Down Lee Highway, in Culpeper, Va., her views are echoed by Rick Sarmiento, a former Army officer, military contractor and retail manager sharing barbecue with son, Ricky, 22.
Sarmiento says his view is shaped by his own experiences and those of his parents, medical workers who moved to Chicago from the Philippines and made their own way. Sarmiento knows what retail workers make and some of his son's friends from high school are working two or three such part-time jobs to get by. But Ricky's new job in financial services proves it's possible to do better if you pursue an education, the elder Sarmiento says. He acknowledges, too, that in a country of more than 300 million, there's no universal solution for leveling the economic turf.
"You ask any 10 people, you're going to get 10 different responses," he says.
It's fitting then that another hour on the road leads to Charlottesville, the hometown of Thomas Jefferson, whose sometimes conflicting views on human striving and equality are a reminder that the country has struggled with questions of economic opportunity since its earliest days. A few minutes' drive from Jefferson's Monticello puts you at the door of Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, where Gerald Terrell, the congregation's senior trustee, is getting ready to lock up for the night.
Terrell, 65, was raised in segregated central Florida by a father who only finished third grade and a mother who took night classes so she could graduate from high school the day before her son received his diploma. Terrell says he knew at 13 that he wanted to be a school principal, so he asked his father for old keys and started walking around with them swinging from his belt — convinced that they were the symbol of someone in charge. Certain he did not want to stay in the citrus groves that employed his father, he left for college, became a teacher and eventually a principal for 24 years.