Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A View of America, From an Old Black Truck

The miles hum from beneath my truck, as I travel from where my work took me, to where I will lay my head this night. I do not have the radio on, my eyes are outside, taking it all in, the weather, the dangers of the road for the unwary, there, underneath the steady whisper of tires, the strong, purring power of the engine.

Then came the sudden sound of metal being molded into a shape it was not intended for, punctuated by simultaneous horn. At the intersection ahead, two cars collide, not violently by any means, but with enough force to cause damage to both vehicles. One, a car with numerous dents and, based on their color, expired tags, failed to yield to a larger car. Doors fling open and the young, unkempt driver of the car who failed to yield, starts yelling at the other driver, cursing him that it was HIS fault with a onslaught of profanity that would make a sailor blush. The driver with the right of way was in his early 60's, I'd say, with a ball cap with the name of a military unit on it. He stands calmly and firmly, enduring the abuse until the police show up to sort things out. I admire his calm, but I doubt it's the first time that outrage was directed at him by someone for simply doing what he was expected and charged with doing.

Cars stop behind me as we wait for the cars to be cleared, the intersection reopened. Between my truck and those two dented vehicles, sits a small, dinged, and older car.  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.
Next to me is  a soccer Mom van, the windows darkened by shadows.  She cracks the window to look out and 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.

Then I see a few little heads pop up.  Not soccer, Scouts. I see the neat haircuts and the little uniforms as they slowly and carefully pass the accident scene and I simply smile. I remember scouting, the leanings of self reliance, good citizenship, respect, I thank God there are still those that instill that in our children by organization or simply example at home.

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.  On a corner stands a young woman, makeup applied with a trowel, shivering in a two thin furry coat, 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.
She's not waiting for a bus, but given the freezing temperatures and the spitting snow, no one is stopping for her. Working girl. As I wait for yet another light to change, a man stops his car by her and rolls the window down. A customer or someone asking for directions? Neither.

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.
Drive through the streets of urban blight and I can't help but notice society held together with paint and words, both intended to hide the sight of baseless delusion. Doors are shuttered from neglect, even as men sit idle, hands grasping their welfare checks like a rusty tool in a workless hand while others scurry to work like ants, bearing the burden of those who lay idle.

In the night, animals roam with unlawful tooth and claw, while honest men and women travel, too often in fear, moving hurriedly through a dark vacuum in which no help will come, the night air trembling with the shuddering sound of silent drums.

Those unwilling or unable to venture out, may lay behind bolted doors, as TV spits out talentless realities  and thunderous politicians buying votes with meaningless words.  The room fills with images as distorted as the lies the media cuts and pastes from truth, ethics and justice as abstract to them as immortality. On these streets,  in warmer weather crowds gathered with the shouts and signs, something for everyone, wanting the plunder from a country they have no desire to defend and preserve.

Just a few miles further the blight turns into expensive apartments and condos, rising up from the depths of the city.  Some are new, some are restored, the young flocking to upscale parts of the city. Some are the spartan apartments of working university students, others are condominiums that cost more than some farmhouses on large chunks of land.

Man, stacked up upon man, small spaces filled with shiny trappings of want, yet likely only provisions for a few days. Turn on the tap, and water flows, turn on a switch and light comes forth, as long as all is well with civilization. There may be some badly cut firewood for a fireplace that gives little heat, good for an hour or two. There may be an extra pound of hamburger and salad mix or a loaf of bread, bottled water for a day or two, the proper wine for beer AND fish, but that's all.  Most people don't plan that far ahead.
My own neighborhood, today so far away, is different, and not usually where people expect me to live. One professional associate looked at the address in horror with a  "but there's no Country Club!" No, It's a working class neighborhood, the residents ,young children of many immigrants, now adults themselves, or older folks, the American flag on the polished stoop a sign of more than one patriot, more than one veteran.  Some of us could live in neighborhoods much fancier.  We chose not too.

Our homes are small as are the mortgages and our needs. For some, they are just starting out.  For others, it is so we have the freedom to travel, to prepare, to store, to help others in need and not at the point of a sword.  There's grain stored in the basement or shop, wood for a winter. There's dirt on our shoes and dirt on our machinery, signs of unflagging labor. We don't live so close we are on top of another, but we know each others names. Food travels up and down the street for the shut in, for the ill.
Like anyone, in any neighborhood, we are infused with jealousy and pride, but, for the most part,  it is the pride of freedom and liberty, jealousy of the freedoms that once existed, that we strive so hard to maintain. We laugh loudly, we cry silently, and our knees can be as scuffed from prayer as performing a battlefield medic's surgery on a broken lawnmower as the statue of Mary in the neighbors yard, looks on with the long suffering look that says "you should have bought a John Deere".

Our possessions may be old, but they are well tended and working. What is broken is not replaced, but it is repaired, for we understand that quality is a function of dependability over time, not something simply pristine. On many a night, the TV lays silent, as we work on into the late hours, prepping food, cleaning our tools, working with sometimes little more than strong black coffee, a will to endure and a forewarning of what being unprepared really is.
Thoughts of home fall behind me, as I continue my drive towards where I will lay my head tonight.  Just a few more miles, heading out past the airport, traffic is slowing. At a intersection with an island between lanes,  there's a young man holding a sign homeless, hungry, please help, god bless. I notice $100+ tennis shoes, a newer high end label coat, clean fingernails and a good haircut, the only mark of his "homelessness" being a days worth of beard.

A few blocks away there are numerous warehouse type businesses, for the shipping centers that are near the airport. 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.
On the other corner from the young man with the sign, competing with a bigger sign, is a woman. Hers is a face void of expectations, sunken in, no meat on her bones, bad teeth and the pock marks of a bad meth habit all over her face. She leans against the stop sign, a rag doll held up simply by need and addiction. The sign is just leaning against the pole, unreadable to me. She could be 23 or 63. If I give her something it will not buy food or care, only her next fix. I still drive on, but this time, not  easily.

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 84,000 miles on it.  Five years ago, I'd have  just gone out and bought a new one without a second thought. Not any more. I'm earning to re use, repair and replace things, to live on what I have, not what I simply want. But not everyone is so inclined.

There are always those that spend like the money is water from an unlimited well.  And when the well runs dry, they are the first to ask for help. I am all for helping a hard worker down on their luck.  But there comes a point when no one should be bailed out because they were fiscally irresponsible, and that goes for friends, family, cities and States as well.
I stop at a big box mart type store, to get some driveway salt, the grocers having sold out with the storm.  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 tonight, I had little choice, this late. 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 spandex 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 as they fight over the new video game purchase. 
In line with my one item,  the person in front of me, an older man, neatly dressed and groomed, buying just a few things, paying with some single folded dollars bills, carefully counted out. His shoulders are straight. This is a person who has probably never taken a handout but for the Social Security he paid into his whole life. He's not buying chips and soda and frozen meals. There's dried grain and beans and some apples, carrots and a couple of onions, powdered milk, no good coffee, just cheap tea and a small inexpensive chuck roast, food he will likely stretch as long as is possible. His hands show decades of hard work, his frame is thin, his stance is proud, even if all it can bear now is a hard and spartan heritage.

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 the coins and a couple crisp, neatly folded twenties in his hand and rush off before he can stop me.

On my way home, even tired, and a bit cold, I know I can enjoy the Christmas lights.
But as I go through the town square, I see very little of the true meaning of Christmas.  There are no Nativity scenes, just Santa and elves, now that the nation has accumulatively and systematically proceeded to remove God from the tapestry of America, unobstructed by the persuasive power of His Word or His Church. On Christmas as a child, I said a prayer to God of thanks, lit a candle for the baby Jesus, and after church, both evening and morning service, enjoyed a few presents for which I was both thankful and blessed. Now Christmas is all Santa and Reindeer and "what will you give me" rather than stopping for a moment to thank the One that gave all. We built our country on that rock, on whose synonym was blood and strength and hope, the seeded capital of the all enduring Spirit, and traded Him for fables to sooth the children into darkness.

A few blocks further on, 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 a bite 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.
These are all scenes one will never see on TV, on a reality show. on the news. This is simply a slice of a single day in Midwest America as viewed from these eyes. This is America, not Europe, as much as some people want to make it like Europe. Here the land is vast and open, spurning confinement, unlike most of the small countries in Europe where you can't swing a cat without accidentally whacking a Border Guard. Its a land of wide opportunities, where you should be able to succeed without paying socialist tax rates bigger than Original Sin. It's America. Not Europe. My grandparents on my others side immigrated here for a reason. Our ideas were revolutionary, our people strong. You succeeded and failed by your own initiative. Besides if you are law abiding and want a new firearm you just go to the store and pick one out.

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.
As I turn down the road, that will take me to my destination shortly, there's a gun store, doing brisk business. They usually do during hunting season, but it's noticeably busier now. It sits in a small strip mall it shares with a small beauty salon and tanning place. I was going to stop, but spent the money I was going to get a box of ammo with on something more worthwhile. Another day, perhaps, as I stick to my budget, even when I don't want to. But I notice the customers of the completely divergent businesses intermingling politely in the parking lot as some big, bearded guy in a  truck gives up his intended parking spot to some one's grandma come to get a new "do".

Small town American, shades of red white and blue. . . and black and white. Not black and white as in skin color but 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. I know, looking at hands that are not uninitiated to either blood or courage, what I expect from my country.  I don't expect money, or free health care, or a roof over my head I didn't put there. I expect my country to honor MY commitment to her for so many years, by honoring hers.  If she needs a reminder, it's called the Constitution, and I swore an oath upon it once, as well as a Bible, before that was no longer "politically correct".
As I drive, I see signs that there are still 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.



  1. Now where did you get a photo of a model T switch and ampmeter? Anyway out here in the middle of nowhere I see people building big houses and there just aren't any new jobs that don't involve the government and healthcare. We haven't recovered from the recession or the recession before this one, maybe even the one before that. When we lose jobs they don't return and new ones aren't as good as the old ones. I have been mistaken for a homeless person, sometimes I forget to dress up as it isn't important any more. I am less of a target so it works out I guess. I don't enjoy going to the city much anymore.

  2. Sunnybrook Farm - that was taken at a steam engine show in Minnesota(there's often a variety of interesting old cars that show up at those).

    You've got an excellent eye. Most people would not have recognized it.

  3. Very well written: Brigid I am glad that I will not be around to see how much more the USA will deteriorate in the next 20 years if it takes that long, something is going to have to turn us around if we are to survive as a nation.

  4. One of my all time favorites here. And I do miss the old neighborhoods of the *mumble mumble* decades. The cookie cutter subdivisions and plastic people are just so cold.

    Speaking of cold, hope everyone is warm and safe where ever you are.

  5. Naturegirl - thanks. I had a cookie cutter home, it was expensive and custom, but it had all the uniqueness and coziness of a dental lab. Glad I got rid of that when I moved to Hoosierville. As to the cold, down to 3 tonight, (without windchill). I put in a 10 hour day, but am on call through morning and really hope I don't have to go out and work tonight as well. Outdoors is never fun when it's three degrees.

  6. A thoughtful and well written post, Brigid. I see some of those things here too, and am glad I know my immediate neighbors.

    I never thought I would see my country begin to crumble like Rome, in my lifetime, yet it is. I too am glad I can and do pray.

  7. Brigid, you just get better each time, thank you.

  8. You note a variety of problems, none are new, they have been around for centuries. Today we deal with them differently, o longer is the church the focal point for the poor. No longer is the church the center for the community. The church has also let some of its responsibilities drop.

    Then there is the fading middle class. It was this sector that built a prosperous America. Today many of these are the ones you mention in the marginal neighborhoods or now living on the dole.

    What so many have worked for, the policies of the government have been successful in stripping the middle class. The rich are still rich and the richer are getting richer.

    The very thing that plagued society centuries ago the the working poor and they were exploited. These people were exploited in a variety of ways, by the government and the rich.

    As the middle class grew, lots of the repression of the poor subsided and new way of living emerged.

    During the 1800's, subsistence living was on the wane. One could acquire wealth from hard work.

    The a thing called a welfare class began to grow. These people could have things for not working hard, well actually doing nothing.

    The ethic of hard work is fading. You and a few others are becoming a threatened species, Hard working citizens.

    There is also another form of slavery that is growing. One of slavery to taxes of the government. 30-40-50% of ones time is spent working to pay taxes.

  9. Perhaps the hard times will teach us again the worth of self reliance, of hard work, saving and not spending, of each other. If so, the fire will temper the steel, and make it stronger.

  10. Your is fast becoming a place of comfort. Warm, relaxed and .....within reason, safe. You have Barkley, I have Bailey. Ones mileage, as they say, may vary....

  11. Brigid, it's up to 9 degrees (from zero) here. But you midwesterners have that horrendous wind chill that makes it worse. I, too, hope you don't have to go out in the cold. Pens never write in this weather, machines don't want to work, everything crunches. And that annoying fogged glasses thing when it's time to go inside, LOL.

  12. You writing, improves, constantly.

    You are a truth teller, and the truth is what this old, lethargic, country needs.

    Folks need to wake up and turn the ol' one eyed monster off, and quit listening to the lying pablum that the lying, talking heads, are programed to tell the sheeple.

    Awake people, awake, winter is coming.....sooner than later!


  13. "But as I go through the town square, I see very little of the true meaning of Christmas. There are no Nativity scenes, just Santa and elves, now that the nation has accumulatively and systematically proceeded to remove God from the tapestry of America, unobstructed by the persuasive power of His Word or His Church."

    They can't stop us from doing it ourselves, though. Christmas has always been music for me. An ensemble I sing tenor in, Canticum Novum of Oak Lawn, Ill., will present a program of Christmas music at St. Catherine of Alexandria at 3 PM on Dec. 15th at St. Catherine of Alexandria, 4100 W. 107th St. in Oak Lawn, Ill. From our poster:

    "Canticum Novum, a vocal ensemble comprised of area musicians, will present a Christmas program of seasonal favorites by Hector Berlioz, John Rutter and Michael Praetorius; as well as compositions featuring Chicago composers Richard Proulx and Frank Ferko."

    Almost all of it will be Christmas music, as opposed to holiday music. Oh, we do dream of a White Christmas and we'll wish you a Merry Christmas too. But a lot of it will be more sacred music of the season. I'm sure it would be a hike for many of you, but if you're in the area you're welcome to join us. I can't remember if we're charging for tickets or not, but if we are it won't be more than $5 or $10 - which generally goes to pay for the music we sing and to compensate our director.

  14. Whoops, I lied. The concert is at 4:00 PM. I have to be there by 3:00 to warm up and tune up.

  15. Once again, Brigid, your eyes, mind, and ability to express your thoughts simply impresses the daylights out of me. Working in EMS and nursing for 33 years now I have seen where the hard-earned money goes, and try hard to preerve, to prepare. Thanks!

  16. Thank you,Brigid,for another beautiful post.Your essays document what's happening,and the way we (those like-minded amoung us) see it.
    After you retire from fighting evil,I hope you take up a career in writng-I'll buy every book of this prose.

  17. Ditto to all the other comments, but I can't figure out what the thing to the right of the belt sander is?

  18. You've created yet another masterpiece

  19. James - thank you, as always for your time and your kindness.

    Monkeywrangler - it's happening, here, now.

    john bord - you are astute, as always. I think most people work through April, just to pay their taxes.

    idahobob - you've read my writing for several years now, so I really appreciate your words.

    Ron F - with Partner overseas, I'm not going to head home until about the 20th, picking up some on call so I can get a little more time with Dad after the first of the year. But thank you. That will be the type of music playing at home.

    Rick Street - thank you for taking the time to visit, and comment.

    Mick - when I was younger I wasn't always so wise. I bought a big McMansion I really didn't need, I bought new cars every other year, such a waste of money. Still all of it was earned, and with hard work, which made me realize that much sooner how silly it was to squander it.

    bill - I will retire at the earliest possible age, even if the retirement won't be as vested as it would if I worked til 67. And I will write, trust me, of much mnore than just this.

    Everett - To the right of it, there are two things, one is a scroll saw and below that is a jointer. But I'm thinking what you might be looking at - on the belt sander there is a small built in angle plate so you can saw at various positions

    quizikle - thank you indeed, Sir.

    Old NFO - hug. Give a call and we'll catch up.


  20. Brigid,
    Your best yet. I usually check in at the end of the day every week or so. Yours is a place of peace in an unsettled world.
    Thank you.

  21. You just have an amazing way with words. Even though I am still fairly young, I have an old soul that craves the life that was before me. The people in our culture today just baffle me.

  22. Here via a tweet from LBJohnson / Book of Barkley...I'm interested in this blog.


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