Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lessons from My Drive

Okay, so you know that I've been wearing a groove in the road from here (NW Georgia) to NYC. Well, in all that driving I've burned a lot of cash and a lot of fuel. Neither of those ideas much please me, I can tell you. But aside from that, I want to tell you something that I noticed.

There are a lot of people living close to the edge. Let me explain.

Th apartment in Brooklyn turned out to be a three floor walk up in a working class neighborhood. The reason I'm telling you this is for purposes of numbers. Population. See, for every three floor walk up, it's probably safe to say that there are approximately three people or three families living in what may be, to the middle class eye, defined as rather sparse conditions. (I wouldn't even begin to describe how the upper class or uber-rich person might define such living conditions. Come to think of it, those conditions simply do not exist to the uber-rich. They simply can't see it.)

On my drive, I passed plenty of small old houses, manufactured housing, starter homes, apartment buildings, and rundown abodes. There were plenty of once beautiful, sprawling farms in Pennsylvania dotting Interstate 81. At one time, those farms were tidy, painted and proud. Now many of them have fallen into disrepair and neglect.

Everywhere I looked as I drove through the Shenandoah Valley, I could see farms and old homes. I was struck by the size of some of the farm houses that likely housed large families at one time. Now they are dwarfed by the size of a typical McMansion in a gated community. And these new palaces likely house families no larger than four people.

As I surveyed this slice of the American landscape, I was struck by the notion that there are more of us living close to the edge than there are those who are comfortably in the middle or sitting on top.

As gas prices rise and all the associated costs go with them, I can't help but wonder how this economy is going to sustain itself. The price of petroleum touches so much, how can we not reach the breaking point sooner rather than later? How will people who are already on the edge keep from going over?

I know that we're in that often-discussed category of being one paycheck away from disaster. Now that I'm unemployed, we're spurred on to cut costs, but we'll also be making some choices between what gets paid and what doesn't. The two essentials - fuel and food - can be cut back some, but not completely. Those ever-expanding bills shrink what we can pay toward our mortgage, healthcare, and other expenses.

In the meantime, every time The Dancer tells me that she needs gas in her car (calm down, it's a 95 Celica that was a gift from her aunt), I cringe. That edge moves ever closer. Even if I do find work, the edge is going to continue to inch toward us as daily living costs go higher and higher. We are not alone in this. I'm afraid we'll have plenty of company in that economic tumble down. The old adage "safety in numbers" will have a bitter ring to it when counting the number of people at the bottom.

Originally posted May 22, 2008

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