By Piper Bayard
I’m reading The Road. Not only is it making me seriously consider becoming a vegetarian, it’s striking me as an extreme form of the personal apocalypse a lot of folks are facing right now. Unemployment.
Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road. They’re busy avoiding cannibals. Click here for the movie trailer.
Unemployment is a lot like The Road. When you’re cut loose from your source of survival, it’s an apocalyptic event. Sometimes we can see it coming, and sometimes it leaves us like the man and the boy in the book wondering, “Wth?” But even when you do see it coming, there’s this flash, and suddenly the whole world goes to crap, and you’re left not knowing where you’ll live, or where your next meal is coming from.
Yep. It’s happened to me. I’m not sure it was such a mystery, though. That job was kind of ill-fated from the beginning.
During the recession of the late 80s, I had a temp job as a secretary in hospital administration. Here’s a little hospital secret that I learned there. Those $50 aspirins they bring you in your bed? Secretaries have dozens of them in their desks for free. They’re samples from the drug companies that come in single-serving packets. Little white pills wrapped in foil-backed plastic.
So anyway, that temp job led to a permanent job in the hospital as a sort of Julie the Love Boat Cruise Director, setting up educational programs in radiology for visiting doctors. My first day, I had a headache so I opened my drawer at my new desk and saw the friendly white pill I thought I knew from admin. Ok, so maybe it was a little smaller, but what else would be in the desk drawer, right? I took it. . . . I know. Incredibly stupid. Hey, at least I know better now, right? So moving right along. . . . An hour and a half later, I was passed out snoozing in a hard-backed chair in front of my new boss and a visiting doctor. Yes, really. Bad day to discover I was a Benedryl lightweight. It was my turn on The Road.
I learned a lot of invaluable lessons about the people on The Road. This calls for a list or two.
- Some people do all the “right” things and end up on The Road anyway. (I wasn’t one of them.)
- Some really bright people make The Road their way of life because they can’t tolerate the shallow, meaningless existence of thing-based, mindlessly bureaucratic mainstream. They need the struggle to feel alive.
- Some people are there because they are cruel, shifty bottomfeeders by nature.
- Some really good people are too broken to be anywhere else.
- Some live on The Road because they’re too busy taking care of others to get ahead themselves.
- Some are there to learn and move on.
- Some are tourists, slumming it because they have no confidence in their ability to survive without Daddy’s credit card. They want to know they could hang with the have-nots and make it on their own if they had to.
I also learned a lot about myself and human nature.
- Poverty is the father of rationalization. Hey, just because a guy pulls into to a gas station with an untied stack of premium Christmas trees in the back of his ’69 Ford pickup, and he’s selling them for $5 each, but you have to get them right now, and fast, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hot, right?
- You really don’t know who you are until you’re faced with that lost wallet full of money in your hungry hand.
- Some laws create outlaws, such as mandatory insurance laws. Food is more important than car insurance, and that really is a choice for many of the unemployed.
- There’s a certain level of grubby that makes people lock their car doors when they see you coming, no matter what your race or theirs.
- If you overlap your electric bill and your phone bill just right, you can alternate paying them and never get services shut off.
- You can use “new sale” forms in your back car window when you can’t afford to register it. Warning: Don’t get stopped. Police will have no mercy for this.
- Barter is alive and well, and food is a medium of exchange.
- Poor people have the absolute best parties because they know how to entertain themselves with laughter, song, and dance.
- Government cheese is the best cheese on the planet.
- A Christmas when you have nothing to give is far worse than a Chrismas when you don’t get any presents.
Partly by luck, and partly by perseverence, the ash eventually cleared, the scenery greened, and I found my way back to mainstream civilization. I mean, as much as a writing, belly dancing, recovering attorney, Hospice volunteer who hangs out with spooks can be mainstream.
For those of you on The Road now, I will not insult you with pablum or cliches. But I will keep you in my prayers.
Looking back, The Road was a blessing for me. It broke down my delusions about myself and made me real, because the hard fact is that you don’t know who you are until your ethics are diametrically opposed to your survival. I now know what I am and am not willing to do to survive, and I’m at peace with what I found.
Don’t get me wrong. I really, really don’t want to go there again, but The Road doesn’t scare me any more. . . . Except in the book, The Road. That’s just creepy as hell, though it’s masterfully written. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves literary fiction or who just has too much happiness in their life. You know, maybe I won’t have beef for dinner tonight. . . . Or ever.
All the best to all of you for finding peace on your Road.
You know, I actually really didn’t like the movie so much. I haven’t read the book, though. But the movie was SO depressing! And the part with the … people in the .. cellar. That was just freaky (I don’t really like horror where you don’t expect it :p although you probably should expect it in a post-apocalypse movie. at least a little).
I saw The Book of Eli after The Road, and liked it much better, but perhaps that’s just my opinion.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I did like The Book of Eli better than the book, to be honest. I certainly admire the book for its style, though. Like you, I’m not really into horror, but I do write post-apocalyptic sci fi. Go figure. Thanks for stopping by.
Oh wait! I wanted to add that I liked the blog 😀
Aww. Thank you. 🙂
For me, 2005 was the Road. I bottomed out when I saw my old, college rival on TV as the new morning something or other guy for network news. That sucked, but I wasn’t thinking right because I wanted to be productive somewhere. Shortly after I got the call to teach at college. I never went after anything so hard in my life. The Road had made me appreciative of opportunity and a much harder worker.
Thanks so much for stopping by. Very interesting. Do you still want to go into TV some day, or are you loving teaching college now that you’ve put so much effort into it?
I had a hard stretch in the early 80’s, and I will never forget those times or the lessons I learned. Two of them being to give thanks and share when things are going well. Thanks for sharing this with us Piper.
Sometimes The Road is the best thing that will ever happen to you. I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy and lost my job in 2003. No one would hire an epileptic who couldn’t control her seizures. I was evicted from my home and had no friends. I went to live with my mother who was (at the time) crazy as a bed bug. I slept on the floor and prayed every day the lights hadn’t been turned off. I went from wealthy and traveling the world to scraping change to buy saltines to take the edge off the hunger. I ran out of money to buy meds and since I am a legal citizen who pays taxes, there were no agencies running out to help a college-educated white female.
But, the medicine got out of my system and I found out I wasn’t epileptic. They had misdiagnosed and the meds were creating the seizures. Since I already had lost everything, I had no fear when it came to stepping out to become a writer. I have to say that had I not traveled The Road, none of you would know me. I would have never become a writer.
I am grateful every day for my Road. It burned away the dross of my poor character, reaped the people out of my life who weren’t true friends, and taught me that I was stronger than I knew and not as smart as I once imagined.
Thank for sharing your story, Kristen. Wow! It really was a blessing for you. If you’d been able to buy your meds, it would have ruined you. Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all your support. 🙂
Fantastic post. My Road took place in the early to mid 90’s. I didn’t think life could possibly slip away any further. The thing I learned about myself is I am a survivor and will fight for myself and those around me. This came in handy in early 2001, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pitball who won’t listen to reason, interfering in problems with the promise of a solution and, oh God, believe me when I say I have my down days, but I take life’s knocks on the chin, get straight back up and dare it for more. For me its the way to survive.
Sounds like you learned a lot from your Road, too. And you don’t sound the least bit looney. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
First visit to your blog today…very much enjoyed your witty sense of wording. I’ll be back! 🙂
Hi M.E. So glad you stopped by. Thanks for the compliment.
The road, when a temporary pit stop, seems to be a blessing in disguise. Hard as hell when you are walking it, but a great place to learn a few lessons that escape us while comfortably sitting in the offic chair with free medication close at hand. I did my time too. Don’t want to go back, but can’t say I regret the experience.
Yep. Much better to say that you did it than that you’re doing it. Thanks for stopping by.
Great post, Piper…
My road came in the early 90’s…I was fortunate to have money saved up and no responsibilities. I traveled throughout North America sleeping on friends’ floors or in the back of my truck for a year. I met lots of other people on their roads. For a simple farm boy, raised to work all the time, it was an epiphany to discover that unemployment doesn’t make one evil and wonderful people can be found everywhere. I learned that not working is great, but indefinite negative cash flow sucks. I learned to enjoy my job, but to always remember the person I work for is me.
I’m so glad your road led you my way. Good point about the person you’re working for is you. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂
Great post 🙂 I was on the Road for a few months in Peru. Moved out there because I wanted to live in South America and when things went wrong I was too proud to call home for help. And I was so low that I had got into that situation that I couldn’t handle the earbashing I knew I would get. It was only when I completely ran out of money and my recently ex-boyfriend gave me his BS reasons for leaving me on the same day that I stood up and made an effort. Got a job as an internet writer (you know these sites where you get paid $1 for 500 words?). It paid the rent but didn’t cover food. Eventually I ran out of money altogether but only had one day where I literally didn’t eat all day because I didn’t even have 25cents to buy a bread roll. Helped a friend that evening and we were treated to free beer which I said I couldn’t drink because I hadn’t eaten. My friend got very angry with me that I hadn’t told him and proceeded to sub me until I got on my feet again. My other friend bought me the biggest sandwich you ever saw in your life.
You’re right about the Road – you only find out who you truly are when you have nothing to hide behind.
Wow. That sounds pretty scarey, but you were so industrious! It must be a great source of confidence for you, now, to know that you handled such a tight situation. Here’s to having been there, and not being there now. Thanks for stopping by.