“If you’re so clever, why aren’t’ you rich?” This is a question that has troubled me since my mother read it out of the newspaper sometime in the 90s. I think it was the name of a play or a book in the review section.
It’s a question that resonated with me as I reached adulthood. I’ve always thought I was clever, so I was naturally disappointed when I grew up and didn’t become rich. But lately the question has become “If you are so clever, why are you so skint all the time?” (Skint, for American readers can be translated to penniless).
This journey is amazing and I’m so grateful to be able to travel the world almost at will, but one drawback is that when I get places I feel inhibited to do anything that costs money because the more I spend, the more I shorten the life of the journey.
In my attempts at frugality I may have gone too far. Several times I have had ugly realisations that I am no longer living out an exciting adventure in which hardship is jovially endured, but I find myself drowned by the demoralising realisation that “This is my life.”
We dragged glider bags and suitcases on the Los Angeles MRT lines because we didn’t want to pay for a cab, stayed in the grimmest part of town risking drive-bys, strolled Compton’s streets for some cheap sightseeing, and the lowest moment recently was when we caught ourselves arranging our day around the free french-fries and champagne that the hostel doled out at 7pm each evening. That’s my life.
My beard trimmer has packed up after I overcharged it with the solar panels so I have a full on unruly beard. My jeans are stained from crawling under the bus fixing a leaking brake line yesterday, and to fight off the morning cold I pulled on the closest thing I could find, Chris’ paragliding sweatshirt, a size too small and wondered into a cafe for breakfast. In the glass door I saw a homeless guy in sandals and socks and for a second I steeled myself ready to fend off the request for a quarter from him, before realising it was my own reflection. That’s my life.
Chris is in the same boat, she was offered a free breakfast by volunteers at a homeless shelter on her way through town yesterday. Aside from our own, I’ve seen a lot of homelessness here. On a small piece of cardboard pithy pitches give you a life story and a reason to care. “Need money for dog food and a bigger piece of cardboard” says one. “I’m Michael, I served in Iraq. Every dollar you give reminds me why.” says another. Even the homeless, with all their woes, know the benefit of self promotion and effective sales communication. “Since 2009 [I’ve] been driving around the world in a truck that is made from and runs trash” begins the press release I type out in the cafe.
Next to me half a dozen beautician franchisees gather round the company founder for their annual meeting. It starts of cringingly enough as they dutifully laugh at inane stories the owner tells of the funny things her children said and did this week, but briskly moves into overdrive. For an hour she rattles through sales figures and targets like a machine gun. She refers to her underlings not by their names, but by the name of their franchise. “Santa Fe Ranchero, you’re up $10,000 on last year but a proportion of that has come from retail, none the less that’s good work, you can be pleased with that.” “San Diego South, your are only 51cents away from averaging $40 a sale, that’s amazing, but total volumes are down and you need to work hard to get back into the $2million turnover club. More focus on ORTs next quarter” There’s little time for any genuine emotion in her interactions. Every phrase is calculated to motivate and direct. Individual’s personalities are de-personalised by the sales-speak.
It’s exhausting to hear, even from 4 tables away. I head to the toilets where a sign says “Associates must wash their hands after using the toilet” Associates? What a lovely way to refer to a low paid coffee shop Mac-jobbers. Partners, Stakeholders, Franchisees. Sure enough a uniformed barista walks from the cubicle straight past me and the sink on his way back to work. As I return to the table the beauty queen is leaving in a sports car. She is clearly very rich. And from the complicated target driven way she knows how to motivate her franchisees, I’d guess she is also clever. I’m so glad that is not my life.
The beautician mogul has left me with an answer to my mother’s question. You not only have to be clever to be rich, you also have to be driven by money. All the corn in Nebraska couldn’t motivate me to be like that. At the risk of sounding all Buddhist, my truck has everything I need (apart from running water at the moment – the pump is still playing up) and while I wish I had €2000 for a tandem paragliding wing so I could fly with Chris and other people we meet on the journey, I’m happy to make do without it. That’s my life.