It was in a little dingy town, one of many along the way to visit my daughter, Jenny, in Pagosa Springs, where I met Sue the waitress.
It’s a two -day trip for me (the way I drive), and somewhere along the way I usually look for a dirt road leading nowhere. There, off the main road a bit, I’ll roll out my sleeping bad and spend the night under the stars. But, come light in the east, I’m back on the road, looking for breakfast. This trip was no different, until I met Sue.
Sue was a big-hearted and friendly waitress, not unlike others I’ve met in little towns along the way. Like Joan in Delta and Sarah in Hanksville, Sue works long hours in a town that can’t support a restaurant with its population, and must rely on the occasional traveler to stay afloat. Like Joan and Sarah, Sue makes a tad more than minimum wage if you include the few tips she gets, less if you don’t.
Sue told me she’d like to leave town and get work in a larger city where she could make a little more money. But she knows rent is higher in other places and she hardly makes enough to pay the rent where she’s at. With no money, she’s hesitant to leave what she’s known all her life.
Sue poured me a refill of coffee and turned to get my check. There was a funny-looking, multi-colored blemish on the back of her neck, just above her collar.
“You might get that looked at,” I said when she returned, “It might be serious.”
She reached around to pull the collar up a little higher. “I know what it is,” she said, “and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You don’t have insurance?”
“Sweetie,” she replied, “if I had the money for insurance I wouldn’t even be in this town! I can’t afford it, the owner doesn’t offer it, and, hell, he doesn’t have it either!”
“What country,” she asked, looking me straight in the eye, “are you from?”
That gave me something to think about as I drove on to Pagosa Springs and daughter Jenny.
You’d like Jenny. Most everyone in town knows her and likes her. She still drives the first car she ever owned, a classic Chevelle with a can’t-miss paint job. She’s young, pretty, hardworking and industrious. She’s her own boss and has been most of her life. She’s a naturally artistic person. For the last 10 years she’s owned and operated a florist shop. While there used to be five florists in town, with the economy the way it is, it is now down to Jenny’s and one other. She’s tenacious and not above taking a second job to keep her business afloat.
She promotes her business. Last year she was the first woman driver in the Pagosa Springs Destruction Derby held at the county fair. Her business’s name was plastered all over the car she used. She didn’t win, but the publicity helped her business. This year she did it again with another car and almost won. She received a few bruises but more sales orders too.
Jenny is so different from Sue, yet in one way they are alike. Jenny has no health insurance either. She told me, “Dad, there’s just no way.”
And so, on my trip home, I had more to think about. And questions come to mind.
Why are those groups of people — the ones who supposedly are for offering a “hand up instead of a handout” — not willing to help some hardest-working business people this country has by providing a realistic path to health insurance?
Why is it more important to protect huge health insurance conglomerates from competition by not allowing our people a public option to health care? Is it because, like the financial giants of Wall Street, these insurance companies have “grown too big to fail?”
Why are those who fought to keep a dying woman alive against her own stated wishes now turning their backs on Sue – and millions like her – who would prefer to live? Is it because she adds no value to their cause?
And, for Sue’s last question to me – “What country are you from?” I guess the answer is, sadly, a country where citizens are not as important as corporations.
Let’s work to change that.
Richard Douse is a north state resident.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.