I didn't have work so I decided to treat myself to an extended bike ride. There's something very liberating about trekking long stretches of road on a bicycle. I rode 8 or so miles to the nearest Winn Dixie where I stopped in for a protein bar and a Gatorade. I sat outside at the only table in the strip of the shopping center. I was half a bar in when a man that looked to be in his 60's asked if I wouldn't mind if he sat there too, seeing as how he was in a hurry and needed to eat. Of course I obliged him.
He sat down with a prepackaged meal: some chicken, mashed potatoes, and a Pepsi Zero. He told me the economy was shit and the job market looked grim for folks my age. It was something I'd heard a million times, but for some reason, hearing it from this stranger made it more real. He told me he was a financial advisor, and that usually he charged 150 or so dollars for financial, but sometimes he gave out freebies.
"Always wear a condom," he told me, cutting into his chicken. "Don't don't don't get a girl pregnant. Not now, not at your age. When you go and do something like that you're stacking the odds against you, then you're running around grabbing any job you can just to make end's meet. My daughter had a baby at 15 and another at 20. Guess where both the fathers are? Out of the picture. Know why? Cause they're not stupid. Now all her friends are out in clubs and no guy will look at her. Take my advice. Heh, she didn't."
I liked the way this guy was straight to the point. He wasn't one to beat around the bush and I respected that.
"Friends? Ha! Get into debt over your head with a kid or two and you'll see how many friends you really have," he took a swig of his soda. "Friends. Ha! Now family, you look out for your family."
He told me he started his firm at 23, something you couldn't do in today's market, not when jobs are already as scarce as they are. He was making a good bit of money now. He was even impressed by the amount of money he made, but he got that why by "earning 1 dollar wages and living a 50 cent lifestyle." But the exorbitant amount he made wasn't enough he said. Not when he was helping out his daughter and putting his grandchildren through college.
"It doesn't matter if you make ten grand a week if you live an eleven grand a week lifestyle. I've seen guys make their million and then ruin it by thinking they have all the money in the world."
He said he didn't mean to scare me, but he was only telling me the facts.
"It isn't anything I haven't heard before," I told him. "Besides, there's no sense in being afraid of facts."
"So, you got a job?"
"Yea, I'm a busser at a Brazilian steakhouse a couple miles down the road. It pays 9 dollars an hour. Everyone tells me I could do better, but I like it there and really don't feel like its that bad pay. I'm staying with my dad so I only pay for utilities."
"Hey, any job is better than none at all. So you're only staying down here for the summer?"
"Yea, I'm in school studying English," I purposely left out my double majoring in philosophy. "I'm from Tennessee. Just visiting my dad here for the summer."
"So you looking to be a teacher?"
I wasn't really looking to be anything, but I told him otherwise. He told me about the poor wages teachers, firemen, and other employees of the state. I expected him to tell me that my degree was worthless like everyone else his age tries to tell me, but he didn't.
When he finished his meal, he checked his watch. He had to pick his dogs up from a kennel.
"Six hundred dollars to keep dogs in a kennel. Yea, meanwhile some kid in China is working in a sweatshop."
"Well, if people are willing to pay for it, you may as well take the opportunity."
He laughed, "Well, I say all this as one working man to another. But if you don't give thought to what I've told you today and you find yourself in over your head in debt, don't look around for anyone to blame. Take a good look in the mirror and that'll the reality of it. No one holds yourself back more than yourself."
He shook my head, where I noticed a faded spider tattoo on his arm, and we parted ways.
I returned to my bike ride. I had never considered myself a "working man" before, but I guess that will change soon enough. Though I wouldn't be opening a firm up or making ten grand a week anytime soon or even have the slightest idea of what career I would one day nestle into, I couldn't bring myself to worry too much about the hellish "real world" that is barren in careers and opportunity. Its time will come, though that time is near. And I'll embrace it as best prepared as I can be with a 50 cent lifestyle and a condom by my side.