Emery fucking Blagdon is what fuck death means, for any who may have been curious. That brave conscious speck who faced being swallowed by so much earth in the most optimal way he was able to. He could have dealt with it in the way some of his neighbors did, through the property-god nationalist grandeur that was springing up in his last years, the thermidor against the civil rights era just leafing in the time of Nixon, the Sagebrush rebellion and all that. That sense of wounded control that would soon take its respectable guise in Thatcher/Reaganism. One of the self-styled Nebraska militias that have come and apparently gone (to judge from google) had its base in the northeast, in Norfolk's hinterland. One would find the boilerplate for such on their website; graphics out of date by a dog's life, midi playing 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' or some such. These men once traveled to the Rio Grande valley to do some 'volunteer border patrol work', standard practice as well. And what makes them most notable is a photo they took of two guys fishing on the Mexican side, Mestizo or wholly native in descent to judge by distant appearance; and under the photo the militants had wrote a caption that read 'two smugglers of illegal immigrants posing as fishermen." the militia offered nothing to support this statement beyond the sight itself of two Mexicans in Mexico looking absently towards Texas. Though it is true enough that anyone who appears to be fishing anywhere might actually be using an earbud to direct a virus bomb release in London or Hong Kong. Maybe this has always been the case with every "fisherman" back to Peter himself'; locked in nefarious demon combat with the Masons.
North Platte is among the biggest towns in the state to lose people since the 2010 census. The town's main sources of comparative rivalry, Grand Island & Kearney both grew, as of course did both of the cities. It is not as if NP has suffered a complete economic collapse as this mountain logging town or that Great Lakes factory town but yes I can see it. When I visit home I notice the lack of such energy as even a small market town should have; a torporous half-lived nursing home feel. The quiet of the surrounding prairie reaching into the very bones of the place. an old robust western fortitude morphed into something more like resignation. Local distinction giving way to a generic right-wing white rural tribalism. The tired bumper sticker claims of moral or masculine superiority to the coasts which are not of course the least bit new but which now bear an edge of anger and broken hearted need instead of the cheap heyo that had been there before. Part of this perspective may just be perspective; the world growing smaller and more familiar as I've grown older and been abouts the different cities and regions of the country. Yet on the other hand no. I know my town; and I know that these feelings of discontent and diluted life are more intense than they've been before; not new but more.
North Platte will not physically die. Bailey Yards, that vast web for organizing rail freight for shipment across the entire trans-Chicago interior, is always there as an economic fallback. More generally North Platte will always be there as the modern equivalent of a fort. A way-station for Omaha-denver and greater cross-country traffic by both rail and road, the banks to integrate ranching wealth into the global fold, the concentrated medicine and media that Out There needs to have somewhere.
Still I cannot stand to see North Platte and places like it as ones where life is merely endured. The Prairie needs its hubs to be places that pump vitality and joy into the ether or else be a bleak parody of civilization; one of tired stilted people alienated from the modern US as it actually is; a land seized by the United States with treachery and blood to no ultimate end but to make the conquerors miserable. I cannot hold that we have always been doomed to this and I will not have it.
It would be predictable to blame Wal-Mart for it all, and that is part of it as a matter of fact. the Wal-Mart parking lot blossoms with meth deals and Chinese chain buffets while traffic lights are pulled out of downtown for disuse. But even Wal-Mart is more of a symptom than a cause. North Platte needs to go home to the railroad that spawned her. A necessary part of the town's soul was lost with the last passenger train, some ten years before my birth. A human bond to the nation at large was lost. now the rail offers only tons of dead freight bound for Michigan power plants, or sometimes the thrill of a trespassing arrest for vagabonds and adventurers.
North Platte has the interstate now; its gravity symbolically warping the towns shape from a four-mile wide two-mile long rail hugger to a gormless amoeba flowing southward; the south valley filled with streets lovingly paved in advance of super expansion that will never come while neighborhood streets on the poorer and less uniformly white north side remain dirt. the interstate offers jobs at Applebee's Starbucks or making beds at the Comfort Inn, where people learn that the greater urban world offers disregard and condensation. Where one learns that they are here to break there back for vacationers off to go frolic in the mountains or Marylanders who've spent 10G on Call of Duty shit to make trophies of our wildlife.
Downtown once had thirty passenger trains a day and more. Chicago-LA via Denver; Chicago-San Fran via Salt Lake, an entire fleet of Denver-Omaha routes. The local bond with train riders from LA or Chi was one of more equilibrium. they would slip out of the train during refueling for a quick drink at the Alamo with that ranchers butchers switchmen and prostitutes and maybe get trade their wallets for not getting stabbed. Front Street was the unchallenged core for all the human energy for a hundred miles; people of different colors just casually being there likely more common than it is today; and there was Life at night. Not that two light beers on tap sports-bar shit but some small replica of urban night; buskers and hustlers, prostitutes and street food; a place for such devilry as an isolated western town must have to express itself in the open instead of behind curtains of eternal night with meth and pharmaceuticals. Real hotels downtown with sex and dancing instead of the euphemized falling down nursing-home/homeless shelter that my epileptic aunt faded away in. A place where drifters and adventurers could feel Of A Place if not exactly welcome. The place where the same cornfields one finds in Indian finally give way to real topography and hint of sage in the summer air. Not an exit but A PLACE you see. It was the people trains that made my town a place of the world and A PLACE.
Public transportation is sometimes assumed to be an urban concern or even mere urban conceit. An exotic oddity for crowded minorities presumed to be impoverished as of course cars are the default. That's not true. City and countryside would both benefit from public transportation that is cheap available and gets fucking used. The lack of it is slow poison, a body torn from itself by segregation and a false individualism of the most selective and philosophically painless degree. I say again that it is passenger rail that pumps blood from our cities to our lonely corridors while interstates only pump blood through them.
Bring back a pair of Chicago-to-Cali-in-24-hrs trains to North Platte, along with a Denver/Minneapolis and some regional trains to Casper Rapid or Cheyenne, and NP will breath again. It's downtown may be something worthy of the name again. I'm not a complete train utopian and I realize that such renewal will likely entail some quasi Power & Light style bullshit but be it so. Desperate straits do require some compromise.