Friday, April 4, 2008

The armpit of the Midwest

In conjunction with a recent class assignment (evoke noticeable emotion through a photo story on a cultural issue in a week and a half), Tracie Faust took me to go stumble upon ideas.

Stumbling on ideas is tough. It involves driving around the area and stopping random people on the road and making friends with them. So that's what we did.

Watts is quite possibly the poorest town in Oklahoma. The roads are a patchy mess of decades-old asphalt and gravelly clay. Trash is everywhere. Any kind of garbage you can imagine: old lawn chairs, wrecked cars, dilapidated houses, scrap metal, tires. As you're driving down the jolting roads, you look over and see a trailer home that has been added on to with siding and a makeshift porch.

In another part of town, there's a house with a roof pieced together with tin scraps, particle board and shingles that looks like it has undergone several makeshift repairs. Its cracked paint, which at one time may have been some shade of blue, hangs off of it in a gray, splintery mess. Random items are strewn all over: in the yard, on the porch, on the roof, coming out the windows, blocking the door. Everywhere, there are forgotten items that once, when they were new, cost hard-earned money and may have been sources of pride or pleasure.

In the yard, an oily-haired, shirtless man with a cowboy hat perched on top of his head and a cigarette balancing between his lips climbs on top of a tractor.

This is Watts, the armpit of the Midwest. We drive on.

We come to a stop sign. On my side of the road, the passenger side, a medium-sized man with unkempt hair and an overgrown beard is holding a box on his head. He's wondering if he should cross. He goes for it, scuttling across the road in an odd chicken-like sort of way, looking furtively at us from behind his uplifted arms.

We turn parallel to him and drive halfway up the will before realize that this is a perfect opportunity to offer him a ride and find out a little bit about Watts. We reverse, joking to ourselves that he must be thoroughly skeptical by now.

"Hey, do you live in Watts?" Tracie asks.
"Yeah, all my life," he replies, eying us.
"Where are you headed?" she asks.
"Just right over there to my house," he points to an untidy plot of land with a living structure that looks like it was ejected from a tornado and happened to land within the confines of his property.
"Well, can we come talk to you?"
"Why, what's up?" His perplexed tone, suggests that he's wondering if something might be wrong.
"Oh, we just want to learn about Watts," Tracie says.
"Oh, well okay, I guess."

He continues his poultry scurry and disappears inside his house. Tracie parks the car, we grab our bags and are approaching the property when we are surprised at what we see come out the door...

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