Monday, November 8, 2010

Chicago and the Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor

My husband and I get out of Milwaukee as frequently as we can. We usually go to Chicago, which is a real city with a palpable vibrancy and a true identity. Alas, Milwaukee falls short on so many levels, by comparison, we don't even consider it a "real" city and we rarely spend any time or money going out on the town here. That's not to say Milwaukee doesn't have cultural offerings, it does, they are just so very limited.

This past weekend was no different; Chicago delivered on every level. Theatre was great, shopping was great, eating was beyond great. To get anywhere, we hopped on a subway. We walked for miles. In short, we had a terrific experience, as we always do in Chicago.

One of our walks took us down Oak Street, right off the Magnificent Mile. This is the street where all the high end of the high end stores are. Prada. Hermes, Chanel. I suppose it would be nice to have so much money, buying a silk scarf at Hermes that would cost you close to $1,000 would be no big deal. (I do, however, fail to see the importance of a $1,000 scarf.) Or a pair of shoes at Chanel for $895. Unless those shoes can miraculously turn you into a great dancer, I just don't get it. But there is the status thing. I assume people buy these things to show that they are different than the people who don't buy those things.

Not really. I bought a new handbag at Macy's. I'm sure someone bought the new $4,000 clutch at Chanel this weekend, too. Now, I love my handbag, which was really inexpensive compared to the handbag at Chanel. It doesn't particularly make me feel different, but it does hold all my stuff quite nicely. I asked myself how I would have felt if I had bought the large handbag at Chanel, which was so outrageously expensive it should have doubled as a studio apartment. The answer was, I'd feel sick to my stomach. Even if I could have afforded it.

There just isn't anything you can buy in a store that is worth the inflated price people pay for it. And high end, designer stores are probably one of the biggest scams perpetuated against a rich and unsuspecting public. I'm sure people go into these stores because they get the "exclusive" feel that makes them feel special and the store, by its very design, keeps out the riff raff. (Not true, I was in there this weekend.) I'm afraid that having a $1,000 Hermes scarf won't change a thing about my life, or anyone else's.....but it is the perception that people are buying here, not the actual item.

So my perception is this. There are many nice things available to purchase. There are many crappy, cheap items available to purchase, or steal, depending on your economic status. No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, none of this stuff changes who you are or what you are. The reality is, some people have so much money, they don't have to think twice about dropping $6,000 on a handbag. And most have so little money, they don't need a handbag, they can carry their fortunes in their pocket.

I just find it interesting, going from Prada to the subway, the vast difference in our little consumer-driven United States. And I wonder how long the gap can exist before there is a revolution against the unfairness and unreality of it all. There is a reason why the French Revolution was one of the bloodiest, deadliest episodes in all of history. And there is a lesson to be learned, there. You won't learn it on Oak Street. I suggest taking a subway ride in your mink coat and Chanel handbag. The really rich people in this country will be imprisoned by all of their money eventually. And the meek shall inherit this earth.

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