We were on our way back from the parts store. For whatever reason, my five speed truck has a four speed’s universal joint. Maybe that is why it was about to give out after a measly 180 thousand miles.

“Uncle Dave” talks nonstop about cars he is putting together and cars he plans on getting. I speak just enough Gearhead to fake an understanding. He tells me in his thick Alabama manner about his plan to dig up some gold in Eastern Oregon. He has got it all figured out. If his calculations are right he will soon be able to take care of all his kin and all those who are close to him. None of them will have to trouble over money anymore.

I am not much help as he crawls back under my truck. I just find some shade and drink some of the PBR’s I bought for him. He doesn’t have a garage. My car is up on a neighbor’s ramp out on a side street in Southeast Portland. I can’t afford to take it into a shop. I have to get everything through Adventure.

A tiny old lady comes by to collect our empty cans. They are worth a nickel a piece here in Oregon.  She is distraught. Members of her family have been dropping faster than major characters in a Game of Thrones episode. Her mother. Her sister. Her sister’s son. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Of her nephew she says in her thick Eastern European accent “He have no money. He have no job. He have no food. He kill self.” She puts her hand over head to grab an invisible rope. We get the picture.

I know that jazz. Being unemployed and feeling worthless… unable to take care of yourself… that hopelessness knowing there is no help for you. It sounds like a typical American Tragedy but given her accent I had to ask her where this happened. Perhaps this disease is spreading throughout the world now.

“In Atlanta” she answers.

I had just read that the Atlanta Metro has seen their poverty rate rise 160% during the last decade.

Stocks are up, right?

“No money. No job. No food…”

I sit at a table just off Mississippi in NoPo having coffee with my friend Jen. Years ago, we made a ritual of having lunch together when we both had “real” jobs downtown. Our lunches together were pretty much the highlight of our day. I kept that job for almost two years. It was okay work. My boss treated us like individuals. He played to our strengths. Like everyone else there, I was good at some things and not so good at others. He tried to keep me busy doing what I was good at.

Then the economy dropped out.
Rome was burning, banks were imploding and yet somehow the heads upstairs decided it was our fault that no business was coming in. The replaced my boss with someone they brought in from California. He was full of Big Talk. There would be no more treating us like individuals… no more playing to our strengths. We were just machines now. When I was assigned something I was not only bad at but aggravated my tendonitis I decided I was not a machine and walked out. They told me to think about it over the weekend. By all their metrics, I was one of their most productive employees.

I had been there long enough to see all the inefficiencies. The older workers were all set in their ways and resisted innovation. I decided I would express my observations on how things were run in an email. I thought I was doing them a favor but when I came in to talk about my decision I was treated as if I had called in a bomb threat.

Even after all these years I guess I never learned. This is a culture of Big Talk. We are all supposed to get into line as chest puffing paper tigers. Keep your head down. Don’t ever question what you are doing, how you are doing it or what it all leads to. Honesty is a bomb in that room.

Call security!

Just like that I went from being offered a management position to being a “rotten apple”. Don’t hire John Whipple. He is a troublemaker.

No one has hired me since.

On my way home that day I threw my shoes in the garbage. This is done.

Jen wasn’t too far behind. She had been making and giving away art for years but now she was having a go at an artist’s life. It hasn’t been easy. Every month is a scramble to get just enough to keep going… keep that roof over her head. It has been an adventure. A leap of faith. That afternoon we both agreed it had been hard but we are both happier now. Unlike the doomed soul of that old lady’s nephew in Atlanta the job market no longer tells us what we are worth. As scary and insecure as our lives have become there is value in every step of this journey… because this journey is ours.

My American Dream was never about things. You can keep your big houses, Xboxes and televisions. I don’t give a shit about any of it. I dream of a life worth living.

Shit. When someone asks what my goals are I reply it is to play in places where people come to see me. I want to sell tickets. I want to be able to put on my rider “No fucking televisions” and “Don’t hassle me about my bare feet”. Yeah… a bigger RV would be nice but mostly I just want to be honest.

Dream on Uncle Dave: May that gold be there waiting for you. Dream on Jen Berry: May you continue to find salvation through creation. Dream on J.P.Whipple: May you find your audience. Dream on all my great friends who chase the life that is meant for them… who follow their path… their bliss.

I don’t meet people with those old corporate dreams anymore… the ones who dream of promotions and mortgages. They are the ones who stay home.

The road is for the living.