In late September, I visited Hazleton in the eastern state of Pennsylvania, a city with a population of about 25,000. As night fell, I spotted a bar named 4TH STREET PUB on a street corner.
It had wooden walls and a massive door with a steel doorknob. I thought, "A first-time customer would need a lot of courage to enter this pub." But I was brave enough to open the door, albeit timid and cautious.
As soon as I stepped in, I became the focus of attention of the rather daunting bar-goers-- apparently regular customers who were Caucasian blue-collar workers. Being Japanese, I felt out of place.
Hazelton contributed greatly to the United States' economy with coal mining from before the civil war. But as time passed, the coal industry began to decline.
Hazelton has long been a white community, and has taken measures to reject illegal immigrants.
I decided to stay at the bar for some food and listen to what the locals thought about the past two years under President Donald Trump.
I like to go bar hopping in Tokyo. The city has many casual drinking establishments that have been around since the end of World War II. They can be found in places like Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku. I love them, and I know how to have a good time without spending too much money.
The 4TH STREET PUB was dimly lit, and that made it hard for me to make out my surroundings. But as my eyes got used to the light, I could see the bar was pretty full with customers and cigarette smoke filled the air. It was a Friday night, which was probably why the place was very busy.
In the United States, an increasing number of bars and restaurants are banning smoking as more people become health-conscious. But the 4TH STREET PUB seemed to be an exception.
As my colleagues and I looked for seats nervously, Marty, the owner, welcomed us warmly.
The United States has a number of beer brewers in each region and they produce craft beers such as IPA. I was excited when Marty told us his bar serves more than 30 types of beer from around the US and abroad. He recommended some food items like home-made pizza and chicken wings. The chicken wings, which were served in a huge pile, are an American soul food staple.
The 4TH STREET PUB has many dishes that go well with drinks, similar to Japan's "izakaya" bars which I like very much. We also ordered a serving of stir-fried clams with butter. The plate had 24 clams and cost US$5.95, which is about half of what you would usually be charged in New York or Washington DC.
Marty told us that he has lived in Hazelton for 27 years. He opened his nice, cozy pub 15 years ago. He said business has been going well thanks to the improving economy, and sales have grown by 30 percent over the past 18 months.
I asked him whom he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. He answered, "Trump." He explained that he didn't like lawyers or members of Congress and he wanted the president to be someone who knew how to do business. He also said happily that he is very grateful to President Trump because he was able to raise his employees' hourly wages by two dollars as a result of the tax cut.
He added that he will vote for the Republican candidate in the coming midterm election, and definitely for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
We asked him what he thought of the Russia scandal and the alleged sexual assaults involving Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court Justice nominee at the time. He turned down our question flatly, saying the Democrats and the media are making noise to create trouble for Trump.
Customers continued to enter the bar as we dined and chatted with Marty. As soon as he left us to wait on other customers, a man at the next table spoke to us in a hoarse voice. "Where are you from?" he asked.
He introduced himself as Stephen and said that he is a construction worker. He was well-built, had a shaved head and a full white beard. His arms were twice the size of mine.
I explained why we were visiting Hazleton, and he responded, "I'm impressed you came all the way down here. Film me from the right side, will you, because my face looks a lot better from this side. I don't really understand politics, the economy, or anything complicated, but I can tell you that there has been more work since Trump took office. I like him. But I don't like the way he uses Twitter. That's not how a president should behave."
When I'm in Tokyo, I'm able to befriend anyone I meet at a bar. I figured I'd use my talent in the US. As I became used to the atmosphere in the 4TH STREET PUB, I decided to chat to a group of three women. I refrained from asking their ages, but I assume they were in their 70s or 80s.
They said they're good friends and they started working at a local hospital as nurses after retiring from their previous jobs. They get together once in a while at this pub to have a good time.
When I asked them about Hazelton, words began to pour out. They said that more than 95 percent of Hazelton's population was white until about 20 years ago. But the number of Hispanic people increased due to cheap housing and other factors. Today, the Hispanic residents outnumber the white ones. They also said they feel like their community is less safe these days because of a surge in the number of illegal immigrants. And with a sigh, they mentioned that their hospital is seeing more Hispanic patients and it's very difficult to communicate with them because they do not try to speak in English.
They said, "We think that we should accept immigrants. Our ancestors were immigrants, after all. But some of them don't even try to adapt to the American culture, and they don't pay taxes. So why should we support them with our money? It's unfair. What's been happening in this community will definitely happen all over this country, sooner or later. President Trump maintains a firm stance against illegal immigrants. That's why we support him."
We also interviewed several other customers in the pub. All of them were favorable towards Trump. The TVs around the bar were tuned to baseball and football games and other popular programs. One of them was showing Fox News, known for its conservative views.
We enjoyed the food and drinks, and we were able to talk with a lot of people in the bar. As we were about to leave, Marty approached me and said, "You may not be able to find a bar like this in Washington DC, but you can find many in rural areas. If you're a journalist, try to listen to a variety of opinions before you jump to a conclusion."
Whether Marty's words left me sober or longing for a stronger drink at another bar...I'll leave it up to your imagination.
The night has a thousand eyes.