Saturday, December 8, 2012
A Cross Section of America - Views from a Neighborhood
Cars stop behind me as we wait for the police to arrive, or adequate space to move through the area. Between my truck and those two dented vehicles, one car that looks like it hadn't been washed in a year. The young lady in it opens her window and starts throwing several days worth of empty bags of fast food out the window into the street, the large "O" on her election bumper sticker nothing more than a big blind eye to the litter she was leaving for others to clean up.
Behind me a soccer Mom van, the windows darkened by shadows. The window is down enough I can hear "Bark!". . ."Bark Bark" "Down Boy!!" She's either got Fido in there or is listening to Shades of Grey on books on tape.
My route takes me around the central part of the city, not a really bad part, but one I wouldn't want to break down in, as I head to a friends on the other side of the city. On a corner stands a young woman, makeup applied with a trowel, shivering in a short, thin jacket, which barely covers cheap tight clothes, her thighs straining what little fabric is there. The fabric is bright pink and written across her ample backside, in shiny rhinestones no less, is the word "LOVE" in BIG glittering letters. I guess I'm reading the wrong fashion magazines, my pants are khaki and just have pockets for a money clip and a spare magazine.
No, this was her. . um. . "employer", I'd wager. The expression on their faces is obvious, hers, the high flush of shame, his, one of ownership and anger. I whisper, please don't get in the car. She doesn't; she shouts something at him and walks away to share the love more enthusiastically elsewhere perhaps. There are always those who prey on the weak, offering up what appears to be shelter and sustenance, not for any altruistic means but simply to take from them what is needed to retain control.
A few blocks away there are numerous warehouse type businesses, Indy being a huge shipping center for the country. There are many of them with "help wanted" signs posted by the roadways, hiring for the Christmas season and beyond at fair more than minimum wage. I've seen people leaving those places when the 3 o'clock shift gets out, some on bicycles, even in the cold, some walking even, toting a lunch pail, the nearest area of housing or bus stop a couple of miles away. People wanting to work, and work hard even if it means a long trek in the dark in the cold air. I looked that kid right in the eye, keep the window rolled up and start moving away.
I see a lot more used cars on the road, now, the car dealerships full of bright shiny new cars for folks that aren't going to buy one, bailouts or not, unable, or like me, unwilling to take on any debt when the future is uncertain. I see a lot of older cars. I don't see a single Chevy Volt. I look down at the dash. The bat truck has 80,000 miles on it. Five years ago, I'd have just gone out and bought a new one without a second thought. Not any more, even if my income allows for such things. More and more of us are learning to re-use, repair and replace things ourselves and make do. But not everyone.
A much older acquaintance asked me if he should cash in some of his retirement to help out a family member. Both the family member and their spouse had enjoyed quite high incomes for their age, for years. But they loved to spend, the newest and best of everything, upscale neighborhood, new cars, vacations, whatever caught their eye for themselves and their only child. Ignoring the word "budget", the money went out as fast as it came in. When it wasn't enough to pay for the bills for the lifestyle they wanted, they took out a second mortgage on the home. Then, the highest earner of the two, lost their job of 15+ years. After many years of well above average income and good health, there is no savings, no equity in the house, no credit left on the cards.
I stop at a big box mart type store, to get a particular type of contact lens solution the drugstore was out of that the eye doc said big box mart stocks. I do not shop there if at all possible, the savings I get being passed on to me in the form of higher taxes to pay for the food stamps for the great number of their employees who don't get enough hours or pay to live without them. I'm not "saving" on my purchase, I'm simply paying for it elsewhere. Smoke and Mirrors.
But sometimes I have no choice but to run into one and grab something I need quickly. I do notice though, that such stores are often full of people quite happy to have a handout from the government, one of them wandering the aisles in size 24 shorts and a big furry hat made out of what appeared to be Naugahyde and roadkill, her obese pre-teens in tow, peeling the plastic from slices of processed cheese not yet paid for yet and shoving the slices in their mouths whole, as they wander the aisles. Just let me get my one thing and get out of here Lord, and please, if the ancient Celts were right and I die and come back to earth in another form after death, please not let it be at Walmart (would that be reintarnation?)
This community, thank God, still has more people willing to work, than to take and seeing him lifted my spirits after my walk through the store. He accidentally drops some coins as he gets something from his pocket, leans over and picks them up, takes his things and walks towards the parking lot. As we leave, I say. "Sir, I think you dropped this too?" He looks, up at me, smiles, but is puzzled. I press a few coins and a neatly folded up $50 bill in his hand and rush off before he can stop me.
I've got a few more miles to travel before getting to my friends house. I pass the giant food pantry distribution place. I used to volunteer there. Then they cut off food distribution to a small food kitchen down south because they'd ask people receiving a meal if they would like to join with others in prayer. They didn't have to pray, the meal came with a smile either way, they were simply invited to join in if they wished. There was no requirement for prayer to be offered food. But because prayer was involved, they were cut off from help. They have a right perhaps. I have a right, as well, to not further provide free labor for them.
Cutting through a small town I notice strip after strip mall, all closed up, shuttered. An open area, blocks long that was supposed to be the mall, before that idea shuttered. I stop for lunch at a small family owned place. It is spotlessly clean, and I am greeted warmly, though a stranger, and enjoy an excellent meal. I hope they are still here next time I drive through, rather than join the growing number of small business who will fail as they will never be in the position to donate to campaigns, hire lobbyists, and get special exemptions for themselves carved out the laws and regulations governing health care and labor that apply to everyone else.
It's America, My parents America and mine. It's people struggling, people hoping, people succeeding, people failing. People still dreaming of what it once was, and by precept, what it still can be. A democracy, an undefeated democracy, not undefeated because it was never challenged, but undefeated because it was bravely and firmly protected, shielded in its impeccant frailty, but democracy growing.
Small town American, shades of red white and blue. . . and black and white. Not black and white as in skin color by by the way we think. Entitlement, handouts from above and the freedom from want versus self reliance, sacrifice, and the freedom to fail. Both sides may equally support and defend our Country but both differ greatly in what they expect back in return from its government.
As I drive, I see signs that there are many that believe as I do, hard work, responsibility, helping neighbors who WILL help themselves. I am proud to be their neighbor. But as I travel through this city, into the small towns that circle it like stars, the signs of our economic overindulgence and the culture of entitlement are everywhere – in small things many would drive by without noticing, in others that most simply prefer to turn a blind eye to. We sit as the media tells lie after lie about the true state of affairs; more lies than they ever imagined they could say and more so than any reasonable person should believe, but they do believe, accepting the state of affairs with that spellbound stare of the lab rat, happy because he was handed a piece of cheese. But it's an experiment that will have dire results. We only have to look at other countries who have taken the road this country is turning down to see what our future holds.
It is that future that makes me very glad that I still remember how to pray.