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Welcome to Weirton, Home of the Discount Cigarette

It’s about long way past time someone smart publicly reflected on matters in Ohio, the secret bellwether state of our distress, and JoAnn Wypijewski got to the heart of the matter here in CounterPunch last weekend.

Her piece reminded me of being lately packed in a truck with 3 starving IBEW electricians from Detroit, last Christmas, on a work-seeking tour of the Ohio River valley from Youngstown on down to Steubenville and on into West Virginia , down to Charleston.  Lot of huge coal burning power plants along that river that are steadily chewing away at what’s left of W. Virginia and selling power to what’s left of Michigan , Indiana , Ohio, Pennsylvania etc.

They are so gigantic they are constantly under repair/ construction in some portion or other , so we were signing up on “Book Two” lists in small IBEW union halls that we passed along the way, hoping to be called to work on one of these monstrosities should the local hands be temporarily overwhelmed by the calls for employment during one of these maintenance “shutdowns”.

Of course, the entire eastern, and south-eastern part of Ohio appears to be shut down permanently.  Sobering is one inadequate word to describe traveling down that valley if you haven’t been paying attention much during the past 25 years.  There is nothing quite like pulling into Weirton ( wire-t’n) West Virginia, connected by a brand new state of the harp -type suspension bridge over the river from greater Steubenville, Ohio .  Weirton used to be a steel town. Now it’s a stumbling cigarette town. Once you slip by the welcome sign, flanked by an ol’fashioned don’t -tread- on- me tableau of a  tank,  fighter plane , and a small missile launcher bunched up on the main traffic circle , you get to the real action, low tax, no-tax cigarettes offered to all comers by the bail, pallet, carton, or pack. So what ? … you might say… except this trade is carried out at every business still standing in Weirton. The Hardware store, the restaurants, the bars, the furniture store, gas stations of course, all of them are practically hidden from view by huge banners & sidewalk signs announcing brand discounts & volume deals etc.  I was tempted to start smoking on compassionate grounds.

I walked into a candy bar store , courageously shunned the smokes & got one of those real estate tabloid mags & a local paper . The Inch and a half bold newspaper headline said ” UNION TO HOLD MEETING ON 300 JOB CUTS”.  Steel workers & their families were invited to the Serbo-Croatian hall that night for the gory details. Oooof.

Flipping thru the real estate booklet was the clincher. I decided to stop signing  any more local out-of-work lists . Too stark. Let the local people petition the power plants for work. Who cares if they are union electricians or not.  It’s very clear from the ads in the local home listings rag that all able- bodied women from 19 to 65  in two states , either hold a real estate license or  are studying for one. The houses are selling for $6,000 & up.  Some of the licensed agents (according to the c.v.’ s in the blurbs) also have associate degrees in Respiratory Therapy which may account for the dearth of male salesmen in the dozens of different agencies working the territory. They’re hunched over an oxygen bottle somewhere nearby, trying not to use it up too soon.

So, thanks ,again, JoAnn! I’ve been trying to explain to friends around Detroit how BAD Ohio is, but we’re kind of pampered around here , doggedly thinking that we’re # 1 in the lost horizons sweepstakes ( well a grudging #2 since Katrina ).  But you have actually explained, not merely reported on , but finally explained how even though we’ve been regularly & roughly  dragged around & up & down every conceivable gutter by the scruff of the neck  we’re still loyal to the damn draggers. Oooof , again.

John A. Joslin is a member of IBEW local #58, Detroit. He can be reached at jajoslin@mac.com