Walking in Bakersfield
By John Latta
So many places in the world with people angry at America and Americans.
Much of the rest of the world sees us so simply and increasingly see us as an enemy. Out there somewhere are young zealots torn between suicide-bombing Americans or trying to come to America to enjoy the fruits of our way of life. You’re welcome by the way; all you have to do is contribute to it.
How people react to others and to other cultures is a sophisticated process open to endless academic examination and hypothesis. But much of the emerging world’s anti-Americanism is relatively simple. In the old country music hit “The Streets of Bakersfield,” Buck Owens sings “You don’t know me but you don’t like me / Say you care less how I feel / But how many of you that sit and judge me / Ever walked the streets of Bakersfield.”
There’s little doubt that most of the people who don’t like us don’t know us. The face of America they see is distorted. If these people drew a picture of us, we would not recognize ourselves. Into their lives are tossed selected and edited images that they are told demonstrate the pornography and propaganda of greed and power, ruthless exploitation and military might. Others see only the violent or unreal America of Hollywood. They know George Bush, Michael Jackson, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston, Rumsfeld and Schwarzenegger but they don’t know Mr. John Q. Truckdriver. And it is Mr. Truckdriver who represents most of us.
Look, world, when it comes to the fundamentals of America and Americans, it’s not about the few, the rich and the powerful, the corporate fat cats, the shallow celebrities and the generals you see on television. It is about us down here in the middle. A truck driver, not a movie star, a billionaire, a politician or a general, is as close to the average American as you’ll find. And when it comes to hopes and dreams and the ability and willingness to work hard and be a solid citizen, that trucker could be a hard-working guy from half the places on the globe.
When you hear about a CEO making another billion or a movie star getting another multi-million dollar check, that’s not everyday America. That’s money at work. Money is a byproduct of America, not its core. America is when an ordinary truck driver gets to buy his own house or his own big rig. America is working when a trucker gets a fair hearing in a local court somewhere, and the power of government that has charged him is restrained and examined and maybe its accusation is proved wrong. And you never hear about it.
In so many places in the world today the average person is lost in a mass of equally choice-starved people with few chances to take control of their own lives. They are made to feel, to quote another song, like “just another brick in the wall.” But the America they revile is not the land that is sold to them by their leaders or represented by Hollywood or headlines. America is home to millions of average Americans they know nothing about.
I wish the everyday working man from a forgotten corner of the world who spits at America could walk the streets of Bakersfield. I wish he could ride along with a trucker across America and meet us. Us, down here.
They’d find Mr. John Q. Truckdriver to be a lot like them. They’d find that for the vast majority of Americans, this country is really about the life that someone can build with his sweat and his skills. He goes to work every day like so many of you do. And he works long hard hours like so many of you. Many of those people who say America as if it were a dirty word could sit around a table with this guy, drinking coffee and talking about work, finding familiar ground, recognizing something of themselves in this driver. He is not wealthy, not powerful, he works and works and works like you do, and his hands are dirty like yours. And he’s likely to buy you a beer or invite you to his house.
You know what, world; most of us are just like you.