I took a courtesy van to my surgery last week. I was the only passenger and my driver was Bob. Now Bob could have been Fred, which is what made this so interesting. I was a nervous wreck and in little mood to discuss politics, but Bob made it his mission to distract me.
Bob exactly fits the description of Fred that Crissie described so long ago. The only difference I could find was that he was driving a van, not a bus.
Bob is retired, but working full time as a van driver. He’s a “different information voter,” in the sense that he doesn’t get his information from news outlets. He frankly admitted to me that he hates to read and is doing good if he can get through half the newspaper.
Bob gets his information from his passengers and his family. Bob tells stories. Story after story, and he hears a lot of them.
The conversation started simply enough. Bob asked, “What do you think about the stuff they’re doing to teachers?” I told him frankly that I thought the cuts to education were a serious mistake. “Schools,” I said, are our future.” Bob vehemently agreed. We also agreed that I was lucky I didn’t have any kids in public schools anymore. Whether he was worrying about his grandchildren, he didn’t say.
His daughter is a teacher and he told me, “She’s safe because she’s been teaching for seven years, but do you know what her county just did? They laid off every single teacher who had been there for two years or less, and told them they’ll decide who to rehire in the fall. Can you believe that?”
I said, “That’s just awful. Think of the brain drain it’s going to cause in our schools.” He agreed, teachers are going to flock out of Florida.
Then he got on the subject of war. “Don’t you think that now they’ve killed bin Laden we could bring our troops home?” Bob was very clear on the subject of war: it costs trillions, it costs countless lives, and we don’t succeed in changing a darn thing. “They just go back to doing what they were doing before. We should leave other countries alone.”
Bob also had ideas about what we should have been doing with that money: spend it here on things we need.
He said, “It’s very sad, driving this van. I hear all kinds of stories.”
He talked about a woman he’d driven just a few days before. “She’s living on social security. She pays five hundred a month in rent on a lousy trailer, and her meds cost her five hundred a month. I asked her how she was eating. She said sometimes she skips her meds to buy food. Can you believe that? In this country? I hear that all the time, people skipping medicine for food, or food for medicine. Some people have medicines that cost so much they can only afford to take them once a month. That’s a crime.”
He told me about a woman he’d driven just before me that morning. Her kids had lost their jobs and had to come home. Then a friend had lost her job and her apartment. so the woman had her friend and family move in. Now in their tiny three-bedroom house, they have seven adults. Bob was shaking his head.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Now they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. What are our kids going to do?”
By this stage I was high on valium, having completed my surgery. We were on our way back to my house, and Bob had plenty to say so I mostly listened.
“Do you know how many widows and widowers I meet who have absolutely nothing and no one? They’re completely alone. Nobody to drive them, nobody to check on them. I met one woman who had her name tatooed to her arm so somebody would know who she was when she died.”
Bob wanted to know how this country could fail people so badly. How so many could be unemployed while so few had all the money. What families were doing as they lost their houses and jobs, and how they could possibly survive.
In Bob’s mind one thing was very clear: We have to take care of each other. We parents have to take care of our kids, even our adult kids, who run into trouble or we’re useless people. We have to take care of the poor and needy and make sure not one soul in this country lacks food, shelter, companionship and medical care.
I wish Bob had a soapbox. He doesn’t read the news. He listens to people. And what he hears is making him mad and sad. I keep coming back to what he said with such surety:
“Nobody in this country should have to live like this. It’s wrong.”