succumbing to peer pressure

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I forgot to pack my travel journal on this trip. To the pile of papers and books labeled, for weeks, Take to Colombia! I somehow failed to add my narrow book with the sunflower on the cover. I bought it when I was 14, the summer I (finally*!) headed to Europe for the first time. That summer Mom and I spent ten days in Berlin, primarily for gymnastics, before meeting up with Dad and brother in Frankfurt, then a week in Paris, and several days each in Rome and Florence. On that trip I mainly filled the pages with dry daily itineraries of the places we visited with the occasional dip into puppy love over a boy I met in Berlin.

Last summer I again filled pages with copious notes on museums and restaurants and a list of all the things I had taken pictures of in Dublin, but also all the things I was figuring out about my Mom and I. Bits of my personality that clearly came from her, others that were clearly in reaction to her, and a million family baggage things. It was wonderful.

This trip has been so filled with work, I honestly haven't paused much to be present and reflect. But tonight especially I find myself missing those lined pages. I'm pushing myself to be more courageous on this trip, which is a good thing. My intern is pretty fearless, actually dangerously so, but the two of us seem to make a reasonably balanced pair when out exploring. I'm still not entirely convinced that I'm cut out for this, but I'm trying not to cast my mind too much in the future...I'll cross those other daunting bridges when I get to them**.

*yes, I know this 'finally' makes me sound like a privileged asshole, which I pretty much am. But I grew up hearing my parents' stories of multiple Europe trips - they both went on various school trips and spent an entire summer there for their honeymoon, plus later Dad had business trips to England and they took my brother when he was two. So I begged to be taken to Europe pretty much as soon as I knew the word.

**I said all along that of the places my job was most likely to send me, I hoped to go to Bogota first. I figured it was a good way to get my feet wet on this whole traveling thing. We have local hosts and it's a major city with potable water and reliable internet. And I have to say I've felt pretty good about it - if I'm being totally honest, I was worried that landing in a new, potentially scary place after a full day of flying and sleep deprivation would send me tumbling back down the anxiety rabbit hole. But I've been pretty ok. But I've also had plenty of diversions - delicious restaurants, parks, hell, a shopping mall showing Harry Potter! And while my boss and intern were out of town I kept myself entertained at night watching tv shows online. All of which starts me to wondering what it will be like working in other, less developed cities. How does one entertain oneself without a reliable internet connection? What to do once the sun goes down and the electricity clicks off? How to keep the anxiety at bay?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This graph (and the ideas behind it) should be taught in schools. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don't know that working full time at minimum wage results in living below the poverty level*. My liberal, hippy parents encouraged me to do the math myself when I started a minimum wage job in high school.

The two arguments that always get trotted out whenever the minimum wage is discussed are: a) Unemployment will rise! and b) only teenagers and people supplementing their income earn minimum wage - it was never meant to provide an actual living and cover the cost of things like rent and groceries.

First, currently 30 out of 50 states already have a state minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage and, prior to the current economic crisis, none of their job markets collapsed. If necessary, an increase in minimum wage can be accompanied by tax credits or other incentives to help out truly small businesses.

Second, the Department of Labor Statistics reported that for 2008 24.5% of those earning the minimum wage were 16 to 19 years old. This certainly does not constitute a majority and although this group obviously does include high school kids working summers and weekends and living at home, it also includes adults who may indeed be supporting themselves (and possibly others). Or at least attempting to. We may never know precisely what portion of those working for minimum wage jobs have other sources of income/support and which are relying solely on their hourly wage to cover rent, utilities, and groceries, but to assume the former constitutes a majority is clearly inaccurate.

*of course, the poverty level itself is a huge farce, based on Department of Agriculture recommendations regarding the minimal nutrition required a day to keep a person alive**. Almost from the beginning of its creation the FPL needed an overhaul, but no administration wants to do that because, by definition, it 'creates' more poor people. The government acknowledges this by setting the guidelines for various social programs at 150% and 200% the FPL.

**Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the economy food plan — the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture. The actual combinations of foods in the food plans, devised by Agriculture Department dietitians using complex procedures, constituted nutritionally adequate diets; the Agriculture Department described the economy food plan as being "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low." (Orshansky also developed a second set of poverty thresholds based on the Agriculture Department's somewhat less stringent low-cost food plan, but relatively little use was ever made of these higher thresholds.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We're essentially bankrupt and you pass a budget with no new taxes?! Seriously? Someone, please, get up to the state legislature and start teaching some basic arithmetic. As Dave says, "basically a reinvention of state government, more austere, and precisely when folks need the opposite."


I finally sucked it up and went out and ordered lunch on my own today! I went back to a place we had eaten at before, to reduce the amount of translating I would need to do just to read the menu. And I managed to say good afternoon, sorry I only speak a little Spanish, lunch to go? The waitress spoke about as much English as I do Spanish, so between the two of us we worked out a salad, toast, and water to go. I even managed to do the math on the bill and pay without a big fuss. Feeling more confident, I went back out this afternoon for coffee and pastry, which was also a big success (though I fumbled a bit figuring out how much money pass over, it worked out ok). Already I feel so much more independent and less cooped up!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hrm. I should probably use a few more words to describe last night! My lovely coworker took me out, first to a little restaurant with live, local-ish music (guitar, drums, and Spanish singing, but apparently the first few songs were Cuban covers) then to an awesome lounge that takes some explaining. First, there are two guys with guitars on stage, along with a computer and other misc. technology. Then there is a woman (and later, a man) on one side of the stage in a sound proof booth. Another man on the other side of the stage, also in a soundproof booth, plays saxophone. The group proceeds to rip in to selections from The Cure, Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, and Prince all while the guy on stage mixes the sound in real time! Fabulous. I had hot wine (vino something, but I've already forgotten the Spanish wasn't caliente, but something with an F...), which tastes like Christmas (i.e., mulled wine) and some local rum in a rum and coke. My guidebook tells me Medellin is the place for rum, but I'm hoping to pick some up here (along with COFFEE!)

I keep waffling between wanting to explore tons more and feeling like I don't need to smush everything into this one trip (my company travels to Colombia pretty frequently). On the one hand, any time I'm in a new place I want to see and do as much as possible, and always read up on history and culture and sights and whatnot (plus, a friend just posted beautiful pictures from her European travels on Facebook and I'm feeling pangs of guilt about not producing similar rolls of digital film). On the other hand, we have tons of work to do. And, as I'm discovering, I have a shockingly high tolerance for spending long days in one place. On the third hand (foot?) this is only day six of 15, so I suppose there really is plenty of time left to get more out and about.

Plus, I'm feeling exceptionally dependent upon my coworkers - they're all bilingual and I am...not. I've been in other countries where I don't speak the language and I don't remember feeling this paralyzed, but then again, I was young and with my parents and probably not experiencing the same feeling of stress and responsibility for managing transactions. I've got a few key Spanish phrases under my belt, and I really should just suck it up and have some awkward social interactions where I confess to my lack of Spanish and we Spanglish and pantomime our way through the transaction, but I just keep shrinking back and glancing at my coworkers while they translate. Sigh.