“I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.” ~ Woody Guthrie
Two days before the unpredictable, somewhat frightening new year began we stopped by a friend’s for an early New Year’s toast. The happy hours are held in his garage. It is a very large working garage, the size of a barn, where he repairs cars and trucks. There are rows of bins with nuts and bolts and hoses. Large books line a reference shelf, a library for the mechanic. The fridge is stocked with Coronas.
Tonight the guys had been plowing for almost twenty-four hours. Most of them work for themselves. If you’ve been self-employed, then you know you are responsible for finding your own health insurance in America. My husband and I have been there, done that, and are still there. One of the guys in the garage that night has a wife whose job provides health insurance. I’ve been that wife. For many years I did that after I gave up running my own bookkeeping business because the two of us couldn’t afford to be self-employed .
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King
There has been many a stormy winter’s night when I’ve heard the plows drive by. It’s a mundane scene. I am awakened by the beep beep back up sound or the plow scraping along the icy road. The blinking red or yellow lights flash across the bedroom wall. I snuggle under the covers, safe and warm, and think about the guys driving the trucks that pave the way to a safe morning commute for the rest of us.
Over a couple of Coronas we heard a few of the stories of how dangerous this work can actually be. One of the guys plows the steep mountain roads and many a dirt road where there are few if any guardrails. He told us a story of the night he hit a patch of ice along a section of road that curved along a steep drop-off up on a mountain ridge, and he just had to ride it out, hoping for the best. One of the guys we were with that night is still out plowing at the age of seventy-two. Another guy passed on the beers, he was heading out to work a second job, delivering pizzas now that the roads were clear. I didn’t ask why they did what they did — plowing late at night at the age of seventy-two or delivering pizzas after driving a plow all day. We weren’t discussing politics or personal economics. The Coronas had us thinking about tropical vacations and making plans to take a walking tour of the Amalfi coast. I am well aware of the fact we all do what we have to do in the land of plenty.
The winds howl here some nights. The snow blows like a blizzard across the freshly plowed streets and driveways. Sometimes the phone rings, an irate customer calls to complain about the driveway covered with new snow shortly after the plow guy finished his rounds and has just rested his head on his pillow at eight in the morning after a hard day’s night of plowing.
“At least I had frost on my nose, boots on my feet, and protest in my mouth.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
We had a lot of company visit during the holiday week. My nephew came to ski with some buddies of his. He is twenty-six, works as an independent landscaper, and is now off his parents’ health insurance plan. He has Affordable Healthcare.
On New Year’s Eve we went to a bonfire with some friends. Before we headed out into the snowy night we shared a dinner of fettucine alfredo with scallops and shrimp and discussed our concerns about losing our health insurance. Our friends are a self-employed stonemason and the director of a non-profit art school with only three employees on the payroll. The rest of the help are volunteers and the school doesn’t provide health insurance. My husband is a self-employed house painter and I am currently looking for work while writing from home.
The bonfire was down a tree-lined road covered with snow and was the picture of a Robert Frost poem. It was a beautiful night and the house was filled with like-minded people worried about the coming years. I am sure to some people it would be the stereotypical scene of a group of left wing, hippie Vermonters but we all shared very ordinary concerns. One woman was battling ovarian cancer, another worked as a nurse and doula and met lots of people with insurance concerns, and one other was a cancer survivor. Affordable healthcare frequently came up. So did our children’s college loans and heating bills in the winter months.
A very old friend of ours showed up on New Year’s Day. He asked to borrow my laptop to file something for his Affordable Healthcare. He’s had some career ups and downs over the years including owning a restaurant that went under during the Great Recession. Since then he’s worked as a short order cook and an Uber driver. His ex-wife has a job with insurance but her employer only co-pays the insurance for the employee. The employee pays full price to cover a spouse and the kids, and in addition the company charges for each and every kid you have. It’s not a traditional family plan. I’d never heard of this before but my friend was adding his daughter onto his Affordable Healthcare plan. It was more affordable that way.
My daughter and her boyfriend were here for several days. She recently interviewed for a job where they didn’t offer health insurance. They hired everyone as sub-contractors working for commissions. They also didn’t pay for the first two weeks of training. I told her to forget about it. It didn’t sound like a good opportunity. It didn’t even sound legal.
Healthcare isn’t a right in America. If Americans are self-employed, work part-time, or work full-time by cobbling together more than one part-time job, or work for a small business or non-profit with under twenty employees, they have to buy their own health insurance.
“One day we’ll all find out that all of our songs was just little notes in a great big song.” ~Woody Guthrie
The next time you’re lying in bed one dark and stormy night and you hear the plow guy drive by, before you close your eyes and drift back off to sleep think about him and his family and how they might obtain their health insurance. The Republican Congress has had eight years to come up with an alternative. They say they will repeal and replace but none of us has seen or heard any details regarding the replacement. There are 20 million Americans whose health insurance is on the line. I met several of them this past week and I know many more. If you don’t understand the implications and the seriousness of this issue, you need to get out and meet your fellow working Americans.
I hear from a lot of people who tell me they no longer watch the news. They can’t pay attention to politics. They can’t get all worked up. It’s stressful. The election took too much out of them. Some even say they’re exhausted. Exhausted? Took too much out of you? What about the young men and women who gave their lives to fight our wars? What about the veterans who served our country in ways far more difficult and demanding than the average American who watched the election of 2016 unfold on their TV screens? The veterans who returned home with PTSD, missing limbs, and other difficult problems?
When I was working at the Inn last year I attended a concert that raised money for homeless vets. Wrap your head around that idea. How can someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice to fight our country’s wars return home to find themselves homeless? Then tell me how much this election took out of you.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~ Martin Luther King
Yesterday We the People scored our first victory. The new incoming Congress wanted to gut the Ethics committee. They held a late night, closed door meeting and agreed to bring it to the floor as their first order of business. The media woke up and finally did their job. They reported the news and social media lit up. The phone calls and emails to representatives began. The Congress was bombarded with protests from constituents. Hours later Trump sent a tweet saying the Ethics Committee was unfair but now was not the time to address it. The Congress shelved the bill. Don’t let Trump fool you. He didn’t win this battle. We did that. We the People.
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