Legends of Michigami
M.D. Coverley // Eric Luesebrink

Riding the Rust Belt


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  Performance Script for Rust Belt Ride

Background Audio: (permission applied for)

"I'm A Fool to Care" - Les Paul and Mary Ford

"Steel Guitar Rag" - Buck Owens and His Band

"Looking Through the Windows" - The Jackson Five






Introduction (Margie)

Good evening!  Great to be here tonight with all of you to see new e-lit works and to honor Kate Hayles.  I made my first digital story in her 1995 Literatures in Transitions seminar.

My name is Marjorie Luesebrink, and I write fiction as M.D. Coverley.  Here tonight with me is my co-author on this piece, my son, Eric Luesebrink (many of you know him!). He and his wife, Nong and their son, AJ, live in Chicago, and he works close by in River North at Engie Distributed Solar.

The genesis of Riding the Rust Belt is this:  I was working on train videos for the Pacific Surfliner collection and had sent Eric a draft.  He responded with a video from a business trip he had taken - South Bend to Chicago. It was so evocative…. a different world. What struck me was the emptiness..

I thought: here is a businessman with the soul of an artist.  We decided to take the train together, from Millennium Station in Chicago to Gary, Indiana – and see what we could see.  This is the result.   


Riding the Rust Belt is one in a series of (hyper)videos that comprise the Legends of Michigami project.  The videos map the routes of trains along the shores of Lake Michigan. 

These works trace a drama of the western Great Lakes – stories revealed in place and landscape. The persistent motion of the train is metaphoric for time passing whether we want it so or not – for the way human beings (in the name of progress or circumstance) are swept up in inevitable social and economic shifts.


[having time


Riding the Rust Belt continues my experiments with narrative structure - the layering of time and space, the merging of history with private events, the juxtaposition of place and memory.  The temporal gaps and the imaginative space of the in-between invite the reader to enter into the visual space and complete the world. But it also involves some new directions and experiments with storytelling modes, some specific aesthetic and technical issues. 

The rapid turnover of software has changed the nature of e-lit production.  On the one hand, affiliation with large universities or labs with extensive resources can afford practitioners with cutting-edge technology.  Conversely, the “cottage-industry” artist, working at home [once a staple of emerging e-lit work], moves, more and more, into the use of mass-produced, widely available tools.

Riding the Rust Belt is made from smart phone videos and images, off-the-shelf editing tools for video, image, and sound, and recycled and re-edited audio tracks. It is published with Vimeo.

*Michigami* is the historic Illini Tribe’s name for the lake.


You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs!

You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!

You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!

You doors and ascending steps! you arches!

You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!

From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,



Background (Eric)

The train line: The Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, also known as the South Shore Line, is a Class III freight railroad operating between Chicago, Illinois, and South Bend, Indiana. A former Chicago South Shore and South Bend electric freight locomotive, The South Shore Line is the last remaining of the once-numerous electric interurban trains in the United States.


The city of Gary: Gary is a city in Lake County, Indiana, United States, 25 miles from downtown Chicago, Illinois. Gary is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and borders Lake Michigan.

Gary, Indiana, was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant, Gary Works. The city was named after lawyer Elbert Henry Gary, who was the founding chairman of the United States Steel Corporation.




[Title Page Start: Eric]


You can ride

 the South

Shore Line




in Chicago

to Gary,


25 miles

on the


and decades



to the

days of

U.S. Steel.               


[Walt Whitman – Margie]


You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,

I believe that much unseen is also here.

           Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road.



[Narration – Margie]


Winter, 1987

…. he went to our old house in Gary.  It was boarded up.  That’s where he’s at.


[cue – second video in]


Autumn, 1968

When Charlie lost his job, I went to work for Edison Elementary School in Hammond as a secretary.


Spring, 1964

The best years.  Charlie and I were young then, and our children were happy.  It seemed like we had enough money.  The steel mill jobs were good.  Our neighbors would gather for supper in our shaded yard.


Winter 1995

Charlie Jr. was my best hope.  He was the one who had a chance to make it.  He ran away to Chicago at 15 and got into trouble.  Sometimes he came home for drug money. He overdosed in 1990.


[Response to Walt – Eric]


Yes, Walt – we look at the houses, the windows, the roofs and porches, the trodden crossings.  From the living and the dead, the secrets are imparted. As you say. The mills are dark.  Lights are on in the casino. 



[Narration – Margie]


Summer, 1955

The 50’s were great times.  We would roll our blue jeans and put our hair in pony tails.  We would listen to Peggy Lee on the radio.  Swim at Miller Beach.  Go to the movies.


Autumn, 2000

My Mom wanted me to go to college.  And I was, like, all set to go, too.  But then I fell in love with Lanny.  We both got jobs at the casino then and I had our baby.



Mary Sue left Gary in 1978. In 1984 she came back without a husband and with a little girl of three.  She went to work for the holiday inn cleaning rooms.




[Response to Walt – Eric]


So, Walt – unseen, yes.  But what happened to the families gone, and what happens to the lonely and desperate, clinging to the willow shore now? And what does it mean that the lost ones shadow the surface of the impassive land, haunt the passing train?


[Gary Stats – Eric]


Gary, Indiana


178,320 in 1960

76,008 in 2018

U.S. Steel Works Gary:

Employees –

30,000 in 1970

5,100 in 2015


Abandoned 1/3

Median value $60,200

Income 2016:

Median household $27,458

Per capita $19,207

Crime Rate

#3 Nationwide murder

88% higher than mean US


[Walt Whitman – Margie]


To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.

Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Roa