236. American Voices

If you are just discovering Leap Alan Hed, his story is getting rather long. Try the tag cloud under Leap.

Leap Alan Hed was going to Tulsa, to have it out with Billy Joe Barker. It had been eight weeks since he left his home in Dannebrog, running from the media circus that Barker had set in motion by calling on Americans to write in Leap’s name for President. Barker had started it all; Leap figured Barker owed it to him to at least try to stop it.

It was hard for Leap to travel. He could go by bus, slumped down, face covered by the brim of his hat, and take his chances on being recognized. That was how he got to Hays, Kansas. There he picked up a ride with a friend of a friend from Dannebrog who took him as far as northern Oklahoma. He found himself stranded in Ochelata on a Sunday morning.

By now Leap was hungry for normalcy, and on Sunday morning, that meant church. He couldn’t go in, of course. If you are from the city, or the north, you may not know this, but when you go into a small town southern church as a visitor, everyone in the congregation will come up and shake your hand, ask you your name, welcome you to their fellowship, and half of them will invite you for Sunday dinner. Leap would have loved that, but since his face had been in every newspaper in America . . .

The Ochelata Baptist Church was a long, low green roofed building, built around a courtyard. There was a park on the east, so that was the direction Leap used for his approach. He walked in, as bold as if he belonged there, across the park to the blind back of the sanctuary where he settled down hidden by a few trash cans and sat for two hours listening to the service taking place on the other side of the wall. From time to time, his eyes were awash with the moisture of homesickness.

He slept the day out in a wooded ravine, and walked southward on Highway 75 during the night. Morning found him somewhere, but he didn’t know where, hungry, cold, and discouraged. He was in front of a convenience store, on the outskirts of a small town, so he pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt and went in. He kept his eyes floorward as he picked out a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, and didn’t look up at the checkout where the surveillance cameras are clustered. Outside again, he found a bench at the edge of the light.

He was on his second donut when a pickup rolled to a stop. A man of fifty got out and exchanged a few parting words with his driver before she u-turned and disappeared. Everything about their casual friendliness said man and wife. He was carrying a brown paper bag that said “lunch”. He crossed to Leap’s bench and sat down.

He glanced at Leap, looked away, then his head snapped back again. He studied Leap for about five seconds, then turned his head back toward the road and didn’t look again.

Discovered! This man knew exactly who Leap was, but he made no acknowledgment. With eyes averted, the man talked as casually as if he didn’t know Leap’s identity. Leap had seen that reaction several times in the farm country and small towns where he had been wandering these last weeks. People in rural America have a respect for privacy and a willingness to mind their own business which he found admirable

Leap’s benchmate said was waiting for a bus that would take him west to Sperry where he had a job as a school custodian. And, yes, there was another bus that went south to Tulsa. After twenty years as a skilled lathe operator in a small factory, the man had lost his job after 2008. He had been out of work, except for odd jobs, for seven years, and now he was pushing a broom at age fifty, and glad to get the work.

He had gone from Democrat, to Republican, then further with the rise of the Tea Party. He had no faith in government, no faith in politicians, but he still had faith in free enterprise. Where he had worked all his life, the owner had been just down the hall, working all day behind a second hand desk in a room with plywood walls. They had gone to the same church, and every decision the owner had made had included concern for his employees.

The factory made small parts, that went onto larger parts, that then went onto automobiles. In 2008, the system collapsed and the factory folded. Leap’s temporary friend blamed free trade and Hillary and Obama. He did not blame large corporations and their CEOs. His vision of free enterprise was a hard working owner in a dusty plywood room, with forty hard working employees out on the floor making things. Multi-national corporations were outside his experience and outside his imagination.

The bus rolled up with whoosh of air brakes. As the man got up, he added, shaking his head, “Donald Trump says he’s going to fix all that.”

“Do you believe him?”

“No, not really.”

“Are you going to vote for him?”

“I might. Probably not, though. It’s hard to vote for a man that full of hate.”

After a pause, he added, “I might just throw my vote away on this guy called Leap. That way I won’t be responsible for what happens later.”

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