I once sat at a restaurant, by myself, in the corner at about 9:30. The restaurant was going to close in about half an hour. As I finished my meal, a waitress hobbled around wiping tables. She was at least 65 years old. She was hunched over, shaking, struggling to walk and sported the gray hair you’d only see on the most stereotypical grandmother ever. I sat there and watched her and wondered, “Why is she working?” “I do not want to live in a country where we tell people at that age and status they have to go pick napkins off a floor.” That woman was working, no doubt, because she had to pay something. Maybe medicines, a medical bill, a prior bill from year’s past. Maybe she just had no other income and did not have enough money to pay for heat. Or maybe she just wanted to work, that’s entirely possible. But she didn’t seem like she was enjoying herself. No, she was totally fucked.
I ordered a pizza a year or so ago and the delivery driver was old enough to be my grandfather. I wilted at the door. “Why is that man working. Lord know’s he old enough to have probably fought in a war. Or two. Maybe.” Whatever his reason, he was working for the paltry handouts of a couple bucks a pizza for something. I’m sure it wasn’t the desire to drive his crummy car around town slinging pizzas to people. That guy was totally fucked.
The other day I decided to do something I hadn’t done before: I rode the bus. An IndyGo bus, no doubt. I keep a 10-trip pass in my wallet in case my bike crumbles to pieces and I’m royally stuck somewhere. I hadn’t used it for months, so I decided to check it out. My experience with the bus was fine — it was more technically advanced than I expected, announcing locations and the like. The driver seemed nice enough and it didn’t take that long to get where I was going (once it showed up), bike and all.
But that’s not what I want to write about. No, the problem I saw was the people that were riding the bus.
I hopped on the route 14 bus Downtown after I ate lunch Saturday. The folks waiting around for the bus were generally pleasant and friendly. One lady asked me what I thought of the bike trails around town as she saw my bike and helmet, one guy commented that the wind was the worst this season.
When I got on the bus, we approached a stop near Fountain Square where a woman almost missed it. She was walking around a corner and waving her hands at the driver, who just so happened to catch a glimpse in his mirror and stopped a few feet past the stop just as he was about to roll away. The woman was unnaturally short, struggled to walk and was probably in her upper 50′s or in her 60′s.
I don’t know what that woman did for a living, but her clothes were visibly in poor quality with tears and patches (not the stylish kind, mind you). She may not even have a living. And then it hit me: that woman is totally fucked.
She’s not “old”, but she’s far enough along. She can barely walk, who knows why. She obviously can’t afford clothes, let alone a car. When she got on the bus, she thanked the driver for waiting. She was out of breath, stuttering, shy and embarrassed, and had an audible speech difficulty. She may have other mental problems, too. So when people say, “What we need is jobs!” No, we don’t. I don’t believe that anymore.
That woman is emphatically fucked. “She should go back to school and get a desk job!” You say. Really? How’s she supposed to do that? You think she has the mental capacity anymore to handle school? How on earth is she even supposed to pay for it — no bank is going to give her a student loan at her age. Ask yourself this: “Would you hire her?”
No. No you would not. She can’t speak well, so even operating a phone is probably an issue. She can barely move, she’s not “smart”, she can’t get around town easily and is tied to the whims of a deplorable bus system that’s barely scraping by, which puts her at risk of being constantly late. She is, without a doubt, 100% royally fucked. Her life is, and probably has been for a long time, shitty. She exists in this world and struggles from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed. If she even has a bed.
Then tonight, after meeting with a friend to discuss some business at the Starbucks on Indiana Ave., I was biking back through Downtown near the Statehouse on Capitol. A slew of busses stop along there. As I biked along, a bus had just parked up the street. A guy was sitting on the bench and got up the moment the bus pulled around the corner. He was older, probably in his 50′s. He had a white beard and thinning gray hair on his head. He wasn’t totally out of shape, but he wasn’t able to move too quickly. The bus driver, assuming all the passengers were on and off, started to roll away. This man, now “running” as fast as he could, was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Stop! Stop! Wait! Wait!” The driver, obviously, couldn’t hear him, and he was too far away for him to be visible in the dark in the driver’s mirror. The bus rolled on and the man became physically irate. He was stomping, cursing and screaming at the bus. He kept yelling until he almost sounded like he was about to cry.
That bus wasn’t coming back for another hour at least. He had just been robbed of an hour of his life. What’s worse is that as I stopped at a light, I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure the driver just simply couldn’t see you.” He turned to me and said, “All I wanted to do was get to my daughter’s play.” When I asked further, he said his daughter was performing in a play this evening about St. Valentine. He wanted to be there to watch her and that bus was his only hope to get there. He was robbed of a moment that any good parent would absolutely be there for. His daughter was subsequently robbed of having her dad (or maybe step dad, who knows), there, too. Who knows why that guy doesn’t have a license or a car. Maybe he got a DUI and did some terrible thing that you can point at to say, “See! It’s his own fault!” Or maybe the guy has a bum eye either from birth or a work accident and can’t pass a vision test. Maybe he has a sincere mental inability to read or ever learn to read and he can’t take the driver’s exam (there is no oral exam, by the way. You must be able to read to pass. Otherwise, you’re just blindly filling in bubbles.)
Whatever the reason, that guy is totally fucked. His daughter is, too, in no doubt many cases.
That’s just two random people I’ve encountered over the last few days. It occurs to me that most people are royally fucked from the get-go.
A kid goes to a shitty school because the school can’t afford to pay teachers a competitive salary, so the best and brightest go elsewhere. A guy gets hurt at his job and can’t walk or move his arms much afterwards, limiting his abilities and covering him with medical debt. A woman is born and raised with a mind that just doesn’t function as well as yours or most of the population. They’re all fucked.
So, it occurs to me now, that saying “Get a job”, “Go back to school”, or “Work harder” isn’t just wrong, it’s downright insulting.
I wrote a story at another site a while back that I’m semi-starting, about the homeless people that sit Downtown. It’s well worth a read if you haven’t seen it. It changed my opinion on a lot of things about them.
Are there people that could go to school, but don’t? Are there people that screwed up in their life in a way that was completely within their control? Are there people who are just lazy and want a free ride? Absolutely. But I sincerely believe those people are in the minority — a very small minority of probably 1-2%, if the drug test results of Florida’s unemployment program is any indication. Which means that the vast majority of this country is just fucked and they keep getting it handed to them every day by people who were lucky enough in the evolutionary chain to get just the right genes, just the right kind of brain power, just the right kind of body. They had just the right kind of situation that they found a way to get through school and/or get a really good job.
Jobs are not the answer. We have plenty of jobs. When employers say, “I can’t find people to do this job.” They’re right. They can’t. Because the pool of people who would ever be capable of such a job isn’t just “the whole country”. It’s a very small chunk of people.
I think we have to recognize that some people are just handed a steaming pile of crap at birth and they are never going anywhere. And most people don’t even recognize it. In a lot of cases, people flat refuse to accept even the notion that some people are just not very good at anything, and they never will be. So, society says, “Work harder, waitress at Cracker Barrel! Enjoy your job, now bring me my coffee!”
The safety net serves a purpose — welfare, food stamps, etc. They absolutely serve a purpose, especially for children, to at least give them some fighting chance. But I think there’s another net, a “cushiony net”, if you will, that exists around other services: like clean air and water, food regulations that don’t call pizza a vegetable, transit options that work better than a “bus an hour that if missed through nearly no fault of your own robs you of important moments in your own daughter’s life.” It includes schools with an army of tutors (which, by the way, would be my #1 recommendation for schools based on my own observations teaching and tutoring. Why education schools don’t send an army of upcoming grads into schools to tutor day and night is beyond me).
It includes the ability to not perpetually be one paycheck away from default because a system is in place to help the banks help you, or being one slip on the ice or a trip down the stairs away from a medical bill that sends you into financial oblivion. I don’t care who you are, you can’t make $20,000 a year and afford to simultaneously pay rent that’s never lower than $500 a month, water/electric/gas at $200 a month, afford decent food that’s not Velveeta cheese and Ramen, and still manage to save for a rainy day, health insurance and your retirement years. You can’t even begin to do that well unless you make at least $40,000 a year and you know it. And that’s $40,000 Indiana dollars. God forbid you have the audacity to be born someplace like California or New York or Boston, you lazy bastard, being born where you were at the age of 0.
Most people in this world are completely fucked. And we’re all turning against each other, bickering about birth control for women of all things, while the whole place goes to hell.
It’s time to stop fucking people over.