The first night of my three month backpacking trip to Europe found me in the basement club at St. Christopher’s Village Inn Hostel with my new Canadian friend Jason. The drink special was £1.50 Corona longnecks. Now, I’ve got nothing against Corona, I mean, it’s not the best tasting beer, just put a lime in it and it becomes bearable, but this was London England!
Had I just traveled across the ocean to find that the only drink special I could get was on a Mexican import? Where were the specials on Bass, or Harp, or Kronenburg? This was a hostel catering to backpackers right? Ok, who am I kidding, it was beer, it was cold, and it was the best deal in the house.
Here rues became wide, sweeping, multi-laned. Traffic-lighted intersections met divided highways as if I had been transported back to suburban America; schools, community centers, recreation parks as ordinary as any you would find stateside assimilated urban towerblocks, sweeping 20 stories high each with a small balcony, into the amalgamation. Many acted as giant billboard stands, hoisting neon Samsung and Sanyo signs 60 metres in the air beside the beltway. Arranged like a beige hive, I assumed a middle class neighborhood, filled with well-employed families living in these towering corporate endowed megaliths. Train tracks sprawled out in rotary style. A traditional building sat alone, no others with which to stand, surrounded by apartment complexes.
As I rounded this building, I gazed over the lot adjacent. No playground, no trees, bushes, flowers, or even grass, as barren as any wasteland. I realized these monoliths were not where the fortunate lived but perhaps the Parisian version of the slums. A few misplaced minorities shuffled their way in and out across their desert entrance yards. There were hundreds of them. Not people but buildings. Thousands of people. Sinking deeper, the towers became shorter. Maybe only five or six stories tall in a palate of art deco pastels. One clean white complex connected its sections with waved, open bridges between every three floors against a backdrop of clear blue sky. A jackhammer plowed into the ground around a sewer grate. A dumpster overflowed with construction materials. Apartments slowly dwindling, I gathered I was heading south toward the
heart of the city. Every Metro station I passed was a reminder of the heat and my aching feet, but the living side of life astounded me enough to continue my journey.
Later on that evening, not long before closing time, I ascended out of the smoke filled basement to the street above for some much needed fresh air. I noticed a girl waiting at the corner bus stop. I recognized her from the bar. She had been dancing most of the night with her friends. We somehow started talking. Rosa was from Sicily but had moved to London when she was 19 and had been here for the past seven years working as a waitress and now as a flight attendant for Monarch Airlines. She had come here in search of a better life. She seemed happy enough but I could tell that she had bigger dreams in mind.
Although her present situation allowed her to do her three favorite things – travel, party, and shop, she admitted that she wanted to do something more meaningful with her life. I have to admire her for that. Too often do we look at our job as nothing more than a means to an end. As long as we make enough money to afford ourselves the lifestyle we want, then we assume that we are happy. It’s funny how clever our minds are sometimes that they can convince us that what we are doing is worth it even though we hate it. But can you blame us?
We live in a world where the media is constantly pumping fear into us, leading us to believe that if we don’t do this or buy that then we won’t be socially acceptable. And who controls the media? Well, for the most part, it’s large corporations who are using whatever advertising campaigns they deem necessary to market products that we don’t even need. And for what? To make another 20 million dollars? Where does it stop? When is enough money enough money? Where did we cross the line that making profits off of people is more important than the people themselves? Do these handful of individuals realize how much good they could do with all their so-called “power” if they only focused their energy on the betterment of mankind rather than the betterment of their pocketbooks?
At least Rosa wasn’t buying into it. She wanted something other than what she was told she wanted. She spoke of wanting to be in television. But she didn’t want to be a TV star. She wanted to work behind the scenes, where the real work takes place she said. She was more concerned with making someone else look good than being in the spotlight herself. She was looking out for others, and just the thought of it made her happy.
-By David Melancon
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