Dead Cars Are Today’s Coalmine Canaries

9 Sep

by Roger White

 

You see them more and more these days: dead cars by the side of the road. Sure, the cops and the towing companies attempt due diligence, but they can’t keep up now. There are just too many croaked clunkers all over our highways and byways. I sat and thought about it the other day; you know what the proliferation of all of these deceased vehicles means, don’t you? That’s right, we’re all poor now. Well, 98.8 percent of us.

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It’s just like the canaries in the coalmine. Miners in our grandpappies’ day used canaries (those brave little birds) to make sure the air was breathable in their unbelievably dangerous underground offices. If Tweety Pie stopped singing and was suddenly on his back with his widdle feet in the air, it was time to haul out of there—the air had turned bad. Well, all those roadside stalled Chevys, puffing smoke with their widdle tires in the air—they’re today’s coalmine canaries. It ain’t good, folks. The air has turned bad.

 

The simple reason for this phenomenon is that our economy is barely breathing. There’s no more economic oxygen. Prices for staples such as groceries and gas are unacceptably high; cost for basic medical care is astronomical—and the whole system of for-profit care is at the very least misguided (and at worst, utterly evil); wages are stagnant; and jobs are about as scarce as an untattooed NBA player. Add to this the fact that the stock market today goes haywire anytime a terrorist sneezes in Yemen—and everyone’s retirement account is somehow inextricably tied to the market—and you have all the makings for a slippery slide right back into 1929, only perhaps worse.

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Hence all the inert autos floundering near parkways hither and yon. It’s all about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, 21st-century style. People are barely keeping their heads above water. It’s all most of us can do to feed the family, pay the mortgage, and keep the electricity on. Ancillary things, such as regular car maintenance, swiftly fall by the wayside when the money is just not there. And so, kaplunk. The trusty old Ford keels over because its financially strapped owner couldn’t afford to change the timing belt—which, by the way, costs approximately a cool grand including time and labor and all the extra nebulous charges your friendly fix-it shop always manages to throw in.

 

Unfortunately, we can’t really hightail it out of this particular coalmine, can we? And from all appearances, it’s a damn deep mine. In many ways, it’s downright disgusting. There truly is no middle class anymore; there are the mega-uber-wealthy, comprising less than 2 percent of the population—and there are 250 million shades of poor in these United States. The average corporate CEO income today is about $4,615 per hour; minimum wage is $7.25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

the trapMore and more of us are carrying four- and five-digit credit card balances and are using credit cards often to pay not for entertainment or the occasional luxury item but for groceries and monthly bills. In many cases, it’s unavoidable. My neighbor down the street recently posted on Facebook that her electricity bill for one month was more than $400—and her home is less than 1,900 square feet. AARP magazine noted that in 1963 a 49-ounce box of laundry detergent cost 69 cents; today, it costs $8.00. A movie ticket in 1963 was 86 cents; today, just under $10. Even adjusting for income, we’re much worse off now than we were 50 years ago. Boy, it’s getting tough to breathe in here.

 

Keep your eyes on the roadside, people. The air has surely turned bad.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

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