Friday, August 30, 2013

'WELCOME FRESHMAN,' AND THEN?




By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I do not know where you live in this world or where your mind is in it, but I will tell you about the future of this planet. It could be seen clearly, not far from my Blauvelt, N.Y., home.
Driving down Western Highway, just before Dominican College, a private, Roman Catholic four-year institution, there was a “Welcome” sign on campus as volunteers directed freshman and their parents to parking areas. Vehicles filled with luggage, bedding, lamps and electronics and also jammed with adults plus young people came in an almost endless stream. You saw the anxious, sometimes puzzled, somewhat curious look on parents’ faces and, from students,  a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was a scene repeated in almost countless locales across the United States, and with varying custom, in Europe, Asia, the world. It was the setting of another field of hope, the soil plowed, the fertilizer in place, and now new seeds were to be planted.
Yet there were storm clouds, too, and hope was mixed with worry. In these United States, where super-sized student loans are necessary to get most people through ever-more expensive colleges, the last fields were harvested just a few months ago, and the ripened fruit of four or so years of labor, following on 13 years of public or private school plus pre-school have yet to sell. There are few jobs for 2013 graduates, or 2012 graduates or 2011 graduates. ...
In America, the middle class is shrinking, and with it the bulwark of democracy is weakened. Greedy special interests bent on maximizing profit without re-investment in society, in our young, in workers, in the promise of life are simply not employing enough people, firing longtime workers and hiring part-timers with little or no benefits. Pensions are disappearing.
And yet fresh college fields are plowed each summer, readied for a new crop of hopefuls who face unemployment and, if they work, a change of jobs many times in their lives.
Post-World War II America prospered  because of the G.I. Bill for returning veterans, which educated professionals who could serve industry and big business, greatly enlarging a middle class withered by the Great Depression. There was strong economic growth and enough profit for many. The world benefitted as trade and commerce grew.
Today, despite the “Welcome” sign at our college campuses, even while seeds are planted in fresh fields of hope for our precious children, the storm clouds of unemployment and income grown principally for greed are ominous.
We should all show apprehension on our faces, not just freshman and their parents.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, August 12, 2013

THE TEST DRIVE


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
Not all car dealers are so lucky, but one in  Blauvelt, N.Y., offers test drives over a mountain named Clausland, with winding, country-like roads  busy enough since this is built-up suburbia. And despite the bromide view, the burbs are never sleepy, especially one less than 20 miles from New York City.

Other auto hawkers must send consumer wannabes to heavy truck routes like Routes 303, 9W, 59, 45, and that can be a testing time for someone not familiar with a new or used car. In fact, the Mercedes guy in the next town, along Route 304, almost lost a salesman and a customer when a very expensive model was slammed as it left the dealership. Maybe that’s why the Ford place across the way lets you take the car by your lonesome. Salesmen can be hard to find.

For someone who likes to observe humanity, even out of the corner of the eye when you are already concentrating on a fine tune from the radio or a beautiful woman walking along the road, the Mazda dealer’s customer jaunts over Clausland are quite interesting. You see old fellows zooming along in sports cars they could not afford in their 20s and which will no longer get them a girlfriend, as if that were ever true. You watch old ladies cautiously driving a basic sedan, going ever so slowly, whether they are old or even women. Even a fellow can be a little, old lady in a car. (This isn’t to denigrate little old ladies but merely to offer observation.)

On the trip over the mountain to and from Blauvelt to Nyack, you also see the teen-ager with nervous parent in the back seat, a son or daughter with the biggest grin ever as they anticipate freedom, dates and whatever else a car brings, even if it’s a used jalopy with 153,567 miles.

Then there are the truck try-outs -- fellows or gals in ever-bigger, shiny machines with back seats and extended beds that will never see manure or tools or work. Trucks not used on the job but as recreational rides are a huge seller, perhaps the biggest, in the U.S., and my section of the Northeast is no exception.

Finally, the Clausland trip offers glances at a mix of salesman types, from well-dressed to casual; from talkative to quiet; from bored to engaged. At least they get out of the office and maybe even make a sale, albeit taking their being on a potentially dangerous ride with a stranger on curved mountain roads. The scenery is beautiful and there is a chance to get a doctorate in watching people.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.