Thursday, May 07, 2009

Ground Zero

When I was a kid, my bike was my ticket to freedom every summer. I rode it to the library, to the pool and to the store. Or just around town. Now I'm in my mid-40's, and I'm still riding my bike to the library, to the pool and to the store.

Yesterday, I rode my mountain bike to the YMCA about 2 miles away and swam a half mile, then rode my bike back home. It took me about an hour and 15 minutes, including the shower and talking with Vicki in the hallway, a customer at the 'Bucks. It was a perfect spring early evening with a temperature around 70 and sunshine. Too nice not to be outside.

During my ride home, I discovered the heady scent of the blooming crabapple trees, including the one growing under highway 96 that no one sees. Since it was the dinner rush hour, I smelled the french fries at the Wendy's, navigated around the traffic jam around KFC and sailed past the steak house, Applebees and Pizza Hut and took a right at the liquor store where there was another traffic jam. I peddled past the old homes on Miller Road, noticed which ones are slowly disintergrating and others that are being kept up.

I wonder how my neighborhood is enduring the economic storm right now, and it seems some are doing better than others. I usually drive by these places every day, but a bike ride is slow enough to reveal the details that are often missed. Some of the older houses are always looking pristine and some are always dumps, but there are a lot that hit around the middle. These were frequently showing a few signs of lack of maintainence like a coat of paint, mulch, broken gutter, or weeds for a garden. But the old bungalows were still presentable, and sooner or later the much needed chore got attended to. But now the homes are not aging well. The economic realities are more apparent, people don't have the time or the money to for the annual coat of paint to keep up appearences even casually.

At work, I meet a lot of people and I have noticed a change in them as well. The worried wife who shared with me about her husband not rebounding from getting laid off last October. The professional who used to come in everyday dressed in a suit now in his sweats. The stay at home mom who used to come in everyday for her elaborate customized drink only comes in a few times a week. And not as many high schoolers either--I gather that their weekly allowances for blended coffee drinks are getting cut back as well.

And then I'm reminded that I live in ground zero of our country's economic crisis, that most of it is basically in my back yard. Only it has been a subtle downslide. There isn't a big difference all at once, like maybe California. It's always been bad around here. I am very thankful that we have jobs, but I also am aware that things could eventually change from just getting by to not getting along at all. If I am not affected directly, then I expect to be affected indirectly.

I was at the grocery store last week and opened a door in the refridgerated section to get a carton of eggs. When I turned back to my cart, the lady standing behind me told me that she was disappointed in me. I looked around and realized that the tall, stern black woman was reprimanding me. She asked me why I thought she was saying that. I had no idea. She said that I turned my back to my purse sitting in my grocery cart, and asked me if I had any idea how often purses get snatched in this particular store. I didn't. She said it happened every day, and in fact it happened to her a few days ago and showed me how she now keeps her purse attached to her shoulder. I made some foolish rationalizations and she put me straight. These are hard times and my one dollar bill is someone else's million dollars. I felt like an idiot but I thanked her for being my guardian angel. She smiled and told me that she knows that God put her on the earth to bless others. I agreed that she was certainly a blessing.

She shook me up and I began to notice bands of young men slip by me down the crowded aisles. I realized that they might not be shopping for groceries, but for victims. I hated to view people distrustfully like that, but my angel had reminded me that hard times force people to make bad choices. Although this is my neighborhood and my store, I am too comfortable.

The financial downturn in the rest of the country happened almost overnight, but the problems in Michigan did not. I am not expecting things to be getting better within a year or even five years. I do expect that things to get much worse, no matter how much help from the stimulus package our state accepts. Meanwhile, I will move a little slower, act a little kinder and keep my eyes wide open as well as my purse firmly on my shoulder.


Arnold said...

Sneaking wallets out of purses happens all the time in Sandy Springs, GA, too...the police regularly warn about it. Your guardian angel was right.

Althea said...

Lately, I've been going to the store without a purse, just putting my debit card or my money in a pocket. Funny how I'm more aware of pickpockets and purse snatchers when I am traveling, but not when I'm less than a half mile from home.