There is a road that winds, forks and detours through America, and along that road lie the discarded expectations and illusions of an age. It doesn’t so much connect destinations as define an experience, one that has been variously euphemized but now is most honestly understood as decline. A generation ago the road had a name, the Rust Belt, and the aged sootworks of its most familiar stretches—steel alleys like Lake Shore Road in Lackawanna, State Route 422 in Youngstown, Cline Avenue and its feeders from the south side of Chicago to Gary, Indiana—could trick one into believing that lost jobs, lost income, lost security, were geographic phenomena, pain being the inevitable condition of old cities and industries, while progress sprouted, extending its benefits, from other, fresher locales. Now the road cuts through those locales too, through the New South, which always was less new than newly exploitable, down to us 10 across the ravaged coast of the Gulf region and endlessly beyond, slashing the Heartland, zigzagging the West, reaching finally into suburbia’s imagined pastoral, where streets named Thorncliff or Sparrow Bush prove to be no barrier to lay-off, debt, diminished retirement, angst.
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