Sunday 20 May 2018

Joe Brolly: Despair behind the empty plea to 'have a great day'

Unchecked elitism and commercialism have eroded America's spirit of togetherness. That could also happen here, writes Joe Brolly

AMERICAN DREAM: A homeless man plays his guitar in the street in the Mission District in San Francisco.
AMERICAN DREAM: A homeless man plays his guitar in the street in the Mission District in San Francisco.

Joe Brolly

I was in San Francisco last week for the hospice. You get into a taxi. The taxi driver beams a bright smile: "Hi, how are you today?" You walk into a shop. Again, that wide, white smile: "Hi, how are you today?" You pass the hotel lobby, they chorus: "Hi, how are you today?" It's like being surrounded by young Mormons.

After a few days there, it gets stuck in your head, like Chinese water torture. "Have a great day," "have a great day," "have a great day." But what happens when positivity meets reality?

You talk to the taxi driver. He is on a zero-hours contract. His rent is $3,000 a month for the two-bed apartment where he lives with his family. He can make $5,000 a month if he works 14 hours a day. He's working hard for his family, but he rarely sees them. After the bills are paid, there is nothing left. If he gets sick, they are in big trouble. When you delve beneath the surface, these ordinary people are living with terrible daily anxiety. Will they lose their home? Will they be able to afford a decent education for their children? How will they get by in retirement? A sobering statistic: over 10 million Americans have lost their homes since 2008. Are they having a great day?

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