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Cheap Motels and a Hotplate: An Economist's Travelogue by Michael D. Yates
Can an academic engage readers in a book about a 60-month road trip across the United States? Yes, when the author has a grassroots tilt on work, inequality, and ecology. In Cheap Motels and a Hotplate: An Economists Travelogue, author, editor, and retired professor Michael D. Yates departs western Pennsylvania with his wife, Karen, to work and sightsee in cities, parks, and towns across the nation.
The couple begins their journey with a stay in Yellowstone National Park. They work as a minimum-wage desk clerk and waitress, respectively, at a corporate-run hotel. Readers feel the Yatess unease from multitasking cancellations and reservations for rooms and tables. By the end of their stay, the Yates are working shorter hours to spend more time exploring the park, bereft of the original inhabitants, such as the Sheepeater Shoshone, who were forcibly removed by whites, along with other tribes, over a century ago.
In Portland, following a Manhattan stint as editor for Monthly Review, two of the Yatess four adult children join them. The young men, highly skilled in their occupations, hope to nab livable employment. It is not to be. Portland and the Northwest are no employment paradise for them and other 20-somethings. Yatess book is totally relevant to young adults, the so-called Generation Next between the ages of 18 and 25 who scramble to make ends meet.
For each community and region visited, Yates provides a demographic snapshot (population by race, median household income, rent, and mortgage). Yates, who once labored for the United Farm Workers, uses such stats to amplify the social conditions of the folks they meetincluding landlords, park rangers, and shopkeepers. Readers also get a treasure trove of tips on dining, hiking, and lodging to enjoy and avoid.
On leaving the Northwest, the Yates solve their food problem. Health-conscious, they opt to cook on a two-burner hot plate and live in low-priced motels. In contrast, scores of wage-earners in communities large and small live this way out of necessity. Yates wants the reader to be as outraged as he is that folks who labor long hours at low wages are in such dire straits.
In Miami Beach, the fortunate few live large. Blocks away from their wealth, a quarter of the people under age 18 live below the federal poverty line. Does the former class create the latter? Yates suggests so. His is not the conventional wisdom.
In Cheap Motels and a Hotplate, Yates builds on his radical critique of capitalism detailed in Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2003). His aim in both books is to help people to understand the roots of social inequality, and then to change the world their labor creates into one in which all peoples basic needs are met.
To this end, Yates enhances his book with a spatial approach. In Sedona, Arizona, with its red-rock sandstone buttes, mesas, monoliths, and pinnacles, Yates confronts the clash between public and private spacea gated community for the rich next to public land on which those of modest means hike. A gorgeous desert also details the contours of American capitalism. As of 2005, the share of national income going to the upper class matched that in the Great Depression.
Before Hurricane Katrina the couple visits the Gulf Coast. The people are poor and the environmental racism is ghastly. Air pollution in Big Bend National Park, Texas, from other states is so dire that the Yates skip sightseeing there. For the hikers they have become, this is a strong statement.
Yates writes in warm appreciation of the country and its residents and for action to reverse the waste of both. This requires a vision of a more just way of living. As he puts it in the final chapter, What we have seen and done might serve as an inspiration for all of us to struggle to create a world in which the freer way we have been able to live is the norm for everyone.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. He is a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramentos progressive paper.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.