I stopped in a gas station the other day to buy a pack of cigarettes.
I still do that. Smoke tobacco. It's still legal, I'm told.
But I had to stand around waiting for 10 minutes. Why was I waiting? Because there was a line four-deep of gamblers waiting to buy their lottery tickets. I was the only man not wearing a ball cap.
I finally got my chance with the clerk. He recognized me from the TV.
"Hey man," he shouted too loudly. "My cousin was trying to get a hold of you. Her mother died. They don't have insurance for the funeral. She was thinking maybe you could do something?"
"I can try," I said, handing him my card. "Have her call me."
I was lying. There was nothing I could do for his cousin's dearly departed mother. I get the "I can't bury granny and I can't afford it" call at least once a week. Still, people want to know somebody cares.
"What about you?" I asked him. "Can't you pay for it?"
He spanned his hand across the width of the counter, across the Tic Tacs and Slim Jims like he was a Price Is Right model showing off a new kitchenette.
"Bro, I make eight bucks an hour," he said. "And I got an associate's degree."
This wasn't Detroit, the national poster child of urban destitution, the international destination for looky-loo tourists seeking snapshots of American decline. This was Bloomfield Hills, one of the region's most exclusive suburbs.
It seemed to me that Detroit's sickness had infected the rest of the country. First the city, then the burbs and now the nation, where we don't make much anymore.
According to the latest numbers out of Washington, D.C., the country has an unemployment rate of 8.8-percent. The number would be higher, but we don't count people no longer receiving unemployment checks, no longer looking for work or those with only part-time work.
The economy added 190,000 jobs last month, but much of those are either temp gigs, retail counter and fast-food clerks or the wipers of other people's bottoms. Hardly the stuff of folk songs. Hardly the stuff that provides a person the ability to pay his mortgage, much less pay for a funeral.
And as my friend Laura Berman smartly pointed out this week in her column in The Detroit News, the home vacancy rate in Bloomfield Hills exceeds 10-percent, eerily similar to Detroit's vacancy rate a decade ago.
Who is to blame? I suppose it depends on which cable network you watch. Conservatives blame the unions, a dead work ethic and Big Government. Liberals blame executive incompetence, NAFTA and Big Business.
If anything can be learned it is this: As one goes we all go. They tried to wall off Detroit, but somebody figured out that if you can move your factory to Oakland County, you can move it again to Oaxaca, Mexico.
People ask me for the solution, but my job is to ask others for solutions.
A smart guy I know, Tony Pashigian, has some radical ideas: Don't wait for a job that's never coming back. Take that job wiping people's bottoms while you reeducate yourself for the new world economy. Lean on your family and neighbors to help, not the TV reporter or the government. Save money if you can, you never know when grandma's going to pass away
I handed the clerk my card, then $10 for the cigarettes. He gave me $3.30 back. What the hell? I bought some lottery tickets. Just in case.