Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Red State Sam

Chehalis and Centralia, the hardest hit of the Washington State locales from the recent flooding, are about an hour south of here. Situated on the broad flood plain of a couple rivers (the swollen Chehalis among others), this stretch of road is treated as little more than a road stop for traffic heading from Portland to Seattle. It is also home to a lot more development over the past decade, which may have made a bad situation worse.

But the area is also the home of Red State Sam, one of the more polite terms I've seen used for a billboard alongside one of the I-5 exits. Red State Sam is a big billboard with outsider art picture of Uncle Sam that looks like he's been cooking up meth, with an offensive, ever changing political scrawl. The screed is usually against democrats, bureaucrats, state government, national government, government in any form, immigrants, the UN, and black helicopters, and is pretty much the best encouragement for people NOT to stop along this stretch of road.

The raison d'etre for this long-standing bit of antic hate speech actually makes sense - I-5 plowed through the original owner's farm, and ever since, he used the location as his personal free speech area, inflicting his views on anyone who passed and pretty much convincing those passing through to just keep on passing through. When the original owner sold the original farm he kept an easement to let him keep the sign, and with his passing, his son has picked up the torch. Red State Sam shows up in the news every so often to show that "free speech is alive" usually quoting his less-offensive captions.

But with all the footage of the flood, I've been thinking about Red State Sam, and most of all his absence from any of the footage that has made the news. He's the closest thing to the scenic highpoint of the region, but I've seen nary a shot from any of the cams, and not a mention on youtube. Is he gone, or does his anti-government hate-fest not play as well as people have mobilized at a personal, corporate, state and now national level to bring relief to the people living there? When you're trying to get people to help, the crazy old uncle shouting about Mexicans and the Masons isn't really an attraction.

Where have you gone, Red State Sam? The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

More later,

Update: The challenge that Chehalis and Lewis County faces is not one that will ebb away with the next big story to hit the region. I've been keeping track with this link to the local paper, the Chronicle. It has been doing the best job laying out the devastation and response. Go check it out.