Jun

24

 I moved to San Diego with my family for a new job about 3 years ago. While San Diego is nice (the weather can't be beat–even in comparison with Hawaii's), it's not San Francisco. Having renovated our house on the peninsula south of SF (we're in the northern part of Silicon Valley) to suit our needs and tastes only accentuates what we miss about the being by the Bay. I guess we're NorCal, not SoCal people.

The one thing no one in my family misses in the Northeast winters (I keep telling them that they had it good compared to the hearty souls in Minneapolis, where I took my residency training.) There are lots of things upended in moving 500 miles, things that one may not consider particularly significant. Examples include finding a new physician, finding a new racquetball partner, figuring out if there's any place to find a good bagel (Izzy's in Palo Alto wasn't quite at the old H&H level, but it was close)–we're still working on this one, and so on.

Something that one might dismiss as one of those myriad things one needs to feel "settled" in an area is a barber. In San Diego, barbers run from $5 (I can't recommend at least two–I thought the shears likely had some Hep B and/or C) all the way up to V's which charges $25 for basically the same haircut, albeit in a place with wood paneling (I guess the wood paneling adds somehow to one's appearance, but I remain unsure as to how).

I found a barber who charges $8 for a pretty good cut. The shop is down near the navy base, and her husband is, not surprisingly, a sailor, now deployed someplace in the Pacific/Indian Oceans. My guess is that she's in her mid-20s, no children. She and her husband have decided against starting a family as yet. Between his deployments and her constantly working at the barber shop, they didn't think having children made sense for themselves just yet.

I went for a haircut yesterday. She wasn't as jovial as she usually has been. For the past 3 months, as the sequester has taken hold, she's observed a fall-off in business. It's been noticeable. She said that she and her husband had already begun cutting back on expenditures, expecting there to be some impact of the sequester on her (and their) income. They've already eliminated any vacations and some clothing purchases for the foreseeable future. She volunteered that some of her friends (with at least one spouse in the military) are using food stamps. She also mentioned that her brother-in-law is an aviator out of Miramar and his flying times are being reduced, supposedly by the sequester. Regina commented that her immediate worry is with their apartment. Their lease is up at the end of August (I think that's what she said), and the landlord told her yesterday that their rent will be going up to cover additional interest costs since borrowing costs are going up.

In northern San Diego County, away from the navy base (south of downtown), one might have expected less of an impact of the sequester. However, there has been something felt by some of the businesses–probably because of Camp Pendleton, which occupies a spit of land between San Diego and Orange County. Asking some of the merchants at the outlet mall in Carlsbad about business, there's some suggestion of softness, but there's been layoffs in the mall, at least not yet. What happens next though, is a (to use Yul Brenner's phrase) a "puzzlement."

The local biotech industry is slowing making its way back from the premature death sustained when Biogen Idec closed its local campus. Health in general, though, seems to be in growth mode. So is mobile engineering. And there's some suggestions of an improvement in the local tourism trade, with the opening of non-stop service to Tokyo. (The inaugural flight was greeted by about 200 cheering individuals positioned just off the edge of the runway. They clapped when they saw the plane overhead as it was landing.)

Most are aware of the weakness of the economy–the employment growth numbers remove the little doubt about that condition. Though we are used to looking at number, there are people behind those numbers. As an epidemiologist during the early and mid-1980s, it was possible to become numb to the statistics behind the AIDS epidemic. The numbers were unlike anything seen in the US for many years. Each of the persons represented by those numbers was someone's son or daughter; someone's husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife; someone's brother or sister; and so on.

It's easy to forget about the people when looking at the data. Data don't have faces. They don't have arms and legs. And most of the time, they don't have voices. That shouldn't remove the reality that there are people behind those numbers. At the same time, one must remember that there are still real ills present in our economy, that dealing with them will require dealing with real pain and that, since we are a globalized economy, the effects of what ever actions we take are likely to have impact far from our shores (I'm thinking of something more than the butterfly effect). How we go about doing it, with what level of rancor and disdain (which seem omnipresent in DC these days, which isn't surprising I guess given the absence of political leadership by just about anyone), will say provide its own Rorschach Test result about what the US is all about, how we want to be perceived, and what values do we hold dear and which are just "so much fluff.

As Regina was telling me about her family's situation, I wondered when do we, as a nation, begin to have an economy growing sufficiently that Regina and her husband feel they can start a family, that they can take a vacation (even if only to Palm Springs overnight), that we unite rather split apart, and that not merely allows civil discourse about our society and what we want it to look like and function but rather encourages it. At its core, it's about how we interact with one another as people, how much we value someone else as an individual and not a statistic in a table or a model. Perhaps it's a matter of giving the country more time to address its ills. I'm not so sure that time will make that much difference by itself.

I think with all of the activities in our daily lives, we are quick to stereotype–almost like zombies–someone based on an utterance or two. It's faster that way. It's also the lazy approach. It takes effort to get to know someone, to see them as more than a statistic on a page or in a table. Let's hope that we, as a country, get past zombie mode and move the country forward. For all of our ills (and there are many of them), the US remains as the sole superpower on the face of the Earth. Let's not squander the opportunities to fashion our world and realize all of its potential. Until then, however, I think I'm going to think about letting my hair grow longer.


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