In my debut post here on Kos, I thought I’d touch on a subject with which I’m well acquainted. Unlike some of the really professional types that come armed with spreadsheets, photos and statistics, I’d like to share some simple observations from a morning walk and a motorcycle ride around my community. Join me and see if some of my remarks ring true with you and what you too have found to be valid.
We live near Atlanta, as millions of folks do. The closer one lives to Atlanta, the more expensive life becomes because of taxes and property values. There are several generations of us that were lured to the suburbs for better schools, less crime and less tax. Of course, the downside was the commute, which became longer and more wearying with each passing year. Seems like we had to get up earlier and earlier and get home later and later to work our jobs in the city.
Neither my wife nor I have a commute to contend with anymore. And judging by how quiet the big highway is outside our subdivision in the mornings, there are a lot of folks not clogging the Interstates into town anymore. We’ve been downsized, outsourced and replaced. There are a few little jobs that pop up locally, like at a Jiffy Lube or a burger joint, but nothing remotely close to making a mortgage payment.
I saw a snowy egret landing by the lake near our home this morning. It’s raining here, as it has for a week now. This didn’t seem to concern the egret, which stood on one leg viewing the dimpled surface before him, watching for a morsel on the fin. He had his back turned on a pair of huge houses overlooking the lake now slowly being overtaken by what used to be ornamental shrubbery. In the rear, the swimming pools are now breeding massive swarms of virulent mosquitoes, aided no doubt by the monsoon like rains and continued warm temperatures.
As I stood there under my umbrella, a gaggle of geese landed in formation out on the lake. They came in out of the low hanging mists, skimming over another home whose yard evaded mowing this summer and the side screen porch is pulling away from the bricks that once promised solidity and purpose. I finally moved along avoiding the rivulets coursing down the fractured blacktop to see if anyone has yet rescued an abandoned German car still sitting in the garage of another abandoned home. I’m sure mechanical problems kept it from leaving with its family when they jingle mailed. At some point though, some enterprising soul will jimmy the skewered garage door open enough to retrieve it. No matter what, cars will have value until the oil gives out.
It’s interesting that a preponderance of the outsize homes in our phase two are unoccupied or might be soon. The modest houses here, like the one my dear wife and I tend, still all seem to be owned and cared for, at least for now. Yes, at least for now.
Last week, I went out on some errands. It was a glorious day, full of promise and butterflies sailing the gentle breezes. The open garage door revealed my old tired steed, still comfortable but hopelessly outdated. The girl at the tag office had offered me a historic vehicle tag when I renewed. Thinking about it as I mounted up, I realized that my cars will soon qualify for those tags too. Motoring along in a haze of Castrol and listening to the tires singing on the pavement, I passed by house after house on side roads and subdivision entrances that stared back with empty windows. Used to be you’d see a Realtor sign or later a bank owned sign planted in the overgrown yards. Mostly that has stopped now. There’s just too many and no one to buy them anyway.
At U-Haul, business is OK. I pulled in for some of their really good packing tape. Guy behind the counter told me that their busiest time used to be the last weekend of the month. That’s since changed. People come in to rent a truck when they get dispossessed now. It makes business steadier, he said, but a lot sadder. True enough, when we see a rental truck in our sub, it’s never anyone moving in.
Leaving the shady streets of Old Town, it’s off to the Mall and Sears in particular. The Mall was built just in time for this Depression. It’s still well manicured and the empty windows are kept scrubbed and clean. The "around the mall" strips are uniformly becoming unoccupied as bric-a-brac and specialty soap stores no longer have a client base. It was comforting to enter the air conditioned hum at Sears, my bike occupying the first space outside the door. In the tool section, the manager helped me find the punch set I needed. Being the only customer for as far as I could see, we had plenty of time to talk as he rang up my purchase. He’s the last one left in the department pretty much and he has to cover over at sporting goods in the afternoons too. He said there’s no one left to lay off now and scuttlebutt has it Sears will start a round of store closings, (including his) if Christmas fails as expected.
Upon leaving, I went off down country roads to visit some of my bovine friends and watch farmers rolling hay. Found some paving crews sweating in the sun near one of the stimulus signs at the south end of our county. It’s ironic, the roads are finally getting long overdue improvements and widening just as they’re no longer needed.
I need to stop these musings and get back to my schoolwork. Community colleges are booming. The newly and recently idled are to be found in droves finishing long neglected degrees, re-certifying or learning something new entirely. Of course, once the unemployment gives out and there’s no more in the federal kitty to loan to the states for such, then educational returnees such as me will become the exception rather than the rule. I can’t help but think that with all of us burnishing our resumes and adding degreed bona fides that we’re just upping the ante for scarce employers to demand higher and higher qualifications for the most base of positions and Dickensian of wages.
Nobody wants to admit being caught in this twilight of Orwellian prediction. What person cares to admit utter futility rules their life, whether emerging newly minted from hallowed halls, shackled to the Earth with student loans or a parent facing the decision of paying the day care or the electric bill? There is a generation of Americans, savings and equity gone like Bedouins in the night, unemployable by age but too young for the open arms of retirement and Medicare.
We can see the results of unmitigated greed. Before us stand the crumbling monuments to useless obscene wars and military indulgence. Aided by the well placed inside the Beltway, Wall Street continues to vacuum out the Treasury. A new horde of brown shirts are beginning their putsches as seen nightly on cable. A reasonable man stands at the helm of our country, but like Gulliver, the Lilliputians of the right and center thwart his every attempt towards decency. Thus, the diminishment of educational standards since the seventies is a bill now come due as evidenced by the inability of a new generation of leaders to solve the simplest of problems swiftly and forthrightly.
In this suburb, the illusion has nearly dissolved now. The bill is in the mailbox. We are that snowy egret in the rain, standing on one leg.