News from Shakes Manor

There is a major roadwork project going on outside our house, which is super annoying for reasons ranging from noise pollution to having found our roadside mailbox shattered into 10,000 pieces on the ground. But the most annoying part (so far) is the further destruction of the perilously wrecked sidewalks which we must use to walk the dog. That's our main use (and many of our neighbors'): Other neighbors use them for walking/jogging/children's biking, and kids use them, during the school year, to get to the middle school that's just down the road.

Since the start of the project, I've fallen four times tripping over construction detritus or walking into unmarked holes in our yard or the sidewalk. A couple weekends ago, Iain fell into an unmarked hole in the sidewalk that they'd filled with sand, which had turned into quicksand after another torrential storm. He sunk in instantly to mid-thigh:

He's a strong dude in his 30s, and he struggled to free himself. Our next-door neighbors are a couple in their 80s, both recovering from cancer. The hole was just past their driveway.

On the other side of the street, they've completely torn out the sidewalks altogether. The nearest cross-street to our west has no sidewalks at all. The nearest cross-street to our east has them only on one side of the street.

Yesterday, a representative of the city came to my door to talk about the ongoing project, which was supposed to be finished by this fall after a year and a half, but now probably won't be finished for at least another year. I noted that sidewalks were a reasonable amenity to expect to be maintained, especially in an area with the outrageously high, regionally-inappropriate property taxes we pay. He agreed. And then shrugged. Because I live in a garbage state with a garbage governor.

The sidewalks, they keep telling us, are going to be fixed. They won't be left crumbled. But there are rumors that the sidewalks will never be repaired. New sidewalks take time, cost money.

Anyway, there is a point to this sidewalk rant, and here it is: My little exurban Indiana town is not the only place with crumbling sidewalks. There are crumbling sidewalks all over this nation. (And, as an aside, as First Lady Michelle Obama takes her "Let's Move!" campaign all over the country, I hope she will take notice of the number of places in which moving is next to impossible because so many US townships don't give a fuck about whether their people are able to move, unless it's in a car.) Yet our government—and this is true of both parties—by and large continues to pretend that our streets are paved with gold.

We're at war in five countries, there is "no appetite" for the kind of progressive economic policy that makes meaningful differences in people's lives, our standard of living is moving backwards, the real unemployment rate is 15.8%, and we've got crumbling sidewalks, which should be a basic amenity in any residential community in a global superpower.

On May 17, 2006, I wrote a piece about the governance (or lack thereof) of then-President George W. Bush:
We aren't being led forward. We aren't growing, or moving toward a glimmering future, or blazing a new 21st century trail. We are stagnating. And the first signs of decay are starting. I look around my community (and others like it)—a middle class suburban town that borders increasing urbanization toward Chicago on one side and rural farms for endless miles on the other—and I see a community in decline. Subtle things, that no one else seems to notice, as they happen ever so slowly. The schools and the library and other public buildings aren't quite as clean, quite as kept-up, as they used to be. The streets aren't quite as clean. The potholes and the cracked sidewalks don't get fixed as quickly, or at all. There are more houses around town that need fresh paint, more vacant retail spaces. Little things. Little degrees of difference. But they're everywhere, when you really look.

They're the little things that indicate that salaries aren't keeping up with inflation, that local and state governments don't have the funds they used to. Belt-tightening everywhere. The house can go another year without paint. The City Hall can go another year, or two, without tuckpointing. We can get rid of a couple of sanitation trucks, give up a couple of salt trucks in the winter. We don't need two toll booths onto the interstate open; one is fine. Little things that no one really notices, to stave off the rot for as long as we can.

Little things that happen in communities like mine before crime starts to go up in communities that aren't as fortunate, communities that don't have any give in their belts to begin with.

I keep hearing about this great economic recovery we're having, but what I see is different. What I see is people readjusting to a new circumstance—and that can't go on forever. We're going to need some governance. We're going to need someone to care about putting money—and attention—back into America again.
Five years later, it's still true.

And every time I step into quicksand through our crumbling sidewalks, I can't help but think of it as a bitter metaphor for the state of the American Empire, the governors of which aren't governing with anything remotely resembling reason or decency.

"We are not being governed," I wrote in 2006. And we are not being governed still.

I sure hope those sidewalks get fixed.

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