To escape for a little while, I sometimes lose myself in a book. Lost between the pages of a story, I can imagine scenes, people and ideas being played out. A silent observer to the action. What happens though when you read a book, and even after closing the cover, the scenes and people you imagined are actually being played out in real life?
Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression, written by Dale Maharidge and photos by Michael S. Williamson is a powerful look at the last 30 years of the the “working class” and America at large. Traveling by train, plane, and automobile, the words and pictures put a face to the struggles of “everyday” Americans from the trickle down Reaganomics of the 1980’s to the globalization and downsizing of corporate America of the current day. Families of every configuration are highlighted as you read about their dreams and struggles all intertwined. The ease of credit thrown around by the banking industry, to the ghost towns of Youngstown, Ohio and my city of Detroit decimated by the shifting of industries for a cheaper fare to other countries, as well as the daily struggles of single mothers, and families are all part of the landscape that we call this country. For the most part though, these struggles go unreported. These types of stories don’t drive ratings.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as something that doesn’t happen where I live, but in reality I see it nearly everyday and it starts with my morning run. On one of my loops that takes me through Ferndale and then back up to Royal Oak via Woodward, I often see an older gentleman pushing a grocery cart while yelling obscenities as well as incoherent ramblings as I run by. Before the book, I would just put my head down and keep rolling, but its one of those signs of a great book. A book that even after you are done reading makes you look at situations through a different lens. I wonder silently, is he a casualty of this “New Great Depression”? Have all of his resources, opportunities, and families dried up? What’s his story?
Another running loop of mine takes me past a church heading into downtown Royal Oak. Not even a 1/4 mile from the restaurants and shops, I see homeless people in the early morning hours bundled up in sleeping bags of make shift cardboard boxes, tightly packed into the corners of the building to protect themselves from the frigid air. Like the older man pushing the cart, I start to ask those questions to myself. I know my wife will see most of them in the next few weeks when the warming shelter’s rotation comes to our church. It’s a cycle and it’s one that is hard to escape.
Throughout the book, statements were made about how the current redistribution of wealth in this country has widened the gap between those who are wealthy and those that are not. For some analysts, this gap is as big as the recession that rocked this country in the 1930’s. There was a collective belief at that time that this country had to work together and do the work that was necessary to restore greatness. This country is more than about those that have and those that don’t. My lens that I used to view things with is rapidly changing and coming more into focus. What I thought I was doing is not nearly enough and that I can do more.