Monday, June 15, 2009

An American Lesson from Six Flags Amusement Park

This past week I took a small vacation with my family. We ended up going to Six Flags over Texas amusement park in Arlington, Texas, with the kids one of the days. My children are all school aged, from 6 to 16, and we try to teach some good life lessons on and off when the opportunity arises. This day would prove to be one of those times.

It began with our arrival to the parking area of the park. If you haven't been there, you have to pay to park. Always have. Of course, over the years it gets more expensive. But this time there was something different. There were different levels of parking, each with their own respective costs. There was general parking for $10, prefered parking for $15, and Valet parking for $20 or so. Now whats strange about this is the parking lot isn't that big. So you pay more bucks to walk a few feet less.

Then its off to the main gates to purchase your tickets. Once you pay your tickets to get inside, there was another opportunity for you to spend your money. I believe it was called a Speed Pass. For an additional $20 you could purchase this speed pass and avoid the waiting in lines by accessing another way to the ride and getting put first before those waiting in line. So while you, average Joe American who paid to park and enter are standing in line with the other Joes, someone else walks past you and gets in the front of the line because they outspent you.

And I found something totally distasteful about that. Something wrong with that in this land of equailty we refer to as the United States. Where all are supposedly equal. And my kids noticed it as well. You want to be able to tell your kids that the American Dream is available to everyone, and that if you work hard and do all the right stuff, that you can achieve anything you wish. And to some degree that is true. But not totally.

In this representative democracy, certain things are still dependent on luck, right place at right time, who you know, and how much money/advantage in life you have. Not that you can't better yourself no matter what, but the aforementioned list does come into play despite what others might say. If you have a GED and mow yards for a living, then decide to complete college and get a job managing a grocery store, you have engaged in part of the American dream. You are not relegated to a life of mowing yards. However, If you are the offspring of the person who owns the store, well, lets just say your options are somewhat different and on a greater scale.

And we in America love our status symbols don't we. Its amazing how we try to separate ourselves along ecomonic lines in ever so slight ways. Automobiles for instance. It was Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, Nissan, etc. They made fine cars, so pick one. But if every average american is driving one, how do we let others know we have more money than them? hmmm... Lets see, lets build a toyota and call it a Lexus and charge more for it. Let take a chevrolet suburban, call it a cadillac escalade and charge more for it. That way the folks with more money let the average american joe know it.

Now if you have one of these cars (I happen to like the Lexus very much), this post isn't a dig at you for owning one. Its an observation on how marketing and money come to play in our everyday lives. And we don't even seem to notice. And so it was with Six Flags. Pay $20 more per person and you get on the same rides as everyone else does, just a few minutes faster. But minutes, like money, are just another way to divide us.

And so my daughter and I have a discussion on the way out of the park. I asked her if she knew what the "Golden Rule" was. She said yes, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And I told her that was correct, and that is the way we live. Okay, try to live. But I also told her the other Golden Rule: Those who have the gold make the rule. We live by a set of values in this society that are opposite of what our ideals as americans should be. We often don't treat others the way we would have them treat us, and that's too bad. And the speed pass makes me sad.