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Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in General | Posted on 14-02-2009

This past week I was in Little Rock, AR for a speaking engagement.  It was an interesting trip to Little Rock because I had never driven through this part of America.  I started out in Hattiesburg, MS headed for Jackson and then drove across the Mississippi River on Interstate 20 crossing into Louisiana.  I’ve driven this road numerous times but I had never veered off of Interstate 20 except to stop for an occasional tank of gas.  After about fourteen miles into Louisiana I took HWY 65 north into the heart of America where WIFI and coffee shops are replaced with trucks, tractors and endless miles of farm land.  For those not familiar with this part of the country here is a map and the highlighted route I took. 


As you might decipher from the map above the light green area is farm land fueled by the Mississippi River.  As I drove through the upper portion of Louisiana making my way into the Southern part of Arkansas my only line of communication back to the civilized world was my satellite radio.  News shows were constantly debating the stimulus package.  “Will it pass on time?” one newscaster asked.  “We break down all the pork barrel spending in the stimulus bill next, stay tuned…” another channel exclaimed. 

My attention from the radio was diverted for a few miles as I noticed what appeared to be a never ending amount of steel and iron lined next to the highway.  The cars were of similar shape and the same color with one occasionally painted with some graffiti on it. 

A train track ran parallel to the highway and rails cars were sitting still on the highway as far as the eye could see.  Mile after mile I observed the train cars until I lost count of the miles.  Is this train 10 miles or 20 miles long, I can’t remember.

What were they for I thought to myself.  All of this grain and cotton has to go somewhere and what better way to transport it than rail.  But during the month of February they sat still, idle on the track waiting to be filled and then dispersed throughout the US when the crops came in. 

The fields of farm land were endless, one after another.  Tractors of all shapes and sizes were preparing the land for the up and coming growing season.  Crop dusters could be seen in the distance.  Over the top of trees one minute, and then gone the next. 

As I drove through this part of America there was constant discussion on the radio about the economy.  I couldn’t help but look around and see the impact of the situation.  This is it.  I’m right in the middle of the heartland of America.  This is the place where the rubber meets the road.  This is the place where families get up at the crack of dawn and put in a hard day’s work to make a dollar. 

I arrived in Little Rock later that afternoon and I felt more in my element.  The sad reality of the road had already started to fade.  It was business as usual.  Parking garage here, plug the laptop in there, get the WIFI from here, check email there, charge cell phone over here.  I was surrounded by big buildings, large hotels and businessmen who wore suits to work instead of overalls.  There just seemed to be more going on, more happening, and more hustle and bustle. 

The next day I headed back home through the heartland of America.  I was looking forward to the drive to be honest.  I was looking forward to getting back in touch with America.  I liked being reminded that things are different, I liked being able to see people, good people, trying to make a visible living. 

After a few hours of driving I saw this really big sign ahead in the distance.  At first glance it looked like the word depression was written on it but I thought it was something else.  As I got closer the sign came into focus.  I had just seen a sign welcoming me to Grady, AR, population – small, only a few hundred residents.  When I saw the sign for Grady I took the cruise control off to pass through the town but honestly I could have left it set to 75mph.

The sign was now in full view, “Pre Depression Price Sale” the sign read.  As I read it, I turned back to get a second glance as I slowed my truck down.  Did I just read that?  Looking at the building it was in front of it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this little town was hurting. 

My first thought was, how do I explain this to people.  How do I capture this moment?  At first I was speechless.  My mind was full of stimulus packages, politicians that lack integrity, down turn economy, pork barrel spending, some mouse in California that was getting millions of dollars, housing crisis and more.  Yet here was proof.  Here was proof that America is hurting, proof the heartland is calling out for help.  


I had to take a picture so I wouldn’t later forget.  I wanted this digital reminder.  I brought my 5,000lb truck down to a manageable turning speed and whipped around right in the middle of the road.  A few moments later I pulled up next to the sign in the gas station parking lot.  After a quick ching-ching of the cell phone camera I turned around and headed back down the highway.  Every now and then I’d glance over at the cell phone and stare at the picture.  Then another mile, another field, another tractor, another small town would go by and then another quick glance at the photo.  Each of them reminding me that yes, America is hurting right now. 

“The bill has passed in the house!” came over the radio.  The newscaster said this as if I should be excited.  I couldn’t help but look around and know that very little if anything in the stimulus package was going to make a difference in this area.  Lower taxes and good weather go a long way in this part of America, let’s just hope the stimulus bill has $100,000,000.00 for a rain making machine in it.

Comments (13)

@ghosttie and @jug,

It’s a sale. With prices like that look like we’re about to enter a (great) depression era.


I wouldn’t debate the english grammar of the sign too much, I think what the store owner meant to put up there was:

SALE! Pre-Depression Prices


I have to agree with ghosttie…I don’t get it either. What does “pre depression price sale” mean?

I enjoyed your story. I have commented on very similar experiences on my blog except going through the Canadian prairies where I am from. I now live in a city of 1.5 million and it is go go go all the time. People don’t know their neighbors, you can’t leave anything unlocked and traffic jams mean 2 hour one way commute most days. It’s a different lifestyle. My family are farmers and they hurt. You were right when you said they get up at the crack of dawn to make ONE dollar..most cases they are up hours before dawn and go to bed well after the sun has set. Good read. Thank you


Great insight and very well written. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


Having come from Arkansas, I used to travel through many of the rural areas up until I was in my teen years – and I occasionally go there to visit my octogenarian grandparents (all four of them in fact). The last time I went through Scottland it was very bleak, many of the little shops had shut down, and only a sparse few had any signs of activity. People moved and left that area over the years, and I shudder to think what the future will hold for them.

It is high time we take a look at the past, and at the things that actually worked – Grover Cleavland refused to back off of the Gold Standard during the Panic of the late 1800s, and in the 1919 crash there was no ‘saving’ of the people.

Instead bad assets were liquidated, and from that the periods of decline were followed by growth. If a business is failing, and management cannot save it – it must go extinct. Then, with that niche opened, a better company will take its place. What effect these bailouts have, is spending money – from those small farmers and those poor businesses who are trying to meek it out – on companies that did fail.

We end up shooting ourselves in the feet every time we ‘save’ a company as large as Ford, GM, or Chrysler. The focus should not be on how to save people – it should be on how to eliminate bad assets. Liquidation is the only answer.

The current so-called solutions are going to be like a cancer, a slow decline into the darkness of the depression – much like that of the 30’s. It took a world war to get out of it – and the country was not fully recovered until the late 50’s.

If you look at the 1919 example, the bad assets were allowed to liquidate. We plunged into a sharp decline as these liquidations occurred. Then we sprung back as new and better assets took their places, as new businesses grew, and more people got to live “the American Dream”. Well, more bad assets were made, as they always will be, and in 1929 the economy responded.

We tried to bail out America then. Look what it got us. Bad assets are bad assets – they need to be liquidated correctly, by the markets and free enterprise. If government creats a bad bank, we’re going to see some pretty nasty things…

@ crazyfool:
…everybody knows everybody. … 5 total strangers … That’s just how it is… Logically speaking…

When you say that great people that live in rural America, it shows self respect, but that alone can’t make others respected and be influenced by your thinking. I hop self respect isn’t all you have.


You don’t have to live on a farm to be good people but it certainly helps. People that live in cities normally just care about themselves. In rural America, everybody knows everybody. It isn’t uncommon to walk into a store and be greeted by 5 total strangers with them striking up a conversation. That’s just how it is.

Logically speaking you don’t have to live on a farm, but that doesn’t change the fact there are lots of good, nay, great people that live in rural America.

I don’t get it – they’re selling things at the prices they were before the economy tanked? So they’re selling things at a higher price? I don’t get it.

I also don’t like comments like the “good people” one. You don’t have to live on a farm to be good people.

Just a little insight on this sign and southeast AR. I was born, raised, and still live in McGehee, Ar. It is a town of about 4k about 40 miles south of Grady. I work in Pine Bluff, AR. Having said that, this sign has been up for atleast a year and a half, if not longer. So either this guy is a prophet who can see the future or just crazy(i’d guess the latter). The saddest thing about that is they are building a four lane highway on the East side of the town that will allow you to bypass it all together, the town is already hurting, this will inevitably kill it. Also, one last thing…i’d advise highly against driving 75mph through Grady or the next small town, Gould. They are HUGE speed traps 95% of the time with a cop at each end of the town just waiting to catch someone flying through town trying not to get too much ‘Redneck’ on them…


And corn, and wheat, and veggies and so on. 🙂

Powerful stuff man. Great read. Us in the tech community can often be disconnected from rural America. But we all need cotton and farm goods. Strange days..

“My first thought was, how do I explain this to people. How do I capture this moment?”

I know *exactly* what you mean.

I plan to spend some time in the rural areas of LA next week (sugar cane country). I’ll make it a point to stop in one of the small towns.


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