SOCIAL CAPITAL (the changing tides in America)

When I was growing up in the 60s my father was the General Manager of a 5 and 10 store in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. I remember one night when he came home and told us the story of a young Lebanese man who came into to see him and asked if he could open up a record shop inside his store. My father roped off a section at the front of the store and made Dennis a place where he sold his records. Dennis did so well that after 6 months he was able to move out of my father’s store and rent his own building to continue the record business. With in a few short years he opened up record stores and dispersed them all over Cleveland. He became a millionaire. I do not remember my father ever charging Dennis a single dime for the space inside his store.

One snowy night Dennis came driving up to our house in a brand new 1952 Cadillac collector’s addition. It was a two tone with baby blue on the bottom and navy blue on the top. It had hydraulic windows and the tail light opened up with the press of a button on the bottom part of the light where the gas cap was located.

I still remember that night to this day. I was only 9 years old. The snow was falling steadily and had blanketed Cleveland with a florescent glow that lit up the night. Dennis asked my father if he wanted to go for  drive in his new Cadillac. He needed his opinion on how the car drove. My brothers and I begged father for a ride with them. We sat in the back seat while my father drove and Dennis sat on the passenger’s side in the front seat.

The car had a new smell to it and when the Cadillac rode across rail road tracks, it felt as if we were floating on air. We must have drove all around down town Cleveland that night. When we pulled up in our drive way, my father put the car in park and stared down at the steering wheel gloating with desire. Dennis asked my father, “well what do you think John?” Father sat motionless with his head still down, silent for a moment, and then raised his head to face Dennis, “Man! I have wanted one of these my whole life!” Dennis answered, “Well, it is yours, keep the keys. I just need a ride back into Cleveland to pick up my car.”

My father even tried to give the keys back to him. Dennis was not having it. He put up both of his hands insisting that father take the car. My father was finally able to retire his junk 1952 Rambler for the car of his dreams.

Next Christmas, Dennis sent us a Styrofoam Christmas tree full of one hundred dollar bills rolled up and stuck inside the tree. He continued to do this every year.

The movie “Walking Tall” about the Tennessee sheriff who cleaned up McNairy County had made a box office hit in the early 70s. At the time, we were living in Corinth, MS. in the County next to McNairy. The main Character in the movie, Buford Pusser came walking into the store my father was managing. He had a truck full of the carved sticks that he used in the movie to restore order. He ask my father if he could sell them at his store. My father let Mr. Pusser place the sticks in front of the store and did not charge him a single dime.

I write this to show the diminished social capital in America. The above stories are just two of many. One would be hard pressed to find a business person today who would let him even place a product in his business, let alone, make a personal profit. I am in the vending route business and I have to hire a company to place the vending machines. I received a quick education when I tried to do this myself. The business owners either had no interest, or demanded an unreasonable percentage of my small profit, part of which, goes to fight children’s cancer. Even knowing this up front, few of them are willing to help. The locating company are professionals and they tell me it takes 30 calls just to find a business that is interested in placement of the machines.

Two of the social capitals are “bridging capital” and “bonding capital.” Bridging capital links groups together with a common denominator, like careers, or interests, ect. Bonding capital links people together based upon a deeper connection that is sometimes called the super glue of relationships. America seems to have available large quantities of bridging capital, however, people are no longer bonding in these groups which may be a clue to why attendance is often diminished over time. When ever the availability presents itself, the group lacks the cohesiveness to sustain its life, and often, rapidly disintegrates.

Putman’s book, “Bowling Alone” illustrates this: It was, however, neither a novelist nor an economist, but Yogi Berra who offered the most succinct definition of reciprocity: “if you don’t go to somebody’s funeral, the wont come to yours.” He goes on to explain: Even more valuable, however, is a norm of generalized reciprocity: “I’ll do this for you without expecting anything specific back from you.” Such was the case of my father who expected nothing in return.

I remember when I went to work for my father’s company at another store. The manager of the store, at the meetings, always asked us, “What’s the best way to get up the ladder?” and answered, “pull someone else up the ladder with you!” This attitude was common in American life decades ago, not just in the world of business, but especially in the world of relationships.

Today’s society the norm is not “pull someone up the ladder,” but “kick someone off the ladder and enjoy watching them hit the ground.”  I was a beverage manager for one of Kemmons Wilson’s hotels. He was the founder of Holliday Inn, and invented  popcorn in the movie theaters. He was also the wealthiest man in America at one time. He let all 500 employees eat from his buffet’ for free during the week, and this included crab legs, home made banana pudding, ect. It was a first rate meal that Mr. Wilson thought nothing of giving his employees.

Be warned, the greed heads are alive and well in America. They have a bottom line that will be met even at the expense of your life. There is no appreciation for your hard work. They will take all they can from you with very little in return and then tell you, “just be glad you have a job!”

About conehead

I am Bruce Wayne. Need I say more?
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