Monday, January 26, 2009

On Beales Street

Thank god The O.C. went off the air in 2007 — there's no way the writers could have written about 2008.

For its January issue, GQ recently sent reporter Charles Bowden to Southern California's Foreclosure Alley, "ground zero of the collapse of the late, great American dream," where home values are worth 39 percent less than they were a year ago:

"Across Southern California, nearly 500 families lose their homes to foreclosure each day; Foreclosure Alley has the highest concentration of such homes because the construction is newer and the financing looser. It is a kind of malignant tumor of the real estate bubble, a region where not much was going on until about ten years ago, when a boom occurred in a new product: bedrooms. Southern California — like Florida, Arizona, and Nevada — became a perpetual-motion machine of real estate profit, a place where everyone assumed they would have perfect teeth, large engines in their cars, and endless home equity."

For the story, Bowden rents a five-bedroom mini-mansion on Beales Street in Lake Elsinore, California. The home was bought before the crash as a flip, and the flipper, a man name Brian Groen, is happy to rent it. But he also roams around the neighborhood, looking at brown lawns, empty pools, and vacant houses.

At one foreclosure, he goes into the house:

"The recently departed was a lawyer; his garage is stuffed with nice executive desks from wherever the law office once thrived, and the nicely framed law certificates have been left behind. In the family room o the kitchen, several Jeppesen ring-bound air manuals are piled up: The attorney was also a pilot. Books are stacked on the floor — a biography of Bill Clinton, Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, a six-box video set of the Jenny Craig library for getting lean and mean. On the kitchen counter is a bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial. Empty.

... There is something maybe a little sad about all of these possessions, bought and so easily discarded in a moment’s desperation. And something scary, too. The people who owned these things are the foundation of our consumer society. They mow their lawns, collect their DVDs, and buy cars they slave to pay for. It is not a question of whether they deserve a seat in the lifeboat. They are the goddamn lifeboat: the family-raising, credit-card-spending American Buying Machines."

It's quite a picture. He also interviews a Ukranian immigrant family who have come to this country to live the American dream, and they, too, are struggling to meet their house payments. Worth a read if you have the time.


Shane said...

I read the article when the issue came out, and it was a very informative read. My apologies for not helping the economy rebound, as I have been downsizing everything. Just sold my car yesterday, as my wife and I carpool to work. We have gotten rid of so much in the past two months - it has been liberating.

marycash said...

One of my colleagues was telling me yesterday about a guy that says you only need 148 possessions to live, and that includes clothes, shoes, underwear.

I asked him if he had a list of what the 148 possessions are supposed to be, but he didn't.

I just started thinking toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, mascara ... I think I would get to 148 pretty quickly.