Monday, September 05, 2005

Dream On

I woke up about 4:30 this morning, and by 5:00 I realized I wasn't going back to sleep. So, I thought, I'll get up and start working on that business plan, doncha know. Which I started to do, then I wandered into looking for a property (not that we can afford to actually buy a property, mind you). Then I was remembering something I read last night by John Scalzi about being poor. It's clear from reading this that I've never been truly poor. I've got a passing acquaintance with a tiny few bits on John's list and on the lists that commenters provided, but by and large I've been insulated from most of this. The first thing caught my eye--knowing how much everything costs--because I've been there; I used to go to the grocery store and tally in my head what was in my cart, because I had only X dollars for that week. And, as noted, when I finally got hired by the junkies and alcoholics, I had enough resources to get through about six weeks--rent for September and October, and food for about six weeks, I figured. My parents would not have let me starve, however, and, much more important, they were in a position to not let me starve, i.e., there was a safety net. Scalzi and his commenters are talking about the people who do not have a safety net, and who got unlucky.

That's the thing--luck. When I first met C, he and his ex-wife were still technically married. They were in debt, in part because of less-than-ideal planning (that's a longer story) but in part because they had some bad luck, too--like the furnace going out the first winter they were in their house. Their problems were exacerbated by less-than-ideal money management, but that's the point, really. If you've got a cushion of some kind, or someone can help you out, then you can fuck up. After they split up, things were even worse. The ex-wife got the car and the house, so C had to get another car, seeing as how he works in the burbs. He went through two POS beaters--and racked up bills replacing various bits of them--before asking his mother to cosign a loan for a new POS car. He got a couple of parking tickets because he had to park on the street, and, in my neighborhood, that's an adventure. He lived with his mother for about 18 months, 90 miles from here (work was about midway between my place and mom's place, driving-time-wise, but not mile-wise, so he put thousands of extra miles on the car), which meant he couldn't keep his son with him on the weeknight he had him and he had to take his son to his mom's house most weekends he had him. (They stayed with me sometimes, but it was relatively early in our relationship, number one, and, number two, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment, so there wasn't a whole lot of room.) This was all back when I was actually getting paid a pretty good salary on a regular basis, so I was able to help him out, too, even though that put strains on our relationship--how could it not?

I detail all this to point out that the reason that C is able to manage now is because he had a family and a girlfriend (now wife) who were willing and able to help him through the roughest parts. It didn't take all that much--compared to, say, what a typical rich kid spends on clubbing in a year, or compared to what we and my parents spent on the wedding, or compared to what we used to spend on going out to dinner back when I got paid regularly--but if he hadn't had it, he'd've been screwed. And that's what's true of the people on the Gulf coast, too, to an even more dire degree. They didn't have the vehicle, or the couple hundred bucks, or the place to go, in order to get out of town. Where would you go, if all of your family lived in the same place as you? Suppose you didn't have a way to get out of town? Suppose everything that you owned, everything that was at all important to you, was right there in your little house or apartment? Would you go, leaving your whole life behind, with no resources to get or stay anywhere else, no job or money once you got to that someplace else, and no one to help you out, or would you figure you might as well try to stay and preserve what little you have?

So it's hard for me to focus on buying a bakery, on starting a business, right this minute. It does reaffirm what I'd already fantasized, that I want to find a way to build a business that can pass along what I know to people who might not otherwise have access to that knowledge. I don't care if it's one person a year.


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