Posted by: Bill Tracy | August 15, 2016

Hole in the Ground, Hole in the Heart

Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life

Was all that wasted time, all that wasted time?

-Keith Urban
“Wasted Time”

Autumn, 1984, I and a few hundred other folks moved into a stunning new work building in Alexandria, Virginia. The newly built headquarters of American Trucking Associations was a unique glass and stone tower with architectural aspirations. Sitting alone in a remote outcast field it looked like a solitary eagle with wings spread, airborne anticipation. Visible a half-mile north was the historic George Washington Masonic National Memorial building, perhaps the single most iconic structure in Alexandria. Towering over the town, it emulates the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world. The glass of the ATA building was meant to mirror that iconic structure. The stone facade used the stepping stone pattern of the Masonic Memorial. And everywhere you looked in the building there were shadowings and homages to it. The Governor of Virginia, Chuck Robb, presided over the formal opening dedication ceremony. It was a fine building in which to work, and I worked there nearly 10 years. A week ago I sat in a car looking at the place where that beautiful building had been. It’s now been razed and is simply a hole in a field overgrown with weeds surrounded by curbing and asphalt where cars once parked. A robust, elegant building I saw lasting 50 to 100 years is abandoned in 25 and torn down in 30. As I sat there feeling sadness at the loss I heard a song on the radio. A snatch of lyrics froze me, “…all that wasted time, all that wasted time.”

DSCF1687

Depression where ATA once was.

I spent nearly 10 years working for ATA. Today I consider that wasted time. It was personally satisfying at the time and financially rewarding. Had I stayed there I would be a retired millionaire today (had I lived this long). The principal work of ATA is massaging government for the benefit of corporations. ATA workers are corporate minions, slavishly, often thoughtlessly pursuing corporate profits at the expense of anything and everything. Such work over the last 30 or 40 years personifies what Chris Hedges wrote in his Truthdig column published March 2, 2016:

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters.

ata_empire

The ATA building around 1990.

While I could not have articulated it so well, when I left ATA I knew what Hedges says was true. I was part of a college-educated elite serving corporate masters at the expense of the working class people of this country — the people my family had been from their arrival in 1861 until my graduation from Rutgers University in 1977. That’s when I stopped being a truck driver and mechanic and laborer and became a privileged vassal of the corporate class. Easter weekend, 1993 I walked out of ATA, a wholly intentional symbolic rebirth, and my work and allegiance was sworn to the poor and “underclass” as Hedges calls them. For most of the rest of my working life, I opposed the corporate domination by working for and with poor folk. I did a couple of necessary detours along the way, but mostly I served the poor. And not a minute of that time working with the poor do I consider wasted time. They were truly the best years of my life. If I hindered the ugly corporate takeover of this country by a single minute, my time was well spent.

va_alex2

George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Autumn 1992.

Serving the corporate evil empire, so to speak, can be seductive. The personal rewards seem great — authority, respect, luxury, wealth, economic liberty, perhaps even admiration and envy. All that is hard to ignore or reject once you’ve spent time getting yourself educated, getting yourself positioned for successful intake into the corporate elevator. You feel entitled to the rewards. And this culture reinforces your right to pursue and achieve those rewards. But you may come to see a different reality if you keep your eyes open, your thinking processes honed and you do not harden your heart. If you can manage to resist the anesthetic effect of affluence and apathy, you might see a more noble vision.

Like me you may come to a place where you have to make a choice. In my off hours from ATA duties, I was working with the poor and homeless on the streets of Washington, DC. The disparity between the corporate high life and the people of the streets was stupefying. I found myself living in two worlds, one so real it made your heart ache, the other so unreal it made your soul ache. So I made a decision to save my soul. The corporate world I knew is now a hole in the ground in Alexandria, Virginia. That’s where I think it belongs, and I’m glad I’m not there. Yet my heart still aches — for that wasted building and the wasted time.

And as I sat there looking at the emptiness of what once had been the ATA headquarters, Mr. Urban’s song played on…

 

Out of nowhere it slipped away

And the rope by the river hangs silently

And the town that we knew ain’t nothing like it used to be

Ah, I can’t explain

They took all the colour from the picture frame

And the days got sold to the grid and the game

Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life

Was all that wasted time, all that wasted time?

.

ATA_Takedown

The teardown, November 2014. Image courtesy Red Brick Town blog. redbricktown.com

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Responses

  1. Americans don’t know how to save things. They throw away and tear down before it is time to do so. I am still wearing twenty year old clothes because they are not threadbare or irreparable. Our car is ten years old. Our prior car we gave e to our son who finally replaced it at its death at 250,000 miles. My daughter drove a Hyundai until it, too, reached 250K miles. I know that was not the point of your BLOG, but I had to comment on American wastefulness.

    I agree that spending time and effort to help others is the best time spent..


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