Author: Bailey Reutzel


Am I us? Or am I them? Do I have to answer that? To call the 3.8 million square miles that is the United States united is dismally laughable. We’re always fighting the ‘them’, whether that’s conservatives, liberals, Mexicans, Muslims, blacks, whites. It’s daunting to be in a constant state of asking, ‘Who’s ruining the country today?’ “To learn from history you have to listen.” Wanda Lee is sitting at a small table wearing a bonnet, a long dress and a white apron, all of which have gone out of style. The farmhouse doors are open, exposing the men in military blues sitting under a tree reloading their muskets with blanks. Our conversation is interrupted by kids on field trips meant to interest them in the history of Chalmette, Louisiana, where Americans defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, uniting the nation in a bid for continued westward expansion and control of the mighty Mississippi River. “I think we do learn from history,” Wanda Lee says. “But most people only pick out what suits their beliefs, positions and race.” But it’s only both sides of a story that will help us see the full picture. For instance, in the War of 1812, Americans attacked the British first. It seems we have a history of aggression. About that time, a man, maybe late 30s or early 40s comes...

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“Here I sit in this big lonely dump…”

Six Flags-New Orleans closed in preparation for Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago. It never reopened, but remains a hauntingly beautiful reminder of America’s throwaway culture. Quotes courtesy of Scrooge McDuck. “You know, I bet those Incans could have minted a whole lot more coins if they hadn’t tried to make each one unique.” -Scrooge McDuck “I didn’t get rich by being stupid.” “No man is poor who can do what he likes to do once in a while! And I like to dive around in my money like a porpoise! And burrow through it like a gopher! And toss it up and let it hit me on the head!” “If they think they can get between Scrooge McDuck and his three cubic acres of cash, they’ve got another thing coming.” “I can’t go on like this – losing a billion dollars a minute! I’ll be broke in 600 years!” “That’s the trouble with you young scallawags of today. You expect to start in at the top instead of working up from the bottom, like I did!” “A day without looking at me Money Bin is like a day without sunshine!” “Well, you get an A in home wreckonomics.” “A deal this sweet should be against the...

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“It’s corporate America,” the woman beside me says. We’re in a cafe in Oxford, Mississippi, and she’s talking about her job with Winchester Ammunition. “The people are secondary to the production.” Although, she says the company is trying to change that. For instance, she heard a C-level executive talk to the staff about hurting 30 people on the job this year and how that’s unacceptable. For a company as big as Winchester to care about the safety of 30 people is pretty amazing. But Cindy’s inclination on corporate America has broader significance. Do we see all the other humans as cogs, put...

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“Why’d you come here,” the bartender asks as she pours a bottle of Budweiser into a cold mug. She’s a middle-aged white woman with blonde, immobile waves and rhinestone crosses on the ass pockets of her jeans. The restaurant and bar (one of two in Camden, Alabama that isn’t a fast food chain) is filled with white people. The older ones throw the glances of regulars and a table of camouflage-wearing young adults sit behind me talking about their kills. “Well I write about economics and Wilcox County is the fifth poorest county in the country. I figured I could find something interesting here.” It’s not the kind of thing townspeople want to be known for, especially ones wearing rhinestones. The uncomfortable look she gives makes me regret saying it, although it starts up the conversation pretty fast. “Well we’re the most well-off poor county out there,” she says, pointing to the lack of homeless people on the streets and the huge southern-style houses I had already noticed driving in. “The people that work have to pay for the people that don’t,” she says. “That’s just life.” There’s a blasé tolerance in the answer that’s refreshing, as if she understands that in a country full of diverse people that all have different experiences. Sometimes shit happens. “There are those that work and those on welfare. And it’s all blacks,” she says....

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“Those things are dangerous.” I’m in Orlando, Florida, but there’s no smuggler or seedy nightclub in sight. No, the danger the man is talking about takes the form of a little band of rubber and plastic, imprinted with those iconic mouse ears. He says it to my brother, one father to another, as my niece pushes her pink Disney MagicBand up against the radio frequency reader at a kiosk, trying to transmit $30 from her dad’s bank account to the Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) in the process. I’m sure their accountants think this qualifies as “magical.” The MagicBand launched in the summer...

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I’m more than halfway through a 14-hour drive, when the red and blue lights catch my attention. I merge into the left lane of Interstate 70 thinking a Kansas cop has pulled someone over, then notice a yellow sign lit up: “Drug and currency checkpoint ahead.” Oh shit. Then another one, “Dogs in use.” Seriously shit. I suck in air as my heart skips and starts beating faster. My subconscious makes me touch the breaks. I’m riding dirty, having just picked up two weed chocolates, three pre-rolled joints and a pain-relieving weed gummy, all medical grade. There’s an exit! But no one else is slowing down. No one is pulling off. Surely I’m not the only one driving out of Colorado with marijuana? Maybe I should just toss the bag out the window. I call up a friend in Missouri and he starts investigating. “Don’t pull off. It’s a ruse,” he says. “Which actually the courts recently ruled was not a good enough cause to pull someone over if they exited the highway.” Why are the roads such a scary place for road trippers now? The days of Thompson and Kerouac aren’t the only things in the rear view. When did we start allowing people in power, in this case cops, to trick us into doing something wrong? When did we start allowing them to get away with entrapment?...

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