BELLEVUE, Ohio — How do you get here? First, jump in your car in Kenmore Square.
Then you drive down Route 20, the longest continuous road in the United States and — over endless miles of icy asphalt — watch urban America give way to a passing parade of grain elevators, frozen fields, weather-beaten barns, and an unbroken string of telephone poles that stretch to the horizon like a gangly picket fence.
And be very glad you did. Because when you pull into Bellevue’s downtown, a smiling John Famulare Jr. is leaning over the immaculate Formica counter at Jenny’s Amsden House, the restaurant his family has owned for 33 years. And he has good food and good news to offer you.
The food? To-die-for spaghetti made from his grandmother’s recipe. For breakfast, two eggs, home fries, your choice of meat, and toast will run you $6.55. “Try to get a deal like that someplace else,’’ he tells me. “Good portions, reasonably priced.’’
The good news? That would be the soon-to-be-inaugurated 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, the billionaire who Famulare believes knows what’s right for little guys like him — a father of four who works seven days a week in the 94-seat restaurant that he was just closing up when I walked in the other day.
“There’s not too many mom-and-pop stores left around here,’’ he said. “You can thank the government for that. I’m feeling, as a business owner and as a taxpayer, we have no place to go but up. I’m feeling good about America. People like Trump. He’s not a politician, he’s a businessman.’’
Bellevue is an old railroad hub, the small town Famulare has called home all his life. “I never wanted to live anywhere else,’’ he said as one of his daughters helped him close up. “When you had kids, you wanted to raise your kids in this town. But back then, you didn’t see all these empty buildings. It was a great town.’’
Note the past tense. Was a great town.
I’ve seen a lot of them on my road trip through Trump country. It’s a swath that runs through formerly reliably blue Rust Belt states, regions that Trump improbably flipped to secure his against-all-odds Electoral College victory.
And if there is fear and trepidation along our country’s coasts and in its biggest cities, I can report that along the small highways that cut through tiny downtowns with red-brick post offices, 10-stool diners, and small handmade-furniture shops, there is a hopeful optimism that is palpable bordering on the poignant.
By the time Ohio has receded into the rearview mirror of my rented SUV, I find myself on another old roadway, US Route 12, a centuries-old trail carved by Native Americans, which has long since been eclipsed by Interstates 90 and 94.
And that’s where I find Terry Kittle, a 56-year-old former training instructor for a local petroleum company. At about the same time Trump was claiming victory on election night, Kittle was beginning a new career, indulging his 36-year-long passion for antiques and collectibles in Michigan’s Moscow Township.
“I went to an auction one day when I was young and I was hooked. It was over. I always said I’d have my own shop one day,’’ he tells me on this frigid morning. “I thought, well, I’d better get on the stick if I’m going to do it.’’
His Moscow Trading Post has Victorian furniture, mid-century dressers, Fiesta pottery, an old industrial hay rake. Kittle has something else, too: a nagging worry about how he’s going to make it all work.
“I’ll be straight up with you,’’ he tells me. “I’m thrilled that Trump got in there. My health insurance is killing me. That’s what’s keeping me from retiring. Isn’t that crazy?’’
Kittle doesn’t care about Trump’s temperament. He wants change. On the double.
“I’m feeling optimistic now,’’ he said. “He’s going to have a lot of people helping him. I don’t know if he’ll be good or bad, but if we kept on the path we were on, we’d be done.’’
He’s a proud member of the middle class and is terrified by what he’s seen around him. “They’re breaking our backs,’’ he said as he surveys the blanket of wind-driven snow that covers the small parking lot beyond his shop’s windows.
Here’s a weather bulletin from Main Street in Middle America. It’s cold. It’s blustery. Snow squalls blow through without notice. I can’t feel my fingers. Toes? What toes?
It’s time to jump back in the SUV. Time to crank up the heat.
I notify my wingman that I’ve never been to Wisconsin.
“We should do something about that,’’ he said.
So we plot an even frostier course due north.