Wednesday 26 Oct 2016

The Face of America
AJ Robinson

I keep hearing pundits and politicians talk about America. There are those crying, "We want our country back!" and others complain about too much or too little government involvement. Now, as for me, I don't consider myself a conservative or a liberal; I both agree and disagree with different aspects of their agendas. I have taken note of some things over the course of my life, and here's what I see.

Up until a couple years ago, I was an engineer - a highly paid professional. Now I struggle to find part-time work and survive on unemployment. One of my recent jobs was as a stock boy in a Wal-Mart. Now, I'm sure there's a PC term for that job, but, to me, it's a stock boy; the type of same job I worked, during the summer, when I was in college. Back then, thirty years ago, I earned five dollars an hour. For me, that was a good wage. Recently, the pay was eight and change.

Think about that, less than double the pay in thirty years!

What does that say about our country? Now, I know what some will say, when they read that: blame the other side of the political fence. Conservatives will blame liberals and vice versa. I don't give a crap. It's a disgrace.

Here's another comparison to consider. Back about a hundred years ago, my grandfather was a master plumber; he made fifty-cents an hour. To truly judge how much that was you'd have to look at all of the costs of living, but we really don't have time for all that. Instead, let's just look at one thing: a movie. Back then, my grandparents used to pay a nickel to see a movie; that's where we get the term nickelodeon. So, it cost my grandfather one-tenth of an hour's pay to see a movie. Just recently, I looked into becoming a master painter - I tried to join the union - and found that the pay there was about fifteen and change per hour. So, how does that compare to old granddad? Well, a movie runs about ten bucks these days, which means it takes two-thirds of an hour's pay to go to a movie! Here's another way of looking at it: I used to be an engineer and pull down $75,000 a year. That's about $36 an hour. It takes a third of my previous hourly pay to go to a movie.

Looks like grandpa won that one.

Here's another comparison. My grandfather had to pay $2.50 to go from Boston to Martha's Vineyard, roundtrip. That ticket price covered just him riding a train from Boston to Cape Cod, and then a ferry to the island. Okay, do the math: it took him five hours to earn that ticket price. Today, there's no train; you have to ride the bus from Boston to Falmouth, and then take the ferry. Together, the total price will run you about $70 during the off-season, and ten to twenty bucks more during the summer. Again, do the math: that's five to six hours for a painter, two hours for an engineer.

What this, almost no change, in price, in a hundred years for the skilled laborer. You have to wonder, was the train more comfortable than the bus? What should we call that, a draw? Even so, isn't it a sad state of affairs when a skilled tradesman doesn't advance in a hundred years?

Now sure, these are only two examples, but try it with virtually any other aspect of life, and I think you'll see the same hold true.

As for me, I think I saw the face of modern America while working as a stock boy, both in the past and today. Thirty years ago, I saw a middle class working hard and raising their families. They were proud of America and looking forward to the future. Today, while working the graveyard shift, I was there from 11 pm to 6 am, I saw the same sorts of people. They came in at two and three in the morning to shop, dragging their kids along. Why, I wonder. Because mom and dad both worked two jobs to make ends meet, and they couldn't afford a sitter. They wondered about tomorrow, and didn't have time to think about the future - beyond the end of the month. They worried about what sort of life their kids would have, and they had little hope that things would improve.

As I said, I'm not a conservative or a liberal; I like to think of myself as a progressive. I'm not interested in politicians and pundits arguing about whose fault all of this is. My attitude: don't argue, don't complain, do something.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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