Steve Evans' journey

Steve Evans' journey

Steven Evans

The BBC's Steve Evans hosts the third and final part of the US08 bus journey, from Nashville to New York.

If you want to contact the bus, click here

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Part eleven: Belief

Only now are black people daring to believe that a black person might be president of the United States of America.

Tom's Diner in Brooklyn

Steve spent the morning at Tom's Diner in Brooklyn

I talked to four men in their 70s and 80s at a diner in Brooklyn, members of the generation which experienced direct discrimination in the 1950s.

Their views ranged from "it's definitely going to happen" to "I'll believe it when I see it".

One told me he never thought he would live to see the day, as he put it, but he could die happy because he knew - he knew - that Barack Obama was going to win.

But then others voiced doubt - not so much doubt that it might well happen but doubt about assuming it might happen before they saw it with their own eyes.

They need the votes to be in and counted before they believe it's happened.

One told me: "There is no certainty of anything in life but, as a black man, never let your guard down".

And then he continued: "We have to be very strong and keep politicking until the day of the election".

And then one voices pride in his country because he believed that white voters were going to do the right thing, as he put it.

And they recognise another thing too.

Expectations of a President Obama - were it to happen - would be high and the economic situation immensely difficult.

Such a combination might breed disillusion.

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Part ten: Civility

There's something about American civility which lifts the heart.

Both the last two presidential debates have been accompanied by conferences and discussions of the American political system.

Ordinary people gather on the university campus where the debate is about to be held and speak earnestly and listen politely as different aspects of American policy are discussed.

And in the debates themselves the two candidates do exchange barbs, but they seem a model of politeness compared to other countries.

In Britain, for example, two politicians are described as like scorpions in a bottle.

In New Zealand, a politician once described another as not so much speaking as opening his mouth and letting the wind waggle his tongue around.

So when Senators McCain and Obama take the gloves off, as the American media like to portray it, they're just doing a bit of mild shadow-boxing compared with the politicians of more brutal political cultures.

The truth is that the intensity and decency of the debate seem refreshing.

Americans invariably admire the British system of prime minister's questions where unpredictable questions are bowled at the country's leader.

But the truth is that PMQs, as they're called, are a bit of a ritual.

Both they and the American debates are about style and style isn't necessarily what good leadership is all about.

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Part nine: Wall Street

To come out of the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan after crossing the continent from "sea to shining sea" is to emerge into another world.

You descend from New Jersey and then sail in the red, white and blue BBC bus under the Hudson before surfacing in the world's financial capital.

Along the route, we'd asked people what they thought of Wall Street, and the answers ranged from accusations of greed to accusations of crime.

In the New York Stock Exchange, Alan Valdes, hot from a day's trading on the floor, told me: "There's enough guilt to go round".

But he added that the guilt shouldn't be confined to Wall Street.

The country had lived on debt for twenty years.

And he pointed out that that debt had also allowed extraordinary economic growth.

He reflected on the irony that President Bush of all people had part-nationalised - that's the word he used - a good chunk of the country's investment banks - a Republican disciple of small government had overseen the buying up of much of the central pillars of American, free-market capitalism.

But, I suppose, never mind the irony. Will it work is the important question.

The broad Wall Street view is that it should stop banks collapsing - and that's necessary - but it won't by enough prevent a severe slow-down in the world economy.

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Part eight: Battlefield

There are places in America which disappoint.

Sunrise in Gettysburg

The site of the battle of Gettysburg

If you go to Salem in Massachusetts, for example, seeking the remains of the Puritan town that staged the Salem Witch Trials, you will find nothing but a modern conurbation of shops and parking lots.

History doesn't resonate there at all.

Go to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, on the other hand, and the past echoes and vibrates.

The battlefield where the Civil War turned is an unchanged, undulating plain, on which you find simple stones marking where this group were slaughtered or that.

You get a sense of the brutality because they're so near each other.

A Confederate flag has been placed next to a stone perhaps 20 feet from one where the union flag has been pushed into the soil, illustrating the short distance at which the two groups fired at each other.

Not so far from Cemetery Ridge, which the Union side held against a savage onslaught from the forces of the South, and of slavery, President Lincoln delivered his address four months after in which he defined a "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

The ultimate victory of the Union forces cemented the union of the states. Among today's throng of modern Americans at Gettysburg, you still sense that unity around the idea of America - even as they disagree profoundly on which direction it should take.

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Part seven: Africa's favourite

Who does Africa want to win the election?

Daft question, of course. It's a continent and there's no single view. But there may be an assumption that Africans are rooting for Barack Obama, the man with a Kenyan father.

It's not necessarily so, according to my colleague, Hassan Mhelela, who's on the BBC Talking America bus to cover the election for the BBC's Swahili service - which has a huge audience up the east coast of Africa through Tanzania and Kenya.

He says interest there is intense, with many people, particularly influential intellectuals, scouring the American political web sites to see what difference each candidate would mean for their part of Africa. They text Hassan and the programmes he makes.

Hassan makes astute, contrarian points.

Firstly, Darfur isn't the burning issue for everyone, and so Barack Obama's concern doesn't always resonate in East Africa.

On the other hand, many of the people he talks to like President Bush's financial help for Aids and malaria projects in the region, and they assume that would continue under John McCain.

Finally, there's a view there that the financial crisis means that Western aid will become scarcer.

The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that we should beware assuming we know what people outside America want from the election.

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Part six: Shocking exchange

In what seemed like the innocent sunshine of a school carnival in Akron, Ohio, I met a man who looked on the face of it to be charm itself.

He and his wife sat in canvas seats in front of their classic old car. We talked politics a little, and then he told me how he was a staunch Democrat who couldn't vote for a Negro - the word he used.

He told me how Senator Obama was a Muslim. To which I said: "He's not a Muslim. He's a good Christian, Sir" - but the man was having none of it.

To me, anyway, it was a pretty shocking exchange. But so it is in this election. And if some white Democrats, particularly in industrial Northern America, are out of step with the Democratic party, just as out of step with their leadership are some Republicans.

John McCain has found himself booed of late when he urges the crowd at some of his rallies to respect Barack Obama, calling him a "decent man".

Apart from whether any of this is very pleasant or not, it matters because it shows that America remains deeply divided. The bitterness is in some people's blood.

Whatever the yearning for non-partisan politics by many, it isn't going to happen. Anger - and dare I say hatred - are there on both sides.

Whoever wins the White House is unlikely to be a uniter. The division is too deep.

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Part five: Breaking news

Sometimes you learn things from television in ways you don't expect.

On Friday, a news flash suddenly popped up on a business channel, saying "Breaking News: You need a credit score to get a mortgage".

Think about it: it's news now that you have to have some sort of credit-worthiness before you can get a loan to buy a house.

You might think it says everything you need to know about where it all went wrong.

One of the main business channels on Friday was juxtaposing speeches by President Bush and Senators Obama and McCain, on the one hand, with the current figure for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

On the left of the screen, a politician would be speaking while on the right, there'd be a flashing red arrow pointing down.

Somehow the dismal number on the right always kept drawing the attention from the politicians on the left.

And that, I suspect, speaks volumes too: the politicians seem impotent as people's savings burn. That presents problems for politicians.

It may be people believe that politicians can't do very much.

Mistrust is rife - and mistrust is bad for banks and markets.

There might also be a problem for Mr Obama. Polls indicate he's thought to be stronger on the economy.

But that means expectations of a President Obama would be high. And dashed expectations lead to anger and cynicism.

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Part four: Coal country

West Virginia is both brutal and beautiful at the same time.

It is an awesome wilderness of mountains and forests, but it is also a coal-field, and coal means money, especially in these days of high priced coal.

You see the scars of mining on the landscape, particularly the stumps of mountains where the tops have been literally blown off with explosive to get to the coal-seam below.

And you hear about the human scars of mining when you talk to the people of Madison.

This week a miner was crushed to death between a train and a wall.

West Virginia has seem some of the bloodiest battles over union recognition in America, and people talk of union mines and what they say are less safe non-union mines.

West Virginia was natural Democrat territory until George Bush.

It was unionised and the union supported the Democratic Party, but then working people - or some working people - were drawn to Bush by his Christianity and his position on moral issues.

And in West Virginia, they liked his pro-coal stance.

Will they now go back to the Democrats in the person of Senator Obama?

Some may and union activists are working hard at persuasion. But there's no doubting either that the colour of Mr Obama's skin will be a factor.

West Virginia is rough, tough - and probably still Republican.

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Part three: Kings and paupers

Going to the races can be quite profitable. Not financially, of course, but just because you learn something.

Waitresses Emily, Marie and Dawn

Emily, Marie and Dawn staked $2 each on a horse

Racing is, after all, the sport of kings and paupers. And so there was much to learn and profit from when I went to the Keeneland course in Northern Kentucky.

There, I met Emily, Marie and Dawn, three waitresses on a day off. They earn about two dollars an hour.

On such meagre wages, below the legal minimum by the way, they could only afford tiny bets and were delighted with a ten dollar win.

So, how do they notice the economic difficulties? Primarily, they said it was because customers were using cash more and not credit cards, perhaps, they surmised, because people feared the failure of their banks.

On the other hand, Jack, having his shoes shined, was not unduly worried. He's rich and buys and sells race horses.

The previous day, he had bought a couple of horses for 40% less than he would have paid a year ago. For him, this is a buying opportunity.

And then I turned to the man shining his shoes - Art, a black man.

When I asked him if times were hard, he looked at me like I was a bit simple.

"That's why I'm shining shoes", he said.

He leaned over to me and said "Go Obama" under his breath, and then, in a louder voice, said he wasn't worried about the economy because he could rely on his rich, millionaire friends like Jack, the horse trader.

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Part two: Non-verbal communication

Watching the debate was absolutely enthralling.

Of course, it's about words and policies. But it's also about demeanour, body language, gesture, non-verbal signals. Nixon sweating spoke volumes.

It's why Clinton's people worked out camera angles in a rehearsal room, with the result that he managed to get into his opponent's shot.

The Clinton presence was there even when he wasn't speaking.

As for this one, Mr McCain moved easily among the audience.

He seemed like a chat-show host at times, constantly referring to "my friends".

It's as though he wanted to pitch himself as the father of the nation.

Age, of course, cuts two ways.

Age is old, but age is also experience, and it's the second he wanted to convey.

As for Obama, his supporters thought he did well, too, according to my colleague in the Obama headquarters in Tennessee.

They, though, aren't the important ones. Two "instant reaction" polls afterwards indicated that Obama got a slight advantage with uncommitted voters.

Neither man made a gaffe and that means both will regard it as some sort of victory.

They made it out without any big blows landing. And it might have been different.

In 1992, someone called "Ponytail Man" put the candidates on the spot, asking them to personally pledge, hand on heart to help the American people.

The television cameras caught the back of the man's head with a ponytail, and they caught the first George Bush's face with a grimace.

"Ponytail Man" wasn't there in Nashville. The public landed no punches on the candidates who live to fight another day.

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Part one: Brutal opinions

Since the weekend, an ugly phrase has stayed with me.

I went to a Bluegrass music festival here in Nashville and got talking to some of the musicians. One of them said that there were people who, as he put, it "didn't want a black butt on the toilet in the White House."

Forgive me again for repeating it, but I need to convey the brutality.

This man wasn't voicing his own opinions, he said, just those out there. But I wondered.

Out and out racism we know about. But there's also an unconscious racism.

In tests, psychologists have found that some white people often favour the white job applicant if the credentials are equal. They will pick the black applicant if he or she is clearly better, but opt for the white one when there's doubt.

Polling seems to show that people who say skin colour is a factor make up about 10 percent of the electorate, but what about those who don't think they're racist?

It does mean that Barack Obama needs a substantial lead to win, probably. There is an argument that he may draw voters who simply want a black man to win to send a signal about America, but I suspect they'd be voting Democrat anyway.

Which makes me wonder about the election. Can you have racism without racists? We're about to find out.

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Click here to read Allan Little's diary from the second part of the journey (Dallas to Nashville)

Click here to read Ros Atkins' diary from the first part of the journey (Los Angeles to Dallas).