America: At the Tipping Point

When I retired from the Navy, I had big plans to start a small handyman service with the help of my wife, Terri. It didn’t quite work out as planned. The economy was very slow all over but especially here along the Gulf Coast. At the time the two largest employers were Kessler Air Force Base and the Seabee Base. I think here along with the South Mississippi Gulf Coast was always rather laid-back. It seemed to be a kind of slow lifestyle. No big rush hour traffic, you didn’t always need reservations to get into the better restaurants.

When we moved down here there wasn’t a McDonald’s. I remember when the first Big Mac opened up it was the time the Gulf Coast started moving into modern times. Rent on houses was between 150 and $250 a month, I could drive all week on less than $5 worth of gas. Building lots and land was going for $500 to $1500 per acre and on top of that, people were a lot friendlier.

When we bought our 5 1/2 acres we paid less than $1500 an acre. I have seen here recently one acre for $35,000, this was not in an area of downtown Gulfport this was out in the county. Will he get the 35K? I would not be surprised one bit. At one time I would never have dreamed I would be paying $26,000 for a pickup truck, a $1.25 for a bottle of water and $5.00 for a hamburger? Rental housing has settled in around $1000 a month. I know we have progressed in many areas, how all this affects each of us is a personal concern. At one time there were only a handful of millionaires; you could probably count on one hand the number of billionaires; now we have thousands of millionaires. I wonder sometimes if we really understand what has happened, what has really changed?

You have to understand the following is just my perspective. I thought I had hit the big money when I started drawing $2.75 an hour as a bricklayer. I stopped by a construction site here just the other day to talk to the bricklayer; he tells me he has paying his bricklayers $15-$18 an hour. What’s the point, what has changed? Minimum wage is now $7.20, that’s almost 3 times what I was making as a journeyman bricklayer. Why is capitalism under such attack? Why are we challenged to share the wealth? We now have a welfare system that is sharing the wealth, second to none. Instead of encouraging others in advancing in the financial world we are trying to pick the bones of the achiever. Sure, we got a truck load of problems that is trying to change what it is to be an American. The free enterprise system that has helped develop the strongest and freest nation in the world. We are being pulled apart at the seams. People are trying the fundamental change that has made us a strong and caring nation.

Politics hasn’t really changed; the only difference now is that it is a ‘get in-your face and tell you is what is best for you’ kind of system. They passed laws that benefit only a few, and ignore the same laws when it interferes with their self interests. I am just smart enough to realize just how dumb I really am. I saw some of these changes coming a long time ago. But I didn’t do anything about it or didn’t know how to change things. One thing I have discovered about old age: the older I get, the wiser I get. It’s now that I can see and appreciate what really matters.

I have lived through a certain amount of revolution. I’m speaking primarily of human rights, discrimination and prejudice. Do we still have discrimination and prejudices? Yes, and we always will. Are all of the prejudices and discrimination harmful? I would hope not. We pick and choose our friends our likes and dislikes are ingrained, some were along in our growing up. I dislike seeing beautiful women with large tattoos, some like the tattoo lady at the circus. That is a choice that is made by each individual. I see young girls with a dog collar around their neck or with a ring in the nose; I can’t figure out, for the life of me, what kind of message they are trying to send. Rings, pierced, and in the eyebrows; what are these people trying to say? Do I have prejudices against these people? I’m not sure the word prejudice is a good choice of words; let me just say it’s not a choice that I would make, but it’s their choice.

My question is where do these people fit into the real world, the business world? I think we live in the ‘you owe me thinking’ kind of society. We have created and encouraged this type of thinking among so many. I didn’t grow up in a world of free meal tickets. Was there discrimination and prejudice? Yes! When black people were discriminated against, for example. I must admit that I, at one time, was in that group. But times have changed; I believe there are no black and white lines anymore. Martin Luther King Jr. helped change all of that.

If you hold on to old prejudices and discrimination, that has to be a choice – a bum will always be a bum, no matter what? We are still, at least for the time being, one country, united, seeking the best for ourselves and our children. We will eventually destroy ourselves if we keep pitting ourselves against each other. Choices and opportunities are out there even in these trying times. Have we not experienced hard times before only to come out stronger? The world has grown smaller and become a much more dangerous place, that’s true. How we got here should no longer be of great concern. We should concentrate on what has worked and return to those ideals and principles. We are at the tipping point and it’s like a seesaw, you can either go up or go down.

For the most part, my life is over. There isn’t a lot more that I can contribute, other than the experience of what was, and the belief that we can once again pull ourselves up … by the bootstraps.

Article by P.W. Walker

Prentice Walker writes the Thinking Out Loud blog where he shares original thoughts about his life and personal journey.

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