Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Yesterday I saw a guy leaning against a pickup parked on the roadside. He’d propped a hand-lettered sign against the truck that said he was a “Christian electrician,” drug free, and would work for gas money. At least I think that’s what the sign said. I didn’t slow down to read more carefully. I didn’t want to gawk at the guy. I felt sorry for him. Not sorry enough to hire him to do any wiring—call me risk-averse—but still, he was clearly in trouble and I wondered about his story.
I seem to be seeing more like him all the time; i.e., people who are recently destitute. The housing bust hasn’t hit as dramatically here as in some places, so there’s no plague of foreclosed and abandoned homes marring the landscape; but our unemployment rate is above 10% and it’s starting to show. There’s a stretch of state highway near my house that winds along a river, and limestone bluffs above the river provide natural shelter. There have always been people who sleep rough around there during the summer months, but I’m seeing them more often this year—and curiously, more of them are women. Sunday night I passed a young woman who was trudging along the highway in a pouring rain. She had draped herself in what looked like a flannel sheet, in a pathetic attempt to fend off the weather. She wasn’t hitchhiking, but I wish I’d stopped. I’m not sure what I could have done for her short of taking her home with me—there’s no shelter nearby as far as I know. But still, it seems wrong to have just passed her by.
Strangely enough, as I typed this post I had a mild sense of deja vu, as if I'd written these observations before. Perhaps I have. I wonder sometimes whether I’m actually seeing more destitute folks, or I’m more aware of them just now, thanks to the constant media drone about the economy. If it’s the latter, then I’d say that’s a rare case of manufactured consciousness being a good thing.
All this makes me think of one of my favorite sentimental songs, "Hard Times Come Again No More" by Stephen Foster. Click here to see a clip of Dylan performing it in 1993. He's a little ragged at the start, but stick with him. He really does justice to the song.
Photo by Dorothea Lange, 1935