The New Economy – Asleep At The Wheel

The LA Times had a sobering piece about the price people are willing to pay to have a job.

It’s 2 in the morning, and the lines of cars waiting to cross the border have already grown so long that they are snarling the streets of this city’s downtown nearly half a mile away.
But most of the lines at the border crossing aren’t moving. Car engines are turned off. Motorists are literally asleep at the wheel. Some rest their heads on their steering wheels, others against the glass of the car windows. A chorus of snorts and whistles drifts out the open windows of a Volkswagen Jetta in which four men snooze. In a Toyota Corolla, a man has tied a towel around his eyes to block out light.

The slumberers don’t have to be in San Diego until the workday begins hours from now. But night after night, they queue up in the area leading to the border inspection lanes — with pillows and blankets as well as packed lunches — because of a twisted sort of logic.

If they show up at 4 a.m., when 20 of the lanes leading to the San Ysidro Port of Entry open for the day, they could find themselves in stop-and-go traffic for up to two hours. Four other lanes are always open, but if the crossers try to get through those lanes at this hour, they’ll have to stay awake in line for at least half an hour — and then find somewhere to sleep in San Diego before work starts.

The piece discusses both the types of people crossing the border each day, America citizens and resident aliens (that phrase always makes me think of E.T.) and their reasons for doing so. Many living south of the border do so because the price of housing in the San Diego area is too high to continue to live on the pay offered. The vocations listed, construction worker, painter, delivery driver, show the types of people still needed for society to function. People who are to be used but not seen. Like the slaves in another time, another place – Rome.

In the wake of 9/11, the increased border security and the Republican misuse of the hot button immigration issue, has changed a morning commute into a nightly ordeal. In order to assure a timely presence, people are willing to disrupt their lives, their sleep and their health simply to make a necessary pilgrimage each day.

Of course not all sleep commuters are workers. The article also described the life of two kids.

College student Michael Gonzalez, 23, does homework while his sister Sarah, 10, sleeps in the back seat. Both are U.S. citizens who moved to Tijuana five years ago to be closer to an ailing relative. When they first began this routine, drowsiness would overcome Sarah at school, Gonzalez said. But she adjusted and now slumbers soundly in the car until they arrive at a friend’s house, where she sleeps an additional hour before her fifth-grade class.

One has to wonder what effect this kind of life-style will have on that girl. What will her chances be in an increasingly competitive job market? In a job market where people are willing to spend up to 5 hours sitting in a plastic/rubber/steel contraption waiting for a chance to get to the golden zone, the weekly pay check, the chance at luck.

Is this the American fantasy, dreamt while asleep on the way to work or school? Is the American economy literally asleep at the wheel?

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