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The Great Divide

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Her neighborhoods harbor a collection of stately homes with large manicured lawns. Then there are the neighborhoods of the middle class, with homes built closely together and huge trees growing so tall as to darken the streets, along with aging apartment buildings overcrowded with Hispanic immigrants.

At her center is the old-fashioned town square, complete with stage and gingerbread-trimmed gazebo. The square is made up of a courthouse complex and then the other three sides are commercial businesses. Trendy bistros, designer shops, sandwich shops to serve the courthouse traffic, and a few antique dealers. To walk the square you would never suspect that there was a crisis going on. If, however, you leave this isolated cocoon of existence and go just one mile in any direction you can see the other Marietta, the other America just across the great divide.

As I drove down Powder Springs Road towards Marietta I lost count of the empty business storefronts. The movie houses abandoned in favor of the googolplex format, which have taken on a whole new life as under-funded evangelical churches, seeking help from Jesus when their cries to government go unheard. Entire shopping centers closed down or with one lonely relic holding on. Empty tire stores and garages and oil change places. Convenience stores closed down, not from a lack of customers but from an overabundance of customers.

The Hispanics looking for work would congregate around the stores, looking for some employers to come pick them up for day work. This in turn ran off the regular trade; the city posted signs but that only moved them out of the parking lot. Only the end of employers needing workers resolved the situation. No need to congregate waiting for work that's not coming; they, too, are across that great divide.

I drove past the old Marietta cemetery with its thousands of markers reminding us of the generations of Americans who once called this their home. Across the street is an exclusive golf and convention center, adorned with huge, wrought iron gates. Its antebellum design looks strangely out of place situated next to rundown, overcrowded apartment buildings. Too close, perhaps, to the great divide? As I reach the crest of the hill there are the all-too-familiar fast food joints. Then as I turn left onto Whitlock, I can see that I have crossed the great divide now. Here is a beautiful, Norman Rockwell, red brick church with its huge white spire reaching almost to heaven.

It stands almost as a sentry to the great divide. Her walls have witnessed the births, marriages, and deaths of generations, honoring the prophet who said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." But the kingdom of Heaven is across the great divide as well, so stay on the other side of the railroad tracks unless you have business here. Across the divide are picturesque homes straight out of Hollywood movie sets, decorated with flower gardens and white picket fences and each with its own McCain/ Palin sign in the front yard.

The choice to them is clear, either a Socialist who believes in higher taxes and who pals around with terrorists; a man that will almost instantly gut our national defense by talking to those with whom we disagree. Or a man who believes in freedom and in less government and in less taxes. On that side of the divide less taxes and less government are most important. What do they need with wasteful government programs? Aside from bailing out the banks where their money is kept. There they can publicly decry the intervention of government for six days, and then secretly give thanks on the seventh day in that red brick temple, certain that Jesus does indeed love them.

Then just as suddenly as I was across the divide. I'm now back on the other side. The huge homes are replaced by Mcmansions, half the size and two-thirds the price. Each a small enclave with expensive-sounding names, "The Wannabe's by the Oaks" or "The Pinnacle of the Posers." They, too, would have McCain/ Palin signs in their yards but they have no yards. Then I'm back in the real world. Liquor stores, empty grocery stores, then the government center, which is itself a converted shopping center.

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I'm early for class so I wait for the song "Layla" to end on the radio before I get out. As I look around me I see an Obama bumper sticker on the car parked in front of me. Then I see another and then another, but this is Georgia where McCain is ahead, depending on who you listen to, by 6 to 15%. So as I get out of the car I take a circuitous route through the parking lot. Obama bumper stickers outnumber McCain's, three to one. A statistical anomaly? Or perhaps those on the other side of the great divide don't need the money or just care little for civic responsibility?

On this side of the divide we just need the money. We need jobs; we need those inefficient government programs to help us save our homes. Ten thousand homes a week are being foreclosed on in America. Dispossessed and put out into the street, people are living a nightmare unimaginable to those on the other side of the divide in the American daydream. They can explain the situation away succinctly, these people were gaming the system. They bought houses that they couldn't afford and they never should have taken out those loans. It's as if they themselves live so far across the great divide that they don't recognize us as their neighbors. Or even as their fellow Americans, or even as fellow human beings.

Is it that easy to not see? Or is it a matter of perspective? I see the foreclosed homes in my neighborhood. I see the vacant storefronts because I, too, have lost my business. I see people holding yard sales and trying to sell cars, boats, and motorcycles, or anything of value for grocery money. Even if my eyesight were poor I would still see them because the cars and boats sit there for months because no one has any money to buy these luxury items.

On Friday I saw a financial pundit on TV explain that we couldn't ever possibly enter another great depression. You know the type, the same ones who have been telling us for a year now how we wouldn't enter a recession. He explained that we have too many mechanisms and instruments in place to keep that from happening. I laughed out loud at his folly, so far across the great divide that he couldn't see that he himself stands on the very edge.

Last week I drove halfway around the truck by-pass here in Atlanta. I-285 is famous for its congestion; it ties the North to the South and to the West. As I drove I noticed the absence of trucks. Oh, there were some long haul truckers, but missing were the delivery trucks, the UPS and Fed Ex. No bulk haulers carrying rock or gravel, no trucks carrying building materials or heavy equipment. No Coke, Pepsi or beer trucks, no moving vans of any sort. There were only cars on this road designed and built for trucks and that tells me more than all the pundits in the world. That maybe on their side of the great divide a depression is impossible, but not on this side. On this side of the divide it is indeed very possible.

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The stock market goes down and the pundits carry long faces and furrowed brows; then the market goes back up and they smile saying, "See, it really isn't that bad after all!" But it is, it is that bad and it's getting worse. How do I know? I live in it and I drive through it with my eyes open. I know more than all the financial pundits on Wall Street combined because I live on this side of the great divide

 

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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that I (more...)
 

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