As the economy began to tumble last year, here at the Reporter we decided we wanted each week to look at all the ways money changes everything. So at the beginning of 2009 we introduced "Indicators," a weekly feature in the news section in which we unpack the numbers of the changing economy—not only in the obvious sectors such as jobs and housing, but also in areas such as pet care, holiday travel, church attendance, eating out, polling, thrift store donations, and on and on.
Of course, money changes more than just numbers. It changes lives in ways that are sometimes drastic and sometimes subtle. These were the stories we hoped we'd hear when we made this year's Annual Writing Contest nonfiction topic: Money Changes Everything. And hear them we did.
This week, we present part two of the winners of the 2009 Annual Writing Contest, the first-, second- and third-place writers from the nonfiction category, who tackled the issue from three very different perspectives.
In "High Rise to Highway," first-place winner Adria Hagg writes about leaving a fairly luxurious life in San Francisco to come to Santa Fe and sell her baked goods from the side of the road, an enormous change that brings challenges and lessons.
Nutrition educator Shira Hordes Potash won second-place for her essay, "The Cost of Eating Healthy," which documents her and her husband's experience taking the Food Stamp Challenge. For one week they spent only one dollar per meal, but still tried to eat healthily. This simple proposition provides real perspective on how difficult it truly is to eat cheaply and well.
Thanks to all the nonfiction writers who took on this challenging topic and, again, congratulations to the winners in all three of the categories and to all of the competing writers. We can't wait to see what you come up with for next year.
Native Santa Fean and nutrition educator Shira Hordes Potash teaches healthy cooking classes in the Santa Fe public schools through the nonprofit organization
. In her private nutrition practice,
, she works one-on-one with clients of all ages to guide them toward optimum health. She is co-producing the documentary film
with her husband, filmmaker Yoav Potash. She is currently pursuing a master’s in health education from the University of New Mexico.
At five years old, I sold rocks door-to-door in my neighborhood. When the rock market was ripe, Allison, my best friend, and I would scoop up gravel from her driveway into an old shoebox. We'd then skip off to the first house, ponytails bobbing, our eyes as big as saucers, and mercilessly ring the doorbell until we got an answer. As the door opened, we'd declare in our high-pitched voices, "Rocks for sale, ten cents apiece." Innocence oozed from our big brown peepers—the heartstrings of our target market never stood a chance. Twenty-five years later I'm selling homemade banana bread and chocolate chip cookies alongside the road in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Just a year ago, my fiancé and I lived in one of the most sought after high rises in downtown San Francisco. The doorwoman, Sandra, would pleasantly hand me my US magazine as I swooped by from a day's worth of retail therapy in Union Square. I had been laid off but money was no object, my fiancé was a heavy hitter in the financial industry. Life consisted of long lunches, a personal trainer and afternoon massages—soon I had forgotten what it meant to wake up at 7 am, pull on itchy wool dress pants, elbow my way onto a Muni bus and feel the weight of my boss' disapproving stare as I stammered in five minutes late, Starbucks in hand.
Then, the news came quick and abrupt—my fiancé sat me down to discuss our finances. His company was collapsing and soon he would be out of a job. His ex-wife would take what was left and we would be penniless. San Francisco was no longer affordable and we both desired a change. In June, we would drive across the desert to new adventures in Santa Fe.
As we take exit Camino la Tierra to our new home, we notice random vendors along the road hawking an array of goods—a Wall Street of its own, begging to be tested. Why not?—friends and family have raved about my banana bread and cookies. This corner of commerce is like a delicate ecosystem not to be disrupted by the new gringo in town. These guys have been hawking tamales, juices, rocks and wood without the disruption of a city slicken', Gucci purse carryin' blonde like me. After a few days of introduction, I know them as "tamale guy," "rock guy," "furniture guy" and "wood guy." My batting eyelashes aren't worth a pile of husks to them—they're here to sell goods, not flirt with some chick trying to squeeze her stand onto their prime real estate. As the rookie, I'm guessing there's an unspoken rule about barging onto another's vending territory. Out of respect, I need to ask for "permission" to sell my baked goods and avoid isolating myself from the very group I hope to learn from.
In Spanish, "tamale guy" introduces himself as Jose and skeptically gives me "permission" to sell my goods. We're probably out here illegally, I really don't know. I'm known as the "Banana Bunny" and I'm the only woman out here. However, there's camaraderie on this dusty road—a kind of community only people hawking goods on the side of a concrete shoulder can have. With our trucks, campers, canopies and fold out tables, we set up shop at the bottom of the exit. Every morning, I roll into my designated spot, unfold my canopy and table, and unload baskets of freshly baked banana bread and chocolate chip cookies. Jose pulls in beside me and we trade bread and tamales—he loves my bread and suddenly I'm as proud as a five-year-old handing a homemade card to her father on Father's Day. In his camper he mixes fresh guava, pineapple and horchata juice. His tamales are so good that I swear these savory treats are made by the hands of angels.
My customers are an eclectic group of characters. One client stops every other day just to chat—I never would have discovered Maria's margaritas or the burgers at Bobcat Bite without him. Another woman brings her son for chocolate chip cookies—he crushes my inventory like Cookie Monster as he searches for the perfect bag. The big haired, bobble loving, plastic surgery pin-ups roll up in Mercedes SUVs and tell me, in a pity-riddled southern drawl, how cute I am with my little stand. I just pray they won't squeeze my cheeks or pay with a $100 bill. The "chain gang" checks in once a week. Not exactly a scene out of Cool Hand Luke, the foreman pulls up and purchases bread for a van full of tattoo-riddled men in orange suits stamped with "Prisoner" across the chest. The men wave and act like perfect gentlemen, I smile as they gift me with a pair of opera tickets found along the road. My best customers are the other vendors—they don't speak much English, and I don't speak Spanish, so sales are done with smiles, nods and hand gestures. Jose has taken me under his wing—he's given me tamales, corn, nachos, the nachos inspired by my idea, and a ristra.
Despite the seeming tranquility of selling goods along the open road, there are challenges. Some people don't like us here—there's the angry yuppie woman who, hating the clutter on "her" exit, stops by just to peel out and cover us in dust. We just laugh, take another bite of tamale and sip some guava juice. There's also the occasional dust devil that swoops in and demolishes my burgeoning business, sending cookies, tarps, half eaten tamales and loaves of bread tumbling across the desert landscape. It's all strangely worth it, though. I don't know how long I will be out here doing this and there is a peace about that—I didn't know how long I would sell rocks with Allison either. We just knew when it was time to stop ringing the doorbells.