Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Rich and Poor in the South

by James Glaser
March 2, 2007

We had rich people back home in Minnesota, but they didn't flaunt it like they do down here. I know a couple of people up North, who kept a Lincoln Town Car in their garage, and only drove it on trips. It was almost like they were ashamed that they had enough money to afford a car like that.

If you live in a town with only one restaurant, and only one bar, you are going to be dining and drinking with the rich folks for sure.

Down here in the South, everything is more black and white. That could be true in more than one way. Here in Tallahassee, all you have to do is drive around town, and it will not take you long to figure out where the rich folks live and where the poor ones are.

There are sections of town where the houses sit back so far they are hard to see, and you just know that quarter mile two lane driveway cost a bundle. Other people live in houses that you would swear are abandoned. Maybe it is because I lived in the cold North, but I always assumed that houses with missing windows would be vacant. Down here, I have seen people living in homes that have no windows or even a door.

Of course those people without windows, at least have a roof over their heads. There are many, many people down here living on the streets. I read a thing in a local paper this week about how Tallahassee has two homeless shelters, and that the two of them can only house one out of every twenty five homeless people who live here.

I drive the back roads when I get the chance to travel down here. One thing that I noticed is that you will drive along and all of a sudden, you will see fifteen, maybe twenty real nice brick homes all in the same area. Every yard is neat as a pin and the lawns and gardens look very nice. Then just a couple of miles down that same road you will come to an area with twenty or more shacks mixed in with a lot of run down single wide trailers. Their yards are filled with trash, and nothing about the area looks inviting

Back home there are people with old trailers, but a lot of those people make an effort to keep their place looking as good as they can. Yards are picked up, there are flower gardens, and many of those people have vegetable garden that would be the envy of anyone. Truth be told though, there are people up North who would fit right in with the worst setting you will find down here.

I think the thing that caught my eye, was how the two economic areas are segregated from each other. Sometimes you will see an Antebellum looking home on the top of a hill with no other home in sight, but them. I assume that family owns all the land in every direction. I think what I am seeing, is sections of abject poverty in a State that is filling up with upper middle class people from the North, who fit right in with Florida's upper middle class families. It has been reported that Florida is one of the states with a large number of severely poor people. I think the number of people was over 900,000 making less than $5,000 a year, under $10,000 for a family of four.

If you are making that kind of money, it is no wonder that you cannot afford windows in your house. Back home, if you do not have a window, you would freeze to death in the winter. I do not care how bad of a shack you live in, in Minnesota, the County will come out there and insulate it, put in new windows, doors, and give you a new furnace, and even side the place. I can think of many homes, where it would have been cheaper to tear the place down and build new, but the County was dealing with Federal money, so they could only repair, not replace.

A sad thing I see a lot of down here, and that is some guy builds a real nice house and right across the road somebody moves in a doublewide trailer and trashes the yard. The guy with the big house payment is looking out his window at his own little section of a ghetto. Some people buy a piece of land across the road from an existing trash heap, and they build a nice place. They must think that they are going to shame the people that were there into cleaning up, but they would be better off if they could buy them out.

One day I was driving around Tallahassee and saw the "perfect" house. It had everything and the only thing it was missing to be an English cottage, was a thatch roof. It had a for sale sign in the yard, and so I drove home to get Wanda, so she can see it too. Cool as can be, she says, "Looks nice, why don't you drive around the block?"

The next block over, we came to what looked like a third world country. That is what you have down here, the "haves," and the "have nots." They live right next to each other, but they are worlds apart.

It is going to take some getting used to, living down here where poverty and wealth look you in the eye where ever you go. I guess what really gets me is that we have people in Florida, who are living like they are in the third world, while our politicians in Washington are sending billions of dollars over seas.

I would just think that here in America we should be able to get every citizen a roof over their head. After that, we could start thinking about windows and doors.

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