Today I will be sticking close to home. Those of you who are over 50 and have decent health insurance can probably figure out why I will be sticking close to home, so I don’t need to go into details, do I? The timing of this will be tricky, as I have a car in the shop and a very nice loaner. I need to turn it in before the rocket fuel kicks in, because those are some sweet leather seats. It’s funny, how we talk of these things in code. I was buying the rocket fuel earlier this week, and pushed it over the counter to the cashier along with a giant bottle of fruit-punch Gatorade.
“If this is what I think it’s for?” the clerk said. “You can’t use the red Gatorade.”
That wasn’t on my instructions, but it made perfect sense. I went back for a bottle of lemon-lime. At times like this, we need to take care of one another.
Today I am grateful for a) health insurance; and, to a far lesser extent, b) the idle hours to get all these tests done before it runs out. The new patient reports on this particular procedure, the one they hand you at checkout, include photos. I shudder to think.
WAYNESBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – When Mike Sylvester entered a career training center earlier this year in southwestern Pennsylvania, he found more than one hundred federally funded courses covering everything from computer programming to nursing.
He settled instead on something familiar: a coal mining course.
”I think there is a coal comeback,” said the 33-year-old son of a miner.
Despite broad consensus about coal’s bleak future, a years-long effort to diversify the economy of this hard-hit region away from mining is stumbling, with Obama-era jobs retraining classes undersubscribed and future programs at risk under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.
Peak Coal passed a while ago. Natural gas killed it, not the Obama administration. This is the broad consensus the story references. Yet many in coal country continue to clap for Tinkerbell, setting up this conundrum:
What many experts call false hopes for a coal resurgence have mired economic development efforts here in a catch-22: Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.
Ta-da! Yes. You have to be willing to change to actually change, although admittedly, I share their cynicism about the “new industries” that might move to coal country once a “trained workforce” assembles itself at whatever critical mass they require. So I sympathize, to a point. But any coal miner who can’t see the forces that took away his or her livelihood — automation and fracking, mainly — simply isn’t paying close enough attention.
Which brings us to this laughter-through-tears piece beb pointed out late in yesterday’s thread. Remember “rolling coal,” i.e., modifying exhaust systems on big-ass trucks to blow thick clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere? Sometimes with amusing rear-window stickers warning of “Prius repellant?” Some states are passing laws to ban the practice. And yeah, well:
Entire dissertations could be written about rolling coal. Even more than Trump’s ascension, it seems to perfectly capture a moment in time, an inarticulate yawp of protest from angry white men. They feel disdained and overlooked and they will blow thick black smoke in your face until you pay attention.
There’s no faux nostalgia involved. Unlike with, say, hunting, there’s no tale of rugged rural self-sufficiency to draw on. This is not some sturdy heartland tradition with which meddlesome elites want to interfere.
Rolling coal is new; it just caught on a few years ago. It does not improve the performance of a truck. It has no practical application or pragmatic purpose of any kind. It is purely aggressive, a raw expression of defiance: I can pollute your air, for no reason, and no one can stop me.
Lots of writers love Hunter Thompson, and I’m one of them, at least before he became a human cartoon and general wrecking ball. “Hell’s Angels” is a fine piece of new journalism, and there’s a long passage in there about the Angels, and the rest of California biker culture, having their roots in American Appalachian/Okie/poor-white culture. I read it when I was 16 or so, and it opened my eyes to class issues as a companion to racial ones. Their flag is the Gadsden. Their motto: “It’s a free country,” sometimes spoken through a belch while crushing a beer can against one’s forehead.
Anyway, the Vox piece is pretty good, and I recommend it.
I keep coming back to something I said often when the auto industry was collapsing, southeast Michigan was contracting and workers everywhere were on the park bench, so to speak: What are we going to do with these people? Retraining was part of the answer. But when retraining itself is resisted, then what do you do?
OK, shower time, then my final solid food for a while, and a few hours after that? Rocket fuel!
Final thing I wanted to share: This photo.
Last Saturday night was a monthly dance-party pop-up my younger friends enjoy, so I tagged along this month, mainly because of the venue, an obscure bar that sits almost literally in the shadow of the Marathon refinery in southwest Detroit. From the outside, it looks like a somewhat more upscale version of the thousands of workingmen’s bars all over Detroit’s less-glamorous districts, shot-and-a-beer places where you can prepare for, or wind down from, your shift. But step inside, and it’s the most neon-y neon lounge you ever saw.
“Oh my god, it’s ‘Miami Vice,'” I said as I showed my ID to the doorman.
“I was gonna say ‘Scarface,’ but yeah,” he replied.
Every surface that didn’t have a neon fixture had a mirror, making photography a little tricky. This welcome-to-hell glow was hard to expose for:
But it was so much fun. I saw one of my old Wayne State students. “I always knew you were a badass,” he said. Kids these days — gotta love ’em.