He stepped out of the car and flicked it. His half-finished cigarette still burning on the asphalt of the frozen parking lot, smoke slowly twisting upwards from the small glowing orange end. We walked into the crowded restaurant and were greeted by the host.
“Here’s your square plastic pager, you’ll be seated shortly.”
An hour goes by. We’re still waiting, standing, starving now. Have some appetizers on us! As if spinach, artichoke, and cheese make up for lost time.
“What would you like as your take home meal?” asked the server.
I don’t want a “take home meal”. I had no choice.
“I’ll have the fettuccine."
Knowing full-well that it’s just going to sit in the fridge until someone who’s forgotten its origins throws it away.
The entire town is for sale. From the moment we rolled away from the factory-of-a-restaurant to when we pulled up to the small motel parking lot, every building was another strip-mall, eatery, or platter of gently-used cars. There’s no escaping. America. The belly of the industrial beast that numbs it’s victims with a poison of sitcoms and sales.
I felt like Neo, from The Matrix, getting plucked from my warm virtual world, waking into the cold, unfriendly, underground of reality. “When did it get this bad?” Or, has it always been this way and I’ve just been too blind and foolish to realize, or maybe I didn’t want to realize. Where’s the hustle? Ambition? Because all is see is gluttony. I think I’m going to be sick. This isn’t the American dream, it’s the unconscious vegetative state of a nation being kept alive on the feeding tube of capitalism.
I shoveled dirt on her grave. My beautiful 87-year-old grandmother lost her war with cancer six months after her diagnosis. It’s good luck, they say, a “mitzvah” in Jewish tradition to do this, and as I did, I silently said my goodbye. The America my grandma left isn’t the same one she entered. The industrial-complex has taken its place. That unbreakable “spirit” seems to have gone missing. The grit, belief, and foolish optimism in the future, now smothered with entitlement.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those profound words scribbled on our declaration. The philosophy of visionaries and the bravery to commit treason in the name of freedom. This, the spirit I found all but invisible in my recent cross-country travels.
There are many realities and very few truths. But, it feels so real. The security of the yellow-brick path paved as the “good life”. “Don’t wander too far, you’ll never make it on your own!”, they say. That’s exactly where many of us remain, never too far.
History isn’t made by following rules. This is it, life, no dress-rehearsal, you’re on stage right now. Do you have it? Your spirit? Hustle? Courage to pursue your own liberty? I’m leaving it all behind, my comfortable fictional world. Bring on the cold mush. It’s far from filet, but for once in my life, I’m tasting truth.