On Spruce Street, decked with flags for the Coos County Fair and Rodeo, not a television was tuned to politics this week.
Madison Square Garden was a far-distant planet. Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor seemed to be residing in domes on the moon. Carter and Kennedy appeared as aliens with no impact on life's realities, chief of which is whether Leeps' Mill will run a six-day shift, a five-day shift or no shift at all.
Few places hurt worse than the mountain country of Oregon when the government tinkers with interest rates and housing starts dip. But the locals -- tough farmers and still tougher timber people -- were taking little solace in far-off platforms and promises.
"When politics comes up around here, it's just goddam this guy and goddam that guy, not very nice talk for the kids to hear," said Faye Vander Vort, who was pouring coffee at Ms. Malia's Cafe while the Democratic National Convention dealt with the Kennedy challenge. "I don't think folks are going to vote for anybody."
Dean Schoknecht, who clutched Faye's coffee with a powerful right hand that could have belonged in another main event in New York's far-off Madison Square Garden, agreed. He did not like the economic indicators. He did not like the candidates. And the platform debate was piffle though Schoknecht used a stronger word.
Along the rows of stools at Ms. Malia's counter, there was far more talk about economic indicators than about candidates -- most of these mountain folk had long since given up on the candidates. But the coffee-drinkers read different signs than do a presidential aide or a challenger's adviser.
Schoknecht sensed something was deeply wrong when burly logger friends were going into the woods to pick ferns for the florist because the logging operations were closed down.
Dave Smith, who installs phones for General Telephone and stretches his income as a commercial fisherman, knew things were bad when Weyerhaeuser started grinding up finished two-by-fours because wood chips were selling better than lumber.
Pat Chard, who owns a farm above North Bend, drives along the Coos Bay waterfront every day and is uneasy about what he sees there.
The Honshu Gloria is tied up in the harbor, taking on wood chips to be pressed into building board or pulp far across the Pacific. The chips stand in a block-long, 100-foot-high mountain circled by a Cyclone fence with a sign that says they belong to Kanematsu Gosho (USA) Inc.
Chard is a thoughtful man who doesn't like to think of himself as an isolationist. "But that doesn't sound very USA . . . does it?" Chard asked. "We've got folks picking ferns while we send wood chips to Japan. And you wonder why we aren't listening to those politicians?"
But Chard is not unhappy. He simply had more important things to do than watch the conventions -- like getting his prized black Angus cows ready for the fair and tending to the farm. This is hard country, Chard says, but it's a good life if you don't get any notions.
Myrtle Point (pop. 2,900) is a timber town suffering in the housing recession. It is just 65 miles from the highway that stretches from Canada to Mexico but so far from the American mainstream that a neighboring hamlet, 10 miles closer to the freeway, calls itself Remote, which it is.
Ken Kesey, Oregon's folk-hero author, a rebellious Jack Kerouac figure out of the '60s, immmortalized this lumberjack country in a novel, "Sometimes a Great Notion." It described rugged men, fighting big labor unions and big governments and big businesses with the same fervor that they battled the rain, the cold and the powerful ocean tides that pushed far up the rivers down which they floated their logs.
But Kesey's antihero lost almost everything -- except what, to the folks around here, perhaps was the greatest notion.
In the end, Kesey painted a grotesque scene in which the antihero propped up his dead father's severed arm, all fingers folded except one, the classic high sign to the union boys and the government men, a high sign to the world that said "You can beat me but you can't have me, I'll pick ferns instead" -- language these folks understand.
The media market in this misty Other America is KUOW radio, in nearby Coquille, a town on the river of the same name. KUOW's staples are soft rock and hard sell.
KUOW dismissed the Kennedy challenge in New York quicker than Ms. Malia's customers could fell a Douglas fir. The disc jockey cut off a network radio report in midsentence, explaining that KUOW would get into that "heavy stuff" some other time.
"So I sing about you in the morning sun," the soft rock interrupted.
"I can tell you where the acne-causing bacteria are -- all over your face," the hard sell interjected.
". . . lurking, festering, pimpling all over your face," KUOW continued as Oregon's delegates voted in Madison Square Garden. "Where is your next pimple to be or where is it not to be? That is the question! Wash with new Oxy Wash!"
Out here the message was barely jarring, acne being one of life's realities and Oxy Wash being at least as great a notion as anything Chard or Schoknecht heard from the candidates roaming the interstates or making speeches from a distant planet in New York.
As the time for renominate President Carter neared, a few car radios aired the hard and soft of KUOW on South Broadway, fronting Coos Bay. But not a television fluttered a political image, not even inside the Sportsman's Bar and Cafe.
In a back room a bullneck regular named Jim, just Jim, hunched over a green table in a head-to-head blackjack game with a woman dealer. Like Carter, the dealer had all the cards, and Jim's $20 stack was down to the last $2.
A bystander had the moxie to make the only political comment of the evening: "Jim, you gettin' whupped worse than Ted Kennedy."
Jim stood on 16. The dealer turned 19. Jim arched his losing hand slightly toward the bystander, just one gnarled finger showing against the back of the red Bicycles. Then he left, $20 the loser -- so goes it -- but with a slight smile on his face.