The sun is shining on a typical warm day. I roll my sleeves up, let the window down, and watch the train go by. The battered Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Santa Fe boxcars roll past, clackity-clacking and swaying just a little on their way to “Cow Town.”
Then they are gone, so I turn up the CD player. A guitar strums and Texas singer/songwriter Bruce Robison tells an old story:
You can’t get there from here
You can’t live on bread and water
You heard the one about the farmer’s daughter?
She just needs a little atmosphere
You don’t pick your occupation,
I didn’t ask for this frustration
I need a life and an ice-cold beer
And you can’t get there from here . . .
So many broken dreams in the world. So much unhappiness. But what can I do about it? What can any of us do?
Something about the Texas troubadour’s sad words jogs my memory. I was at the grocery store. I usually just hurry through, picking up a little of this or that, and head over to the express checkout line. A couple of checkers are usually stationed there with whom I like to shoot the breeze.
One of them is an older man—at least he looks older—with a face that makes Willie Nelson look young and handsome. He has a tattoo on one arm that’s so blurred that I can’t make out if it’s a bird (an eagle?) or something like one of those “Mom” devotionals you still see here and there. He always looks a little sad but perks up when you speak to him.
The other is a young girl—too young, it seems to me, to be working full-time, but there she is. She’s carrying a baby. (I never have liked the clinical term “pregnant”; it’s just too impersonal.)
On this day, there’s a line at the express counter, so a fresh-faced young manager approaches me and asks if I would prefer the do-it-yourself checkout line the store is testing. No checker, just scan it yourself, ring it up, and pay with a debit card. Nice, clean, quick . . . and I tell him I want no part of it. In a nice way, of course.
So I wait behind four or five people who are, perhaps, equally concerned about the future of the young lady—we all know what the scan-it-yourself line will eventually mean. Or maybe the computer stuff just scares the hell out of some of them—I don’t know.
The lady in front of me asks the girl how she’s doing and when the baby’s due. The girl looks tired but says she’s fine.
I punch the gas, crossing the tracks and heading for the school to pick up the kids, wondering about my tattooed friend and the girl. She has a trace of acne and looks like a teenager. Maybe she is. He doesn’t look like life has been too kind to him.
Or maybe my imagination is just making it up.
Scan-it-yourself. But the store’s management proclaims that it is “Concerned About the Future of Our Communities” on a poster just inside the sliding doors.
Well, you can’t get there from here, folks.
My wife and I have been shopping for furniture. I try to buy American if I can, though it’s becoming more and more difficult, partly because of the policies of a government that thinks it’s OK to ask for the lives of your children or for half of your income but won’t do anything to help Americans keep their jobs. Not much of a bargain, to my mind.
It turns out that even the American Rustic and Mission-style furniture is made in . . . China. So we keep looking.
After all, you can’t live on bread and water.
After I pick the kids up, we cross the tracks again, heading for home. I replay the song, and it makes me think of something—that Western-style belt I just bought.
At a red light, I turn the belt buckle up and squint to see what’s stamped on the inside. It reads, in all caps: CHINA.
I sigh and wait for the light to change. I’m sweating—is it that warm?