Allow me to introduce myself.
I'm a middle aged American, who decided to get all of his midlife crises out of the way in one shot. My marriage failed, my money almost gone, my job lost. Faced with the choice of heading to stay with family or leaping out in the great unknown, I chose the later. And headed to Texas from the Northeast to look for work. I left home on September 1st. The first part of the trip was sort of a vacation, but now I am in Texas meeting with people and trying to move forward.
Periodically, I would send these long Jack Kerouac wannabe posts back to friends and loved ones. Three chapters are done now, the fourth should be done by the weekend. I'm sure a lot of people out there are facing similar problems, this is one of the ways I cope.
Approve, disapprove of what I say...doesn't matter to me. But, somewhere to someone I hope these messy words give you insight or comfort because the America we all yearned for still exists, we just have to find it.
Chapter 1 can be found here - fair warning - it is far more emotional.
In Search of America in the Age of Obama
September 14-16, 2012
Nuevo Leon - A small Mexican restaurant
Farmers Branch, Texas (Dallas suburbs)
As I draft this, I'm the only customer in a strip mall Mexican restaurant in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch about ten miles north of "downtown". I've come for an early dinner or maybe it is a late breakfast. Between budget limitations and trying to control my weight (I'm a big man - 6'2" and well over 300 lbs, I can't exactly claim I'm just "big boned") I am limiting myself to one "real" meal a day.
Other than that, I'm getting used to a grazing diet of coffee, granola bars, carrots, and beef jerky. And some alcohol, for medicinal purposes only, which I use as an agent for lime juice to enter my system. Like the Royal Navy on a long journey I know it is vital to prevent scurvy. Right now I am slowly going through the stash of adult beverages I brought from home and it is passable, but soon I'll be down to Peppermint Schnapps and sweet vermouth.
I feel like I am on the Donner party as supplies dwindle.
The area is a strange mix. A mile south are commercial buildings (and my hotel), situated next to a massive and well maintained highway system that is completely inadequate to handle a huge volume of cars. The highway, seemingly new, is being supplemented by the biggest construction project I have seen since the "Big Dig" twenty years ago in Boston. The commercial buildings back on single home dwellings each having a well kept lawn, but the homes all having little land and are showier than I am used to, but there is a cheapness to much of what I see. Like rhinestone to diamond, there is a 1970's vibe given off by the area and it just doesn't quite measure up. Only a few blocks further north the homes change into strip malls - the sudden shift from corporate, to residential, to commercial seems ill planned and jarring.
I am the only person speaking English in the restaurant. Of course, the only other people in the restaurant are the waitresses and one full table of customers. That's what happens when you have dinner at 2:45. I hate eating at a restaurant alone. A meal at a restaurant should be a social occasion where you can trade small talk, joke and spend a pleasant time arguing the vital issues of life. Instead, I pull out my laptop and try to start writing this belated post, but that is unsatisfactory. I put away the laptop and pull out one of the many books I have brought with along with me on this journey to help fill in the moments of solitude. Normally, when I read it is like an attack of piranhas. I swarm through the pages devouring words at a quick pace leaving nothing but a literary carcass behind a few days or hours later. But, on this trip I take my time, reading the books infrequently and switching between one title and another with regularity. Doling out the words so they to last. And what words? A mishmash of titles salvaged from a used book fair for $5 for a grocery bag full of literature or what pretends to be literature. A novel of the American Revolution, , a vampire love story, the sequel to "My name is Asher Lev", science fiction, and a story of battle during the Civil War. Not my usual fare, but what are these changes when everything else is different? At the restaurant, I read "The Jubilee Trail" - which appears to have been a big hit around 1960 - I had thought it was a tale of the Civil War and the bringing of freedom to the slaves ("the Jubilee"), but I was mistaken. Instead, it is the story of a society girl from New York City travelling with her husband to California before the gold rush and somehow it has turned into a murder mystery. The print is fine, the restaurant not well lit and I find with my salvaged glasses I am having difficulty reading the print. Another reason to dislike getting older. So I put away my book and watch the big screen television in front of me as it plays an endless stream of ESPN en Espanol and I take in the latest soccer highlights from the Mexican leagues, and later watch the USA battle Jamaica in futbol while enjoying my meal.
Odd things tell you that you are somewhere new. The Waitress asks me if I prefer "flour" or "corn" tortillas. I request flour & she gives me one hot from the griddle with a tab of butter. It took me a moment to understand that the tortilla was my "roll". When my meal arrives it is simple and perfect, chicken in a simple mole (cocoa) sauce with a hint of heat and some rice. I savor it with my ice water taking my time knowing it is just grazing foods until tomorrow (night?).
It has been ten days since my last post. To date, my departure from home has been like an extended vacation, but I sense the work and the reality are about to set in. Now that I'm actually here, making calls and spending the last of my funds in a desperate crapshoot the hard slog has begun. Because I've been on the road I've been able to almost cling to the illusion that this is just an extended business trip or vacation - and that I haven't become a transient. The tricks you can play on yourself to avoid hard truths that could paralyze you are really quite impressive.
When last I wrote, I had just arrived at Temma & Glenn's in Cleveland Heights. While I've recorded some recollections, already I've committed the sin I wanted to avoid - procrastination. Writing these things down two weeks after the fact, I know I am going to make mistakes. Bad. Bad, Robert.
But, before I try to detail my recent journeys recent conversations have allowed me to recognize a serious pet peeve. In Cleveland, Glenn has built just about the perfect home space - his front porch. Now, a porch doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment, but somehow the aesthetics of the porch, coupled with the surrounding environment creates a perfect spot for fun, relaxation and reflection. It shows an ability and skill to create sublime spaces. Yet, for 13 years he's earned his living working for a bank. What a waste. He's done what is necessary to support his family, but he has a gift which should be shared. Instead, he gave up on becoming a certified architect because his path through life had already given him advanced skills, but certification required him to learn theory and do internships that were far below his abilities and he felt devoting 5-6 years to learn what he already knew would not be the best use of his time.
I've been told I'm a natural teacher. I've taught a couple of courses at Penn State. I also once taught courses in LSAT/GMAT test preparation and I've done corporate training. I'd make a great instructor in history or political science, even math if we're not talking about anything too advanced. But, it would take me 2 more years and thousands of dollars to be "qualified" to teach in a public school. I remember talking to Mom (she taught in the Philadelphia public schools and eventually earned her doctorate) about the educational theory classes required for certification and her belief that most of the people coming up with the theory wouldn't last an hour in a big city public school class.
And in Memphis, I shared a lunch table with a salesman who in addition to having an encyclopedic knowledge of BBQ restaurants throughout the south was doing sales because to do what he wanted required a certification that froze him out of a field he was otherwise qualified to perform, but the need to listen at the feet of people less qualified than himself while they spouted theory had scared him off from Architecture.
One of the main reasons America has been successful is that we are free to chart our own course. To fail, or to succeed with our professional lives by our own wits. To enter a field and compete in the market. But, more and more this seems to be fading. When we see a period piece from the BBC and hear the characters contemplating the marriage of their children to some Earl or Baronet because that was what was required to get ahead in life 400 years ago we regard it as a foolish anachronism of a distant and dystopian past. You.....yes, you! You get to be a serf because your great grandfather worked these lands. You....yes, you on the left. Despite your lack of drive, middling intelligence and lack of anything resembling character... you get a pass on life because your great-great grandfather was a mercenary who was on the winning side during the War of the Roses. Today, we laugh at such foolishness - but, what about the castes in India? What about certifications that don't facilitate entry into a field, but instead act as a barrier to entry?
We bemoan the devaluation of degrees. I was raised and bought into the concept that a superior education at the best school possible would lead to a better life. But, it hasn't worked out. Still $70,000 in debt for a quality graduate school education I, at least, if I am able to land in my field still have the chance at earning a good living. But, what about the Sociology major from Princeton? Why do you need a college degree to do jobs that used to be done by high school graduates? Why is an MBA required for a job that could once have been done by someone who earned a Bachelor's and who had superior drive and skill? Now, as our sons and daughters move back home because they are unable to find "good" jobs we recognize only part of the problem. We decry the lack of positions and the lack of immediate opportunity. But, there is another less recognized problem. How many years of productivity and income are being lost in classrooms when we would be better off "doing" rather than listening to people "who don't do, but instead tell us how to do things?"
I'm not attacking learning, merely pointing out that systems that are designed to "protect" the public from the incompetent have been perverted and instead, are being utilized to create hurdles to entry in certain professions. Why? In asking that, you should always look towards who is encouraging the "higher standards". My guess, is you'll find the people encouraging the formalization of standards are the people already in the field. And while they may protest they are merely trying to make sure people are "qualified", the results are always the same. By making it harder to enter a field you limit the supply of talent and drive up the prices that can be charged and protect the incomes of those already in the field. Cynical? Absolutely. But, an incorrect conclusion? I don't think so.
Okay, I don't think the above qualifies as getting sidetracked, more like getting derailed and then swept away on the tide.
Back to day 2 of my exile. I slept well that first night..........(to be continued).
Preview Chapter 3:
The Stasi take Toledo; Nice turtle = good soup; Kittens by the road; The Power of Superior; and A hamburger so good they named it after a fatal disease.