The Observer goes to New England Give me Chicago, and muggings, and crime, and civilization. Overheard in a bar in Union Station, Chicago, during the Longhorn Band’s performance at the Super Bowl Points north and east When I walked into the Observer 1 office the morning after the train wreck, Kaye first asked me if I had been hurt. Soon enough, she asked me when my column on being derailed would be ready. “I’m writing a column about New England,” I told her. “Nobody wants to read about smarmy old New England,” she said, “everybody wants to know how it feels to be train-wrecked.” I have always wanted to be `civilized’ L though I doubt I would have liked the Widder Douglas any more than Huck did, I have very little of his instinctive distaste for everything she would approve of. I know that the genteel, the gracious and the refined require incomes of a few thousand pounds a year to sustain their `sivilization.’ I know that these pounds are the surplus capital produced by workers who do not read The New Yorker. Nonetheless I admire the way some people handle their napkin rings and their complete Boswells. As Leonard Woolf said, I have mixed feelings about the upper class or, in this case, people of any class who carry on in the upper class manner. I decry the system which can afford them and their manipulation of the system so as to afford themselves. But I envy them, not their possessions, but their gracious manner of possessing. It was actually a fairly minor train wreck. I must apologize for mentioning it at all. Ever since Sam Kinch got himself highjacked to Cuba a summer or so ago, and thereby won himself a couple of awards for a front-page article in The Dallas Morning News, Kaye has been inconsolable and barely nibbles at her food. She is given to exclamations like “Why can’t an Observer editor get highjacked if a mere award-winning capitol correspondent for The Dallas Morning News can get highjacked? I was a Texan editor, too.” So, when the club car stopped pitching and bucking and the man in the brown sport coat began apologizing, I thought “I have been trainwrecked. I shall write a front-page article for the Observer about my experience. It will be set in double-size type and perhaps will be the first time the word ‘hell’ has been used on the front page of my newspaper. Perhaps I shall win awards. Perhaps Ben Proctor will ask me to collaborate on a book.” I did not make notes as the train derailed itself. I did not make notes while carrying stretchers or while tucking blankets under old women’s chins. I did Notions not make notes in the Ardmore Amtrak depot, or on the bus from Ardmore, Okla., to Temple, Tex., or in the car from Temple to Austin. I thought my negligence would excuse me from having to write about being involved in a minor train wreck. We know that New Englanders are 4 notorious race-mixers. In Vermont, I sat on a couch not three feet from a Republican. In Vermont Republicans use the same washrooms , other people use. I saw a grafitti in the bathroom of an inn in Vermont, an elaborately carved scroll with a penknife-caligraphed heading: “PUBLIC NOTICE: Ted Kennedy is an ass.” In New York City, in the bathroom of a bar on University Place near 14th St., the grafitti consisted of spray-paint liberally applied to the wall. No names, no sentiments, no likeness to the illustrations for Newsweek’s article about New York grafitti. Just gray swirls. I mention the train wreck only apropos of preconceived notions. After reading many accounts of shared calamities I have determined that every instructs everyone to be calm, one obnoxious baby or child who becomes docile and the object of universal solicitude the fellow-sufferers. My train wreck did not altogether negate any of these cliched expectations. There was a loud grumbling noise from underneath the club car, where Patrice and I were working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. It was the kind of noise we had heard everywhere our train crossed other tracks between Boston and Ardmore, Okla., except that it continued longer and grew louder than it should have. The car gave one small jerk and began tilting and slowing down. Patrice slid slowly against the wall, I slowly against Patrice, the man in the brown sports coat slowly against both of us. I did not see the Sunday Times again. Patrice lost her cigarettes. The man in the brown sport coat began apologizing: “I’m terribly sorry. I’m very sorry. Excuse me.” Gravel was flying past the window, very close. The car stopped moving with gravel pressed against the window. Down the car, a few feet away, a youngish man jumped to his feet and stood at a grotesque angle. “We have derailed,” I thought, “and angles should no longer be compared to what they would be if the car were in its normal position, i.e., if it were again standing upright on the tracks.” Just then the youngish man began shouting, “All right, everybody stay calm. Just be calm and we’ll be all right.” “I’m very sorry,” said the man in the brown sport coat. He began trying to stand up as if the car were in its normal position. The youngish man turned and made his way very quickly out of the club car. c One of the Republicans I met was a 0 retired contractor, a self-made man, not what is called a “well-educated” man. After his retirement, he and his son built a $100,000 house, doing the carpentry themselves, building the stone walls themselves. We talked, inevitably, about the energy crisis and about impeachment. He told me he did not believe in the energy crisis, saying he was not at all sure that oil companies had not trumped up the whole situation. “I don’t know what I would have thought if this had happened five years ago,” he said. No one in New England, no one I met, had the slightest faith in the government’s, or the oil industry’s, statements about the energy crisis. More than that, everyone was highly aware of the fact that the government’s information about petroleum reserves comes from the oil industry. This is a point of paramount political importance to New Englanders. It is as if a bit of Marx’ brain had been transplanted into the skull of each New Englander I met \(even self-made retired Republican contractors, even Republican property and its ownership is a political issue.” The self-made retired contractor voted for Nixon in 1968 and in 1972. Now he thinks Nixon should be impeached. It is not that President Truthful allegedly cheated on his income tax. It is not that President D o n’ t-j um p-to-conclusions allegedly stalled, and obstructed, and roadblocked, and actively and secretly and illegally opposed investigation into the crimes committed by people who worked for him. It is simply this: “All my life I’ve supported people who I thought stood for the Constitution. I supported Nixon because I thought he stood for government by the Constitution. And now I find out he has been working against the Constitution all this time. What am I supposed to think?” I did not set out originally to glorify / the predilections of what a friend calls “the Bo-Wash corridor.” I would rather write a dispassionate and comprehensive column about New England and the people whom I encountered there. Not everything I saw had anything to do with being `sivilized.’ I did not ignore Roxbury, Boston’s ghetto, or close my eyes while driving through wretchedly poor and eco-wasted sections of New Hampshire. I observed that there are people in New February 1, 19 74 21
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.