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In Steinbeck's footsteps: America's middle-class underclass
In The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck describes the harrowing journey of the Joad family - migrant workers forced to leave their home during the Great Depression - a story still relevant to those facing the realities of America's current economic crisis.
Farm in Oklahoma The drought in Oklahoma has been described as worse than the Great Dust Bowl days of the 1930s
"To the red country, and part of the gray country of Oklahoma the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth…" That is how Steinbeck begins The Grapes of Wrath.
This year the last rains came in May to western Oklahoma. They lasted long enough to produce the last alfalfa crop but the winter wheat was already lost.
Brett Porter, who farms 3,000 hectares, unrolls the last of his hay in front of a thirsty line of prime Angus cattle. With just 18 bales left, and at $200 (£123) a bale on the open market, when he runs out he will have to sell the cows.
"I already sold half my mamma cows and I sent my calves to market early," he says.
He has been working on the herd's DNA for 12 years. If no rain comes, he will sell the rest for hamburger meat before high summer.
With the south-west in the grip of its worst drought for 60 years, old-timers here are beginning to talk about the Dust Bowl years, years Steinbeck chronicled in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book of migration, poverty and social injustice.
I decided to retrace the route Steinbeck's fictional family took from Oklahoma City to Bakersfield, just north of Los Angeles. I hired a boaty old Mercury and put my foot down.
Today the road is just one straight freeway, Interstate 40, though the old Route 66 of blues legend still weaves along as a forlorn side-road.(more at link to BBC)
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