I am about as middle America as they come. Middle-aged, middle-class, born and brought up in the United State’s mid-section during the middle of the last century.
Yesterday my wife and I left our new home near Tampa, Florida and drove to New Orleans, Louisiana. We came to the Big Easy on a mission. We are here to collect, Sean, our twenty-two year old son who had been on a sailing adventure.
A friend of his bought a broken down, on its last legs, sailboat and along with another companion sailed this tiny craft from Duluth, Minnesota to New Orleans.
None of the three were sailors. They read books, watched You-Tube videos and played it by ear. Ill prepared and ill equipped were watch words in their adventure.
Using mostly wind and sail they crossed Lake Superior and then headed south on Lake Michigan to Chicago, Illinois. Chicago, which represented the half way point of their trip, heralded the end of their travels via air power but was certainly not their destination.
After spending a few days in the Windy City they removed the ship’s mast so that the tiny vessel could fit through the lock system that links Chicago to the Mississippi near Davenport, Iowa. For the remainder of their trip they used a small gasoline powered engine and Big Muddy’s current.
Foolhardy is one word that could sum up their adventure. Another is moxy. “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” is an axiom that seems fitting. They arrived safely in New Orleans after two months of travel and “Living off the land.”
“Living off the land” was high-lighted for me upon my arrival in New Orleans. New Orleans has long been a city of severe financial disparity and the ravages of Hurricane Katrina only heightened the differences. The low-income neighborhood where they have been staying for the last month is replete with boarded up houses and graffiti sprawled walls. This is not a city of middle class.
I walked the streets of New Orleans and beheld the multitudes literally pissing their lives away in the bushes. I walked among people who feel compelled to anesthetize themselves with alcohol and other drugs and I was filled with sadness.
My son and his companions have supported themselves through street performing. Sean is no musician and his contribution was a low-level of percussion accompaniment via tambourine to a banjo, a guitar and a hat for collecting their begging.
This summer in my travels I visited Denver, Colorado and noted the high percentage of young adults who were existing by panhandling. I was dismayed by the number of youngsters that seem to have given up on life. New Orleans reinforced this idea for me 100 fold.
Three young men set out on an intrepid journey. They faced and overcame obstacles and at the end of their trip took up residence in a locale surrounded by youngsters like themselves. A place where they exist by begging dollars via musical instrument.
I do not know what has become of America as a land of optimism and opportunity. The world that I knew has faded into a dream land and the American Dream for far too many seems to be getting by and getting high. When we return to Florida on Friday Sean will be with us. I hope that he finds an America that allows him to be the intrepid if foolhardy sailor and not the panhandling beggar. Only time will tell which America we shall be living in.