I feel the need, the need for beer. I normally don’t drink beer, but when I do – you know something’s up (like someone’s buying, offering home brew, or I’m in the UK). As a writer, I like to think that I am in control of what I’m going to write about. Pick a topic, launch in, and move on. Lately the topics are stacking up faster than I can write. There’s a collision of content in my brain today so rather than methodically sorting it all out I decided to succumb to a rare afternoon beer and let lubrication facilitate expostulation.
Comedies sell well during traumatic times. Just ask the Marx Brothers. Oops. Too late for that; but, their movies did come out during the Great Depression. I’ve been leaning towards the comedy genre streaming across Netflix, so go ask why I ended up watching the excellent, though tragic, Ken Burns’ documentary on the Dust Bowl. Families were stressed with seven years of repercussions from early adopter farming mistakes and drought. Those that could move, did. A few stayed from eternal optimism. Many lived lives out of their control, staying if they had no other option, moving if they were forced out of their homes. What was easy to overlook were the people who saw no future, or nothing but dead ends and who then made their own end. My situation is tame in comparison. I am astonished at how so many people survived such greater trauma for so many more years.
I’ve spent the next few evenings watching videos from stand-up comics.
One of my more enjoyable and better paying jobs is spending an hour or so a day culling through the day’s news to find items that resonate with values-based financial literacy. I post the results on New Road Map’s Facebook page. New Road Map stands as a guide at a gateway between two worlds: the conventional consumer and paycheck world, and the highly individually customized world of people who’ve decided to spend their time and money according to their internal values. The failings of the old world are heightened. The appeal of a variety of new worlds is revealed. Each day I skim across both chronicling the push and the pull that is moving portions of our population. Emotional highs and lows are part of every day.
I have a much better idea of the kind of life I want to lead, but I also feel trapped like a Dust Bowl farmer.
From my base of operations in one of the tallest buildings in downtown Langley (my office is on the second floor), I’ve made daily trips out to my various friends in town, many of whom own businesses. The image of a quiet little tourist town persists, but it does so with tremendous effort. Volunteers take on jobs for which there is no budget. Locals who love living here may also have three jobs – and worries about paying the bills. I know of two that suddenly found themselves trying to fund failed septic systems. There wasn’t money set aside for that. I recognize frugal. These folks aren’t wasting their money, and even with all of the time they are working, they don’t have a cash cushion.
Spending habits have been blamed on people living off their home equity, until that ran out. Credit card debt can only go so far. IRA withdrawals may be the last resource for those making less than their expenses. All are good reasons to live frugally. Not enough of the population is doing so, nor is the government, so each financial wave crashes against a weaker foundation. But we’ll prop it up in time, right?
My home equity is debatable, and not necessarily bad. We won’t know if it has any equity until my house sells. Hopefully I make enough money so I don’t have to sell or encourage the mortgage company to foreclose. My credit card debt was well-managed – until my stocks were hit by the Triple Whammy and a few extra bills like medical bills, car repairs, and taxes jumped in. The credit card company has subsequently reduced my credit limit, effectively negating an emergency cushion. My IRA was sustaining me for a while, but I stopped tapping it when I sold the last of my DNDN (at a price I think was 90% too low.) My financial foundation is weakened, but there is a good chance it will be more than just propped up if my portfolio recovers.
I know of about five businesses that are closing because of retirement or so the entrepreneurial owners can concentrate on other successes. Turnkey business offerings do happen. A few others have either just changed hands or are about to. At the same time,
I know of about a half-dozen businesses that look healthy, until you find out that the owners aren’t paying themselves, or that the business is only surviving on proceeds from the owner’s IRA. One financial slip, or even an offer of a marginally better paycheck, are enough to inspire another business passage. At least across South Whidbey, there will be an opportunity for a renaissance – as long as someone is willing to fund it.
The stereotype of the hard-working entrepreneur succeeding has enough success stories to sustain it, but many of the stories are reminiscent of Dust Bowl farmers persevering and eventually experiencing ten years of bumper crops, out of sixty years of trying.
Yesterday afternoon, as I waited for the bus home, I talked to another of the famously happy shop owners in Langley. We agreed that those of us who’ve been working six or seven days a week for months or years really should have a party. And then we laughed. She had only fifteen minutes between jobs. I was constrained by a bus schedule that only ran every two hours and stopped after 5:30 (but hey, it’s free!). We could all use a party. We could all use a laugh. Our best guess was a five minute party when we all met in the middle of the street, passed around hugs and chuckles, made a very quick toast, and then scurried back to maintaining the facade of a peaceful tourist town. Five minutes is too short for a beer. We may have to resort to liquor because it is quicker, to drink that is.
So, what did I end up writing about? Well, I guess I wrote about what’s on my mind, or at least what’s in my bloodstream. Recently, traveler, raconteur, and consultant extraordinaire, Steve Smolinksy wrote about a trip to foster prosperity in Africa, where;
“ . . . it was around 105 (45.5555…) every single day. But I did get to drink that great beer they make in 55 gallon barrels in the townships. 30 cents a pitcher and the bugs floating in it add a little protein at no extra cost.”
Dust Bowl, years of perseverance, optimism regardless, and beer at 30 cents a pitcher – he may be over there helping them, but we may have lessons for us.