On a recent trip I had a stopover at the Los Angeles (LAX) airport for 3 hours. It was my first time in Los Angeles and I was passing the time in a pub that was one of the establishments near the terminal where I would eventually be on my way.
It was the 4th of July, 2011. As I took my first sip of the cold gold liquid in my glass, a young man sat down next to me and ordered a cold glass of beer. He was a typical looking young man and I guessed his age to be about 25. He had on a ball cap, as I did, and I noted that he was not wearing it backward as were the other guys his age at the bar. I also noted that his right arm was nearly covered with tattoos. He was wearing baggy jeans, work type shoes and an Arizona Cardinal tee- shirt.
I had formed an opinion of this young man. In my mind he was just as he looked. My mind categorized him with all of the other young men I had seen walking around the LA airport. You know the type I’m referring to – they might be good young men or they might be the gang type, sometimes it’s hard to determine the difference because they all seem to dress and act the same and adorned with their tattoos.
I couldn’t have been further from the truth. There was a television set on the wall and we all watched a hot dog eating contest. I introduced myself to this young man who said his name was Carmen and that he was on his way home to South Dakota.
Carmen told me he had come from South Dakota to visit his father who was a retired military man. He said he didn’t much like LA – it was too crowded for him and the air bothered his eyes. He said he didn’t much like Arizona either.
Carmen said that that where he comes from the air is “just air” and when the wind blows its just wind, not smog or full of sand. I asked Carmen what he did for a living. Carmen told me that he was a rancher and his ranch was near Sioux Falls. He went on to say that the ranch was his grandfather’s and that he had dropped out of high school to help with the ranch and ranching was all that he knew. “By the way,” Carmen said, “Have you ever seen a WalMart?” “Yes,” I said. “Man, they are huge,” Carmen said. “I have never seen anything that big.”
“ Don’t they have WalMarts where you live?” I asked. “No, he said. “We don’t even have a stop light in our town – there is only about 500 people who live there. They put a stop light in once but the old lady who lived on the corner complained that she couldn’t sleep so they removed it.”
Carmen looked me in the eye and said, “I’m a little concerned. It seems pretty rough here and I know I don’t fit in. Do you think anyone is going to bother me until I fly back?”
“Carmen,” I said, “You will be ok – no one is going to bother you. Tell me about your ranch.”
“Well,” he said, “We have about 500 head of cattle, 100 head of horses and a few pigs. We raised some crops too, but last year the rain destroyed most of the crops. I had to drop out of high school to help Grandpa on the ranch and have been working the ranch ever since. My grandpa is 85 years old and can still out work me.”
I asked Carmen if he had a girlfriend. “Oh no,” Carmen said. “I won’t be going on any dates until I’m ready – and that won’t be until I’m about forty.”
“Forty,” I said, “Why so long?”
“Well, I figure,” he said, “I’ll have grandpa’s ranch in order by then and I can think about having a family of my own.” “There sure are plenty of pretty girls around here though but they are probably not my type.”
I knew he was correct.
I talked with Carmen for over an hour and it seemed to me that Carmen’s life and town were insulated from the influences of modern society. I remembered Carmen’s response to my question about the economy in his state. He said “Yes, I have heard that the economy is bad here in California, but the economy in my state has not changed since I can remember.”
I asked myself how many other Carmens and their families there were in this country. Quite a few I guessed. I grew up in mid-Michigan and I knew this to be true. Although Michigan suffered more economic stress than most states, the citizens who live north of Detroit have an indelible viewpoint that is similar to that of Carman’s.
I thought that this must be what is meant when the term “Heartland” is used. These people truly are the “Heart” of our United States and I think that their core moral values, their work ethic, and their innocence will be our sustaining strength.
I thank all the Carmens and their families for their independence, their individuality, and their strength. My belief in this country was reinforced from just speaking with the young man named Carmen who felt out of place at the Los Angeles Airport.
We have a national general election on the horizon. I’m listening to the ongoing news hoopla as I’m writing. I think that these politicians just don’t get it. I think it’s a detached an obscure notion that touting reductions in Social Security, welfare, unemployment and veterans benefits etc: while increasing taxes and pumping billions of dollars overseas is going to win an election.
Hey, most of us are not stupid voters. The best we could do is reject any and all political parties who pressure their candidates to do what is wrong for our country and right for special interests including their own pockets.
I welcome a “guest response” to this article, either in agreement or not. Mail to: JD@codefore.com