An Epidemic of Loneliness

George Will

is a columnist for the Washington Post and his latest effort is titled, We have an epidemic of loneliness. How can we fix it?

Excerpts follow, but I would like to begin with this, which is frightening: “America’s largest job category is “driver” and, with self-driving vehicles coming, two-thirds of such jobs could disappear in a decade.”

I drove professionally and I do not just mean when driving a taxi. There were various driving gigs in varied places when younger. I once drove a brand new Ford Probe across the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles in less than three days. I slept, or more properly napped, only in rest areas, stopping to take only one shower in a truck stop along the way because of tremendous time pressure, something with which all Chess players can identify. The person contracted to drive the car to the architect who had won it in a raffle at an architectural convention in Atlanta pulled out at the last moment. The owner of the company called me because, as he put it, “You are the only driver who can get it there on time.” The car was delivered to the owner on time. He gave me a twenty dollar bill as a tip. Enraged, I said, While driving a taxi for Buckhead Safety Cab Mickey Mantle once gave me a fifty dollar bill for a three fifty fare!” The cheapskate just glared at me…

Another driving gig was transporting Bell South vehicles to various cities in Southern states. Vehicles heading to the larger cities would usually go via hauler because those drivers could transport multiple vehicles. The single vehicles heading to smaller cities had to transported by individuals such as yours truly. Some of the drivers had worked for an airline, which at the time meant Delta Airlines in Atlanta, and they could return home using their free miles, while I would have to return on my own, which meant the Greyhound bus or Amtrak. The older drivers had no desire to go to, for example, Lake Charles Louisiana.

I, on the other hand, loved heading to Lake Charles because it meant a trip to New Orleans, a visit with the sui generis Jude Frazier Acers,

the Chess King of Decatur street ( and a night on Bourbon Street, before heading to the Amtrak station, and a train leaving the next morning at seven, giving me plenty of time for sleep on the return trip.

George begins his column, “If Sen. Ben Sasse is right — he has not recently been wrong about anything important — the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least-understood public-health problem. The political problem is furious partisanship. The public-health problem is loneliness. Sasse’s new book argues that Americans are richer, more informed and “connected” than ever — and unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.”

“In “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” Sasse’s subject is “the evaporation of social capital” — the satisfactions of work and community. This reflects a perverse phenomenon: What has come to count as connectedness is displacing the real thing. And matters might quickly become dramatically worse.”

“Loneliness in “epidemic proportions” is producing a “loneliness literature” of sociological and medical findings about the effect of loneliness on individuals’ brains and bodies, and on communities. Sasse (R-Neb.) says “there is a growing consensus” that loneliness — not obesity, cancer or heart disease — is the nation’s “number one health crisis.” “Persistent loneliness” reduces average longevity more than twice as much as does heavy drinking and more than three times as much as obesity, which often is a consequence of loneliness. Research demonstrates that loneliness is as physically dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to cognitive decline, including more rapid advance of Alzheimer’s disease. Sasse says, “We’re literally dying of despair,” of the failure “to fill the hole millions of Americans feel in their lives.”

“Work, which Sasse calls “arguably the most fundamental anchor of human identity,” is at the beginning of “a staggering level of cultural disruption” swifter and more radical than even America’s transformation from a rural and agricultural to an urban and industrial nation. At that time, one response to social disruption was alcoholism, which begat Prohibition. Today, one reason the average American life span has declined for three consecutive years is that many more are dying of drug overdoses — one of the “diseases of despair” — annually than died during the entire Vietnam War. People “need to be needed,” but McKinsey & Co. analysts calculate that, globally, 50 percent of paid activities — jobs — could be automated by currently demonstrated technologies. America’s largest job category is “driver” and, with self-driving vehicles coming, two-thirds of such jobs could disappear in a decade.”

I hope you will read the entire column.

It Was Raining Hard In Buckhead

My life has been filled with synchronicity. While driving for Buckhead Safety Cab in the 80’s I was sent to an apartment at o’dark thiry. Some guy walked toward the car and even though it was dark and I had not seen the man in many years I called out his name, “Roger Chrysler.” He stopped dead in his tracks. “Who’s that?” he asked. “Mike Bacon,” was the reply. He began walking as briskly as possible while carrying luggage and skis. He greeted me warmly and we talked on the way to the airport. I asked why he had stopped playing Chess and he said, “I lost my wife, I lost my life, all to become a “B” player!” His wife was extremely pretty. I have no idea how I knew the man with the skis was someone to whom I had given Chess lessons many years earlier.

I had a short, intense relationship with a woman, Cynthia, who worked for an airline. The last time I saw her she ended the relationship by saying, “Michael, I love you, but will you never have any money and I want money, lots of it!”

Fast forward maybe seven years…I’m driving for Buckhead Safety Cab on a rainy night and was about to drop someone off near a call Fish, the dispatcher, was holding. His real name was Bobby Sisti. The first time we met at the office located on East Paces Ferry Road I asked if he were related to former MLBaseball player Sibby Sisti and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Yes! No one has ever asked me that before. You like Baseball?” he asked. “I LOVE Baseball,” was the reply. This was not the first time I had seen Fish. Over the years I had seen him in the afternoon at the Varsity, smoking his omnipresent long cigarette while carrying on a conversation with someone, anyone. Although the large television was on Fish usually captured my attention because as he talked he would look at me as if he knew me. Fish was pudgy then; later he would become overweight. I often wondered why he was always at the Varsity in the afternoon. He was a fine dispatcher, one of the best with whom I worked at any cab company. He had asked me to notify him when I “dropped.” I dropped the guy, who did not have all of the fare. He said, “Sorry man, that’s all I got, but you can have this.” He handed me an already rolled fatty. “That’s some real good shit, man,” he said. “That’s what they all say…” came the reply. He laughed before handing me a bag containing more of the “real good shit,” before saying, “Hope this covers it.” I put the “fatty” in the ashtray and the baggie in my omnipresent Urban Explorer bag because my cab driving motto was, “I don’t turn down nothing but my collar.” Fish was notified and he gave me an address near Powers Ferry. This is one of the best things that can happen to a cab driver because ordinarily after dropping someone “out of the zone” one would have to dead-head on the return trip. A driver cannot go into any area other than the one his permit allows without the possibility of being arrested for picking up in a forbidden area. Not that cab drivers are the most honest of people, but if you attempt to put any passenger in your taxi illegally, you take your chances and, if caught, you pay the money.

By now the rain was coming down in buckets. I loathed driving in the rain, especially at night, but it was a weekend night which was time to put some profit into the pocket. Once I was driving the cab owned by the night dispatcher, Terry Walker. I picked up a lovely young lady who asked me to pull around to the rear of the apartments so she would not have to walk so far in the rain. Unfortunately the rain had created a gully which I could not see and it caused the rear axle to break. Terry had a wife pregnant with twins and a young daughter. Terry would drive a shift, go home to catch some shut-eye, then dispatch the late night shift while I drove his taxi. The cab being down would hurt him tremendously. When I got back to the office Terry said, “Mike, you know that when you drive for someone else he is responsible for all the repairs. Thing is, Mike, I don’t have the money. Is there any way you can help me with half of it?”

“How much will it cost to have it repaired, Terry?” I asked. He gave me a figure. I took off my L.L. Bean glove leather money belt and took out the full amount, laying it on the desk. “I broke it, Terry, I’ll pay for it. Get us back on the road.” Terry was STUNNED, and so were the other drivers there at the time, including the supervisor. “I’m heading to Aunt Charley’s before heading home. Call me when the repairs are completed.”

I did what was needed at the time. I had no idea what it would mean for the future; it was simply the right thing to do. How could I have possibly known it would garner so much respect from not only the people at BSC but from so many people involved with the taxi business in the city of Atlanta? Later it got back to me that the supervisor, a crusty old curmudgeon named Scotty Pickering, a man who had been awarded every medal possible in World War II, and had a severe drinking problem because of it, said, “Bacon is not only the best cab driver I have ever known, but one of the best people I have known in my life. I’d want him in my foxhole.”

After arriving at the address given me by Fish I pulled up to a mansion where a party was breaking up. I could not get close because of the many vehicles, but saw two people heading toward the cab. I knew immediately one was Cynthia. I do not know how I knew, but I knew. The other person was an older man. You drive a cab and learn quickly to size up EVERYONE! The old guy opened the door, putting Cynthia in first, then he walked around to the other side of the cab. As he did, I turned around and said, “Hello Cynthia.” I’ll never forget the astonished look on her face…Her eyes blazed with incredulity. The older gentleman entered and I asked “Where to?” It was a side street off West Paces Ferry near the Governor’s Mansion. We rode in silence. Almost before we came to a stop at the mansion Cynthia opened the door and bolted toward the front door. “You know each other?” the old guy asked. I thought of a Dylan song before saying, “Twas in another lifetime…” The guy wanted to go after her so he tossed me a bill and got out. It was a C-note. Then he stuck his head back in before closing the door and said, “That was a fifty, right?”

“Right,” was the reply. Then he began trotting after Cynthia, shouting, “Cindy! Cindy!”

I drove down the half moon driveway of his mansion, checking the time, trying to decide whether to head right toward Steak & Shake, or left, back to the ‘Head. After reaching the bottom of the driveway I remembered the fatty,and nabbed it out of the ashtray. I fired it up and took a toke…”Man o’ man,” I’m thinking, “that is some PRIMO SHIT!” Just to make sure my initial judgement was correct, I took another tasty, lung wrentchin’ pull, and it was confirmed; this WAS some FANTASTIC WEED! It was so good I was afraid to take another toke, so I turned on the radio. It was quite for a moment and as I reached for the knob I heard the opening chords of this song: