Word From the Producer
An American Fabric
be aired on 11/04/02 at 1600-1659 ET
on channel A67.7 S   This program is FREE to interconnected
A Word from Producer Ron Bernthal
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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