I’m Rich!

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I lived in Indonesia, I had the habit of exclaiming “I’m rich!” accompanied by an Oprah-esque sweep of the arm. This would happen in situations like being swindled by a taxi driver or offering to buy the next round of drinks. By American standards, I was by no means rich – I made even less than I had as a first year teacher! But Indonesia, where many of my colleagues were making a few hundred dollars a month, was a different story. I could basically afford to buy anything I wanted. (Within reason – the Cartier and Louis Vuitton stores were still out of reach). And I did end up spending a lot of money – I went on adventurous vacations, indulged in spa treatments, and ate out whenever I was in a big city. I don’t regret any of this, even though I didn’t save any money. The scuba diving, mountain climbing, massages, and long dinners with friends were part of what made my 2 years there so amazing. Even if I had tried to keep a tight budget and save, I wouldn’t have had all that much money to show for my efforts.

Of course, now that I am unemployed and living with my parents, it seems like it would have been a good idea to take a few fewer trips or skip a few mani-pedis. I’m definitely not rich now. And I am even less rich after my car got towed while I was visiting friends in DC last week. The towing fee was $245, plus a $250 parking ticket! Ouch!

But the truth is, even though I don’t have a paycheck at the moment, I am rich. I was able to go to the ATM and pull out enough cash to pay the towing company. If my efforts to contest the ticket don’t work out, I’ll be able to write a check for the fine. While I’m not thrilled to hand over almost $500 for nothing, I have the money. And in a year, I probably won’t even notice its absence from my bank account.

For a lot of people, especially many DC residents, a $500 parking violation would be ruinous. Someone on minimum wage making $8.25 an hour would have to work 60 hours to earn $495! That’s a week-and-a-half full time, and that doesn’t even factor in taxes! For a minimum-wage employee, a parking ticket like this would mean a month of eating peanut butter and jelly at best and eviction and homelessness at worst. It could mean losing their car, which could mean losing their job, which would mean being forced to rely on charity, even if they want a job and are willing to slave away for 8 measly bucks an hour. It would mean many things that someone like me, who grew up in the suburbs, can’t begin to understand. That sucks, America. We should be able to do better by the most vulnerable people in our society.

So, at least if I have to pay $495, I am getting something in return. I’m being reminded of how incredibly fortunate I am in so many ways. I do have savings I can fall back on. I have an education that qualifies me for a job that pays a living wage. I have family I could turn to in an emergency and that I am turning to at the moment. It just really would have been nice to learn all that from, say, a $50 parking ticket.

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One Comment to “I’m Rich!”

  1. A $500 ticket still stings! Ask Uncle Link!

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