Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hard times

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


Aredub said...

Another song for the times: Ry Cooder doing "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?"

BitterGrace said...

Great clip. Thanks!

Julie H. Rose said...

That's one of my favorites, that Ry Cooder tune (well, it's not his own, but. . .)

As one who's lived in a poor rural place for almost 2 decades, where unemployment has been as high as 22%, I've seen a lot of poverty. It doesn't feel as bad now, but there are signs (literally) that people are in trouble. Where once folks were unemployed, now they are underemployed. One of my neighbors put out a sign recently that reads "Christian Computer Repair."

I'm loathe to hire anyone who advertises their religion as part of their job, even if they're down on their luck.

Btw, I agree with you that this a case where all the media attention is a good thing.