Saturday, March 21, 2009

My two cents on not having two cents

I find it humorous that this recession has created a new breed of people, a new socioeconomic crowd. One that looks pretty well-off, but is really struggling. A business woman on her way to the soup kitchen, or something.

I have yet to think of a name for this class, but I can tell you that I realized I was one of them today. I was at the farmer's market in the ferry building in San Francisco and had just bought myself a $16 raw vegan lunch of lasagna, nut/seed crackers and butternut squash hummus. Well, it was actually only $14, because as I was paying I realized that was all the cash I had left.

The raw vegan lady gave me my food anyway, but this made me remember a few things... like for instance, that I'd checked my bank account the other day and realized there was only $50 in it, all of which I had spent in the last two days. I remembered seeing this and initially being intelligent and cooking dinner with employees at the hostel I was staying at so that I could eat for free, making me feel both productive and smugly creative.

But the next night, when I met up with my aunt and took her to a flamenco show where I knew the guitarist (free), and then had a glass of Catalonian cava while chatting with a kind older gentleman guitarist (so, free again), I began to forget about my cheap side and indulged in my sophisticated airs. Therefore, the $14 raw vegan mistake.

After eating my lunch, I realized I still needed $1.50 to catch the bus to Caffe Trieste, where I was meeting someone for a new-friend date. I put my purse and laptop on the ground as I searched for bus fare. 50 cents. 75 cents. 77, 78... come on. Yes! Another quarter, $1.03. I continued digging as people grumbled at my crouched form on the ground in the way of their local organic cheese shopping. I came up with $1.48. I kid you not.

And so today I found myself walking a mile uphill in one of those annoyingly light rains – where the tiny drops flick at your eyelids but they refuse to actually come down, teasing you as to whether or not it will actually start pouring in five seconds – lugging a $1,300 Macbook and carrying an iPhone I paid $400 for, and a $200 check that I cannot deposit into my Colorado bank account from here, and therefore is a useless piece of paper with a pretty number on it.

I realized that this economic downward spiral has created a new class of people that are sort of between classes, and sitting there stuck, wondering when they will climb back up or slide on downward. It consists of people who were previously living fairly well, and who now cannot find two cents for the bus. Suits with briefcases still giving high-brow glances while stiffing the bartender his dollar tip, because they really do need it.

Has anyone else noticed this phenomenon? I'd be curious. And if you've got a name for this crowd... let me know. In the meantime, I'll be hiking up Lombard.


  1. Well said, my dear. I completely relate to this!!! We need to come up with a name for this new class. I'm sure it will come to us over a steaming, perfectly made $8 latte from Amante...

  2. This is really interesting. I'm not sure I would have thought of this on my own, but reading it, I can totally see it... great post. Is this the recession, or the recession making it more acceptable to be open about it? I'm not so sure.

  3. @Annie - I love it. I am so glad I took that photo of you taping together your ripped, last dollar to buy a pot of tea at The Cup. Priceless.

    @Rebecca - Interesting question. I found such a laughable irony in the situation, even though I'm not someone who ever made tons of money to begin with. I can definitely see this being a situation where the recession actually does make it more acceptable to be poor. Just today - I live in Boulder, CO - my girl friends and I objected to a 50 cent charge on a restaurant bill, an up charge that wasn't listed on the menu. We said, "We're sorry to complain about this, but we're so poor right now," and the waiter gave us a knowing smile, saying, "Oh, it's fine - trust me, I understand." In a way, this economic situation makes us come together on the common ground of having less as a whole.

  4. FYI a Big Mac is like 99 cents.

  5. @volcker - Good point - although, you didn't leave your real name.

    It is true that my desire to eat healthfully may be a financial downfall of mine, but of the seven or eight dozen ingredients in a Big Mac, included are partially hydrogenated oils – i.e., trans fat. The list also includes propylene glycol, which has been reported to cause central nervous system depression and slight kidney changes when administered in large doses to animals; and EDTA, which can cause kidney damage, is irritating to the skin and mucous membranes, can cause allergies such as asthma and skin rashes, and is on the FDA list of food additives to be tested for toxicity.

    Luckily, you didn’t mention getting a side of fries.

    McDonald’s fries contain dimethylpolysiloxane, a flammable, established mutagen, tumorigen and reproductive effector and suspected carcinogen; and TBHQ, a form of butane that the FDA allows sparingly on our food – though, ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.

    But – when it comes to cheapness, I admit, you do have a point.

    Sources: McDonald’s website (nutrition information), Michael Pollan’s "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," and "A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives."

  6. I think people are really going to have to alter their saving habits going forward. Buying things on credit constantly, thanks to the chinese was never going to last, but its been fun right? Now we'll have a new type of fun, going to BYOB places, watching movies in and spending free-time with people we like. As long as I can pay my rent and keep the girl in shoes, I'm happy.

  7. @Toxic Brit - Very true. I personally love how newspapers are now publishing columns in their weekend sections such as, "Free things to do this weekend," which is something I always hunted for anyway. Now it's just more readily available to me.