Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The One Percent Commute

For sale!  Price? $4.8 million.  That's $18,000 a month, kids.
It's my commute every day now, this journey up River Road, northward to my little church in the little town of Poolesville.  I depart my modest brick rambler, located in an inside the Beltway Virginia suburb, in a neighborhood inhabited by federal workers and military officers.   These are not inexpensive homes, because nothing around DC is inexpensive.

But they are also utterly average, in fact, smaller than average.  It's a nice neighborhood, but it is not rich, at least not yet, not by the standards we so desperately cling to as we feel them slipping through our fingers.

I motor onto the Beltway, slog through traffic, cross the Potomac on the American Legion Bridge, and then take Exit 39 onto River, headed west north west, through an area called Potomac, Maryland.

I have often commented in blog-passing about the homes on this road, about their size and ostentation.  Today, I thought I'd share a representative sample of them with you, a picture being worth a thousand words and all.  So I stopped the bike, here and there, and took some snapshots.

A nice little driveway.
Understand this:  there is no significant industrial base in and around DC.  It is not a major financial center.  It is a government town, and I am not overreaching when I state that these homes are built on the foundation of our tax dollars and/or the good faith and credit of the United States.

They are not, of course, the homes of federal workers, those "wasteful bureaucrats" who exist primarily in the minds of those who buy what the right-wing corporate-funded media sells them.  You can live comfortably on a federal government income, but even people who've climbed the ladder all the way into senior executive service do not live in homes like this.

These are the homes of high powered lawyers, and lobbyists, and contractors.  These are the homes of those who live and work in the private sector, and who make their money off of government.  These are the homes of those with the power that comes with wealth.

A quaint little residence.
Now, some of the residents of these homes are perfectly pleasant people, I have no doubt.  I also don't doubt that many..if not all..of them are educated, hardworking, and driven.  Some may be quite charming.  Some of them may well have created interesting new products or services.  Some may be foreign dignitaries, here to schmooze and wine and dine.  I cannot speak to the particular merits of the souls in residence at these places, nor would I presume to.

But I can note, because it is hard to miss, that the row upon row of vast homes and estates out on the periphery of the nation's capital seem strangely incongruous in a time of concern about governmental efficiency and stifling debt. 

A personal favorite, for it's tackiness and eagle-based decor.
Driving a road upon which one passes one vast mansion after another after another, it's hard to see just quite how the ethic that builds these homes meshes with the economic worries that consume the nation whose wealth went into building them.  It's hard to see how these homes, which present like the estates of Venetian gentry or the dachas of Soviet commissars, mesh with the values of our republic as it struggles to find its feet again.

Though I've been riding this road for months, it still feels vaguely unseemly and unsettling as I pass through them.

Fortunately, River Road continues on, and the homes grow more modest.  By the time I've reached my destination, the surroundings are small town humble, surrounded by farmland and cattle and horses, large working plots of land with well-kempt but relatively modest homes.

It feels like America again.