A man, standing along the exit ramp from I-435 to State Line Road, respectfully waited for drivers to make the first move. He held no sign; he did not look pleadingly at the people sitting in their cars waiting for the light to turn from red to green. He stood next to his backpack, stuffed full of all of his worldly possessions, with a look of determination and shame. Passersby knew why he was standing there so there was no need for a big production or sob story. One by one, five drivers in a row rolled down the windows of their BMWs, Jeeps, Chevys, Mazdas and Saturns and handed the man dollar bills and coins. He nodded humbly at each of them, held their hand in both of his as he accepted the money and as the light turned green, and cars started to roll forward, he brushed his hand over his eyes and walked slowly to his backpack.
What's his story? Imagination and first impression led my mind to believe that he is newly homeless, in a phase of coming to terms with his situation and realizing how easily it all slipped away. Maybe, as he stands next to his backpack, he mulls over how he got here and wishes he could go back in time while realizing it was probably actually out of his control. I will never know. What I do know is that when I handed him the only cash I had on me, four dollar bills, he gave two of them back. He held my hand in his and said, simply, "In case you run into someone else."
A few miles away, a few days later, I drove past the Honeywell Kansas City plant where machinists, on strike, were lined along the road waving and holding their professionally printed signs high. The only words I could read as I cruised by were Machinists and Unfair. The word unfair piqued my interest. What could possibly be happening in the plant that would be so unfair people would stop working to hang out and wave at strangers? Is it a sweat shop? Did the company cut benefits or do away with them completely? Are they forcing workers to kick puppies? Did they start hiring underage children to work 18 hour days with no breaks?
I'm not going to get into the details of why the machinists are striking or attempt to start a debate about unions and labor practices and what is or is not fair; however, if you would like to read about the strike, click here. I will state that I do not support the strike. In fact, I can't even drive down Bannister Road because the sight of the strikers infuriates me. The conditions surrounding the strike are not extreme or inhumane. They are based on unfair labor practices. To be clear, unfair is not the same as illegal. I would like to stand across the street from them with a sign (I can't afford to have my sign professionally done so it will be handwritten on a posterboard) that says:
Solution: Maybe find a new job. Oh wait, the Kansas City Metropolitan unemployment rate is 8.7%. . .so get back to work!
My job isn't always fair, is yours? Do you have the luxury to stop working and while you are not working, do you expect to continue receiving benefits and to go back to your job once you get your way? I didn't think so. For most of us, if we stop working our employers shrug and replace us, as they should. Many Americans, who never voluntarily stopped working and who were loyal employees have been laid off of jobs. Many of these jobs are the type that most of us would consider suitable only for teenagers, or those without college degrees, and yet individuals were attempting to support their families off of those hard earned, very low wages. And others, who may even have college degrees, would now do anything to have one of those jobs. Want to talk about fair now, union machinists?
There is a man, standing somewhere along a road or interstate, who knows the reality of what unfair means all too well. He understands it so well that he selflessly gave back money that he needed in order to be fair to someone else who might need it, maybe even more than he does. Difficult to imagine. Difficult to forget.