Uncommon Ground

Smells Like Rain

Between a pandemic that’s raging into its third year and perennially low wages, a working person is lucky to simply tread water in a turbulent sea of political nonsense

By Mike Jopek

The late spring rains have been falling hard. It’s so great. Even the split firewood sitting in a pile outdoors didn’t mind getting drenched. Between now and winter, a summer’s worth of exhaustive heat will dry the wood and surrounding lands.

The pouring sustenance turned the landscape alive with shades of green. It smells great, sounds alive. It’s a good time of year for anyone who likes the outdoors.

I’ve been ignoring much of the argumentative political noise, overwhelming souls and fouling moods. The real signs of hardship are everywhere. Even rugged Montana misplaced our traditional values of kindness and consideration toward fellow citizens. Nasty politics remains a cowardly approach to governing.

I looked over at the construction guy filling his big truck at the adjacent gas pump. The dollars kept spinning on the pump as fast as the gaming machines my mother-in-law enjoys at the casino. That truck was hungry, having travelled many miles on a big tank. A hundred bucks later, he sped off.

Oh boy, I thought. How can anyone make it when that much of the weekly paycheck simply vanishes into the tank, burned on the streets of the Flathead? I don’t know, suddenly feeling oddly guilty yet grateful that my more fuel-efficient rig only ate half the fuel.

Gas prices have risen over $2 a gallon from a year ago, according to national data. I’d like to think that kind of outrageous cost increase calmed the driving habits of the vehicles on U.S. Highway 93. That’s not what I see as I drive to Kalispell. It’s clearly not what I hear from the farm as the ever-increasing road growls in the background of the outdoors.

I tell myself that maybe the men hauling those big rigs to work don’t know that driving slower and accelerating gentler saves a lot of pennies on the dollar. I’m speculating that workers driving Highway 93 don’t much want to hear how conservation, slowing down, not only saves big buck on our landscapes but also when filling our trucks. 

I get it, the pressures facing families across the valley are real. People are doing their best with what we have. Wages have clearly not kept pace with the inflationary cost of things like food, fuel, and housing. 

The struggles are real. All across the valley businesses are facing employee shortages as workers hopscotch to better paying opportunities to simply pay the rent as the next pandemic wave crests and millions of tourists flock into the valley.

Only a handful congresspeople seem to care much. Or maybe they feel powerless to act. I don’t know. They won’t say. It feels all too familiar.

Montana seems distracted. We keep seeking more citizens from across the nation to cluster into a vast state already facing critical worker housing shortages regionally. Workers in our valley cannot compete with the dump trucks of cash racing to acquire homesteads.

I maintain hope that moderate-minded voters cast ballots to oust the political grifters, rather sending candidates toward office who understand the real plight facing all working people. It’s a brutal economy out here in the real world. 

Between a pandemic that’s raging into its third year and perennially low wages, a working person is lucky to simply tread water in a turbulent sea of political nonsense. Our elected saviors are busy arguing amongst themselves in Congress while, locally, tourism season is about to explode into high gear.

I looked at my own well-worn hands, realizing how many long days working people are putting in across the valley to make ends meet. The rain stopped for the moment. I hope it returns often. It’s a good friend during turbulent times and a little rain never stopped the work. 

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