned how to make jewelry." ___________________
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"I went back and dumped a bunch of gin on it but I was still bleeding. They made me go to the hospital and I walk in saying I got a prairie dog bite that I need wrapped and treated. Nurse looks at me and says that for any dog bite we’ve got to go and call the owners and file a certain type of claim. I looked at her dumbfounded for a second and told her again it was a prairie dog bite. She said it doesn’t matter what type of dog it is, that’s the process. The stupid nurse there didn’t know what a prairie dog was. So I said if you don’t know what a prairie dog is, you’re not sticking shit in me." New story from Montana. Check out the blog in profile
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Dodged some trucks on the highway to get this shot. I couldn't help but love how American this felt. #inpursuitofamerica #roadtrip #america #farmlife #windmill
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