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Welcome to the search for America. Here you'll find an increasing set of interviews and thoughts as we collect clues to the American Identity. Hope it helps make you feel closer to people.

An Insightful Note from Raleigh

An Insightful Note from Raleigh

Chip sat behind the bar in a record store in a strip mall near Raleigh, NC. As I sat down to talk to him, the barstool creaked and swayed precariously to the left. 

Come on over, let’s talk here at the counter. Those stools are a lawsuit waiting to happen, but you’re welcome to sit!
— Chip

He was inviting and friendly, like I expected from the Old South, but his roots stretched to a northerly America. 

I grew up in Redhook, Brooklyn for a good part of my childhood. When NWA came on the scene, talking about how rough Compton was, all of us in Brooklyn sort of laughed and said, “come around here, we’ll show you rough.”

Growing up though, you’re stupid and you don’t really notice much of any of that. Most days we would just hang out on the stoop and you’re out there long enough, soon enough your friends are going to walk by, your aunt and uncle are going to walk by, your neighbors are going to walk by. Pretty soon it’s 8 o’clock there’s 15 people there all shooting the breeze.

Aside from that I distinctly remember running to school most days. I’d bounce down the stairs and BOOM I was out of there. Despite how I look now, I was a frail little kid growing up in Redhook, but I never got into a fight. Partially because I was so fast back then.

My father was a carpenter for as long as I knew, the hardest working guy I’ve ever met. Left school for an apprenticeship at 14 to help support the family, started his own carpentry business by 18 and was doing that ever since. For his whole adult life he was a carpenter and he supported our family on his work in Brooklyn at first, then in North Carolina.

I remember he drove a shiny new truck to all his work sites. He knew the value of appearances there and he wanted everyone to know he wasn’t some jackleg carpenter there to mess up your site. When you drive up to a site with a new truck, and your whole town is broke as “F,” you know he’s the real deal, or he’s in the mafia. Either way, the job is gonna get done, and you aren’t gonna mess with them.
— Chip
Both my parents were immigrants, my dad from Germany and my mom from Poland. Things weren’t working out too great in Redhook so my parents sat down one night with a couple drinks, put a map up on the wall and threw a few darts. One hit Denver, one hit Raleigh, and Raleigh was closer so off we went.

It was a bit of a change but looking back it feel very American to me. They came to the US to make a better life for themselves and then when I was a teenager, we came down here to Raleigh in a truck and a sleeper trailer to make a better life here.

We stayed at a camp site for 6 months when we first got here. I wouldn’t say we were homeless but we were certainly houseless for that first while. The trailer was great for a weekend getaway but not for a family of 5 to live in for months. My dad was a fantastic carpenter though and he got his reputation established in town pretty quickly so we could buy another house. My mom got a job at an insurance company too and was there for years. And here I was now, a 14 year old Brooklyn kid in school in the South.
— Chip

We talked about what it was like to switch worlds from The City to the South

The entire seed of life was different when I came down here. You know when you cook spaghetti and you dump it in a bowl of cold water when you’re done to stop the cooking? That’s what it felt like. I was used to

”come-on, hurry-up, we-gotta-go, we-gotta-be-there-by-1, let’s-go, let’s-movit, beep-beep, come-on!”

and I came down here and everyone was like,

”howw ya dooin? . . . how arre ya?”

That just blew me away that the pace was 50% slower and that EVERYBODY was nice. It was such a shock when I’m walking down the hall for 8th grade my first day, and I’m late to class as I always am, and this kid walks by and asks “hahyoudoin?” and I looked at him like “are you talking to me? I don’t know you, why are you talking to me?” And that was really hard to get used to. When you live where I lived, you have a wall. My first instinct was “What do you want? Why are you being nice to me, what do you want?” And it takes a long time for that wall to get knocked down, but it did because people were just so friendly.
— Chip

As we came around to larger ideas, Chip had a refreshingly stoic view of himself and the life he was living. He took no time in taking responsibility for some of his position before complaining or diagnosing the world around him

I’ve always been that guy where people say “he’s going to do great things” but I never really did those things. I suffer from a handful of diseases and have to take a battery of pills just to get up and function. Two of them just sucks the motivation right out of me. So the ambition part just really kinda died. Everything has mostly been a “till I get a better job” gig and then I get complacent because I don’t have that energy to find a new better job. I was in government for 11 years, I went to a dry cleaning company and the schedule just fell into a groove that I never ended up leaving. I ended up here at the record store when the dry cleaning plant just up and burnt to the ground. I did what I normally do, went and traveled a few months not bothering to get a job and I saw the owner of this place, school kids records on TV the day that David Bowie died and he was wearing a hat with the shop logo on it. I said to my girlfriend “That hat looks dope I’ve gotta go pick one up” and ended up talking to the owner and picking up a couple shifts. Few months down the line the manager quit so I filled the spot.

As much as I say that though, I’ve never understood people that can’t get themselves to do the work. I understand where I’m at but I was raised by a family and a community that didn’t put up with slackers. Every single person I knew growing up was the hardest working mofo there was. There were no slackers. And so I may not have the ambition to go out and run for office or change the world but it instilled in me the value of work. You did the work. You give 100%. You don’t slack off. Whatever it is you’ve gotta do, you say yessir and you take care of it.
— Chip

He mourned for some of the lost seriousness and grit of prior generations while recognizing that the America of today, which seems less self-sufficient, is a consequence and a privilege of the freedom and America-ness that those generations established.

Every generation says the generation beneath them is lazier than they were. My dad said, “Ah your generation, you’re a bunch of pot smoking hippies, you don’t know what’s going on.” And as I get older I’m two generations back now, and I see exactly why every generation says that. I’m looking at generations today and I can’t help but see people slacking off. There’s no initiative to do anything, I’ve noticed, and that to me is the biggest change I’ve seen growing up. People have everything at their fingertips and it makes them lazy. The current generation doesn’t know what a card catalog, and doesn’t understand the work that used to go into even basic things like getting a book, reading something. And they get used to it and expect it all to be right there. It makes people lazy and it makes them not appreciative of the convenience they have but also of the things that are important. Everything is at their fingertips but no one wants to look up from their phone for a hike in the woods or anything, I read that the average millennial would rather play on their phone than have sex, than be intimate with another human being. It’s baffling.

The folks that went off and fought WWII called themselves the Greatest Generation. That was America. My friends are a bunch of dope smoking losers. The generations after me haven’t been any better from what I see.

When I think of what it means to be American though, it’s the freedom to do and be all those things that I hate that I’m talking about. Nobody can tell you not to do that. Nobody can tell you how to live.

When I was growing up, the American flag was prevalent, people were proud to be American and felt they had to live up to it. I was from an immigrant family so maybe I saw it differently. But it seems like a lot of people don’t realize in the past what it took to get to where you can get on your cellphone, where you have everything there for you. There are generations of people who lived, died, and fought for those freedoms. And you don’t have to say “woo yay” every single day, but you should be cognizant of the sacrifices and work others have endured. I see that slipping away today. You’re free to do whatever you please, but that shit wasn’t free.
— Chip

People in his mind, don’t act with the gravity and responsibility of their freedom and privilege. He was careful to say he’s not an American cheerleader but the difference he sees worries him and should probably worry us as a country. There may be truth to the fact but there’s certainly truth the feeling. This is the feeling that a Trump candidacy politicized. Reckoning with this shift in self assessment will be a struggle for a long time coming.

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