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An American Fabric be aired on 11/04/02 at 1600-1659 ET on channel A67.7 S   This program is FREE to interconnected stations

A Word from Producer Ron Bernthal…

Ron Bernthal

During the past year all of us have read countless news stories about the American spirit, American values, and what Americans would be doing and thinking about this summer and fall, one year since the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington. I began to wonder just who are all my fellow Americans that are mentioned in polls and statistics? What are their names, and where do they live? What kind of work do they do?
waving flag
RV Park In July I grabbed a tape recorder and a digital camera, rented a sleep-in RV, and racked up almost 8,000 miles on the trip odometer, just talking to average Americans wherever I found them. I wanted to see for myself what my fellow citizens were doing this past summer, and what it really means to them to be an American. I don't know if all their answers, or even the great diversity I found among our citizens, really surprised me. Most everyone was avidly patriotic, which confirmed a Gallup poll taken just a week before my departure. More than 1,000 Americans were asked, "How proud are you to be an American?" and 65 percent answered "extremely proud," while another 25 percent said "very proud." Only the young prisoner I spoke with in the Yuma County lockup
had a negative comment about our government, and even that may be understandable, considering his circumstances.

Americans are known to be outgoing and friendly, and this certainly proved to be the case everywhere I went. From demolition derby drivers to law enforcement personnel to gas station attendants to ranchers, Americans are quick to smile, and are always willing to engage in lighthearted banter. While American foreign policy may sometimes be perceived as arrogant and disrespectful, you would not use those words to describe the people living on our land.

What did surprise me, however, was the ease in which most Americans I met talked about themselves. After a moment of "microphone bashfulness," but without much prodding, I heard amazing stories of childhood abuse, addiction problems, marital troubles, business failures, dreams gone awry, well as stories of family legends, favorite foods and movies, best places to view sunsets, where brothers and sisters and children were living and working, and of dreams much fulfilled.

Demonition Derby
A Cajun Fiddling Listening to Americans talk about themselves so openly and honestly, as if I was a long-time neighbor or close relative, caused some discomfort at first. Are Americans so egotistical to think that a stranger would be interested in their life history? In this
age of domestic terrorism and "sleeper cells, " shouldn't Americans be more cautious when talking with a person they don't know? But as my notebooks and tapes grew exponentially each day, and as silos and water towers and highway signs and scenic overlooks all started to blur into one vision, it was the stories I kept hearing that stayed in my mind. These were American stories, some bad ones, of course, but mostly stories of desire. To be a dancer on the Vegas strip, a ballplayer in the big leagues, a farmer with land of their own, a surfer in the curl of a Pacific wave, a show's headline actress, a chef in one of the most expensive restaurant in New York City. I came to realize that Americans are not egotistical or self-engrossed, not the ones I met. It seems that most Americans these days all appreciate who they are, and what they do, and, probably more now than ever, where they live. Talking about their lives to a stranger is a way to express themselves, and to receive a thank you and a smile in return is a reaffirmation of their "good" life here in America

For the Americans I met this summer, the idea behind Thoreau's 19th century statement that Americans have managed so far to create only a "comparatively free country" just doesn't hold true anymore. Americans truly believe that the United States, in the 21st century, is the freest country in the world, a country in which any desire can be fulfilled.


Writer Richard Todd once wrote that the soul of America can be found in a Happy Meal. The American soul is more complex than that, and is probably impossible to describe. But it can be experienced, not only talking to average Americans but by witnessing
simple American pleasures.

Merchant Marine Screaming
A Mariied Couple

The American soul is when families gather together in the outfield for the fireworks display after a minor league ballgame in Chattanooga's BellSouth Field. It is listening to the southern drawl of little kids during a Pledge of Allegiance contest at Meridien, Mississippi's Piggly Wiggly store. It is the breathtakingly beautiful Hispanic-American
women at Walmart's air-conditioned Mesa Avenue store in El Paso, on a blistering hot afternoon. It is the red neon glow of a Sonic Drive-In in Fort Stockton, Texas, against the wide prairie sky as it turns purple at sunset. It is listening to the hard-working wait staff at Las Vegas' Roxy's Diner sing Runaround Sue in the middle of serving meat loaf and potatoes. It is gawking at the incredible patriotic figures on Mt. Rushmore, then giggling at the "Made in China" ceramic replicas in the souvenir shop. It is sitting by the Missouri River, outside Chamberlain, South Dakota, and imagining Lewis and Clark's Corp of Discovery coming ashore at the same spot almost 200 years before.


What makes this American fabric so uniquely stimulating is that while there is no quintessential American experience, it seems that every person I met in the heartland of this country, and every visual signal emanating from the landscape, is so quintessentially American. So, what does it mean to you to be an American? And what were you doing this past summer? Out of a possible 287 million answers, here are just a few of them - just a small part of An American Fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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