When time allows — and spare time is becoming more and more scarce in a world where an increasingly rapid pace is necessary — I like to visit areas of our region where I can have a cup of coffee and talk with folks.
It might be a chance encounter at the Citgo station in Ellett or a rest stop along I-77 in West Virginia. A greying senior citizen astride a Harley Davidson motorcycle seems to attract discussion.
Without prompting, the conversation often quickly turns to what many call the sorry state of America and their worries about the future.
Most people have strong negative opinions about our governments — local, state and federal. Over coffee at the Dennys along I-81 in Fort Chiswell, I hear angry opinions about the board of supervisors in Wythe County.
“A bunch of crooks,” says Adam, who declined to give me his last name. “They should be behind bars.”
A woman at Aunt Bee’s restaurant in Hillsville had little good to say about Congressman Morgan Griffith.
“When Rick Boucher was my Congressman, I knew we had a man in Washington who cared about the people here in our part of Virginia,” Leigh Andrews said. “Now, we’re stuck with Griffith, who only cares about whatever his bosses in Washington want.”
At a hot dog stand near Marion, Frank Jensen said he voted for Donald Trump for President because he hated Hillary Clinton but now regrets that vote.
“Trump’s even worse than Hillary,” he said. “God almighty, he is robbing us blind to line his pockets.”
Sally Richards sipped coffee at a McDonalds in Bluefield, West Virginia, and said her daughter is graduating from the University of West Virginia this Spring and has no idea if she will be able to get a job in the field she spent for years studying or make a living.
“My husband and I did as much as we could to help per pay for an education but she also is in debt from student loans,” Richards said. “A time was when a college graduate could walk into a good job right after a graduation but she has been through job fairs and career days and nothing has surfaced. She will go to work next week as a waitress at Outback for the time being. They charge a lot for steaks but they don’t pay much to the help.”
At the West Virginia Veterans Memorial in Charleston, a fellow Harley rider named Bobby said he lost his assembly line job seven years ago and hasn’t worked steady since.
“I get odd jobs and a part-time gig from time to time but nothing steady,” he said. “My wife took our daughter and left three years ago. She’s somewhere in Georgia now.”
A woman in line at the Kroger supermarket in Cave Spring separated items that could be purchased with food stamps — now called “SNAP” for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” — along with a few things that she could cover with a little cash.
“I’m the first person in my family to ever go on welfare,” she said. “I never thought that could happen to someone with a willingness to work. I’m willing to work but what I get is part-time at a Family Dollar and it doesn’t pay for food or rent. I’m divorced with two kids and we depend on this damn social services card to eat. What happened to the American Dream?”
For too many, the American dream has turned into a national nightmare.