The South Shore Line, an electric train that runs from South Bend Indiana into Chicago, runs through some of the most beautiful places along Lake Michigan as well as some of the poorest and dirtiest. The simple beauty of the dunes, marshes, and woodlands that line the Lake alternates with a landscape that industry and humble labor of many sorts have shaped.
The train runs along the beautiful old Calumet Trail, a prairie path that has existed since Indian times, following the curve of the Lake across boundaries separating town from country, blurring the distinctions of ownership and governing. All of northern Indiana and Chicago’s southern hinterland are seamlessly joined. On both sides of the train flow thousands of properties—neat and messy, beautiful and ugly, thriving and moldering—suggesting every condition of American society.
It’s a hard train ride because so many neighborhoods are decrepit and decaying. So many places—and people—are just scraping by. Our America is not a spotless picture-perfect place. Off the political grid are thousands of people subsisting in garbage-strewn trailer parks, or living in ramshackle housing with windows missing. They are exiles from the land of opportunity. Embarrassing aberrations with no place in the progressive narrative of the world’s greatest nation, they are geniuses of survival, disciples of the art of making something out of nothing. With luck, every day is the same, where social isolation limns the horizon.
Is this the nation our forebears intended us to become?