Monday, September 22, 2014

My Craigslist Car and the Poverty Cycle

I bought my ’98 Cavalier for just over $1000 on Craigslist. 
This is the first car I can truly call my own; I saved up the money, put in several hours of research, and met with the previous owner in a Dollar General parking lot to exchange my hard-earned cash for a set of wheels. 
When I first got my license, my trial vehicle was our beat up baby-blue family van that eventually stuttered to a permanent stop on a back road in my hometown when I turned 17.  Dad gave me his work truck after that, which was totaled when a middle-aged woman T-boned me on 16th street.  I then acquired a retired police Chevy Impala with the insurance money, and later sold it when my meager bank account began to dwindle. 

I took IndyGo bus 25 from home to work to school and back home for half a year.  I thought of my bus rides as hour-long adventures, prime people watching.  I made friends with the regulars; I became a regular.  However, I grew sick of the hard, plastic seats and the lack of air conditioning in many of the buses.  I hated the way some businessmen and women looked at the bus stop with loathing—some even crossed the street to avoid us.  And I couldn’t help but to feel like a stranger to the people who stood waiting with me.  Here were people who pushed old grocery carts with their belongings around the city.  Here were young mothers nursing their crying babies in the middle of a crowded bus.  Here were middle-aged women with aprons who went to work an hour early every day and left an hour late every evening.  I, on the other hand, am a student from a lower middle-class family who will likely never know the true struggles of a poverty-level life. 

When I bought my Chevy Cavalier, although it was old with high mileage, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of empowerment—that I was moving up in the world, and that I deserved this car.  I needed it; I wanted to go places on my own time.  I was no longer going to stand riding on that gross bus anymore.

So this weekend when I took my beloved car to the auto shop and they told me the repairs might cost upwards of $800 dollars, I lost it.  I make under poverty-level income as an AmeriCorps VISTA, and that $800 dollars is a full month of payHow can I afford to fix my car and pay my rent?  Groceries?  Utilities?  My phone bill?  Many of my days begin at 8 a.m. and end at 9 p.m. with school and work, and I can’t fathom how a bus will fit into that equation.  Plus, I love my car.  I love the freedom of driving it to my buddy’s place on the weekends, and my favorite picnic spot for lunch.  My mother sent me a text earlier that said, Please tell us how much this will cost.  We can help pay.  In the meantime, we can drive you to and from work. My boyfriend’s family offered to let me drive their extra Ford Focus while my car gets repaired.  Everyone I talked to this weekend offered up their support in one way or another, sometimes at the expense of their own comfort.

My panic subsided this morning as I drove the borrowed Ford Focus to work.  The ride is so smooth, and unlike my Cavalier I didn’t hear the roar of the muffler every time I accelerated.  I won’t have to ride the bus after all.  I am so thankful for the family and friends who will help support me, and for the money that I can eventually save up to buy a nice vehicle.  But in the back of my mind, I think about all the bus-goers who travel to minimum-wage jobs, and who might not have a solid support system.  Where is the fairness in that?  I am lucky enough to have help out of a tough situation because I’m not stuck in the cycle of poverty.  I chose a job that puts me at poverty-level income for a year, but I still have my family to fall back on, my student waivers, my friends and loved ones who are more than willing to lend a hand. 

Here’s the bottom line: I work as a VISTA because I want to decrease the disparity between classes. I know firsthand the struggles of being without a car, and I don’t want to go back.  Many Indianapolis residents have no choice.  

My challenge to readers is this: next time you walk past a bus stop, try not to stigmatize.  Imagine yourself without a vehicle, and with no means of getting your hands on another.  Imagine the lack of freedom that comes with this, the weight of the groceries that you must carry from stop to stop. 

How do you help?  Sometimes a simple smile will do, or any small show of support.  If you find yourself truly passionate about making a change, I recommend looking up AmeriCorps VISTA, whose mission is to break the cycleHere’s a link:

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