Monday, August 06, 2007

Silicon Valley and Atlantic City

Read these two articles from Sunday's New York Times:

In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don't Feel Rich

Mr. Kremen estimated his net worth at $10 million. That puts him firmly in the top half of 1 percent among Americans, according to wealth data from the Federal Reserve, but barely in the top echelons in affluent towns like Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. So he logs 60- to 80-hour workweeks because, he said, he does not think he has nearly enough money to ease up.

“You’re nobody here at $10 million,” Mr. Kremen said earnestly over a glass of pinot noir at an upscale wine bar here.

The Days and Nights of Maurice Cherry

Mr. Cherry had no plans to gamble. He is what is known as a rider, one of dozens of New Yorkers — often homeless or nearly homeless — who travel back and forth between Chinatown and Atlantic City or Connecticut each day, and sometimes twice a day. They sleep through the two-and-a-half-hour rides and make a quick buck off the casinos without handling so much as a single chip.


The most dedicated riders virtually live on the bus, making two round trips a day. They leave early in the morning from an informal bus depot at Division Street and the Bowery, spend a few hours at the casino, then return in the late afternoon. As night falls, they are back on the corner, ready for their next journey. For some riders, the routine brings with it a sense of shame. “This is the bottom of the barrel,” said one scrawny young man who was hunched against a chain-link fence as he waited for a bus. “There’s not much further to sink.”


As riders get off the bus at Resorts, they are handed paper certificates worth $25 in cash, which they head straight into the casino to redeem. “It’s the same people every night, day in and day out,” said Michelle Garland, a Resorts cashier. “I guess it’s the only way for them to get a couple dollars in their pocket.”

The casino, a ’70s-style carpeted maze rife with glassy-eyed gamblers, resounded with the unmistakable electronic melody of money being won and lost on slot machines. But Mr. Cherry was not even tempted to gamble. After redeeming his certificate, he walked from the casino to an Indian and soul food restaurant a few blocks away. After a $6.50 dinner of fried fish and macaroni and cheese, he strolled back along the Boardwalk, sea gulls circling overhead as if hypnotized by the white light beaming off the casinos.

Now stop and ask yourself how you feel. How do you feel about those people? Do you feel scorn? Towards whom? And how do you feel about yourself? Do you feel dissatisfied and envious? Or do you feel fortunate and prosperous? Or something in between, or something else entirely?

The thing that struck me about these stories is that we all seem much more likely to look at richer people and feel poor in comparison than we are to look at poor people and feel rich in comparison. Somebody always has more, and we always want more. That is what we focus on. There are many more people out there who have less, yet we so rarely take that as a lesson in appreciating what we have and seeing it as "enough."

The story about the Silicon Valley millionaires is the #1 most-emailed article from the Times website right now. The Atlantic City article isn't even on the list.


Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking post. I read the first piece (along with everyone else) over the weekend. Before reading the article I would have thought I would have felt unsympathetic but the man featured (Hal Steger) in the article (and in the video clip, which showed more of his personality) was actually a very modest, humble, hard-working person. He's not into making money because 3.5 million isn't considered enough to keep up with the joneses. I really thought he was interested in working because he loves his work and because he feels financially insecure (due to his daughter's health, planning for future, etc...)

I hadn't seen the night riders article. I had no idea about this population who rides buses/goes to casinos to survive.

The thing that is striking about putting those two articles together is to look at the huge disparities of wealth and poverty within our country. I also thought it is interesting to look at people's outlooks and their own perspectives about their situations. Those who are working incredibly hard and are driven seem to never feel secure enough and have a lot of anxiety. Whereas Mr. Cherry said "I’m living the high life now.”

In the end which attitude is healthier?

mOOm said...

The bus-riding deal isn't much different in principle to the zero percent balance transfer, Cashduck etc. that a lot of PF Bloggers are into :)

I hadn't seen this story, though of course I saw the Silicon Valley one because it was the lead on the online Business Section.

Amy K. said...

I'm actually a little jealous of Mr. Cherry, with no time demands other than the bus schedule. That's about my ideal vacation, sitting around people watching.

The rest of his situation isn't ideal, but that once facet...

Dawn said...

I like the disparity of the two articles as well.

When I read the silicon valley one this weekend, I felt sad. I think they have just put themselves in a pickle where they are comparing and will never win.

The other story- I would consider what they are doing 'bottom of the barrel' - atleast they are getting a meal a day and in a way, staying safe.

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction to Mr Cherry was to think how resourceful he was!

Anonymous said...

This is something I struggle with myself. When is enough enough. My inclination is to have a home paid off and a million dollars in the bank / investments. The idea being that I can avoid high pressure work and live life on the easy.

But assuming one achieves this, then what. Of course there's always the nagging question / desire of bigger homes, better cars, a life of travel, extravagance, and beliving that somehow living a life style a notch above that of others somehow will bring happiness.

The problem being that there is almost no limit to wealth accumulation. There is almost no limit to others with more wealth. So when is enough enough.

With my modest up bringing, personally I believe I would be content for the moment to have a home paid off and a million in liquid assets and living life on the easy. But how long before that nagging feeling that there is more to life then just life on the easy.

Well for now, I'll gladly take life on the easy as I feel that I've paid my dues. As for that nagging feeling that there may be more to life then life on the easy, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

I'll be more then happy to take my momentary pause of contentment before pondering the next level of life.


frugal zeitgeist said...

I saw that article. I think there are two things going on: people feel poor in comparison to other wealthy people, but I also noted an undertone of people living way beyond their means on an ongoing basis. At least a few of the people profiled live in their dream homes, which don't come cheap in that area. In addition, the general accepted standard of living appears to be pretty upscale. I think the key to getting the most bang for the buck in that type of situation would be to live on the cheap and save a lot of money, and then pack up and move to a cheaper part of the country.

Nice writeup - I really enjoyed it.

passing as myself said...

It's nice to remember why I moved away from Silicon Valley!

Apparently I'm in the minority because these two stories made me feel blessed, blessed, blessed.

We struggle a bit to raise a family on one income, but we have a beautiful home, cars that run well, and plenty of food for our table. And most importantly we have a wonderful family full of love and laughter.

The Silicon Valley millionaires can keep their money and their silly anxiety. I prefer a smaller bank account and an afternoon playing in the sprinkler with my toddler.

Unknown said...

While this certainly does not surprise me given what I do for a living (social work), I think it's a really eye-opening comparison.