The No Trespassing No Sidewalk No Road Shoulder Blues

I’m heading to Kansas in a couple days, and am remembering something that I often discover about the red states: that there are political differences between them and my native California.

I’m not just talking about the obvious factors, such as people looking askance at men holding hands with each other, or at women dressing more skimpily, or people in general looking older, even though they may not be.  I’m talking about looking up the bus fares for Hutchinson and discovering to my shock that it costs $4 compared to the $1.50 fare in Los Angeles.  Not only that, but I’ll have to walk 1.2 miles just to get to the bus stop.  Kansans don’t believe in tax money being spent on frivolous things like poor people’s transportation needs.  They believe in what they call “self-sufficiency”–that is, every man for himself, period.

I’ll be doing some genealogical research while I’m in Hutch, and discovered another red-blue split: The state government doesn’t believe in transparency.  While birth and death records are public in California and many other states, they aren’t in Kansas.  They are available only to immediate family and “anyone who can prove a direct interest.”  The red-state mentality is authoritarian rather than transparent, as explained in the fine book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff.

Charles S. Groves

Charles S. Groves

I’ve run into this in other red states, too.  While I was in the Carolinas in the late 1990s, I noticed that their state and local governments don’t spend much money on infrastructure.  I tried to bicycle in Charleston, for example, and discovered that there were virtually no bikepaths, few sidewalks, and very little or crumbling road shoulder.  Get out of historic Charleston and it was dangerous just to walk down the street, with cars whizzing by so close to you.  You had to trudge through the weeds and brambles just to keep from getting hit.  The city is designed, it seems, for the convenience of those in Cadillacs and limousines, and not for those who have to walk to their destinations.

Carmel beach scene 9 12 a 2 pix together 1 smaller

While driving from Charleston to Raleigh, too, I noticed a definite red-state complexion.  I wanted to stop along the way and walk onto the beach, take off my shoes, squish my toes in the sand, feel the salt air on my face.  But in the Carolinas, there are miles upon miles upon miles of seaside mansion estates that preclude any public use.  In 1971, California passed The Coastal Initiative that codified into law the idea that the beach (such as Carmel Beach, above) belongs to the public, and that no more private or commercial building would be allowed there.  Obviously, that is too radical an idea for the Carolinas.

People often throw up their hands at politics, saying their vote makes no difference.  But here, that concept is disproven.  Not only does politics have an impact on the large issues, such as war and who’s going to chair the Fed, but also, on the issues that affect us every day, such as sidewalks, streets, and beaches.  And so I head off towards a red state, hoping for the best.

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3 thoughts on “The No Trespassing No Sidewalk No Road Shoulder Blues

  1. Hi. I don’t think it’s politics that cause the differences between public transportation in Kansas and California. I think it’s cultural differences. My husband has spent a lot of time working in Kansas, and I will warn you that you won’t find another dot on the map so full of people that care about you than you will in Hutchinson. Your waitress will probably call you sweetheart, and she will give you a bigger portion of mashed potatoes if she thinks you look a little thin. The transportation needs of poor people probably are pretty high on the priority list, but transportation needs in Kansas are vastly different than they are in California. Farming isn’t very lucrative, hardly anybody is rich, and you can’t very well bring a hundred bushels of corn on the bus! Its far more sensible and important to use your few resources to keep your old truck running. I say all this without anger, or even sarcasm, but life is different in Kansas. After you’ve been there, you’ll get it.

    Also, a note about Charleston, one of my favorite cities: The roads and rice plantations there were built hundreds of years ago, before bikes or tourists were invented. The city was designed for horses, actually. Add this to the unparalled zeal Charlestonians have for historic preservation, and you end up with a lack of bike paths. You are thinking like a Californian again.

    I really enjoyed reading your words, especially the ones about your family. Keep up the good work!

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