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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.