I love the Fourth of July. It reminds me of sweet Jersey corn, ripe ugly tomatoes and that telltale scent of gunpowder that lingers in the air well after the last firework has gone off.

This year was particularly special. I packed my whole family into our not-so-eco-friendly SUV and made the 3.5-hour trek to Forest City, a small mountainside town in northeastern Pennsylvania where my parents and most of my family still reside. Of course, there was a partytheres always a party back home. But, my parents went all out this year. They rented a tent and a smoker, and we had a good old-fashion pig roast. There were baked beans, deviled eggs, macaroni salad and, of course, Pennsylvanias own Yuengling Lager, brewed right here in Americas oldest brewery.

It was a world apart from the Martha Stewart-style affair that I was originally planning for my own backyard in South Jersey; but it was infinitely better, because it reminded me of my roots and of how much easier my life used to seem.

In the aftermath of the heated debate at this years AOA meeting in D.C., the simple life was calling my name. I was done with votes and delegates. I needed a vacation from board certification.

I also arrived in Forest City intent on putting whats going on in California far behind me. News that optometrists in that state are no longer eligible to receive Medicaid dollars as a result of state budget cuts sickens me. You cant convince me that dirty politics and underhanded side-deals werent a factor, because ophthalmologists are not suffering the same crushing blow. O.D.s were singled out. Its disgusting.

The peoplethe REAL peoplewho are suffering most in todays economy are often the most well intentioned. Sadly, though, they are being kicked while they are down, whether it be by credit card companies, government or any number of organizations. They just cant catch a break.

Perhaps, in their defense, the more cunning in our midst are acting out of fear, doing whatever they can to make a buck and ensure their own financial futures at the expense of the average Joe. But, is now the right time to be seizing opportunities if it means trampling all over your customers, citizens, members or friends?

In a time when money is tight, Id argue that, for many hard-working Americans, its costing more to live. Well, that is unless youre looking to buy an eight-bedroom beachfront property in MalibuI hear theyre practically giving those away! Tell that to the South Central Los Angeles O.D. whos being run out of business because hes not allowed to bill for an eye exam. Its reprehensible.

But, none of that mattered this weekend as my 2-year old sprawled out on a blanket in my parents back yard, playing with a larger-than-life dollhouse that someone in my family built by hand a lifetime ago. I was shooting the breeze with Deb, whose 90-year-old dad still chops his own firewood. (Did I mention how cold it gets in Forest City?) Deb is a 911 operator and her husband, John, is a state trooper. But, because Pennsylvania cant pass its budget, Deb and John arent getting paid for going to work. They willeventuallybut for now, theyre not throwing any Independence Day parties of their own. Still, they go out every day and protect the citizens of their state because its the right thing to do.

As it turns out, my simple-life vacation wasnt so simple after all. It doesnt matter how far outside the belt you areas long as there is government, money and leadership, there is no absolute independence. Perhaps there never was. But, we keep on living, fighting for what we think is right and celebrating the little thingslike roasted pork.

Vol. No: 146:07Issue: 7/15/2009