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Monday, May 18, 2009

Utahn #9: Moving On Up

I work for somebody. Most of us work for somebody. There are those of us that have our own business in one way or another. We work to pay the bills, to live in an apartment or a house, to have a social life, to accumulate possessions,etc. We are free to work or free to not work in our country. The former preferable, but the latter is sometimes unavoidable. In the wake of a time of great economic distress and unemployment, our government decided to maximize our entitlements as working Americans. Over the years, it has grown and grown and grown so that now that these programs have become part of our culture, part of our national identity. Today, the common question is “What can government do for you?”. People say they want the American Dream. The response we should be giving is, “Nothing, thank you.”

The America Dream is always portrayed as having a big house, a big car, money, possessions, two-point-five kids, a dog and a big backyard. Suburbia is the ideal, or so we're told by advocates and detractors. The advocates are right that it's pretty good looking. I've been through many neighborhoods that were gorgeous and clean, most of them in Los Angeles, where you could find green lawns in front of million dollar homes a mile from the less-than-appealing sidewalks of where I lived in Hollywood. Once, a few weeks before moving to Utah, during a lull in work, I found myself parked in one of these neighborhood. The calming smell of cut grass and flowers was a fine change to the usual fragrances of exhaust and smoke that the more crowded areas of Los Angeles were prone to expel. These homes I saw were expensive beyond reason. For the same amount of floor space in Niagara Falls, you could by three or four homes for the price of one of these beautiful habitats in Los Angeles. The people who lived there were well-off, indeed. The people who lived there worked to get there. Those who inherited lived much farther away, or in the homes that rested upon the Hollywood Hills.

Getting homes like that in Los Angeles is no easy task. The cost of living in that area is astronomical. For my tiny, damaged apartment (with a very aloof manager, no less), I paid $1200. I had two other people living with me, both working full time at least one job (my future wife worked two). I worked twelve hours a day, minimum for 5 to 6 days a week, depending on what weekend shift the Dr. Phil show had assigned me. I made around $700 to $800 a week. If I had chosen to save that money up from the start and not spend it like a kid who'd just escaped his parent's house (which I had), I could of bought myself a new big car or something in that category. I worked my ass off for a year in the city where dreams come true Then, I picked up and moved to a state whose population is one 1/5 the size of Los Angeles County, where 80% of that population lives in a 50 miles stretch, where there are some very odd liquor laws and where a religion is said to run the affairs. “A backwater”, a fellow debater told me one day when I challenged him. And to top it all off, I told everyone I was moving up the ladder.

Fast forward to today. I work at a truck depot as a security guard. My ears are getting blasted by air breaks. The air is full of smog and truck fumes. Being a mile from the Great Salt Lake and and a dump has created a pretty awful smell at night. The drivers aren't always the friendliest. And, during winter the depot gets freezing winds and heavy snow from the lake, for which our company jackets have no cover for.

I love it. All day I can look at either of the mountain ranges encompassing the Salt Lake Valley. Traffic is flowing steady on my way to, and on my way home from, work. Unlike Hollywood, there are no buzzing helicopters every night nor is there the sound of wailing sirens every few hours. There is quite, unless the neighbor's kids are causing trouble in the next apartment. Our apartment, while small, is carpeted, while the one in Los Angeles was hardwood with nails that wouldn't stay down. We now have heat and air conditioning, two things Hollywood didn't have. The apartment complex is taken care of and, unlike Hollywood, doesn't have the constant smell of stale bum urine (not kidding, go to the corner of Sunset and Highland and try not to smell it). My bi-weekly pay check totals what I made at Dr. Phil in a week, but along with my wife working, we profit a handsome sum every pay day, which we are saving. Our income is not that high. In fact, I believe that before my wife got her current job we were near the so-called poverty line. We only have one car. We do not have cable. We didn't even have a television until earlier this year as we did not have one in Los Angeles. And yet, we are not poor, not in the least.

According to a study done on people who are apparently poverty-stricken, they have more than we have currently, and yet we do not ask for handouts nor do we wish our current President to expand them. I'd rather have the extra few dollars I have in my paycheck taken back and applied to the national debt. I'd rather have Mr. Obama open opportunities instead of squash them with cap-n-trade, a tax haven crusade or ideological anti-trust suits.

Our ability to advance ourselves should take precedent in any economic plan. It's a proven fact that people do better when allows to do what they do best. Welders weld. Drivers haul. Guards secure. Bankers bank. Traders trade. Big Oil drills. Big Pharma saves lives. Intel makes chips. Microsoft makes Windows (and bugs, but I digress).

Mr. Obama's talk about fairness isn't what got me to move. I moved because I wanted to change my circumstances. Not everyone has that ability, especially those in heavily regulated industries like banking, car making, and other new federal projects. People can whine and cry about CEOs, but like the welder and the guard, people work for those CEOs, and those people are just like you and me, despite the social stigma of their employment. They have as much right to climb the latter as you do, if they (or you) want to.

As self-interested individuals, we have every reason and every right to promote ourselves and advance ourselves above our current situations and above others. People who can't have no reason or right to stop us. To keep yourself down because of that is akin to a lifeguard drowning himself he couldn't save a distressed victim.

Our individual advancement, times three hundred million, is our collective advancement as a nation. The government's ability for empathy is secondary.

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