Michael Ventura has a brilliant column in today's Austin Chronicle about dying towns in the Great Plains. He writes of the Texas panhandle as well as the open spaces of Nebraska and, yes, Kansas.
I won't try to summarize it -- go read it for yourself -- but here are a couple of excerpts:
In Paducah, miles south of Clarendon, I counted again: 44 empty storefronts and what looks like an abandoned factory, plus the old county courthouse, the dark picture show, and the hollow railroad hotel. Drive any direction for hundreds and hundreds of miles and you see the same thing. I know. I've driven every state in the West and Midwest these last several years, and everywhere you see the same thing: barely alive towns, ruins of toil, ruins of dreams, ruins of a future that people worked hard for – a future that never came.These are some of the people who hate gays, who want creationism and prayer in the schools, who keep voting for the likes of GW Bush even though his policies are ruining them. Ventura understands what they're about and tells their story with compassion, even if they aren't willing to accept him.
These people are watching their towns die. Watching their way of life die. They are living the end of their dream, and they didn't believe that could happen. Like their ancestors, they've worked hard and hard and hard. They've played by the rules, believed the right things, worshipped the proper God, lived as they deeply felt life should be lived, and they're losing everything that matters to them. And there's nothing they can do about it except to keep working hard, because that's all they know. They're losing a way of life because of forces beyond their ken.
Ventura is one of the great essayists of our times -- an observer who can tell us all the truth about our lives. At least one of his books -- a collection of his columns called Letters at Three A.M. -- is still in print, and most of the rest of his work is available used. Visit his website for excerpts and a list of publications.