SPRINGSTEENVILLE, U.S.A.—Across America, cities are facing shrinking job bases and plant closings. But nowhere has the recent industrial slowdown hit harder than Springsteenville. A blue-collar, rust-belt city whose 75,000 inhabitants are almost all factory-employed Vietnam veterans, Springsteenville was once considered an ideal American town, but now faces a state of economic emergency.
“Our glory days have passed us by,” says Mayor Joe Roberts, whose parents came to Springsteenville in 1951 to work in the city’s then-booming auto plant. “The situation is similar to the wink of a young girl’s eye.”
With the recent closing of Springsteenville’s textile mill, located across the railroad tracks, unemployment has hit an all-time high of 34 percent.
“It seems like there’s always another plant closing down,” Roberts lamented. “Once we stood for a hard day’s work for a day’s pay. But now, these jobs are going, boys. And they ain’t coming back.”
“To your hometown,” the mayor continued. “Your hometown.”
Unemployment is at an all-time high in Springsteenville, and it appears that spirits have never been lower. Most of the city’s workers served their country bravely in the 1960s and ’70s, when, after getting in a little hometown jam, they had rifles thrust into their hands.
“I was sent to a foreign land,” said Kyle Braley, who works on the highway in nearby Darlington County. “To go and kill the yellow man.”
In the 1980s, Springsteenville was a symbol of working-class pride and patriotic vigor, but by 1996, Springsteenville has seen better days and is increasingly in danger of becoming a sad caricature of its former self.
One petroleum worker (who asked not to be named) said that upon returning from Vietnam he had gone back to the refinery, but the hiring officer refused him, saying that, son, it was unfortunately not up to him. The veteran then tried approaching his V.A. man, who similarly replied, “Son, don’t you understand?”
Adding to Springsteenville’s woes is the recent drastic rise in teen delinquency. Fueled by the perception among youth that the city is both a death trap and a suicide rap, many teens are getting out while they are young. Underage drinking is an epidemic and teen pregnancy is at an all-time high, as many high school-age teens go down to the river, despite the fact that the river is dry. Some teens are proving it all night, typically out in the street. Others, such as local teens Bobby Jean, Wendy and Rosalita, have opted simply to run away.
One disaffected factory worker told reporters that life in Springsteenville makes him feel as if someone took an edgy, dull knife and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of his soul. He also noted that he is on fire.
Compounding Springsteenville’s economic woes are the city’s tremendous traffic problems, with many residents turning to their automobiles as a way out. Among the most popular auto-related escapes: driving all night, racing in the street, cruising on the oft-visited Thunder Road, and driving either stolen or used cars.
“It’s true,” Mayor Roberts confirms. “Our highways are jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive. This is terrible, and not just because of the risk of a tragic wreck on the highway. We can’t have kids thinking that they can skip some school, shoot some pool, act real cool, stay out all night, and it will be all right.”
The rising tide of hopelessness among Springsteenville’s young has contributed to an equally swift rise in the crime rate. Residents of the suburbs are afraid to go out at night, largely due to a recent, much-publicized freeze-out on 10th Avenue.
“I was stranded in the jungle trying to take in all the heat they was giving,” recalled victim Bad Scooter, speaking from his hospital bed. “I then turned around the corner, and things got extremely quiet, extremely fast.”
Police are still investigating the incident.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.