Experiencing a bus ride photographing Fall River can be something of an eye opener to say the least. The things you see and hear on any given bus route that you would never witness driving in your own car are quite unique to our “fair” city. For example, someone screaming on the cellphone about that “SOB didn’t leave $20 on the dresser for cigarettes!”, or overhearing a barely audible drug deal going on in the back of the bus are commonplace here, but they are also telling signs of loss as well. The dependent riders of our local mass transit are not what one would say “the pillars of society” or like those users of trains or buses in big cities like New York or Chicago, but more unfortunate victims of residing in a city on the brink. Unemployed or underemployed, car-less or just trying to save money from escalating gas prices, they ride the bus day in and day out. Some go clear across town, while others need a ride for a few blocks to carry groceries. Regardless of destination and purpose, they are examples of the times.
On one particular ride, one of the passengers was a man just right of middle aged. As I looked him over head to toe, there was something peculiar about the way he dressed. His shoes were ratty with gaping holes near the soles and his Levi jeans had the distinction of not being washed in sometime, but his jacket and hat were something of a contradiction. He was donning a spanking new Boston Red Sox baseball cap and a New England Patriots winter jacket. While some find this a strange combination of attire, this is a common sight not only on the buses of Fall River, but on the streets as well.
Observing this man on the bus made me wonder if he and others like him are creating an image for themselves for the purpose of masking their stature in society for some sense of “identity”. This had made me think of one night at the Belmont club some years ago when a former acquaintance of mine was doing his best to win over the attention of a woman by touting his Irish heritage. The woman seemed somewhat interested in what he was saying about himself, but unbeknownst to her the truth of the matter was that he was only part Irish and mostly Polish. I found it appalling that he was burying his Polish lineage and embellishing his Irish one to “improve” himself and his chances (he ultimately struck out). This whole dwelling on creating and/or fabricating identities to feel accepted to one’s peers or society for gain or appearance strangely segued to Fall River’s own Mayor Flanagan, a man searching for an identity for Fall River.
Listening to Flanagan’s rhetoric as of late, I can’t help but sense the “taste” of them a bit on the sweet side. His painting of Fall River as “the greatest city in Massachusetts” from one of his latest speeches cannot be any further from the truth as it is more in line as the worst city in the Commonwealth as the current unemployment numbers and the declining population rates indicate. One could argue that Fall River is the “greatest city in the state” as it’s a matter of opinion and it could be a great place to live as it once was years ago, but taking a good long hard look at our city today says otherwise. Fall River’s identity is more like the drinking, fighting kind of town that local barflies boast about when they are out of town and tell others they are from Fall River, which gets a cautious “Oh” in response.
The sugarcoating of “Greater Fall River” (a misnomer if there ever was one) does not help matters nor is it addressing the important issues at hand. Where are the solutions coming from Flanagan to get Fall River to live up to that lofty title? All we hear now are cuts in education that is
the cornerstone of turning the ‘Scholarship City’ around for its future and press conferences in banning brownies. The similarities between Flanagan touting the state of the city in his speeches and that man wearing the Patriots jacket on the bus are striking. Both appear to be covering a truth with the difference being that they’re of different proportions. One is on a personal level while the other affects a city. Issuing exaggerations of the city to the public to boost its identity is not good politics as we citizens can see through the threadbare of this fabrication, and so can prospective business owners looking to set up shop somewhere.
Unlike a single person wearing a Patriots jacket for some belonging or lying about himself to improve his chances with a lady, where those misconceptions are harmful only to those that produce it, a political leader issuing statements that are deliberately misleading is of something more serious. As Mark Twain stated, “…the spoken lie is of no consequence, and it is not worthwhile to go around fussing about it and trying to make believe that it is an important matter. The silent colossal National Lie that is the support and confederate of all the tyrannies and shams and inequalities and unfairness that afflict the peoples – that is the one to throw bricks and sermons at.” Or to put it in more contemporary terms John McCain’s, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”, from 2007 in describing Hillary Clinton’s revamped healthcare plan. Though Fall River is not on the national stage, nor ostensibly on Beacon Hill’s radar, it cannot afford the threadbare lies spoken by its leaders. As the adage goes, “only the truth will set you free”, and Fall River needs to see and accept its truth in order to move forward…or we’ll all be wearing Patriots jackets.