I used to look forward to hanging out in Elkhart, IN. I had family who lived along the St. Joesph river. I’d play around n get in trouble with my cousins while my family finished remodeling the house.
The St. Joseph River used to scare me. My family lived near the damn. The damn had a steep dropoff. The boat could slide right through one of the openings and over the edge. One day, the driver slid around behind a buoy during a turn to go back upstream. The boat struggled. Barely made it out of the current. The current is always strongest at the end of the opening of the edge of a cliff.
I could only suspect the natives of Elkhart, IN are feeling the same way at present. A small manufacturing town 15 miles east of South Bend, IN, Elkhart only had so much which drew the public eye. They used to be able to boast being the home of a famous NBA player, but when that player is Sean Kemp, you tighten your lip back up. Then again, given the sports stories of the day, fathering many children with many mothers amongst other things is bluesy if anything.
I live in a town that sponges off of Chicago more than it depends on Gary. Elkhart’s major industries are mobile home and RV manufacturing. They’re one of the top two centers for their industries. Currently, there’s now 15% unemployment in Elkhart County, IN and 18% in the city of Elkhart, Indiana. I wish Obama’s crew would have been filmed eating at a local dinner along the St. Joseph river while he was in the town, but the fact he showed up there was story enough.
I take another moment from the main concerns of my life and think about Elkhart along with Ft. Myers, Florida. I haven’t been to Elkhart in years. If you’ve read any of my posts then you’ve read about my Christmas n New Years experiences in Ft. Myers. The vacant storefronts and empty domestic car dealer lots have that “remains of a ghost town” feel. I went lookin’ for tumbleweed. The road leading up to the Mucky Duck on Captiva Island was lined with “For Sale” signs. Much like Elkhart, Ft. Myers doesn’t survive on hedged industries. Medicine dependent on the snowbirding elderly as well as tourism. Neither is surviving.
Obama will be in Ft. Myers on Tuesday. I don’t know what it’ll take to restore the economy. What to do with 20th century manufacturing towns in the 21st century is a question in which the answer will come with a Pulitzer Prize. Not that it can’t be done, but that it’s that serious, complex, and detailed of a question. The best answer, at best, is that it will involve a concentrated effort. Change of this magnitude takes a generation. Unfortunately, our nation usually can’t wait past a commercial break. In the case of towns like Elkhart, I can’t blame them.