Somehow, over the past few months, the recession hadn’t effected me much. Though I don’t make a lot of money, my job at a non-profit is secure – I don’t have to worry about getting laid off or having my employer go out of business. I also don’t have a car so gas prices haven’t really effected me. And though I’ve noticed the increase in food prices, this has mostly been offset by the amount of produce I’m now growing.
I of course was aware of the recession and had heard lots of stories about people not having enough money to fill up their tanks to drive to work and some who were buying less bread or less milk because they could no longer afford the steep prices. I’m acutely aware of the global food shortage and its causes (ethanol production, drought, increased demand, etc.).
But up until yesterday, the recession hadn’t directly touched me and I don’t think I had realized how bad it is.
Yesterday morning, me and my girlfriend went to breakfast at Mama’s Royal Cafe. If you haven’t been there, Mama’s is an Oakland institution. It’s been around for more than three decades, and on weekends for breakfast, there’s always at least an hour wait for a table. Well, at least there used to be.
We hadn’t been in for many months so we were a bit shocked when we walked in and it was nearly empty. Sure, it was a Wednesday, but even when we’ve gone on weekdays, it’s usually at least two-thirds full and sometimes there’s even a short wait.
My girlfriend mentioned something about this to our waiter and he said that maybe it was because of the heat (it was a hot day, but not that hot) and also the economy’s been so bad.
That’s when it hit me – if the economy’s so bad that places like Mama’s are empty, what does that mean for less established businesses? I thought of my favorite downtown Oakland Indian restaurant that unexpectedly shut down a couple months back and realized there must be many more stories like that.
There are still lots of restaurants in Oakland that are doing brisk business, but they’re in neighborhoods that have a bigger draw. It’s still impossible to get a reservation on a weekend at Dona Tomas or Pizzaiolo in Temescal, and Old Oakland restaurants seem to be busy too. But places like Mama’s, that aren’t in heavily foot-trafficked areas and have to depend on their own draw, are really suffering.
Then last night I got home and CBS was featuring a really depressing story about gas prices and food banks. Basically, food banks are suffering four-fold. First, they have to pay more in gas to deliver food. Second, they are not getting as much food donated because of the food shortage. Third, individual donors aren’t giving as much because they’re trying to make ends meet for themselves. And on top of all of this, there’s more of a demand for the food they provide to the community
An hour after watching this segment, I got a call from my sister, who sounded like she was in tears. She had just gotten laid off from the job she loved working at the House of Blues in LA. When her boss told her the news, her boss started crying, saying she didn’t want to let my sister go but the directions were coming from corporate headquarters – apparently, they’re laying off several employees around the country. Even though my sister felt like her coworkers were family, her ultimate boss didn’t see her that way – she’s just an expendable cost.
In one sense, I’m really pissed that this happened to her. But I can also understand what companies like the House of Blues must be experiencing – I mean, in this economy, who has expendable income for entertainment?
So yesterday was pretty depressing, but I guess it was a needed reality check. No matter who you are or what you do, the recession’s going to effect you in some way. There’s really no avoiding it.
Kind of ironically, I finished reading Robert Reich’s memoir last night (which I highly recommend) and couldn’t help but feel really angry at Clinton and what he didn’t get done. I really hope that Obama does a better job at investing in our nation and protecting all of us from experiences like my sister’s.