I want to reflect the President’s views on the OWS movement….if it is class warfare, then feel free to consider me a warrior in this fight.
What brings this all to mind (and it will make sense eventually so stick with me here) was an incident that occurred on Halloween. I was frantically driving westward from Glendale, AZ trying to get out to Surprise, AZ before sundown to meet my daughter at her grandmother’s house to go trick or treating. I had my son with me, dressed up as Spiderman, and it would be his first trick or treating experience, not to mention the first time both my kids could go out at the same time together. My daughter was really stoked that her beloved little brother would be with her on Halloween.
Anyway the drive over there is usually irritating at best and downright infuriating at worst because there are very few ways to get to the west valley. I have figured out 5 ways to get to Surprise but only two of which are direct from where I currently live…the other three roads would require me to travel quite a distance out of the way. The two most direct routes are using either Bell Rd or Union Hills BOTH of which go through several retirement communities, the most famous being Sun City, AZ. You know how that is, the golf carts on the road to avoid, the slow-ass retiree who can barely see over the steering wheel to pass, and the Sheriff Joe’s posse patrols to ignore.
The Valley of the Sun grew so rapidly over the last few decades that proper city planning for traffic flow was not really attempted (it could have been done but that would mean politicians actually did the jobs they were elected to do and after all this IS Arizona…). Places like Sun City, which was begun 50 years ago, was originally far from the outskirts of Phoenix. Towns near Sun City remained tiny until the decade long population explosion that began in 2000. The population of Surprise tripled during that time and is now over 117,000. Meanwhile, Sun City developer Del Webb began sprouting little Sun City colonies all over the West Valley (i.e., Sun City West, Sun City Grand, Sun City Anthem, etc.) like an ugly metastisizing tumor. These colonies are islands unto themselves because the builder literally walled the communities off from the everyone else and limited egress to particular specified points that let out onto the major roads of Surprise, Peoria, Glendale and Phoenix.
The end result is a complete commuter’s nightmare…a traffic clusterfuck, if you will. Typical suburban families that live in and around these Sun City islands have three roads for their daily commute to and from their jobs in Phoenix. Only two of the roads are what I would consider major roads with four lanes and an extra middle turn lane–Bell Rd and Grand Ave. Bell Rd runs due East/West all across the entire length of the valley from Scottsdale over to Surprise and beyond to the White Tanks. Grand Ave runs SouthEast/Northwest from downtown Phoenix all the way to Wickenburg and it is better known as Hwy 60. The other road is Union Hills that runs parallel to Bell but is only a two lane road with extra middle turn lane. It ends abruptly at the wall of one of these retiree islands around 115th Ave. Other than these roads, a commuter would have to drive on the 101 or 303 loops to commute. Regardless of how you do it, everyone from the daily commuter to the retiree ends up on Essentially what should be a 45 minute one-way highway commute turns into a 2 hour one way nightmare, day in and day out.
So it was that a couple of nights ago in a mad rush to deliver my son to my daughter on time, I was driving like a crazy woman down Union Hills (ignoring the changing speed limit signs as I cruised through the “retiree” islands) until I had neared the dead end. I thought to cut through Sun City, which was a huge mistake. The streets, of course, run in circles and as I stated before, only let you in or out of the community at very particular points. I was driving around trying to find a way out of the “island” and I happen to notice that none of the exquisitely groomed homes (I mean yards neat enough that they looked better than models do for new neighborhoods) were decorated for Halloween. Not a single orange light, no scarecrows, skulls, witches, streamers, tombstones. Nada, zilch, nothing.
And that got me to thinking about how I didn’t see any trick or treaters and why would I, right? All of the Sun City communities have age restrictions for who can live there (you have to be 55+) and they have no schools. In fact, surrounding communities have tried to raise taxes periodically because their populations exploded but their tax base didn’t. Many of the students came from lower income families who lived in crappy neighborhoods like El Mirage (sorry if you live there but most of the people there live in shacks and you can’t get blood from stones). Unfortunately, these measures were either defeated at the ballot box by all the retirees or the retiree communities decided they just didn’t want to invest in education anymore. For example, in the late 1980′s Sun City and Sun City West pulled out of the school district. Who knew that a city could do that?! I sure didn’t.
As I am looking at all these really nice, really large, well kept houses and thinking of how stingy these retirees communities are, I am also reminded of how I will never be able to live in a house like that. I will never get to retire and spend my golden years playing golf in the early morning, napping in the afternoon heat, doing jazzercise at the community center and going out for dinner and drinks with friends while the sun sets. No, I will be working until the day I die. I saw several older people, all of whom gave me the stink eye. How dare I drive my soccer mom car through their neighborhood at faster than posted speed. Who did I think was after all!? Sure I was driving too fast but it’s not like I had to worry about kids playing in the streets or old people too slow to cross in time (they’d already gone to their community center for the annual masquerade ball or meeting up for bridge and pinocle).
That’s when I got mad. The majority of the retirees in these areas are die hard Tea Party members. They’re the first ones to shout, “I want my country back” and “Keep your Government hands off my Medicare!” They’ll vote for Senators McCain and Kyl up until and probably even after they’ve both been buried. Granted there are many who don’t fall into this mold and I have to give them credit for fighting against the general trend but there aren’t enough liberals to tilt the balance in the the population of elderly in the state of Arizona. No, we’re stuck with these people living out their final days in blissful ignorance of the suffering that goes on right outside their doors. Perhaps I’m giving them too much credit. Perhaps they’re aware of the suffering and that’s what the walls are for. More likely they just want to keep the outside world out. Isn’t that what they worked so hard for all their lives?
Not that I begrudge them their well-earned rest. I sincerely don’t. What I do begrudge is the fact that the opportunities that they had no longer exist for the majority of Americans. My personal story is probably very similar to many of these retirees. I am from a large lower middle-class family. I am the first in my family to obtain a college degree (much less an advanced degree). I started work at an early age and put myself through college with little help from my parents. I have worked steadily in professional positions my whole life. The only difference being they started their lives in the 1940′s and 50′s and I started mine three decades later, in the 70′s when everything had already started to go to shit in this country but nobody* knew it yet. For a lifetime of work they have something to show for it. I have nothing. The Pensions they rely on to live today, no longer exist in the American job market. Their generation can collect a greater percentage of Social Security earlier in life….right now I can’t receive my full retirement until 67 and if I try to get it earlier, I would get a smaller percentage than they did. Many of them went into the military and went to school on the GI Bill. I could have and tried to go into the military but they wouldn’t accept me because of the fact that I was born with a deathly allergy to bees. The Unions that protected the earlier generations either no longer exist or they are losing their influence rapidly.** Furthermore the industries that they worked in no longer exist on American shores. Instead of building things out of steel and wood, the younger generations answer questions and deal with ephemeral 0′s and 1′s. In their day tariff’s protected U.S. goods and in ours, it’s a global competition where something made in Taiwan has as good a chance, if not better, than what’s made in Iowa. In their day, houses cost about two years salary. Before the bubble burst they were costing 3 or 4 years salary. In their day a house was an investment. Now they are an albatross around the necks of millions of stuck homeowners who can’t move to take a new job because they are upside down. In their day a gallon of gas cost about 35 cents and now it costs over 300% more. In their day they could make $3500 a year and still live a middle class lifestyle. Now it takes about $97,000 a year to be solidly middle class. Also for that $3500 salary only one person, the man, had to work. The mother could stay home with the kids. Now, to make that $97,000 both parents have to work and the kids have to be in daycare….an unheard of expense for the previous generations. I could go on and on and on.
Suffice it to say if I hear one more old geezer start spouting off about how in “his day….people weren’t so lazy and all you had to do was work hard…..blah blah blah” I’m going to go postal on his ass. I have been working so hard for so long that I’m exhausted, quite frankly. I don’t get vacations and I have nothing to show for it. Sure I made some stupid decisions in regards to marriage….but so did a lot of people in those retiree communities. They, however, came through it okay (obviously! they’re living the life). I am struggling and will be for the rest of my life. So, no, hard work isn’t all there is to it. Some times, being born the right color at the right time in the right country has a hell of a lot to do with it too.
It’s just too bad most of the crotchetty curmudgeons in the Arizona retiree communities don’t understand that. Unfortunately the elderly make up about 13% of the U.S. population and that will only increase because of retiring baby boomers who are bound and determined to have their own little slice of heaven in Sun City and be damned the rest of us.*** So of that increasing percentage, what percent qualify for Sun City-like retirements? 5%? 7%?
Maybe OWS shouldn’t be saying it’s the 99% against the 1%. Maybe we should include the “Sun City” class of elderly in there as well. They’ve got theirs and they don’t give a damn about their neighbor’s kids, or their neighbor’s roads, or their neighbors in general. I feel like I am not part of the 99% so much as the 94% and I’m surrounded by the other 6% getting the stink eye. Dear God don’t let me grow old and end up in one of those places ignoring the plight of my country. I don’t mind growing old, I just don’t want to become blind, deaf and ignorant. Maybe too much pinochle does that to you….Who knew?
*one person knew it, Pres. Jimmy Carter, and he warned us. Of course, no one listened to him. History will judge him kinder as a result of his prescience, at least I hope that will be the case. In his July 15, 1979 address to the nation he warned us about the consequences of our dependence on foreign oil, our inability to stay out of foreign wars, and the increasing focus on the Washington Beltway instead of the country at large.
**Gov. Walker’s union busting anyone?
***Again, not all baby boomers have this attitude of “I’ve worked hard to get mine and the rest of you can fuck off”