Rand and I drove down to Portland a few weeks ago for his birthday. It’s a drive we do often, and one that’s so familiar to me, one that so rarely changes, even our jokes have become recycled.
And believe me, the jokes are terrible.
When we pass the exit labeled “Toledo / Vader” it always goes something like …
“That’s where Darth’s cousin from Ohio lives!”
What? I told you – the jokes are terrible.
And nothing ever changes, save for the messages on the billboard between exits 72 and 73. It will occasionally have a different message on it, though most of them lean heavily towards the right (and well beyond it, into no man’s land.). We’ve dubbed the gentleman who owned the billboard “The Fascist Farmer”. Here’s a brief analysis of the political spectrum and his location therein …
You can see a larger version of this graphic here.
For years, Rand and I braced ourselves for the billboard, delighting in its ever-changing, ever-conservative, occasionally enigmatic sayings. Sometime around exit 68 we’d grab the camera and anxiously wait. For years, information on the Fascist Farmer was scarce. I knew only that he had put the billboard up decades ago, and that he was getting progressively older.
Still, the messages changed semi-regularly, so we assumed that all was well with the Farmer. And while I agreed with not a single idea expressed on his billboard, I still found it comforting to see. It was like an old, hateful, crazy relative: they’re mean and racist and homophobic, but you’re stuck with them. The fight you’re about to have is a familiar one, and you’re ready for it, long before they’ve opened their mouths to unleash their particular brand of stupidity.
I only recently found out that the man behind the billboard is Alfred Hamilton, and that he passed away in 2004. Since then, one of his sons has taken up the role of updating the billboard. I’m sure the “Where’s the Birth Certificate?” tagline that was posted in response to rumors that Obama wasn’t a U.S. citizen would have made dad proud.
I learned a little about Hamilton, too – it’s hard for journalists to avoid editorializing about him, especially since his views were so pronounced … (note: I don’t consider myself a journalist, so I can editorialize all I want.).
In 2008, the Seattlest blog wrote:
Like many of his politically like-minded brethren, Hamilton couldn’t be troubled to bother actually going to war, despite the fact that later in life he had plenty to say about those who didn’t “support” the troops.
In 2004, after Hamilton’s death, The New York Times described the billboard thusly:
It has been a kind of grouchy chronicle of one man’s one-sided take on things.
I learned that the billboard is in Chehalis, WA (I had incorrectly assumed Centralia, since that’s the next exit), that Hamilton was a tall man who left college without graduating to avoid fighting in WWII, and that, looking back on the entire legacy of his billboards, it’s likely I’ve never agreed with a single thought he’s chosen to express (he was particularly hateful towards homosexuals, putting up such taglines as “AIDS turns fruits into vegetables” and “Evergreen State College – Home of Environmental Terrorists and Homos?” on his billboard).
And now he’s gone.
But the damn billboard still waits for us, and every time we approach it, my camera is pulled out. A few weeks ago, we were treated to these messages, presumably written by one of Hamilton’s sons, and much more delicate in nature than what his dad composed …
The billboards are stupid, poorly constructed, and more than a little crazy, but they’re part of my home. I loathe them more than anything – and I love doing so.