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

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Page 46 of 172

44 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 10.14 announced the start of the War on Poverty. "My schoolmates and I, we were in high school. We laughed at the program. We knew it was only to buy votes. We thought it was funny that anybody would take it seriously," he says. Tis claim requires math. My eyes roll back into my head as I calcu- late. Hayes is 63 years old. Tat makes him 12 years old when Johnson visited Inez. But if he has his dates a little mixed up, his sentiment still aligns well with the message of the day. "If you're mad with what they've done to our country, the way they've been turning us into a Western European nation, the way they question our values, the way they question the way we live — these are people who do not understand us and do not respect us — then this is the year we begin to take America back," McConnell says. It's at this stop that I make the blunder that will plague me for the rest of the trip. I grab a bottle of water from the ice — one of two freebies I've accepted over these two days. (Te other was a piece of fake coal.) As I straighten up, I realize Mitch McConnell is standing right next to me, sans handlers. Without thinking, I blurt out a question about something unrelated to the campaign — material for a story on one of the senator's friends. In seconds, a campaign worker, a cadaverous-looking guy nor- mally Velcroed to his candidate, looms over us and suggests this is not the time to talk. Te senator asks me if I'm going to be around later. I say yes. And then he answers the question anyway, even as his campaign aide shuttles him away. Tis moment will come back to haunt me. Some busy and meticulous Christian has decorated the highway to Harlan with white crosses. Tey appear too regu- larly and too frequently to be memorials. Each is less than a foot high, and they're made of white aluminum or maybe vinyl. Tey top school-bus signs and route markers and fence posts. Some are afxed to power poles. Te only thing I see nearly as frequently are signs for seamless gutters. Ten it occurs to me: Are the crosses made of seamless gutter material? One message reinforcing the other? Seamless gutters for Jesus? I'm getting tired. I need to grab lunch somewhere, but it will have to wait. Te rally at Carroll Engineering Co. starts in 10 minutes. It's hot in the Carroll Engineering warehouse. Fans do little to relieve the close atmosphere, and not even young female chanters can rouse the mostly male crowd to even mild-fervor. "We want Mitch! We want Mitch!" the women shout. Whatever. Few men join the cheerleaders, and the sound system is alive with the dental-ofce-whine of feedback. Many of the men in this crowd have blackened hands and faces. Teir shirt fronts and backs are emblazoned with refecting tape. Every stop along this campaign trail has been at a business dependent on coal mining. Whayne Supply provides mining equipment. Cumberland Electric burns the coal. But this is the frst stop where I've seen miners. It makes sense. Only Pike County produces more coal than Harlan. "Here in Harlan County, in the heart of coal country, we felt it the worst — 7,000 to 8,000 jobs lost during the Obama years," McCon- nell says. "For every coal-mining job, you lose three more. We've got a depression here." Sammy Smith, 53, and Justin Baird, 23, leave the rally as soon as the senator stops speaking. Smith says he's still trying to sort it all out. "I don't know that I'm all that knowledgeable. It may be way over my head or under my feet," he jokes. He's what's called a face foreman for Rex Coal, where he's worked for 19 years. "I keep my boy Justin here just in case I get lost." Baird works for Smith. "I'm a slave-driving boss," Smith says. "I don't know what a lot of people think of coal mining, but I love do- ing it. It's all I've ever done," Smith says. "It's a life. Tat's what it is. I get up at 4 o'clock in the morning, go to work, and work my 10-hour shift, and come back home." He does that six days a week, with Sundays of. With this hard work, he's put both of his kids through college. "Tat's more than I ever done. I only got a 10th-grade education," he says. But the earth is moving beneath Harlan. "Our community here, it's pretty much coal. Everybody has to leave. Tey're losing their homes. Tere's a lot of people here losing their jobs. Tis is the worst I've ever seen, and I've been a coal miner for 34 years. Tis is the worst I've seen," Smith says. Smith's college-graduate son, with a degree in criminal justice, hasn't been able to fnd work in his feld and ended up down in a mine until he, too, was laid of. "Tere's nothing around here," Smith says. "He's going to Lexington and Nicholasville, places like that, trying to get a job. So far nothing has turned up." Baird says his brother-in-law, a father of two, lost his coal job last year and is about to lose his home. "He put himself in a lot of debt thinking that coal mining was gonna be here, because when he started, it was pretty good. He was making good money. Now he can't fnd a job mak- ing over 12 dollars an hour. He's sufering." Tese men don't talk about a War on Coal, but something defnitely seems of when it comes to safety regulations, they say. "With the laws and stuf, you can't hardly run coal no more, because when an inspector comes around they're gonna nitpick you to death," Smith says. "I can remember when they'd come underground, the inspector and stuf, and they'd check to make sure everything is good, and the air and stuf was good, and they'd look around and make sure the mine was pret- ty safe, and they'd say, 'OK, everything looks good. You guys have a safe day.' Now they just come in and it's like harassment," Smith says. I ask for an example of unreasonable enforcement and the men talk about inspectors who shut down the job for hours, demanding equip- ment be scrubbed to spotlessness, and then come back through and make them do the work over again. Tey bring up the lifelines strung through the mine. Te idea is, in the event of an explosion, men can fol- low the lifelines to these safe havens, which Smith describes as $100,000 boxes. "Tat's where we're supposed to go in and barricade ourselves if you have an explosion. But if you have an explosion, you're not going to be able to get to it. Tese lifelines that the men are supposed to grab hold of — you can't do that. Te lines won't be there. It's an explosion!" Smith says. "Tey're made out of nylon rope," Baird explains. "In the heat or explosion, nothing's going to be there. It will burn right up!" Smith says. Ten, sensing things may be getting too serious, Smith dodges to semi-safe territory for most Kentuckians, college basketball. "I pull for Louisville when Kentucky's out," he tells me. "I like Pitino. He's a heck of a coach." Before I head out, Smith makes me promise that I'll pull for Kentucky when Louisville's not in it. I make a solemn vow and head to Arby's. At about 3:40 in the afternoon, I follow what looks like a detour that puts me on a narrow road full of sharp turns called the Kingdom Come Highway, which actually stretch- es all the way to Pennsylvania. Occasionally, I can stop hyperventilating long enough to realize this twisting road — soon to grow even more so — is the most beautiful swath of Kentucky I've seen thus far, and that's saying a great deal. Now the John Denver lyrics make sense. West Virginia is almost heaven. It's just that close to Kentucky. I try not to worry too much about the signs that appear frequently As I straighten up, I realize Mitch McConnell is standing right next to me, sans handlers. Without thinking, I blurt out a question. In seconds, a campaign worker, a cadaverous- looking guy normally Velcroed to his candidate, looms over us and suggests this is not the time to talk.

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