Brooks shares his 'real America'

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— David Brooks is hilarious. He isn't that tell-a-knock-knock-joke-and-slap-your-knee funny, either. He is cynical and sarcastic, which is whole different story.

Brooks, an author and New York Times columnist, pleased crowds Sunday as he kicked off Seminars at Steamboat series as the first guest speaker of the summer speaking series.

During his one-and-a-half hour speech, Brooks seemed more like a comedian performing at a comedy club than an author discussing his new book, "On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tenses."

"Ben & Jerry's should sell a pacifist toothpaste, and instead of killing germs, should just ask the to leave," Brooks said, commenting in general on American foreign policy and how he thinks the ice cream gurus have their own foreign policy going on.

Brooks' new book is an interesting look at the changing geographical, political and cultural climate in the United States. He raises the question of what unites Americans as a group across the visible and invisible divides of race, class, politics and geography. Brooks based his arguments on the fact that he traveled to 36 states researching average American communities and noticed several patterns and lifestyles that were recurring regardless of what city or state he was in.

Brooks identified several geographic and cultural zones that basically define the new American landscape.

"People find other people like them and then move in next door," he said.

He said that there are the Boulders -- crunchy communities composed mostly of urban hipsters who still drive luxury cars and like Howard Dean; the upper-middle class, highly educated uber-mom areas who are primarily concerned with making sure their kids get into Harvard and "help lepers;" the immigrant sectors of suburbia where you see Pakistani video stores and Costa Rican grocery stores; and lastly, the fast growing "perfect life" suburbs.

"Your toenail polish matches the interior to your Lexus, your life is like a game of on-par golf, and men buy barbecue grills," he said of the lifestyles of the people who live in perfect suburbs.

Brooks also spoke about the emerging big-box malls with massive parking lots and the perpetual onslaught of giant Wal-Marts everywhere. He spoke about the bulk-discount stores, such as Sam's Club or Costco, which he said are slowly consuming consumers.

"Price club stores are like Wal-Mart stores on acid, with their 30 pounds of tater tots and boxes of 3,000 Q-Tips. But hey, you're saving money buying in bulk," he said.

A large portion of Brooks speech was dedicated to the political division the nation is obsessed with and how he doesn't think that a distinct red-blue America even exists.

"Politicians might fight, but if you get them together to talk about the issues, they usually agree on fundamental arguments," he said.

Brooks said that even though most Americans can identify themselves as pro-Bush or anti-Bush, such an intense political division is not as prevalent as many think.

Brooks also touched on the work ethic in America, which he says is "insane" and the current $50 trillion debt that the nation is facing calling it a "crisis" and how there are no really good solutions to paying it.

The crowd at times seemed very stern and serious while Brooks was talking and at times they couldn't contain their laughter.

"I thought he was very amusing and had some insightful things to say even if I didn't agree with everything he said," said Carol Ryan. Ryan, a Steamboat resident, has attended all of the Seminars at Steamboat and reads Brooks' columns often.

"He certainly was articulate," she said.

Jane Stein, one of the Seminars organizers estimated there were about 300 people who came to hear Brooks speak at Centennial Hall.

"The most we've ever had before was 270 people," she said.

Stein was glad Brooks was able to visit Steamboat this weekend and hopes that people enjoyed his speech.

"I think the perspective he brings from his travels are every interesting and that the Steamboat public will be delighted," she said.

"This was a great crowd and you can see that obviously people pay attention," he said as several members of the audience lined up to speak with him and continue a dialogue after he finished his speech.

-- To reach Alexis DeLaCruz, call 871-4234

or e-mail adelacruz@steamboatpilot.com

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