Louisville Magazine

OCT 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/388156

Contents of this Issue


Page 44 of 172

42 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 10.14 As goes Google, so goes the nation, and Google Maps does not know jack about Eastern Kentucky, and as the senator is about to make clear in a dozen speeches, neither does the nation. If Google Maps were to visit Eastern Kentucky, it would have an aneurysm looking for a Starbucks and then die. Having Google Maps as one's guide through Eastern Kentucky is like having Sherpa Tenzing Norgay guide you through the Amazon basin. I am looking for Cumberland Valley Electric, site No. 2 in Mitch's War on the War on Coal. I have passed the car dealership with the two fountains fowing with toilet-bowl blue water. I have passed Dream World Adult Store with its hand-lettered sign. I have not stopped at Tire Buddies. Nor have I succumbed to the hillside poetry of several plastic signs: "Bankruptcy Express, fle for less." A lot of people in these parts probably have. No secret, this is one of the poorest regions in the nation. Of the 14 Eastern Kentucky counties that each produces more than 200,000 tons of coal per year, all but one is rated "distressed." To be counted among the distressed, a county's economy must be in the bottom 10 percent in the United States, according to the latest analysis published by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Magofn County, which unearthed 1.5 million tons of coal in 2013, is the nation's poorest. To put this in perspective, look at the region's richest county, Pike, also the one that produces the most coal — almost 11 million tons. It is rated "at risk," meaning its economy is better than 10 percent of the nation's counties, but worse than 75 percent — not exactly enviable. Pike Coun- ty's poverty rate, at 24 percent, is 58 percent higher than the national average. Its average annual income is 63 percent of the average annual in- come nationwide. Magofn County, the poorest, has an unemployment rate and a poverty rate double the national average. At 17.6 percent, its unemployment rate is the highest in the region and almost double the national unemployment rate for 2010 to 2012. Bankruptcy is no joke around here. Tose signs on the hillside are the least of it. I hurry forward, following the Google Maps voice, hoping to meet McConnell at the 10:30 rally. I turn right. I turn left. I drive up a hill. "You have arrived," the voice says. I always wondered how it would feel to have arrived. Not so good, it turns out. On my right, an acre of weeds. On my left, a weather-grayed house, the upstairs slouching into the collapsing frst story. A shard of glass in a window — the last remnant — twinkles in the sun. I waste time trying other routes gamely ofered by the clueless Google Maps. It's getting later. Two men on their way into the post ofce fnally set me right. Each has a voice so distinct it should be bottled and released at boring parties, so that someone inter- esting always seems just around the corner. "Just go over the big mountain and it will be on your right," says the bourbon-and-tobacco-deepened voice of the tall guy in denim overalls. "You have to go back that way," the other guy rasps, sounding a bit like he'd gargled with barbed wire. "Back to the four-lane." And I go. And I fnd it. It's not two minutes past Booger Hollow Road. But now it's 10:44, and the senator is already hip-deep in Obama bashing. "I'm hard-pressed to think of anything this administration hasn't fouled up, either at home or abroad," McConnell tells the crowd gathered beneath a large white tent. Nearby, a giant American fag ripples overhead, held between the buckets of two truck-mounted cherry-pick- ers. "Really, you kind of rack your brain wondering if there is anything they haven't messed up." Yeah, like Google Maps. Damn Obama. McConnell keeps the sleeves of his teal button-down shirt rolled to mid-forearm. Because I'm usually distracted by the I've-got-a-secret-and- it's-about-you expression he deploys for photographs, this may be the frst time I've truly looked at him. His gray hair is actually wavy. It falls into orderly ridges at the back of his head as if it's been contour plowed. It curls behind his ears. He has blue eyes and apple cheeks. He's a man of small gestures; sometimes his hands barely leave the podium. Only occasionally does he raise a hand above mid-chest, and that's usually to point skyward, punctuating a crowd-pleasing passage. His former school- mate, local sportswriter Billy Reed, told me McConnell started carrying a briefcase in eighth grade. I can see it. Te congressional veteran, a lawyer who earns $193,400 a year in his Senate gig, with an estimated net worth of $23 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, begins a favorite theme: "Tey don't respect our way of life," he says. "Tey don't respect what we do. Tey look down at us." Us millionaires? Is this his Koch brothers speech, receiving an early airing? Didn't anybody double-check the script? Oh, I get it. By we, he means people out there listening to him. "Who do they think we are?" he asks. "Tese people are against everything we stand for. Tey're against our way of life, and we're going to stop 'em." Tey look down on us. Tey ignore us. Tey neglect us. And when they don't neglect us, they are out to get us. Tey are Google Maps. Tey can't even bother to learn their way around here. But it's worse than that. Tey can't fnd their way around the entire globe. Te theme resonates with McConnell's supporters. Tey're frightened. Te economy here is scary. Families are losing everything. If McConnell has an answer, they want it. A light breeze plays with Herb Wells' straight white hair as he talks. Like everyone at the rally, the retired miner has a "Team Mitch" sticker on his yellow shirt. He's a believer. If McConnell loses, he says, this region is in trouble. "Te economy goes down — worse than now. It's bad here and getting worse. Tax revenue's dropping. We're losing a way of life," Wells says. A few yards away, Ted Hampton stands straight enough to salute. In his white short-sleeve shirt and red striped tie, he is dapper in a way men no longer are. His is one of the few ties visible across the dozen counties traversed during Mitch's two-day barnstorm. His father was a farmer, but Hampton followed his uncles into teaching. Ten somebody told him about a job at Cumberland Electric. He thought he'd give it a try. He went on to run the place, which he's done for the last 50 years. He is "deeply committed" to Mitch McConnell. "One hundred and forty-four percent," he says. "I've always been for Senator McConnell," Hampton adds. "If we lose our coal industry, just look at the jobs lost in Eastern Kentucky, and in related industry as well — mine support and so on and so forth. Senator McConnell has agreed to support the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky. And that's what we want." A giant three-toed sloth hangs from the power lines along U.S. 25 East. It's actually kudzu, the fast-growing Asian vine chewing up the landscape in Eastern Kentucky and much of the southeast United States. It covers everything that doesn't move. Leave a house empty for long enough, and it disappears in the kudzu. Entire forests are swallowed whole as kudzu tidies up the landscape, blanketing unsightly abandoned cars, trash and neglected signs, cloaking all in a lush and vivid green. And then it kills. Trees die. Plants die. Native birds and mammals lose all useful habitat. Tere's a metaphor there somewhere. Something that appears good but isn't. I'm still working on it. The congressional veteran, a lawyer who earns $193,400 a year in his Senate gig, with an estimated net worth of $23 million, begins a favorite theme: "They don't respect our way of life," he says. "They don't respect what we do. They look down at us."

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Louisville Magazine - OCT 2014