Portraits of an Economy: Los Angeles


"Where is he, now?" Hal called from the kitchen.

"He's merging onto the 10, it looks like."

The slow-speed car chase had been on for hours and we could not look away. Neither could many Angelenos, our eyes glued to our respective television sets. Rumors spread quickly that the man in the driver's seat was a celebrity. A rapper, perhaps. In town for The Grammies. I even went so far as to follow White Bentley on twitter. We watched, Hal and I, shaking our heads.

"Why don't they just put the spikes down on the freeway, already?"

"I know. I'm getting bored! Something happen, already, geez."

"Why is he driving so slowly?"

"Why is he heading back home to North Hollywood where the chase first began?"

"Why is he using his turn signal to change lanes when he's the only car on the road?"

"He's using his blinker?"


A man running, afraid to stop. A man who used his turn-signal to change lanes on an empty highway while running from dozens of LAPD and Highway Patrol. A man at the end of his rope, squinting from spotlight of helicopters and news crews, his very demise a sort of demented entertainment for me and thousands more. We watched until midnight when the news story ended to make room for diet pill infomercials and went to sleep curious as to his fate. How did it end? How does it usually end? Why must it always end?

The next day we found out he had died, turned the gun on himself during the four hour standoff, alone in the $120,000 car he could no longer afford.

He wasn't a celebrity at all but a man who owned a business that failed. A man who lost everything financially and couldn't emotionally deal, a George Bailey without the Clarence.



Hal and I have not been financially affected by the economic downturn. The thing about having nothing is that you can't lose anything. We don't own a home or have investments. We don't drive fancy cars or go out for meals. We don't have to cut corners because we've never had corners to cut. We rent a two-bedroom duplex in a neighborhood surrounded by mansions and victims of Madoff. We're safe because we've always lived precariously.

Hal is a freelance writer/producer for reality television. The production he's currently working on ends Friday and he will be out of work once again as he usually is after a show ends. We have lived for the past four years on work ephemeral, our income(s) mostly unstable and jobs temporary so for us the uncertainty of work is nothing new. And for that I feel lucky. Prepared. Just as, in a way, I feel relieved to be investment-free, and yes, even broke.



I watched an elderly man ask for a job application at Trader Joes, yesterday. He had to be in his 70's. Maybe older. It was disconcerting, watching him negotiate with the store assistant manager. He had lost everything, he explained, and was eager to work.

"I haven't worked in a few years and you probably can't tell by looking at me but I'm a strong man. I have big arms," he said, flexing his biceps. "Plus, I like Trader Joes. Sometimes I shop here."

"I'll see what I can do," the assistant manager responded, clearly affected by the man who walked with a slight limp out the glass doors and toward the bus stop on the corner of 3rd Street and La Brea.


I started a blog in case any of you were interested in writing your own posts about how the state of our world economy is affecting you, your neighborhoods, cities and suburbs. Please, if you're interested in participating, send me your stories (rebeccawoolf at gmail dot com) so I can repost them in the group blog I hope to update throughout the year, a project I'm calling, Portraits of An Economy.

I also wanted to direct your attention to another blogger's group blog/cause: Post to the President. Also very cool and worthy of your participation.


Chantelle {fat mum slim} | 11:26 PM

That was an interesting insight to see how things are going over your way.

My heart broke for the older man trying for a job at Trader Joes. :( He should be enjoying life and living the retired life.


Krystal | 12:00 AM

My heart is breaking for that sweet old man.

I too have always be a simple liver. My husband works, and I stay home and play with the kids. Im very careful about how I spend his hard earned money, even though he calls it "our money". I have to make it last, so I have been hoarding it, just incase things get worse.

Thank you for this blog, it's really eye opening to read about what others are noticing, or experiencing.


Please share your story if you have time! I think the blog will be really eye-opening for everyone if people from all walks and talks and cities and neighborhoods share what's happening in their day to day lives.

The Panic Room | 12:47 AM

Holy cow. Just please copy and paste that as your "Post to the President," What in the world is happening all around us? How can anyone hear that story and decide that a bank needs a bailout over a citizen willing to work.

You keep your eyes open and keep writing. Take the position of a war time photographer and tell these stories. They need to be heard.

Anonymous | 5:08 AM

This is why I love your writing. This is what makes you compelling. I've been hungry for a meatier post like this. Thank you.

Kere | 5:13 AM

This was one of your best posts so far, since I've been reading. Very touching to see what is happening around the country. Very sad about the old man. Here in DC, you don't see the horrible job economy as much because it's mostly government jobs and those have been pretty stable here, so it hasn't really affected my family or those around me. But I can only imagine what it's like outside our area. Very sad to see!

Erin | 5:24 AM

Florida is bad.
I am a teacher and we had an emergecny meeting yesterday where the principal said that he needs to like TWENTY FIVE of us go due to the economy.
Many of us were crying- including my first year teacher self.
They have stopped "servicing" the school buses here and are no longer ordering text books.
Florida is bad.

Anonymous | 5:47 AM

SADNESS. We have been affected BUT trust me no where near as badly or as tragic as others. We lost a little money on my daughters college savings and our 401k has not grown as much. However thankfully for us we are 30 and 34 and we can make it up. BUT the worst way we got affected is by loosing my job at 8 weeks pregnant. YA we planned and planned and planned for 4 years. We waited until the time was PERFECT - 8 weeks later i loose my job. Going on job interviews while covering my belly was so frustrating and having so many odds against me (the economy, election year, the holidays and then a very obvious belly) SO for now (I am 6 months) I am laying low knitting and reading, getting house and myself ready for baby. I no longer commute an hour to and from, and because my hours are not long I no longer have to worry abotu ordering out. My unemployment covers our bills, my husbands salary covers our mortgage and we are still able to save a LITTLE. IT sucks but what can I do. I have faith that maybe by mid summer the market is A LITTLE better and I don't have so much against me.


Anonymous | 7:17 AM

The economy is shit, yes.
The economy is shit and people are loosing jobs, houses, lives even and it plain old sucks.

Call me an asshole for this, but I don't feel sorry for the man who shot himself because he lost his business. He was driving a car that could have been the down payment for a huge McMansion somewhere. Or a lifetime of food for someone in another country. Hell, if he moved out of expensive ass LA with the money from selling that car he would live comfortably while he made a plan for a simple life.

So I don't feel bad for him. I know that's awful, but I can't.

I've been preparing in my own little ways for less money. We have been adding to savings, we ordered chickens and are going to raise our own produce and I have stopped swooning after expensive things and am concentrating on secondhand, and homemade items. If everyone comes together we can pull through this. We really can. If it means that you can't buy a $200 handbag you want, okay. If it means you need to move out of the fancy city and into a more rural community to save money, it will help.

I'm hoping that even though times are rough, and everyone is struggling in their own ways, it will teach folks to live more simply, and to anticipate rough times.

Liz | 7:33 AM

So far we have been mildly affected but not too terrible. BUT, my husband works for Ford building the F150's and there are rumors swirling everyday that his location will get shut down. That is our main source of income and own a home we cannot get out of so I am praying something changes soon.

eliznorris | 9:00 AM

WOW! I am seriously teary after reading about the older man. That is just so sad but amazing that he is doing something about his situation and not just waiting for the government to save him. My heart breaks for him when I think about the opportunities I have simply because I am younger.

Petunia Face | 9:10 AM

Thank you for writing this post. As somebody deeply affected by the dismal economy, it somehow helps to hear others' stories.

I have been laid off now twice in the last year, the first time from the job I'd been at for seven years. I've now been out of work for 4 months, with little action on the new job front. We had savings, but it's almost gone. We bought a house believing we'd both always work. We can't make the mortgage on one salary, so we're selling the house this Spring. It breaks my heart to lose this house, but I am trying so very hard not to let it break me.

I try to see the positive. My daughter is almost three and in a way I'm glad this happened now. She is young enough--we are young enough as a family--to take the lessons from this recession, nay--depression--and use them. It would have been so easy to raise my daughter with the belief that the house, the car, the stuff was important. Now we know better. We are important--our family, our friends, our stories. We are going to take all of this and raise our daughter more aware and more grateful than we have been.

Anonymous | 9:14 AM

Hi, I cant post without an account over on the other blog so I will here. Well, things are really bad here in Michigan. I live about a half an hour outside of Detroit. The whole state is hurting. Everyone is losing their jobs, no one can sell their homes, the unemployment office can not keep up. Huge lines outside the unemployment office because their computers are so bogged down that when people call to collect their unemployment they are either disconnected or the line is just forever busy. People are abandoning their pets, whether it be at the humane society or just on the street. My mothers horse vet just told her last week that he heard that someone had let their horses loose in a state park. They couldnt sell them and couldnt bear the thought that they might end up sold to the meat man. I to do not own a home or have any investments but we have definately felt the crunch.

JessicaToday | 9:29 AM

imagining that old man at trader joes made me bawl. like. a. little. baby.

eliznorris | 9:31 AM

Jessica, I am so glad you just said that. I bawled too (more than the "teary" I claimed above). Made me feel very fortunate and I am unemployed also!


Anyone who has a story to share please email it to me: rebeccawoolf@gmail.com with your name (or initials) city and state and a link to your blog if you so desire. And I will post it on the other blog. Thank you!

Anonymous | 10:41 AM

Yes, the economy is crap and we can blame all we want...the banks and the government and Bush etc, etc, etc. How about putting the blame back on the people. The people that take unemployment but still work cash jobs on the side? How about young single moms toting Coach bags that go on WIC or take assistance, but clearly have family or boyfriends who are making enough to provide? How about the people with no jobs that continue to have children? Or people that smoke 2 packs a day but can't buy their kids a winter jacket? The American people who won't stand up and take control of their own lives. Why should I pay for them? We have three children and would LOVE more, but we can't afford it so we will NOT have anymore. Does any else feel this way? Does anyone else think it's going to get better anytime soon? I was 22 when I had my son and I was going to school. It wasn't easy but I didn't take a cent from any assistance program. Not even WIC. And it was offered almost forced on me many times. We know so people that are "getting help" in some way or another yet they live far better lives than we do. My kids don't wear designer clothes....EVER. We don't even have TV service right now because I am so worried about how bad things are going to get that we have cut back on everything. It would be nice to hear a little hope from our President. A little sign that yes, it's going to be okay. He's placing fear in everyone and our country is going to suffer because of it.

And I do feel bad for the man that shot himself. He was probably working extremely hard to make a good...great life for his family, and trying hard to keep it all together. He was probably trying hard to make it all better right up to the end. At least he was trying. At least he was working. At least his family wasn't on welfare.

So sick of it all and I don't see an end in sight.


Forgive me, Anonymous and you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I'm hoping that by allowing everyone to share their stories we can be more commiserative as to their lives and situations.

Instead of lashing out at one another we can come together, understand and realize that nothing is black or white, that everyone is being affected and that kindness and support goes a long way during these times.

Anonymous | 11:11 AM


Why is it okay for tracy to say she doesn't care about the man who shot himself? Shouldn't you tell her to be more commiserative of his life? Is it because he was driving a $100,000 car and living in a mcmansion? At least he was trying. He killed himself trying.

Everyone is being affected but not everyone is trying and I'm tired of picking up the slack.

I feel bad for the people that are working hard and still being laid off and then taking second jobs and having their family and friends watch their children so they can work. Not the people using the system. Those people are out there...everywhere. I do not feel sorry for those people. Just as tracy does not feel sorry for the rich man trying hard to make it all better.

Romi | 11:16 AM

Hey you - what a thoughful and heartwrenching post. I will spread the word about your new project. xo



You're right. I shouldn't have singled you out. What I wrote above I meant at everyone, not just you.

Everyone: Instead of lashing out at one another we can come together, understand and realize that nothing is black or white, that everyone is being affected and that kindness and support goes a long way during these times.

Anonymous | 11:19 AM

What I said wasn't a rant on the welfare system. And I'm sorry if I think that offing yourself isn't "making it all better" for you, or your family. If the guy did have one, they are certainly going to be at more of a loss now aren't they?

Katy | 11:40 AM

I work on the non-profit side of real estate finance.... I know.... It's total oxymoron!
Back to my point.....

I run fundraisers for a University and their Real estate finance program, in which we provide monthly symposiums for the professional community,i.e., brokers, developers, bankers, lawyers, architects...

It has been nothing but a year of bleak, depressing news and unfortunately, it will not get any better anytime soon. This year so many people have been laid off, who have been well respected in this field for more years than I have been alive.

What are they going to do? They are near retirement, they are worth too much $$ in many employers eyes, so they won't get the lower paying jobs....

It just sucks.

I hope the forecasts are wrong and things start to look up for everybody really soon....

Thanks GGC.

Anonymous | 12:33 PM

Thanks for posting on this subject. I've read your blog for awhile now and love it... thanks for keeping it real (& I love the Momversations!)

My brother (in Minneapolis) lost his job last Friday. He's worked in the advertising/writing/creative dev. area for over 10 years. It's sad to see this happen but he's started off his jaunt in unemployment by writing about it.

His blog about his experience is-

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for but I'm pretty proud of what he's doing. Thought I'd share.

Anonymous | 1:23 PM

I'm so sad about that old man. He will likely never find a job. I hope he has some young relatives that are willing and able to help out.

mames | 1:39 PM

the last 2 got me. we live low on the financial totem pole, which is good and fine with me. can't fall far. we do own a home, but bought it from my parents and they came with the house, a good deal, these days. but the old man, heart breaking. my brother has temporary work in a wood shop right now and he said they have had 3 or 4 people a day come in, cruising the industrial parks, looking for work, most over 50. ah, the land of opportunity.

Anonymous | 1:56 PM

really one of your best posts yet-really lovely.

my husband lost his job but we are still on the better side of things since i still work. everyday i am grateful that we were able to save so we can stay above water in what i am sure is going to be a tough year.

EdenSky | 2:15 PM

I live in Candada, so I probably don't qualify to write for the blog. But really a recession in America does have global consequences. Things are bad here too.
I live in a small town, not an expensive city, but we have been hit hard by lay-offs at 2 auto-parts plants on either edge of town. These places brought work to hundreds of people, but they've recently laid off more than 2/3 of them. There's no work to be found for miles around.
The less people work, the more time they seem to have to make meth to sell to kids.
Like you, we live pretty simply and weren't hit too hard. We rent a small place, get some food from my in-laws farm, use cloth diapers and buy everything second-hand and we manage to get by on my SO's meagre retail paycheck. But looking around it's pretty obvious to see that things are not going well up here either.
Good luck All.


Of COURSE you qualify!!! I'm looking for stories on how the WORLD ECONOMY is affecting you! It isn't just America that's taking a hit, that's for sure.

EdenSky | 2:44 PM

Oh, ok then. I'll send something.

Pat | 3:48 PM

Hi GCC, I have been reading your blog for a while but this is the first time that I comment.
I can assure you that the economy is not just a US situation, right now I live in Canada and things are bad here, but I am originally from Haiti and things are worse there.. I went to Haiti with my daughter for her to meet her great grandmother last april (I was also pregnant with my second child); as I got there I was stuck in the airport for hours after I had landed because there was a prostest against "lavi che" which can be translated to "life being to expensive".. The Canadian Ambassy suggested that all of us returned to Canada, I refused.The people were so very angry there and could not understand how this economic crisis even started . During my stay there I understood that the US provides to Haiti, because Haiti imports most of its goods from the US, Canada and China (rice,grains and even package meats).. so imagine if there is no work in the US, there is no food in Haiti. I heard of families subsiting on a dough made not with flour but with dirt.
THanks for letting me share.

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wow, Lalapaloo. Thank you so much for sharing. I can't even imagine...

I also would like to add that our "broke" is relative to where we live, and the cost of living here which is insane. Even with the fall in home values, to buy in our neighborhood we would still need 1.3 million and thats just for a three-bedroom. It's never even been an option in my mind to buy. I always figured we'd rent forever. Ha!

Our monthly overhead is huge (Archer's preschool alone is $1,000 a month and our health insurance is so insane I don't even want to tell you because it depresses me.)

I didn't want to come off ungrateful for what income we have because we do make a decent living. It's just that life here is insane expensive. It's the trade-off, I know and we're not going anywhere because this is where the entertainment industry lives and that's Hal's trade but Oy to the vey, man.

My Bottle's Up! | 5:13 PM

hi rebecca- i have been enjoying your blog for a few months now and really respect your insight into motherhood. it is refreshing to read something like this post though, where you add perspective to a much broader issue that is paralyzing so many individuals and families now. your attention to detail and true sincerity is felt through your writing and it's pretty awesome. i think this is one of my favorite posts that i've read in a while.

Anonymous | 6:06 PM

That poor man :( that is so deeply terribly sad!

I know what you mean, we've been broke for so long I'm used to it. We still stress about it though.

But I believe the economy must go through ups and downs, and unfortunately sometimes those downs seem really, well down.

Tasha | 7:28 PM

Thank you!

I just emailed you my story. I mentioned in my email, as well as I will here too, that I am happy and grateful you are doing this with Portraits of an Economy. My family has also been effected by the bad times, and it helps to hear the other stories out there. To know that we are not alone and that its happening all over the world, helps you hold things together a little easier.

Thank you again


I'm near tears right now. That man at TJ's could almost be my dad. He retired 2 years ago after 40+ years in the grocery industry.

Yesterday he had an interview for a job in the grocery industry.

Anonymous | 8:47 PM

The third example makes me want to cry.

Anonymous | 9:43 PM

Trader Joe's guy is so depressing! It's been weird seeing this whole crisis from the outside. I'm mostly unaffected living in Canada and with a husband who has a secure job. But then I hear from my best friend in Florida who is seriously concerned about losing his job. It's frightening.

Ceci Virtue | 12:38 AM

I am... beyond words.

The first story had me in tears because he was driven that point. We can all be driven to that point when it comes to being providers or just someone who felt like the problem was on their shoulder and THEY had to figure out how to make it right. I've been there.

I'd like to thank you for slapping me out of my doldrums of the "I don't have what I want"s. UGH! Seriously, I have not much to complain about as I have my husband, we have jobs, and we have a roof over our heads. Who cares if it's rented! Who cares if we didn't cash-in and where when we should have! Thank you! Seriously... thank you!

Also, the TJ's guy made me want to cry too, but when you told me what the assistant manager looked like/said, I can guarantee you that they'll try to see if he can fit in. I used to work for TJ's and when, as a manager, I'd get someone that looked like they at least could use a hand, I'd run them through the hiring process to see if there was anyplace for them on the team. Seriously. I can tell you they at least gave him a chance and tried to see if there was anywhere they could put him.

Again, thank you! This story was... beyond awesome.

Anonymous | 6:21 AM

My husband and I have been feeling the same way. We work the kind of jobs that don't get bombed by the recession, we rent, and have no investments or 401(k)s to worry about. We've been repeatedly mentioning that for once we're lucky - we're the kind of people a recession doesn't affect too badly.

Julie Marsh | 10:58 AM

Thanks Bec. Great reminder that there is plenty of heartbreak to go around, and that we should feel good about what we've got. Many of us have so very much, all things considered.

Angelica | 9:52 AM

Wow both of those stories are truly scary...knowing that so many people are affected scares me but at the same time i have hope that everything will get better.

I'm affected just by looking for a job everyday and competing with at least 30 others that day.

on a lighter note i love love your blog. i had been looking for a mommy blog for a while now and found you through momversation.

Anonymous | 10:25 AM

My husband is a financial planner and we see things daily. Fathers killing themselves because they feel they cannot continue to support their families in the way they are USED TO. We've experienced this twice in the past 6 weeks alone.

I think our sense of entitlement is seriously out of control. Not only our country but the world. More and more people are raising their children up to believe that they are nothing if they don't have the best of the best and even better, if they are of the celebrity caliber. It's really sad. There will always be someone with more: more money, more cars, more clothes. Our problems has come in thinking that everyone must have the same...and if you have more that you worked for, well you need to share. It's wrong.

I own a business that only does well if the second-home market does well so my business is essentially shut down at this point. But with my husband doing financial planning I get to see him every day help people prepare for what's coming...by not relying on the government and taking control of their money. We are very concerned things are just going to get worse because of the mentality of the people and our governments willingness to take more control. I am scared for my children's future.

Rhea | 12:59 PM

Not many car chases here in Texas...but a good cow tippin' or tractor haulin' always make the news. lol Just kidding.

The 10 Years Younger shows looks neat. I love make over shows.

Anonymous | 8:10 PM

I feel for the 70 year old man asking for a job application. My mother works for a large Fortune 500 company that employs a lot of people in construction and mining. It's a good company and many of the people in those positions have worked there their entire lives. Like everyone, they've had to cut back and they cut production recently at the quarry near her office, which necessitated a number of temporary lay offs. One of the men who works there is in his forties and has worked at that quarry for over 20 years. When they told him he had to be laid off, he cried. He's a very masculine, blue collar worker, but he'd never been laid off before. They'll hopefully be able to rehire him soon, but stories like those make me hope and pray that we all can come out of this thing in one piece.

Love your blog by the way. You have beautiful children.

Anonymous | 6:57 AM

I'd take this more seriously if you didn't have the whole Drooling Closet thing going on. If you're getting donations for those clothes and part of the Drooling Closet is that sort of income, I'd understand, but it just looks really frivolous to have your months old daughter playing fashionista in a nearly completely different outfit 18 days running.

Shannon | 8:51 AM

Great post.

Poor guy at Traders. Shame.
It's nice to see that some others aren't living beyond their means. We live in Austin which is quite expensive. We own a two bedroom home (have twins). I drive a paid for 99 Jetta. Hubby has 03 Golf. No bling here. No malls for us. But we do have fun on the weekends with the kids. We eat out sometimes. Have 401k, investments, insurance, retirement, kids college savings and ONE credit card. I also feel that we haven't been affected either. I hope it stays this way too.
-Shannon in Austin

Anonymous | 10:39 AM

I just wrote a post about how the senior citizens are being treated even more poorly than usual with the economy in the crapper. You can read it here:
My husband and I are doing all right with everything, although I am facing the prospect of losing my job as a teacher. I am not as bad off as some because I have other prospects that I can turn to. Want to talk about a one Masters degree ticket...or even Bachelors? When you earn your degrees in education, there is really not much else you can do with those!

Anonymous | 11:44 AM

It's not right, this economic crisis, but it's happening again as it has before. I think one of the problems is that by the time the next one comes around, our babies will be grown-ups and will not remember this, and may fall into the same economic trap.

In New Zealand, we're waiting for the full force to hit. It's like watching a very slow tsunami, taking one country at a time until it finally hits us. I think we've started to get it, with Shell announcing it's pulling out of NZ and numerous companies starting their massive lay offs.

I'm a contractor, and just in the process of negotiating my next 12 month contract. I'm bloody lucky to have the relative comfort of 12 months of income, many don't.

Aisha | 4:06 PM

My mom has said the exact same thing since the economy started crashing - that she is grateful that we've never had much to lose. I never thought I would be grateful to grow up with less than most, but seeing how having more has bitten so many in the ass has made me feel so much less... jealous.

Anonymous | 7:04 PM

Your most recently blog, "Portraits of Economy, ROCKS". Thank YOU for starting this forum...for allowing those who are struggling....and giving them A VOICE. We need(ed) an avenue to express frustrations, dreams gone sore, and more importantly to THE TRUTH and how the ECONOMY is effecting us! Again Thank You!

Anonymous | 7:15 PM

Hi Rebecca,

I've never commented on your blog but I've been following you ever since I saw you do a momversation with Heather, dooce.com, a few months ago.

I thought this post was especially touching and you make me wish I would try harder to paint others POV's as beautifully as you.

It's so sad to hear about these types of stories but it's something that needs to be heard.

Best wishes,


Loraine | 9:52 PM

.... thank you.

i just wish that we could find a little hope.

Anonymous | 4:13 PM

Your Trader Joe's guy reminds me of an 86 year old woman who stands on the corner of busy intersection near where I pick up my son from daycare every day, waiting for donations. I know that she's 86 because that's what her cardboard sign says, the one that she holds in all weather, all day stating that she is sorry to have to ask for help, but it's her last chance. She's tiny and frail and white haired and it just kills me every time I see her.

My little family has yet to be significantly affected by the economy here in Portland, but it feels like we're just waiting for it to happen. My boyfriend is a delivery driver and warehouse worker for the auto industry, so every time GM makes a decision it affects us. I work for a small business that supplies products to other small businesses-- which are going out of business with increased rapidity. Insurance has gone up, co-pays have gone up, utilities have gone up... Nothing unusual of course, everyone has these things, but the waiting sucks. We're paycheck to paycheck as it is, so. Anyway, depressing. Ugh.

That said, I love reading this blog. At least it isn't depressing.