I have a friend from West Texas. A mountain of a man, he stands over six feet tall and weighs about two hundred and ten pounds. He’s kind, with soft brown eyes and a sweet Southern drawl.
He has a habit of saying such-and-such is “awful”. If you gave him a gift out of nowhere he’d probably tell you that was “awful kind of you”. Well, recently he had said something that stuck with me in a different way. He had described my family and I as being “awful poor” right now, but I don’t know that I agree with him.
In February of this year my life changed in many ways. I got to travel to California for a work trip. I got to see the ocean for the first time in person. As good as that experience was however, I’ll also always remember that it was during that trip my girlfriend lost her job. Suddenly, I became the only person in my family to be working. In an instant nearly all our bills hit my shoulders, and here we are nearly six months later. She’s still out of work and trying every day. Money is tighter than it’s ever been and we are living paycheck to paycheck even more than before.
In California, I saw Bentleys shoulder to shoulder with Geo Metros held together with duct tape. I saw magnificent hotels surrounded by cameras, with unhoused people huddled at their locked gates. That particular sight is one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Two weeks passed and I came home to Texas with a phone full of pictures and a heart full of sadness and worry. Gas prices were starting their stratospheric rise and in late February I sold my 1992 Camaro. I realized I needed a car that was better on fuel but also one I knew without a doubt would last. Something I could trust to get me and my family through this ongoing rough patch. Selling the Camaro gave me enough money to buy the subject of today’s COAL, and just enough to add to the money my family and I had been saving for the better part of a year to buy the mobile home we live in. Rather, to make the down payment on it.
Dusty Blu, as my Volvo is known, sits at two hundred and twelve thousand miles. I am only the third owner. While not perfect, this nearly-forty-year-old family sedan has done the one thing I’ve needed since I got it. It’s gotten me around without fail, without exception. Yes the main fuel pump is whining; no, the air-conditioning doesn’t blow cold, but Dusty does what 240s do and keeps chugging along.
There’s no need in going into the history of the 240. There’s no need in describing how it drives. It’s not slow, it’s not fast, it gets to sixty exactly when it means to. It drives like a suit of lead. Steady on, always. I’ve repaired a few things on it and likely will continue as the years roll on.
That’s not the point.
Dusty has remained a constant good in a life full of struggle right now. As I sit in the traffic that surrounds the impoverished industrial area I call home, I see people sleeping under the overpass. I see folks brought to their lowest in a way I am one bad paycheck away from in so many ways.
As my Volvo idles, engine ticking over as a steady as a heartbeat, my heart grows heavy. Here I am, with a home in my name, food on the table, and what was a car that forty years ago cost more than double what I make in a year. As I sit there at the overpass, a man walks up asking for money. “That’s a beautiful car.” He says. I respond with a thank you and reach into my ash tray for the coins that had been there since I bought the car. I haven’t put anything more in it since. I wish I could help more right now, but between new bills and medical problems, it’s just not possible.
My family and I are poor, no doubt. We are one disaster away from losing everything we’ve worked so hard for. Constantly aware of the sword of Damocles above us. However…we’re so lucky. I know I’ve got my chosen family with me every step of the way. I’ve got a home, food, and a car I love in the driveway.
It’s easy to get swept up in fear. It’s too easy to let the rising tide of hopelessness crash down upon us. Things are hard, and they aren’t likely to get better. These days, as I sit behind the wheel of my old Volvo, I recall the words of my friend once again.
He was visiting, and I was under the hood cleaning the valve cover of old caked on dirt and oil when he came up behind me. He clapped a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt on my shoulder and I turned to look up at him. He smiled and said “Cassy…I’m awful proud of you”.
As I write this post, I have a two-digit bank balance, a few days away from another paycheck. With it, I’ll pay for the house I call home, and the land it sits on. Money will go, as it so often does. I’ll look out my window to see my girlfriend’s Honda Element, and my old Volvo right beside it.
I’m awful proud, too.