For three months in 1999, I lived amongst what I call "the bus people," for lack of a better term. At the time I was broke, without a car and struggling to find work and I rode the bus with these good folks. They are the people that "ordinary" middle class Americans find themselves somehow incapable of understanding.
They work long days, compounded by wait and travel times on the city buses. They have nothing but a meager home and a meager existence and they fight their way through life from paycheck to paycheck.
Once I found myself living back in the comfortable surroundings of middle class America, only because I have a father who is rather well off, I noticed their contempt for the bus people. Most perceived the bus people as some kind of parasites or scavengers somehow living off the government or making their money by selling drugs or robbing liquor stores. I found most of the bus people to be hard working people who often held down two low paying jobs to feed their families and stay alive. I remember talking to one man who always looked tired but kept a smile on his face and a glint of hope in his eye. He worked as a cook at a hotel during the day and part time as a janitor at another at night. He got on the bus at five o'clock in the morning and took the ten o'clock bus home at night. When he could get the hours, he worked weekends, saving up the money to take his grandson to one of Orlando's theme parks. He'd been saving for close to ten years for that trip when I met him, and it was a trip he didn't even have to leave town for.
The faces of the people who are adrift and losing hope in New Orleans... so many of them I recognize... they are the bus people.
I cringed the other night when a certain elected official made a comment about how people were told to evacuate and implied their misery was their own fault. After all, he said, he was in a dry house sleeping in a dry bed and had just had a nice hot shower. Sure. He had a car, he had people to take him in, and he had the means to make this all possible. The bus people don't have cars. That's why they are the bus people, because they rely on public transportation. They don't have the money to get on a train or take the Greyhound to somewhere they can get a hotel room for the duration of the storm and its aftermath. They have nowhere to go. Home is all they have.
And now the bus people are dying in New Orleans, not because they are lazy, not because they are shiftless, not because they ignore warnings or because they are foolish, but because they are poor. They are there because the evacuation only included those who had a car, friends or family with a car or access to other means out of town. When the evacuation order went down, there were no buses lining up to take those without their own transportation out of town.
One nation under Mammon.