We’d booked ourselves into a cheap hotel after a lavish country club wedding reception. Our newish Honda stood out in a lot full of dented cars, rusted vans, worn trucks and trailers. From a crowded parking space near the inn’s rear door, we skittered inside, avoiding the gaze of two young guys in a parked car as we clasped our possessions to our bosoms. Three doors down the unwashed hallway stood our smoke-free, well-kept room for the night, and we were grateful.
Dancing and wine and decibels set for the young can fray the nerves of the most stalwart elders, which I’ve become unbeknownst to my eternal child. My rest was fitful, raked by random voices, sputtering mufflers and hyperbolic TV audio.
A dawn walk took us behind the strip of cordoned-off restaurant shells and abandoned stores along crumbling sidewalks, unmowed grass, dilapidated trucks and small houses individually built before the tract housing boom, or maybe in spite of it. The neighborhood said there was no time or money or inclination to paint or repair or weed anything. The birds sang, the flowers bloomed, the people rested as we walked back to indulge in bagels and muffins included in the price of a room.
There was no point pretending the lobby’s restroom was clean enough to use. Without pause I backed out, intending to visit the one in our room before breakfast. But just outside the vending machine cubicle stood my husband Tom, talking with two strangers, an African American, call him Buck, and Indian-American, call him Dev. It went something like this:
Buck: I worked 25 years for a gas company and have skills in 40 areas there. Last year I broke my hand on the job (holding up a gloved, crippled hand) and they fired me. I said I’d do anything, but they just said, ‘Bye bye, have a good life.’
Dev: The workers are loyal to the companies, but the companies aren’t loyal to us.
Tom: These are the corporations getting tax breaks so they’ll create jobs.
Buck: Not for me. I’m 55 with one hand I can’t use. They got rid of me so they could hire two 20s... Only in America.
Dev: Companies take advantage of workers because of the economy.
Buck: Right - they know they’ve got lines of people who’ll work for low wages.
Dev: The government bails out Goldman Sachs and the CEOs get big bonuses. It’s not right.
Tom: The stimulus is supposed to trickle down, but where are the jobs?
Buck: Obama did it wrong. He shouldn’t have given all that money to the big companies.
Dev: Help people pay off their mortgages, give us jobs. We’ll get the economy going.
The focus turned to our multiple wars, suitcases of cash disappearing in Afghanistan, new bombings in Libya - gushes of money exiting U.S. coffers, with Buck’s ‘Only in America’ punctuating the proceedings.
The impromptu think tank dispersed down scuffed hallways. I said to Tom, ‘that conversation redeemed this whole experience - we never would have heard that at the Hilton.’
When politicians say with certainty that whatever they’re selling is ‘what the American people want,’ I want to know if they’ve stopped by Days Inn Columbus North lately. Informed and realistic citizens dwell there. They don’t buy the rhetoric, they recognize lies and fools and charlatans and they do know what they want.
Who are these Real Americans we hear so much about? You tell me.