What an amazing ride this life has been so far. To be in your mid-60s and look back at what has happened in our lifetime. How blessed are we to be brought into this world at the end of a war that spanned much of the world, by men and women that understood what it was like to have nothing, and promising that they would make things better for their children and grandchildren. Memories of the Great Depression, a war that cost far more than the loss of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters still fresh in their minds. A strong determination was made to pool the nation's resources and build a better life for all those willing to work hard; the American Dream was still alive.
American ingenuity was working on all cylinders. Homes in suburbs, bigger and better automobiles; anything the mind could imagine was being built. Kitchen appliances and food that was packaged to give us more time to play was the challenge of the day. Everywhere you looked America was on the move and the sky was the limit.
As we grew up, we watched bus and train travel give way to airplanes. In order to satisfy the thirst of an America that for the first time was becoming more mobile (thanks to the transportation industry), bigger and faster planes were in store. The jet age had arrived and again we stood in amazement as travel time went from days to hours. We were in a race to put a man in space. Our government and its people once again said, "Yes we can," and so we did. These years weren't without turmoil, Korea and a long and, at times, frightening Cold War, for the most part kept us grounded. We bought bomb shelters for our personal use and everyone learned how to hide under their desk at school. Yet, climbing trees, playing ball, doing anything and everything outside was still "the norm." Our parents didn't worry as much about someone being molested or being sued because their child rode his or her bike into the side of someone's car. Heck, they didn't even sue the manufacturer of the bike for not having instructions printed on the handlebars warning us not to do that. The only consequence was how much trouble we were going to be in for being careless. And those people that thought about harming children, well they had to answer for their actions. We didn't need a three-strike rule, all they got was one.
The '60s and '70s proved to be our coming-out years. As for the war in Vietnam, (I mean the conflict), I think that those who were in congress at the time didn't want to take responsibility, or maybe they wanted to ensure that they had an exit strategy. Drugs weren't new but for the first time as young adults we had access to them. We were independent and stubborn and knew it all. During the next 20 years not only did we watch a president be assassinated, a civil rights advocate murdered and a presidential candidate assassinated, we also watched a sitting vice-president resign in disgrace, to be followed by a sitting president doing the same. We went to the moon and back, pulled our troops out of the Vietnam War (I mean conflict) and brought that mess to a less than successful conclusion. We watched in horror when there was yet another assassination attempt made on the president, bringing back memories of JFK and his funeral. For the first time in our nation's history we had a president and vice-president in office that had not been elected. Gas prices jumped at an alarming rate and unemployment was on the rise. We were all confident that this was just a minor speed bump and we would and did recover. This was the first time we questioned if Social Security would still be around, but what the heck, we had years to think about that. With the showdown in Iran, the '70s came to a close. The biggest question left to be answered was, "Are we going to have live with disco much longer?"
Best and worst The '80s and '90s were the best and the worst of times, with the computer age racing down on us like a tidal wave everyone just watched with disbelief. We were sending men and women into space and bringing them back landing the space vehicle like one of the jumbo jets; it was good to alive. The computer age allowed everything to become smaller and smaller, vinyl gave way to CDs, tape became digital. Everything was in real time. Was this all too good to be true? Most of us watched as a term we were aware of, but didn't use very often, became more and more familiar - greed. For the first time it was more apparent that congress wasn't there to serve the people, but to serve themselves, with the swipe of a pen their pay went up yearly, no need to vote on this, there were more important matters to attend to. Serving in congress became a career not a privilege, and satisfying the lobbyist was priority one. Major league sports jumped on the bandwagon. "I need more, more, and more or I won't play." "Yes I will do whatever it takes to show you I'm serious, give me those steroids." Bankers, Wall Street and even TV personalities agreed that to make multimillion-dollar salaries was OK. No one asked, "How are we going to pay for this?" and no one cared as long as their checks didn't bounce. Let's raise the price of a ticket, invest in some less than wonderful stocks, lend money to folks that have no credit. Even if it doesn't work we're in America and we always land on our feet. Great, we can also raise salaries for those in the lower income brackets, which will allow them to buy the higher priced automobiles and groceries that we had to raise the price on to pay the lower wage earners a higher wage. Does anyone else see a problem in this approach? The dotcom bubble burst at the end of the '90s and we had another attempted assassination of a president in the '80s, the Gulf War was on and still we continued as though nothing was wrong.
The new century was going to bring a new beginning. Social Security was a whole lot closer and our hair was starting to recede. One might have thought that Sept. 11, 2001, would have been a wakeup call, but no we actually thought that we could spend our way out of the mess we were in. Going after the bad guys was the right thing to do. Going after the world wasn't. We allowed businesses to grow to the point that we can't let them fail. Hello, where was congress when all of this was going on? We all seem to have this really great 20/20 vision after the fact, but aren't we supposed to be looking forward? Congress took the time to look into steroid use in pro-sports but didn't see the bank failures coming. They (congress) slapped each other on the back and said don't do that again when questions were brought up about members not paying taxes. Now once again Congress thinks that they are above the law. Well I guess they are or they make a new law to make the old law obsolete and who knows when they'll catch on. No progress on Wall Street and the major bank fiasco, so why not just do it all over again. Yes, bail them out; give them a second chance without putting measures in place to prevent what happened before from happening again. Major league sports, oblivious to what was happening in the real world, continues to offer contracts that rival the budget for some small countries. No one can afford to go to a sporting event - you would be more likely have a heart attack while reading the ticket prices. At least you can rest assured that should congress pass the health care bill and you have purchased your mandatory insurance that you will be taken care of in the same professional manner you would have, should we not have a health care bill and you had insurance through work, assuming you can find a job.
Now we are extremely concerned about Social Security, and very happy that it still exists. We can only hope that our Social Security check will assist in the day-to-day expense after the states raise taxes to cover the shortfall in their budgets. While the GPA didn't allow for an increase in our check for the first time in the history of Social Security, taxes increase at stores, gas pumps, personal property, and rates for fuel and power have diffidently increased. Meanwhile car and health insurance have also increased. The problem is these items are not what congress looks at to determine if there is need to raise Social Security. Maybe next year we'll see a small increase, of course we'll need a job to pay for mandatory health insurance.
Has anyone noticed that congress and prison inmates both have free health insurance? In some states prisoners even have the right to vote. Let's add this up: in the states that gave prisoners the right to vote, they receive free health insurance, they have no need for a mortgage, no utility bills, no groceries to buy, guards to ensure that there are no home invasions and by all means let's make sure that their civil rights have not been violated, even though their victims have been.
AMERICAN DREAM What happened to the American Dream? You can be sure it is still there but the path to achieve it has taken a very different direction. Greed and everything that surrounds it has pointed us in the wrong direction. We don't care what we leave for our children or grandchildren, only those with the most toys win.
So now we look back at a life that has flown by, at the all of advances, the losses, the highs and lows and say to each other, "Wow, can you believe what just happened?" I personally am glad that I have witnessed this and pray that we have the courage and strength to right our course, to bring America back to what it once was. I love this country and believe that it is still the best the world has to offer. I've served in the military and would do so again if asked, or better yet, if only I was allowed to re-join at this age. I vote in every election from the county level up. I've served on a jury and support the judicial system, I have no problem removing my hat and placing my hand over my heart while our national anthem is being played. I tell our young men and women in the service of our country "thank you" whenever I have an opportunity. I have every confidence that should we have courage to take greed out of the equation and that we will once again be the United States of America. I fear that we are creating divisions in our populace that if left unchecked may not be correctable.
God Bless America.
Robert K. Beezley is an Ocean Park business owner.