Traveling home from a week in Virginia my wife and I stopped at a Starbucks in South Carolina so that I (the driver) could jack up on caffeine – America’s leading upper which is not only cheap considering it’s effects, but also legal!
As we drove into the parking lot, a mid-sized SUV was sitting in front of the entrance with several of its passenger doors open. In the driver’s seat was mom, an African American lady probably in her 30’s, and two boys were moving in and out of the car.
Initially I was going to park beside them, but the open doors indicated that I might very well get a few (more) dings on our old Civic. Rather not. I parked, walked in, ordered my stimulant, something sweet for my wife (it was her gift card after all), and walked out.
Oh, and I went to the bathroom too.
And while I was in the bathroom someone came in and used the sink for what seemed like 5 minutes straight. Lot’s of splashing and fast running water.
As I left the bathroom, one of the boys who had been in the SUV with its doors open was standing at the sink washing off a pacifier and using a hell of a lot of soap.
I walked to my car. And then I started putting it together. Looking back over my shoulder at the SUV, “mom” was borrowing the Wi-Fi from Starbucks while the kids were entertaining themselves and making use of some free cleaning tools.
I smiled a little bit. And then I didn’t.
When I was a child, either 4 or 5 years old (hard to remember which because that period was so chaotic), my brother and I fell asleep in the back of our mom’s car one night, well after midnight. Our mother was inside the Waffle House getting a bite to eat and talking with men. I didn’t understand it.
We live in a very, very, very rich country. We have the worlds largest military (by many, many multiples) and we have the largest economy in the world.
And yet, we still have a punishing moral judgement based, economic system left over from the Victorian era, which tells us that those who deserve good things will get them, and those who make mistakes or cannot predict the future well enough to avoid mistakes, do not deserve good things.
It would be easy to make Wi-Fi and fast internet access free to everyone. The economic benefits would far outweigh the costs. Doing so would have possibly allowed the mother at Starbucks to stay at home with her children instead of hanging out in a parking lot.
It would be easy to provide day and night time care for single mothers with children, instead of children falling asleep in the back of a car outside of a Waffle House with empty liquor bottles in the floor of the car.
In 1975 my mother did what she thought was best. Half paralyzed, still suffering from physical trauma, she went searching for a new man. You can judge that, you can criticize it. You can think whatever the hell you want to think about it. But in 1975, she had few options for gainful employment. And without intense, long term help for her mental and physical situation, finding a new man to provide for her and her two sons was the fastest way to solve a problem. (Yes, she received child support.)
1975 is not so long ago.
The leap from my experience to the mother of two mooching Wi-Fi at a Starbucks, is a leap to be sure. But the underlying issues are not so far apart.
We have the tools, the riches and the reasons to make life better for millions of Americans.
Instead we make moral judgements about the people we see and send their children off to foster homes because the parents “don’t deserve” the children. How does that help things?