Some time back I said I didn’t feel too well equipped to talk about the random sense of economic upheaval that kicked in back in September. Honestly, I still don’t, and any thoughts I have on the matter are underscored by something crucial that I offer as a slight foreword: as someone who is currently gainfully employed plus possesses access to a steady variety of freelance work, who has savings rather than debt, who does not own real estate and who has no family of his own to take care of, I’m not weighed down by the most common concerns one can read about out there right now, and which do affect a number of friends to one extent or another. The canard that if something happens to your neighbor it’s a recession but if something happens to you it’s a depression rings rather true to my ears at this point, and ultimately I feel like the best I can do is sit and wait on whatever concrete gets developed by the government — open for questioning, review, objections and more from that point forward — while continuing my general course of things as I’ve done, doing one’s best as one can and more, and trying not to take any of it for granted when others are not so fortunate.
So I observe and, of course, ponder. Living in Orange County, where early indications of housing bubbles and their collapse were plentiful — if not yet as scarring as what happened over in the Inland Empire — one key thing I’ve noticed is apparent to almost everyone. Minimalls are essentially the backbone of local business life around here, and every one has a spot open for lease now. Predictions on a couple of financial blogs and increasingly elsewhere are that commercial real estate is going to get hit hard in general but right now it’s apparent it already is here, with those leasing signs out on the street and the empty windows and so forth. Small businesses disappear, bigger ones contract and concentrate, this will go on for some time to come, I figure. Just today I noticed that a store’s left the Lab, the self-consciously arty minimall right next to where I live (I can look out from my apartment into its parking lot), and it’s big enough that there will be a notable hole there soon enough.
Still, I find myself looking at this all abstractedly from the viewpoint I’ve outlined above. Continuing the canard and extending it a bit, if your neighbors lose their favorite businesses it’s a recession, if you lose yours it’s a depression, and so far for me it’s…a recession. So far I’m lucky there.
Quality of life depends not only on you and your specific living situation but what you have to hand, and what’s important for you. The important things for me are places to eat and get food for home, places to hang and enjoy life, places to shop occasionally as needed or desired for extras. I’m lucky in Costa Mesa and the neighborhood I live in, and again, I do my best not to take it for granted, but so long as what I rely on and love is around, I feel almost like I’m in an insular bubble of my own, and that feeling is a bit strange, like everything is suspended in air somehow.
The weather’s been a big help, though, over this past week — I’ll take summer in winter, thanks, and while all the concerns about the environment I’ve lived with and nurtured over the years have taken on a certain new urgency as a result, the part of me that hates the closed darkness of winter for an extended period, the time that is shut down and cold, well, frankly that part of me is singing inside. Said it before, say it again, I do live here for a reason. But in talking with folks at a couple of local restaurant spots I enjoy going to, I hear the weather’s good for them as well, that people are coming out a little more and showing support and so forth, just by being there and, yes, by buying things. A material expression of faith sometimes but even so, and last night at Au Lac, one of my favorite spots around here for almost ten years now, underscored that — new remodelling was wonderful, the place was near packed right from the opening and the food was as great as ever, if a little more expensive but not badly so.
But then I think of this very dry contrast of quotes over at the Cunning Realist, especially this sentence from the second one: “Those eating well in restaurants were those who could afford to eat well in restaurants.” Still, it’s a barely-scratch-the-surface quote in many respects, especially since ‘eating well’ does not have to mean ‘eating expensively,’ as the first quote in the link indicates with its talk of ‘fancy’ restaurants. Perhaps a better way to take that quote would be to consider the frequency of the event: do I eat out every night? Certainly not, usually it’s only once or twice, and has been the case for some time now. Do the folks I was with? Not sure but I very much doubt it — we’re all cooks ourselves and enjoy what we do. Did everyone who was there? Who can say? But Au Lac doesn’t pretend to be the hot in-place for the monied social set around here, it’s very relaxed even as the place has grown bigger and more elegant over time, and looking around I saw a good cross-section of OC as such, at least through my personal lens. (There’s a reason I ended an unpublished novel of mine at said restaurant, and I just said what it is.)
And so life continues. Friend Stripey was one of the folks at the dinner and as we all went over in a heap to see the one-year anniversary of the Box gallery — go if you can, it’s a great exhibition by the peerless Aaron Kraten and the very friendly Keith Noordzy — we reflected on how much of what went wrong in recent years economically seemed to boil down to ridiculous expectations and psychology, whipsawing from overexuberance to deep despair in a matter of weeks. But deep despair can become its own baseline, one where a natural tendency on my part is to get a little impatient and focus on the positive instead. So right now, I will do so, and we’ll all go where we do. I hope I’m not a mindless optimist but I am an optimist nonetheless.