A year ago, on September 28, 2015, Lufthansa’s flight LH 412 from Munich to Newark landed on Jersey soil, carrying, among others, two would-be expats to their new homes.
Moving here has been quite educational. And a bit confusing. It is something new and something old at the same time. The US was my home before I moved to Europe. I grew up and spent 13 very formative years attending elementary, middle school, high school and university here. However, the East Coast is definitely not the West Coast, the mentality is different, the weather is different. And, as much as I have internalized many American values, I have also internalized a lot of German values. When I am here, I feel extremely German. But just from looking at and talking to me, no one would know that at all.
Several months ago, Alex and I had the pleasure of having his niece Anna, and her boyfriend Marcel, over for a visit. As good Germans, A & M had a clear plan of what they wanted to for each of their 12 days, all the way to the minutes before their departure back to Deutschland.
One of the top things on their list, besides seeing a Yankees game live, was to tour the MetLife stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. For $17 a person, you can book tickets online and get an inside look at all that the stadium has to offer. We had two tour guides, a tall and authoritative yet not unfriendly lady, and her younger counterpart. She started by asking us about what we knew about the Stadium, its history, about the teams and who owns them. The Giants are apparently owned by the Tisch and Mara families, and are stated to be worth $1.3 billion. The stadium’s other team is the Jets. Hosting two teams concurrently makes the MetLife Stadium the No. 1 grossing stadium in the world.
And then, the walking tour began. We saw the trophy room and the press room, and learned some facts about why the press room wasn’t centered to the 50 yard line – moneyed patrons and the private suites they occupy – then we actually looked at the different suites, from close to nosebleed height, to the levels below, to the Commissioner’s Club whose common lounge area resembled a staid old boys’ club in the middle of Manhattan, and where gourmet delicacies would be served up by star chefs, and all the way down to the Coaches’ Club, where preparations for an impressive Bat-mitzvah party for fraternal twin girls A&I were underway. When we got onto the field, we were strictly advised not to test the special astroturf by tackling one another, and to stand behind the dotted yellow media lines at all times. We could, however, take all the pictures we wanted.
On the field, stadium technicians were testing the audio visual systems, and a video ran over and over, showing us clips of A & I, their friends, and one Giants and one Jets player respectively, wishing them congratulations on entering adulthood. A privilege that cost the family a pretty fortune, I’m sure.
It became clear why the stadium is so successful. Companies, entrepreneurs, self-made gazillionaires and old wealth – all are congregated onto this one island, and even spilled over to neighboring New Jersey, and by one-upping themselves with expensive suites and memorable milestone celebrations, they provide financial support to the players and coaches and the Mara and Tisch families. As for the normal fan, I’m sure in aggregate their tickets do amount to something, but…
During Superbowl 2014, we were told, the suites, many of whom were in the hands of one owner during the entire season, were all reauctioned from scratch, the top ones garnering slightly over $1 million for that ONE game.
It was an interesting tour, no less, and I learned much more than I expected to. But the German in me just can’t condone this kind of crazy capitalism. Because the questions nag: How much does the security staff, or the girl behind the food stand, earn? Can they support themselves and their families on their hourly salaries? And why is it, when suites are sold for $1 million a game, the surrounding freeways are full of potholes and beggars stand on every street corner?
However, simply condemning something I don’t agree with is not the answer. So I am left with trying really hard to make heads of tails of it, until I do understand.
So this is my theory. America is still a relatively young country. And with any young living thing, it has young dreams. Like I can be who I want to be, if I work hard enough. That is, the American dream, no? And, akin to that, whatever I can fantasize in my head, I can and should make real. Like any teenager, America is also quite focused on itself, as it navigates what it means to be part of the big wide world and the global society. So it imagines riches, comforts and affluence that are beyond most persons’ reach and thinks that providing that, reaching those fantastical dreams for oneself is what it’s all about. When I get there, I would have achieved the ultimate, and that would be the point of my life.
What many forget (and not just here but also in other parts of the world) is that that indescribable wealth often comes at someone else’s cost. Someone who perhaps wasn’t born in the right neighborhood, for example, meaning that they had sub-par teachers and less than optimal conditions to learn and thrive and be all that they can be. They have single parents who are barely earning minimum wage, are living on welfare, or worse yet, homeless. Maybe they have learning disabilities, or have five brothers and sisters and are all living in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s hardly fair to blame them when they end up doing menial work.
While it is true are all born equal, it is not true that we are all born with equal chances. And it’s important to know the difference. Some definitely have a leg up on others, and continue to do so until they die. The dream that we can all be who we want to be is just that, a dream, for many children and adults alike. Many are thrust into a world where their parents are uneducated and have uneducated friends and neighbors; they are all working hard doing multiple low-paying jobs and living in districts where schools and teachers are overwhelmed with children who actually have a deficit of positive attention, as well as having attention deficit.
Some people honestly believe that if these people can’t make it and have a good life, that it’s their own fault. They’re not doing enough to achieve the dream. But it’s not that simple, is it?
The German in me firmly believes that we all deserve a dignified life, health insurance, free education, extended maternity leave, vacation time, and enough income to feed ourselves and our families in a healthy, satisfying, way. There is enough for everybody, so we should be okay with sharing it. No one deserves to earn 1 million times more than anyone. Or even 1000 times more than anyone else, really. I don’t mind paying more for my public health insurance than someone who couldn’t afford so much, if it meant that others would get better healthcare. So, yeah, call me a socialist.
These are just some random thoughts going through my head as I contemplate the deeper things that have touched me the past year. But, lest you think that I am only focusing on the negative things (that I cannot change), I can assure you there are many positive things about being back here. But, that is the subject for another post.
Meanwhile, below pics from one of the temples of capitalism, the MetLife Stadium.
Have a good night all!