Monday, December 31, 2007

How About a Fresca?

As we all know, it was Judge Smales who said, “Danny, there’s a lot of baaaadness in this world. I see it in my courtroom every day.”

It’s hard to disagree with my philosopher king and avatar, but I must. Being a good-natured soul, however naïve, I happen to think day-to-day life for most people is pretty good, despite the media and social focus on the inexorable crush of Everything. And that's why I'll follow lockstep the federal law requiring on the last day of the year that shallow, self-absorbed blawg-meisters address the hard realities of 2007 and look ahead with hope and promise to the phantasms of 2008.

2007: Oh, this is easy: It’s all about the prism of politics. And the kaleidoscope of 2007 was a mirror of 1995 with a refraction of light from 2000. Like the 104th Congress, in which I was a foot soldier, the 110th Congress was going change the world, doncha know. Man, 11 bruising months later, we get a dollar increase in the minimum wage, more loan money for sullen, underachieving college kids, a couple congressional ethics laws, and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys gets a Kennedy Center honor. So that takes care of that.

But whoa, wait a minute. On the actual serious side, 2007 was a year framed by Nellie's Real People Tour. In my capacity as an apparatchik Chart Boy for various Power Brokers, Movers and Shakers, and Major Players (see April 27th post), I traveled to one-fourth of the states in the Union, visited dozens and dozens of cities and communities of various means, and spoke, no kidding, with hundreds of people. It was a nice break from my life sentence in a windowless office in a monolithic office building serving as a faceless, soulless bureaucrat pushing paper and sending meaningless email. From my American odyssey, several observations, however unscientific:

1. Guess what -- your typical person outside a 30 mile radius of the Capitol follows in only a desultory fashion what goes on in Washington. They don't watch C-SPAN, they don't paw through the Federal Register, they don't follow hearings in the Subcommittee on Paperclips and Office Furniture, all of which is probably why to a person they......

2.Think Washington is a town generally inhabited by full of people who are rather callow and self-important (c'mon, no way!). Americans don't have an intense dislike of politicians and legions of serfs (like Nellie) who run the gears of this tow; rather, it's more a disappointment people feel, fed by the endless stories of the perceived chicanery here, the superficiality, the grasping, the tantrums, and rigidity that politics so easily slides into. By and large, Americans get things done, whether it’s a week's work or a home project or raising kids. Outside Washington, the perception is that Congress does not get things done. And when they do get done, it's last minute, half-hearted, and filled with acrimony. Perhaps that's democracy with a small d, but it certainly is discouraging.

3. All that noise you hear about immigrant nation? Well, it's true. This won't strike Washingtonians as unusual, where you can be anywhere in the city and hear people yammering away in some clipity foreign tongue, but from the heartland, the coast, the remote reaches of small towns and extant suburbs, this nation is packed with immigrants from improbable lands. An entire Eritrean cadre runs the cab services in Kansas City; there are Russians and Nigerians running corner stores in Lancaster, CA; Guatemalans cleaning streets in Naperville, IL; Pakistanis in strip malls in Henderson, NV; Vietnamese and Thai running gas stations in Houston; Afghans in Harrisburg; Iranians in St. Louis. I've lived in cities like Los Angeles, Washington, New York, and San Francisco, where you expect enclaves of ethnics. But this spread of immigrants across the land is as steady as it is vaguely disquieting.

4. Out There, you run into people who actually do things – they run a restaurant, they are a building contractor, they work in a dental office, they teach schoolchildren, they buy and sell real estate, they manage a store, they make payrolls, buy commodities in bulk, work spreadsheets, and lead people, 3 or 53. In DC, and goodness knows I’m as guilty of this as any drone, it’s paper and phone calls and computer screens, and meetings and seminars and speeches and more paper. Within the District of Columbia boundary lies the softest economy in the land; out in the real world, people actually have to produce and sell and buy goods and services with their hands and savvy.

5. Despite the horror and doom you hear from the MSM, most people are doing pretty darn well. You move through communities-- in all regions of the nation -- and you can tell that the vast majority of Americans work hard, have a demonstrated sense of selflessness, are committed to their families and involved in their communities. The word here is decency -- it's palpable wherever you go.

Hence, the lessons of 2007, learned on the road with eyes peeled, a Chart Boy with peripheral vision and no free hands, thank you.

So 2008? Easy. The tidal wave of a presidential campaign engulfs us already, there will be no respite, we will all suffer mightily and beg for mercy, and all five observations above will have new meaning. How to handle it all? Easy. To once again quote from my intellectual North Star, Judge Smales, how about a Fresca?

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