managing the fall – by mike mantalos
Life is changing in America and while many lament the loss of a lifestyle, a few hardy souls are managing their decline. No, I’m not talking about desperate paranoids loading up on ammo and stored food, though that is becoming a very prevalent strategy that is gaining momentum.
I’m not talking about the pseudo wealth that is urgently trying to exchange their paper assets for what is feared to be diminishing precious metal reserves. I find this demographic the most fearful, the people with more to lose. Every stock failing rocks the fundamental faith in what they perceived as their American right. Funny thing is, these are the people who have voted against their own best interest and for Money, never realizing that the financial cannibals would eventually exhaust the middle class and come hunting for them.
Then there are the perpetual poor and the racial overtones of categorizing a marginalized society that never had a chance. Institutional racism is very difficult to overcome and once corporatization framed social services as evil, privatization extracts every last breath of hope.
The demographic that I want to explore is the failing middle class, men in particular. Millions of Americans viewed their home investment as a personal ATM and the complex loans of a very complicit and unregulated banking thieves cast a spider’s web for this class of entitled blue collars. They wanted it all and were as liquid with easy, unsustainable credit.
The stereotype plays out predictably. A couple lives above their means, trusting that they’re real estate wealth was gifted perpetual growth. As their bank loans reflected the change in interest rates (adjustable devils) and the inventory of sterile tract homes became enormous, the property values began to fall as their commitments rose. With incomes failing to grow at the same pace as debits, many families succumbed to the pressure.
Arriving at a beach break that I used to surf every day, I entered the State Park with a strong sense of nostalgia. We pulled into familiar parking and I recognized enough cars to help that nostalgia resonate. The waves were fun and many of my old friends were out enjoying the surf.
A fresh onshore chased most of us back to the car park and our usual, irreverent conversation picked up where it had never left off. One thing that did seem unusual though was the much higher frequency of used Recreational Vehicles and van conversions that were everywhere.
My friends left for their daily commitments and I studied several vehicles that surrounded my car. Why were there so many large vehicles in this lot?
I introduced myself to John. John was repositioning his solar panels and I was impressed by the ingenuity and scope of his energy ambition. John lost his home in the spring and his wife left him to move back in with her parents. Bankruptcy and divorce soon followed. He had a paltry savings and realized in horror that he was getting very close to a lifestyle he could never have imagined.
A life on the streets. Homeless.
Not surprisingly, John is an electrician and union member to boot. He got laid off from work and with credit as dry as the Sahara, sensed that not much more work would be found. He bought a beaten down van conversion and outfitted it for life on the street. Each night, he drove to an industrial park and each morning, would leave before the companies opened.
A State Park’s Annual parking pass cost him 125. dollars and he could use the amenities of the park during the day. John claims that the bathrooms and shower were worth the annual fee alone. John doesn’t surf and even laughed that he used to live down the street, but had never visited the park while he was a solvent man.
I walked by three more such vans when I stumbled upon Jess. I recognized Jess from the surf, but he had gained so much weight. Jess doesn’t surf anymore, an injury at work curtailed his fun. Therese left him when they lost their house, took his daughter back to Idaho. He was full of energy and asking me questions, but I felt terrible answering when he was clearly so down on his luck.
I asked about all the other vehicles and he confirmed my suspicion. Everyone had the same schedule, park down the street at night and return for the full day at the beach. Post office boxes for his unemployment checks. He said nobody talks to one another, too proud and ashamed of their individual situation.
I bought him lunch and snuck some money into his van glove box as I pretended to roll a joint. I wish I had a board that would float him, but he’d probably sell it anyway.
Jess told me about another old buddy. Karl was homeless and the inspiration for Jess to purchase the rinky old RV. Karl is living across the street from the beach in the wetlands, his beaten up old Doc thruster stashed somewhere in the bushes. Karl is delusional, but still pulls on an old wettie for a surf occasionally.
I called a friend and asked if he had seen Karl. His reply is that Karl won’t talk anymore and comes and goes like a ghost. My friend also confirmed my observations about the park and it’s new residency.
Coincidentally, I’ve become friends with the Chief Officer for the State Park System and met him for a beer when I got home. I told Rich about my experience and he shuddered his response.
There have been high- ranking meetings at the state capitol with even the governor in attendance to discuss the rising demographic and the predicament is consistent throughout the States park system. Annual fees will rise and reflect the size of these vehicles… it’s been instituted already at the more popular sites like the one I visit in Orange County.
I remember not so long ago that these types of men were so proudly “conservative” and pro Bush. Religious men who supported multiple wars against Muslims. Blue collared success stories who banked on their homes.
Now it appears, many have become men managing their falls.
Written by Mike Mantalos