Many people say the American dream is dead or dying a slow death. While my husband and I have personally experienced the American dream, both coming from extreme poverty to me becoming an opera singer and he a web analyst – and experiencing my parents work their way from poverty to now owning a very successful small business – I wonder if I just got lucky. Was I the only one to find the pot of gold? I wonder these things because I’m told in the news that it’s withering away. I’m told by politicians that unless they take drastic action now, the American dream will be dead, or if you vote for the other guy, the dream will die and “only I will rescue you”. It starts whirling in my head, and I start to worry for the upcoming generations. But then I meet people like Costele – and my fears that I was the last one to experience the American dream dissipate.

Costele (with the emphasis on the second syllable – think French) was my cab driver from Midway Airport to the Ogilvie train station. Costele is from Romania and came to this country 2 years ago with $100 in his pocket and the name and phone number of someone to contact once he got here. During my 30 minute ride I learned that he was a professional soccer player (which doesn’t pay much there) and a teacher in Romania, but due to the extreme poverty and lack of upward mobility, he decided to take the plunge into this said “Land of Opportunity”. After securing his visa, he made his way to Orlando. Upon arriving, he called his contact and had a job and a “contract” for a rental – a room with 15 mattresses on the floor and the “affordable” rent of only $1,000 a month. At the time he didn’t know any better. He didn’t speak English and needed a place to lay his head. He worked at a hotel and started learning the language and after making some friends, realized he was being taken advantage of. Needing to get away, a friend in Chicago told him to move there, so he did. Now he drives a cab, is married, has a nice place to live and is on his way to a green card. His English is broken, and he said his next to-do is taking ESL. After his green card is issued, his goal is to get his master’s degree translated and transferred here so he can perhaps go back to school for business and start a business that somehow incorporates soccer and education. In the midst of the conversation he said, “Look, I came from playing soccer and teaching to driving a cab. It’s nothing special. You don’t need any special skills. And it will drive you crazy if you do it too long. But it’s good money, I work for myself and make good money so I can do more.” And then he said, “I like it here. I miss parts of Romania, but I like it here. And I can’t fail because I can’t go back.  The worst is over. It can only get better”

No folks, it’s not dead. It seems only to be dead to those who live off the power they gain from telling people it’s dead and journalists who don’t know any better. It’s not dead. It’s yours for the taking. You just have to go get it – and in the process you’ll probably end up inspiring others or taking someone else along with you.

The 4 oz dilemma

May 21, 2009

With all the travel I do, I get really really tired of flying. I’m almost ready to become the opera world’s John Madden. Give me a pimped out bus and send me across the country. Except for the glorious existence of Southwest, all other airlines are terrible. Delays, broken planes, charge you $4 for a $.50 candy bar when they should just give you the obligatory peanuts in the first place, the rude staff, the overpriced tickets, the outrageous change fees, the lost luggage…I really don’t have to continue.

But what do I hate more than anything about flying? TSA.

I mean where else in the world are high school drop outs (I think you only need a GED to get a job) and retirees in charge of “security”. No offense against these folks, but for pete’s sake – when I get off the plane in Germany, I am greeted by the military with machine guns. That’s security.

Forgetting the fact that the TSA is an invasion of my privacy and the fact that you cannot hold them responsible for any damages or losses they cause to the items which they inspect, I am always faced with the awful dilemma of my liquid limits.

I will use a current example. I am flying to Chicago to audition for Lyric Opera’s young artist program. My schedule is tight if I am to catch the train that will take me to the ‘burbs where I am staying for free. In order to catch said train, I must not check my bag. It’s an overnight trip so it would be ridiculous to do so with my tiny bag. HOWEVER. I am faced with the 4 oz dilemma. I have two personal care products which cannot be put into any other container that are 4 oz a piece. One I can live without – the other? No way. Not if my hair is going to look decent. So, here are my options:

1) Do I chance it and try to break Federal law (not sure if it really is, but the TSA folks sure make you think it is) and sneak the offending material into my bag and hope for the best?

2) Rent a car and spend rental fees, gas and parking to avoid missing my train? (Which would run in the $60 – $80 range?

3) Give up on the free place in the ‘burbs and bid on a hotel in Chicago and hope for something that will run around $60 – $80 (hey, I have yet to pay more than $75 for a room and I’ve stayed in many downtown areas in a 3 star place – NYC NOT included)

4) Check the bag and run like hell.

5) Check the bag and miss the train and add an extra hour to my trip.

I mean, this is a major decision. And all because some dingbat in Washington thinks that I can create a explosive device with my hair spray.

Damn those 4 innocent ounces.

It’s always the innocent that get caught in the crossfire.