The Burning Platform
May 23, 2012
It happened again yesterday morning. There was an accident on the Schuykill Expressway so I had the pleasure of navigating through the 30 Blocks of Squalor, again. After having made at least 25 posts about the 30 Blocks of Squalor over the years, I keep thinking I’ve run out of things to say. But it seems to be a never ending treasure trove of insights about our society and the people who live in this country. It was a particularly grey day in Philadelphia with a dreary overcast and intermittent rain. It seemed fitting for this trek through the slowly decaying landscape leading to my workplace in West Philly. I’ve talked previously about the stretch of highway leading to the 30 Blocks of Squalor. It’s called West Chester Pike (Route 3) and it cuts through Delaware County where I grew up. It cuts through Havertown, Haverford, Drexel Hill, and Upper Darby and eventually spits you out at 69th Street, where I’ve previously detailed the flash mob of savages rampaging through the Sears stealing everything in sight (all caught on surveillance cameras to be shown on a future reality TV show). In a shocking turn of events, Sears decided to later close this retail establishment.
The 30 minute excursion along West Chester Pike and then the 30 Blocks of Squalor (Chestnut St from 69th St to 39th St) is like traveling through Dante’s nine circles of hell. Every mile leads you deeper and deeper into the abyss. My observations along this route are of a country in a slow methodical steady decline that has been underway for decades and shows no signs of abating.
The neighborhoods and towns along West Chester Pike were occupied by the rising middle class during the 1950′s, 60′s and 70′s. These towns were where blue collar middle class families built a life and raised their families. The fathers worked in factories, refineries, schools, power plants and thousands of other productive enterprises. Americans made stuff back then. Most wives stayed home and raised the three or four children in the small brick row homes or small detached singles that dotted the landscape. These neighborhoods were entirely white and most were church going. Most of the adults had not graduated college, but they were still able to move up the economic ladder through hard work, saving, and living within their means. Their children were guaranteed an even better life if they studied hard, went to college, and got an office job as an accountant, engineer, marketing executive, or in some other promising profession.
This progression began to transform into regression in the 1980s and the slow steady descent has picked up speed. There is now a grey pallor that seems to engulf this once thriving corridor. The houses that were built in the 1950s and 1960s and kept up by middle class families that took pride in their neighborhoods have been deteriorating for years. The homes are in disrepair. The bricks have grown dingy from years of pollution buildup and lack of power washing. Porches and awnings are sagging. The woodwork hasn’t seen a paint brush since the 1970s. Trash is strewn in the streets. Gardens are no longer tended to. Lawns are overgrown with weeds. The inhabitants of these neighborhoods either don’t care or don’t have the financial wherewithal to maintain their homes. On the current trajectory, these once proud neighborhoods will eventually resemble the 30 Blocks of Squalor.
I believe a country and a community will have a lot of what it values most. Our country has a lot of debt, a lot of vehicles, a lot of bombs, a lot of psychotic criminals running our economic and political systems and a lot of willfully ignorant drones – disguised as citizens. As I drove along West Chester Pike I tried to observe what it is we value today. This route is inundated with automobile repair shops, gas stations and auto dealerships. We cannot live without our cars. I can say without a doubt that I saw not one manufacturing facility along this entire route, but if you want your Japanese car fixed, detailed, or waxed, you’ve hit the jackpot.
We value our cars, purchased with debt or leased, but the roads are crumbling, filled with potholes, traffic lights aren’t timed, and the small towns are too bankrupt to do anything about it. The second most important thing to the zombies that inhabit this wasteland is mass quantities of food. You’ve got donut shops, fast food joints, pizza places, Chinese restaurants, Irish pubs every two blocks, and coffee houses on a mind numbing scale. It is easy to see why we’re the most obese people on earth. There are no farmers markets, produce stands, or even grocery stores. But there are at least six beer distributors. And of course there is one L.A. Fitness Center for the ten people out of ten thousand who want to keep in shape. I expect to see a Space Available sign in front of this place in the not too distant future.
Besides the general decay of the commercial properties, you can’t miss the fact that every block has at least one vacant commercial property. There are far more For Sale, Space Available, For Rent, and Leasing signs dotting the barren wasteland than there are wedding rings on fingers in West Philly. The vacant buildings are antiquated relics from the 1960s. It’s as if time stopped at the end of the 1970s and no one has invested a dime in this stretch of highway in 30 years. It’s like “The Land that Time Forgot”.
The only new buildings along this stretch of highway further emphasize what is seemingly important to our society. There are numerous architecturally grand bank branches dominating this highway. There is a beautiful new building housing the Social Security Administration for this area. This is where the obese, depressed and unemployable flock to sign up for the SSDI gravy train. And lastly there are a few medical facilities that are top notch. It seems that banks, government and medicine are doing just fine. But what do they produce?
I think this is a reflection of why this area has deteriorated over time. Industries that made things left this area and left this country. Small businesses were overwhelmed by mega-corporations who cared only about next quarter earnings. They met these earnings targets, set by Wall Street, by shipping the good paying blue collar jobs that supported these communities overseas. The middle class families living here saw their wages stagnate or decline. Wives were forced into the workforce to just keep their households afloat financially. The family unit suffered, with children raised by strangers or left to fend for themselves.
This is where the Wall Street maggots stepped in and sold these middle class families on the illusion of faux wealth built on a pyramid of credit card debt, auto loans, and mortgage debt. Who got wealthy? Not the families living in these fading neighborhoods. The bankers got rich and continue to flaunt their wealth by paying themselves obscene levels of compensation, buying off politicians, gutting our economy and opening fancy new outlets to prey upon the downtrodden and ignorant. An economy built upon manufacturing, production, and value added work results in rising wages and a thriving community. An economy built upon debt attracts consumer consumption outlets that add no value and result in declining wages, government dependency and a dying community.
These once thriving communities have rapidly aged. As the jobs and wages dried up, these communities have become dependent on the government to provide. Social Security payments are now a primary income source for many. The government controlled healthcare industry is thriving as Medicare and Medicaid pay for an increasing proportion of the care in these neighborhoods. After decades of pretending that debt could replace wages and savings, these communities are collapsing due to lack of income, decent paying jobs, capital investment, and common sense. West Chester Pike is well on its way to becoming a future 30 Blocks of Squalor.
Once you pass through the 69th Street death camp which resembles a scene from Night of the Living Dead, you spill out onto the 30 Blocks of Squalor.
This is where the circle of hell began. The rotting carcasses that pass for homes on this stretch of squalor were once occupied by the white families that moved to Delaware County along West Chester Pike in the 1950s and 1960s. It is now 90% black and 10% Hispanic. The real unemployment rate exceeds 50%, murder is the number one industry, with drugs a close second.
As you drive down the 30 Blocks of Squalor you meet the ghost of Squalor future for West Chester Pike. The population along this corridor is ignorant, dependent, and represents the dregs of our society. There is virtually no legal commerce along the squalor. The Asians, Koreans, and whites that attempted to open stores have all been shot down in cold blood. The once proud homes are in shambles. Bags of garbage dot the landscape. Most of the people who live here are parasites on society. Personal responsibility, work ethic, education and marriage are unknown concepts in this community. Even though more than 50% of the students in West Philly drop out of high school and the SAT scores of West Philly High students are lower than whale shit, the bankrupt school district spent $70 million to build a new high school/prison to babysit derelicts and future prison inmates. The windows do not have steel bars yet, as the architect was smart to put all windows at least eight feet above street level.
The Chestnut Plaza truly represents what is important to this community. This Squalor Center, as opposed to Power Center, includes a video porn store, cash checking/payday loan outlet, smoke shop, donut shop, Laundromat, and liquor store. No need for a wedding ring store or resume writing service. Evidently this community values gorging themselves on fast food, getting high, getting drunk, jerking off to porno, and then having their sheets washed. They wouldn’t want to invest a few hundred dollars of their welfare payments on a washer and dryer, when they can spend it on the Direct TV NBA package. They utilize their 8th grade level education to get payday loans from the check cashing store at 40% interest.
Our entire society is in a downward social and economic spiral. We are just at different levels of decay (Dante’s circles of hell). At the current pace it won’t be long before I’m writing about the 50 States of Squalor. It is virtually impossible to reverse a decline that has been underway for the last three decades. We sold our souls to Wall Street and chose a debt financed illusion of wealth over productive savings and investment which would have led to real wealth. Our choices are reflected in the continued deterioration and decay along West Chester Pike and the squalor that is West Philly. Grey and decay will carry the day.
The words on the Statue of Liberty should be revised from, ”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, to “we have become your indebted, materialistic, obese, aging masses yearning for the government to protect and sustain us as our once great nation decays.”
As a nation, we have chosen this path. We made the choices and now we will suffer the consequences.