Recession: Nashville Poverty Higher than the Nation
“Parson got a boxed lunch and some clothes at the West Main Mission Friday afternoon. He said he hopes his fortunes will change in a few years, when he’s old enough to draw Social Security.” This is representative of the attitude in Nashville and what people feel they have to look forward to. There is a greater story to tell.
Nashville, Tennessee is a unique place, more of a crossroads in the minds of most men than a destination. I know plenty of people that came here intentionally, usually with the idea of getting involved in the music industry. Some have decided to stay. Most have not. Until the illegals came, the young, scruffy and temporarily homeless artists showed up with their guitars and their proud voices, living on the park benches and behind the bars in the hopes of being discovered for their musical talent before moving on into nameless oblivion. Nashville has been a migrant city, perfectly positioned between Florida and the cold northern states. Plenty of folks travel back and forth and sooner or later, something happens and they end up staying for a season. The generally temperate climate and the fact that the city is nestled among the hills and in the Cumberland River bottom makes it a perfect place to camp out in the wilds, on the banks and when it gets cold, under the bridges. The economy isn’t much different: more of a stepchild than anything else. I meet more people here that insist on fooling themselves and will argue about the good of Nashville with a red face. It isn’t that Nashville doesn’t have wealth and doesn’t have good points. The fact is that the city is notoriously diverse and yet is subject to great instability because it has never found its soul. The cream of Nashville are very proud of what they have and make certain that they keep it right behind painted steel gates out of public sight.
You see, in Nashville, we don’t talk about our problems in a public forum or admit imperfection. We build things and imagine our way around reality. It’s that hopeless civic and personal pride that pervades most of the city and the suburbs. The people of Nashville overlook the ugliness of life when it’s as close as the front door and never deal with it in their minds. Dirty and hungry men huddle under a bridge romancing a burning oil drum next to the Department of Health and Human Services offices while thousands a day look on in disregard. The drug dealers bop with radios ablast throughout the city. They pay taxes on their illegal booty so that they can roam the streets untouched and safe to ply their trade. It would be too much work to make home a four-star city. Like the people that elected him, Governor Bredesen is part of the mentality that dies hard in a place like this.
The boom of the music industry in the late 80s and 90s made Nashville a place of easy money and good times. In the past, Nashville has been the beneficiary of a huge manufacturing industry, while maintaining the distinction of being the mecca of low wages. Corporate America flocked here to hire the willing locals that had known only extreme poverty for generations from life in the hills and the bottoms of dogpatch. The lowest wages in the region weren’t enough. Now most of those jobs have been outsourced to the likes of India or will be soon. Is anything said? No, the establishment ignores the blight and poverty, while making plans to build a beautiful new stadium downtown on a postage-stamp piece of land and a new hotel on top of historical buildings that can’t be removed for nostalgic reasons. Nashville is big on nostalgia and tries to remember the past fondly. What it can’t remember, it creates.
The rummaging lifestyle has been a mainstay of Nashville from the beginning. With the musical history of country music and the boom of Hee Haw, temporary is an established way of life here. After the city rebelled against the illegals that came to roost in 2005, followed by waves of Katrina refugees, the economy crashed into darkness. A fair portion of people still have work and they are happy to overlook what they see on the streets. Because of the massive traffic and underplanned streets, they have plenty of time to look over the blight. Fortunately, Nashville can be a very social town and the less affluent are willing to help out friends who are in need the best they can. You never know when you might need help yourself or when hard times will be around the corner. Hard-scrabble and isolation is Nashville’s legacy. Homelessness is a way of life here. A few, like Kevin, even have websites. This is a lifestyle for hundreds, if not thousands in the city and much of the city is doing little better, living their lives closed up in cluttered subsidized apartments on welfare wages or social security with little means to get around. The slave quarters of Andrew Jackson’s old home stand as a monument to the lifestyle of this part of the country. We’ve never really been able to get over the Civil War. Life around here has always looked like the Loveless Inn.
End of Part 1
“People are often unreliable, irrational and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. What you spend your years building, someone may destroy overnight; build it anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” – Mother Teresa