- 24 Sep 08, 10:43 AM GMT
Fancy an easy dig at Americans? Then you'll probably want to use the words "trailer park" at some point. This one handy phrase conjures up every negative image of the US rural poor, whilst at the same lending you an air of aloof superiority.
All this made me want to go and actually see such a community for myself. I'd just crossed into Mississippi, the poorest state in the Union, and I hoped it would tell me something about low-income America beyond the archetypes.
The park I pulled up in, just outside Vicksburg, didn't look like some vision of feckless poverty to me. Most of the homes had recently been whitewashed and the gardens were neatly tended.
No-one chased me off their property with a shotgun. In fact, the people I met seemed genuinely pleased that someone had bothered to come and talk to them.
Jennifer also spoke to local children about politics and life on the park:
I had expected the sort of caravans I always seem to get stuck behind on British roads, but Tina Abney, 41, put me right. She worked in the accounts department for a company that manufactured most of the prefabricated homes around me. Tina herself lived in one with her husband Dean, 42, and their two children.
"They're just like regular houses," she smiled. "They've got the same taps and sinks and floors. I like it here."
But, Tina said, the couple were currently living "from paycheck to paycheck". Her own working week had been cut from five days to four following a drop in orders. Dean was considering selling his new pickup truck because of the high price of gas.
"Times are tough right now," he chipped in. "I bet everyone on your journey has told you that." I nodded.
He hadn't decided how to vote yet. Neither candidate had convinced him yet that they understood his problems. "I'm leaving it until the last minute," he sighed. Tina would have backed Hillary Clinton had she been the Democratic candidate, but had been won over by Sarah Palin. "She'd be good for the country."
In a home around the corner, I picked up the same sense of resignation about the election that I had detected in Dean.
As an African-American, hospital technician Tim Washington, 42, appreciated the significance of Barack Obama's candidacy. But he wouldn't be voting in November, he said. Neither of the candidates had convinced him that they would make a difference to his life.
"In the past I used to keep up with politics," he explained. "I used to follow it. But I guess I just lost interest.
"I relate to Obama. But I don't really know what he's actually going to do."
If Tim was cynical about the way the country was going, he was positive about his community. Everyone on the trailer park got along well, he said - black, white, Hispanic, Asian. People looked after each other's kids, knew each other's names.
He was less enamoured than Tina with the houses, though.
"It's not like a real home. It'd blow down if a real wind came along," he said.
"But it's OK for me. If the people nextdoor move out, I want to buy their land and expand."
I was still very much in America, it appeared.
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