The River

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

This could be the year

I got an out-of-the-blue invite to a Braves game last week. I haven’t followed the team in years, but during the early ‘90s I was a big fan of the game and followed the Braves closely. I have some great memories of that time. In 1990, Leigh and I went to at least a game a week on complimentary field-level tickets from a friend connected to the team, watching up-close the germination of what would become the storybook worst-to-first World Series team in 1991, beginning the remarkable run of winning baseball that continues to this day.

In 1992, Leigh and I moved to Missoula, Montana, so she could pursue a master’s in creative writing at the University of Montana. We were bona fide Braves fans by then, and continued to follow the team via TBS. I remember watching on TV at a friends' apartment as Sid Bream chugged around third and slid home just under the tag of the Pirate’s catcher in the bottom of the ninth to score the winning run of the 1992 NLCS. We leaped up, cheered, high-fived, hugged. We were exultant. At that moment, a friend visiting from another country, walked in, mouth open, shocked, confused. “It’s baseball! The Braves won!”

Oh.

Those were the days. The team had heart, it was young and hungry with just the right mix of old-timers to stabilize and mentor the rising stars. Like many great teams, they transcended the business of sport.

I’ve stopped following the Braves, two kids and the resultant need to change the world for them – starting with myself -- has seen to that. Besides, sometime after their 1995 championship they became a team of corporate professionals – rich, shrewd and successful, but soulless.

So when my boss offered me two seats in the, uhm, *corporate* suite to enjoy a game and socialize with co-workers, I took them out of a sense of duty rather than a desire to see a game. But once we entered Turner Field last Saturday evening, and I saw the green grass of the outfield, the love of the game came flooding back. The atmosphere of a ballpark, any ballpark, is uniquely relaxing. You can’t feel ill toward your fellow man at a ballgame. Something good and real and communal shines in the faces of the crowd.

Our transportation for the night was communal too. Atlanta has a small commuter train system called Marta, used by the middle class to attend big events or to get out to the airport, and by the low-incomers to get to and from work. Most of the Braves crowd had thinned out by the time we left the suite, so we rode home with Marta’s everyday riders, the workers of fast food, security and other low-wage service sector jobs.

We sat next to the railcar door in pair of seats facing inward. A man, in his early 20s I’m guessing, with a boyish, open face sat across from us. He wore a black Pizza Hut shirt, black pants and light-red, suede work boots. A large 40ish man sat behind me in a forward-facing seat. With his black pants and white shirt, I guessed he was a security guard. When he sat down he said, “I’m tired.” And the woman in the seat next to him said she was too. Meanwhile, another 20-something man stood by the door across from us and narrated the entire trip to whoever was on the other end of his cell phone. A man with dreadlocks, a Hawaiian shirt and a 1000-yard stare stood opposite him.

As we gently bumped along, an older man in ragged dress walked up to me, specifically, and asked me for a quarter. I dug one out and gave it to him. The train stopped, and he made the same request to a person standing but was ignored. He drifted off.

At a later stop, a young man walked in, put his baseball cap on a seat, put his money in it, picked it up by the brim and began to walk around chanting “unnmm nummmm mmmmm – the homeless.” Bizarre, but apparently it worked, because he seemed to be collecting a bit of money.

The Pizza Hut worker said he’d come to Atlanta five years ago and had seen the man on the train nearly every day. He doubted he was homeless. A woman to my left said, “I knew he wasn’t homeless. His shirt was too clean.”

The guy even showed up at the Pizza Hut workers place of employment to beg for a meal. The manager was trying to kick the beggar out. In a gesture of solidarity, the young man offered him his daily free meal, but soon realized “the homeless” had plenty of cash and could have bought his own meal. He shook his head slowly. The guy’s crazy, was his point.

“The homeless” walked back our way. A young man burly enough to be a ballplayer said, “hey, I've been working all day. I've got 60 dollars in my wallet. How much do you have?” Since he got no answer, he started to reach into the hat full of bills, but “the homeless” ignored him and walked away.

“I should try his job. I could do a lot better than ‘unnmm nummmm mmmmm – the homeless’,” the man said.

There was laughter at this, and then general commiseration on making ends meet. “I work two jobs,” confided the woman to my left. There was a further general air of “I’m working, playing by the rules, and it’s fucking ridiculous.” The Pizza Hut worker added a short tale – addressed to me -- about payday falling just after the rent deadline and how his landlord turned a deaf ear to his request to waive the late fee. “I can’t afford 50 dollars a day,” he said, incredulous.

At the far end of the car, my ears perked up at the mention of Bush and Kerry, though I couldn’t hear enough to follow any points. I’m hoping it was favorable to Kerry. He may think that war and harsh inequality are acceptable, even inevitable in the face of globalization, as Bush does, but at least he will attempt to raise the minimum wage and readjust the tax policy toward a semblance of fairness. At least he realizes he can’t further the gap between the “two Americas” without (further) serious damage to our national fabric. At least he believes in evolution, as Naomi Klein’s friend says.

It’s something.

The Braves are in first in their division yet again, but I still won’t be watching them. If I want to see gutless competence and experienced-if-uninspired performance, I can watch Kerry. He may not be Clinton, who would be analogous to the Yankees of the 90s, hitting on all cylinders, some heart, plenty of money, and skills that no one can match, but at least he’s not Bush and company. They would probably just shoot the other team and declare victory.

---

Writing in the Online Journal in the early days of the Bush Administration, Scott Davis, a self-employed MBA holder, noted:

When Clinton raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.5 percent, he balanced the budget, avoided further taxes on the already beleaguered middle class, and created the longest peacetime expansion in American history. He simply took dormant money from the wealthy, and made good use of it. If millionaires did make the world go 'round it would have spun off its axis. [ed. note: uhm..., nevermind, I could be wrong] Instead, even millionaires got wealthier in the Clinton boom. His tax plan kept that money from going into useless merger deals through bond financing and from going offshore. However, the rich felt they deserved even more, so they funded the attack machine against Clinton, and the Bush campaign with the "It's your money" slogan. What they really mean is: "I got mine, and I'm keeping it."

Now that the forces against economic justice in American life have asserted themselves and run the country under figurehead Bush, signs that America is sliding into a two-class society are everywhere. The largest growth in general aviation is jets. I'm sure there are several in your neighborhood. The fastest growing industry is prisons, and isn't it a shame all the millionaires behind bars? We lead the developed world in children born into poverty. Bush is our first president with an MBA. When he rejected Kyoto, he did saying his job was to protect American industry. On September 11, he crowed that America would be "open for business tomorrow." He has internalized MBA values. Just as we surrender the Bill of Rights when we walk through our company's doors every morning (try, for example, to actually exercise freedom of speech in the office and see what happens). We will, if Bush stays in power long enough, have the same lack of freedom wherever we go.

Fortunately, we still have a system designed to protect the public. We have the power of the vote, and can restore the system to its original purpose, having office holders actually represent the interests of the people. It takes the unholy alliance of a complacent electorate, and big money to distract the public from the real issues and onto trivial pseudo-scandals to get the kind of government we now have. But with an informed and activist electorate, who can see past the lies of the Republicans to the sellout behind the façade, we will limit Bush to one term. A Clintonian tax plan, breakup of monopolies and near-monopolies, government investment in infrastructure, research, and education, support of fair trade, a living wage, support of unions, fostering employee-owned businesses, breakup of monopolistic strangleholds and other roadblocks for entrepreneurs, could all help bring the American dream back for too many who have lost hope.

It is our money. It is also our government. The land, and its future are in our hands.

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