Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.
Commerce doesn’t lie. The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief. I thought: “Really? Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?” The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.
The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did. Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues. Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs. In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.
This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course. Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone. And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.
And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day. The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by. America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience. We shouldn’t forget that.