Thursday, June 20, 2013

Driving in a Time of Austerity

We drive, we Americans.  But it helps, sometimes, if we pay attention to the folks we're driving past.

On my way home from church this Sunday, I passed through Potomac, bucketing down River Road as it parallels the flow of the river towards Washington.  I was on my way home for Father's Day, when vegetarian-I would have the pleasure of grilling burgers and chicken for the gathered family.

Such a peculiar vegetarian delight, to grill meat.  That smell.  Ah, that smell.  No wonder Abel's sacrifice was so much more satisfying.

As I motored along, I passed as I always through the land of the mega-mansions, huge estates and garganto-super-homes, in which the D.C. power-brokers and CEOs of large federal contractors live.

One in particular caught my eye, a 20,000 square-foot jobbie behind a gleaming picket fence, up on a perfectly manicured hill.  The circular driveway was full, packed with cars, more than a dozen.  Probably family, arrived for a father's day gathering.

I ran a mental inventory, quick from a lifetime of car watching.  Multiple Mercedes S Classes and BMW Seven Series.  A couple of Lexus LSes.  A Range Rover, and two Mercedes SUVs.  An Aston Martin.  Two Porsches.  Nothing more than three years old.

Again, Washington is a government town.  It's our only real industry.  That's your tax money, right there.  They're doing fine.

And today, I was driving again.

Being a part time pastor does a variety of things for me.  I have time to write.  I have time to pursue further studies.   I have time for laundry, and dishes, and yardwork.

But I also have time, fallow time, in which I can volunteer.  Meaning, do something I want to do, because it is self-evidently good and I enjoy doing it.  I choose to help out at the local Meals on Wheels.  It's my Thursday mid-morning activity.

I go to the nearby Baptist church, where a representative of a local coalition of faith communities coordinates the program.   Then I pick up meals, and drive them around to a half-dozen elderly and disabled folks.  It's a self-evidently valuable thing, assuming you didn't watch Logan's Run and think it seemed like a good idea.

Today, I drove eight meals in our rusting but trusty old van.  To a retired veteran, ninety years old, alone in his house.  To a tiny polite Asian woman, hands gnarled into clubs by arthritis. To others, all aging or struggling with disabilities.  Out front of their homes?  Many have no car at all.  Others, early 1990s Buicks.  A 1998 Corolla.  A rusted out van.

It is here that we have chosen to cut, as the Federal Government tightens our collective belt.  Support for these folks has been slashed.  In some rural areas, these humble meals are being eliminated, one of the few things permitting these souls the dignity of remaining in their homes.

We have to cut costs, they say.  We have to tighten our belts, they say.

When I see houses along River Road with clusters of Chinese scooters, well-worn Ford F150s, and high mileage Chevy Cobalts out front, maybe I'll believe it.