by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 23, 2004
AMERICA AIN'T SINGING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I've just heard America and it ain't singing, baby. Instead, the sound our country makes is more like rampaging engines at the start of some low-rent demolition derby.
A family emergency drew me deep into the heart of Red America last week, away from sane Vermont and into south Florida, where people were driving their shining new BMWs and Jaguars and Mercedes and Lexi (that's the plural of Lexus, isn't it?) and big black and yellow Hummers to vast malls to do their Christmas shopping.
Clearly the people of south Florida have wealth as well as oil to burn.
When my parents first moved to south Florida, it was mostly cow paths. Now these paths are running five lanes of traffic in each direction; last week they were so clogged with fancy cars that they looked like parking lots.
Virtually every driver was talking into a cell phone. What happened to the philosophy of "Be here now"? People driving huge chunks of complicated machinery are not even paying attention.
Feeling their oats from the last election, the Christians were out in force, standing by the road to the malls carrying picket signs: "Burdines and Macy's will not display Nativity scenes." "Boycott Burdines and Macy's." "Burdines and Macy's are anti-Christian."
All this commotion over some plastic statues? I would have driven over to congratulate Burdine's and Macy's for not giving in to spurious religious hype, but I was driving my mother's old Toyota (10 years, 30,000 miles) and the traffic terrified me.
Now that the cows are all gone, you can imagine what the pastures look like. They are full of look-alike homes - some for the wealthy and some for the poor who serve them. How much space you have between you and the house next door depends on how much money you have. If you have a lot of money, sometimes you even have a hedge.
South Florida is deep in water debt, and yet, like America itself, it squanders the precious resources it doesn't have. Some of these new developments, built to look like 1920s sand-castle mansions or rustic Tuscan farms, are built surrounding man-made lakes with fountains shooting up lavish sprays of water.
It's very American to practice slash-and-burn development, to destroy nature in the name of progress and then to name the newly created streets after the resources killed to create them: Maple Drive is the place where the maples used to grow. Fair Lake is where they still have water - for a while. Do we really want to know how Indian Trace Road got its name?
Remarkably, wildlife persists amid all the destruction. White herons flap their widespread wings as they came to a halt on my mother's lawn. A flock of 18 white egrets with long, curved beaks crossed my path; they had no fear of people. A duck with eight yellow-headed chicks crossed the street right in front of me.
The birds still live while the cars snarl and gun their engines, massing for the attack.
This is a winner-take-all country now, a survivor society. We plant cell phone towers instead of trees (sometimes we disguise them as trees) because we demand instant contact wherever we go. We demand televisions on our airplanes. We demand to be young and beautiful and we carve up our bodies to look like models. We spend enough money on commercials for bathroom deodorant to educate every child in Vermont.
We want it all now and we need it all now and we must have it all now. And we will take it from you if you don't want to give it to us. This is the richest society the world has ever known, and instead of reaching out our hands to feed and nurture the planet, we are either tearing it up or bombing it into the ground.
This is no longer a good place for the weak, the helpless, the poor and the small. It makes me feel weak and helpless and poor and small just to be in the middle of it.
This a tooth-bared society, and George W. Bush is its perfect President.
At the airport coming home, a big, beefy guy with a sports bag hanging from his shoulder told his friend, a tall guy in Nike workout clothes, "I'm gonna buy something." "What?" his friend asked. "I don't know," he said as he walked towards the shops. To my ears it sounded like the American mantra.
Singer-songwriter Greg Brown has a song, "Two Little Feet," that says, "We have no knowledge and so we have stuff/ And stuff with no knowledge is never enough." He ends the song, "It's a messed up world, but I love it anyway."
Yes, it's a messed up world. And I love it too. For this holiday season, may I wish every American some knowledge as well as some stuff?
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.