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Runaway Train

Amtrak California Train

"...Runaway train, never going back;
wrong way on a one-way track...."
from "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum


Like A Madman Laughing At The Rain

Greetings, guests, and welcome to the first blog (of a sort) to grace the pages of Midnight Moonlight Madness since I first created the site back in 1997. This will be a running commentary on my struggles to survive my on-going ride on the runaway train of our planet's 2008-2009 global economic crisis. The economy has not be good to me in recent months. Not good at all. To put it mildly! I figure others may profit by an unvarnished look at what I, Robbie Hatley -- computer programmer, electronics repairman, bookworm, music-lover, objectivist, discordian, unemployed person, and homeless person -- have been going through during this crisis.

Though the actual time of adding this to my web site is Saturday August 29, 2009, most of the contents of this blog were written at different dates. Some sections are "News" articles from the front page of Midnight Moonlight Madness, and other sections I wrote for my blog on "blogger.com". I'll present the tale in chronological order, with each section date stamped, with minimal after-the-fact editorial corrections. [Substantial "hindsight" editorial comments will appear in brackets, like this.] Be aware that some of the beliefs, opinions, and viewpoints expressed in earlier sections may no longer reflect my current mindset. But then, that's the whole point, isn't it? Live and learn.

Saturday, October 25, 2008
Unsustainable Economics

Let me tell you a tale. A tale of economic unsustainability, as I experienced it, 2006-2008. My troubles started, really, when I got laid off from my job at Hortimax USA, in mid-2006. I got a new job right away, but the job was poison from akward start to ugly finish. The boss and I never got along well. I got the impression that he only hired me to appease one of his top investors who happened to be a former co-worker of mine at Qcom. My wages started off mediocre (well, mediocre for a computer programmer: $40K/year salary). Then in late December 2006, my boss informed me that he could no-longer afford to pay me $40K/year, and could only afford to pay me $15/hour starting January of 2007. I should have quit then, but I procrastinated, due to my dislike of hunting for work. Bad move, because the economy in 2007 was better than in 2008-2009; I might actually have found a decent job if I had looked in earnest, back in January of 2007. [As it turned out, when I ended up getting fired on 7/25/2008, I was not able to find work for many months, with extremely disastrous results. Much more on this in later posts in this blog.]

In the mean time, from 2005 to 2008 the rent on my crumbly 2-bedroom apartment, which had started at $1295/month (already very high), went up to $1325/month, then to $1395/month, then to $1425/month. Way too high for a run-down old apartment! Not sustainable! I should have seen this as a big red flag telling me to move elsewhere. Note that similar apartments are going for as little as $500-$600 per month in places such as Atlanta, Oklahoma City, or Kansas City. I was paying nearly 3 times that!

So lets put the above information together: high income and moderate rent in 2006, degrading to low income and high rent in 2007-2008. Outgo = $2000/month, income = $1800/month. What is wrong with this picture??? I'll tell you what's wrong with this picture: it's "unsustainable"! Unless one is very wealthy (which I never have been), one cannot long survive bleeding-out more money each month than one takes in. Again, this should have been a red flag telling me to drastically alter my lifestyle. As far back as early 2007 I should have started looking for higher-paying work and a cheaper place to live, in a city with a lower cost of living. I didn't, and I paid the price, big time. [See the upcoming posts "Eviction" and "Fishing in Antioch? Not!" for much more on this. These and more should be complete by early September 2009.]

Saturday, October 25, 2008
Eviction

Great news, everybody: I'm going through an eviction! Yippee!

Yes, I just used the one word all renters dread to hear, the word that sends their adrenaline soaring: "Eviction". On the surface of our minds, we all think "Eviction? That can't happen to me! Only to other people!" But in the honest part of our minds, we know that it can happen to us. It's certainly happening to me. Let me tell you about it.

When I got fired from my job on July 25, 2008, I didn't realize how much trouble I was in. I figured I'd just go get another job. But when I tried, I found that employers weren't hiring. I couldn't find a job in July. I couldn't find a job in August. I couldn't find a job in September or October, either. [Edit, 2/22/2009: Here it is 7 months later, and I still don't have a job!] While I'd been busy for the last two years working at Link4, with my mind holed up in my own little cycle of work and play, the world around me had been falling into a deep recession. Jobs were no longer available. Needless to say, due to the combination of me not being able to find work, and my already-drained financial resources (see my post "Unsustainable Economics" below), when I got fired on 7/25/2008, I was actually in deep, deep trouble.

I managed to pay the rent on my apartment for August, but I had no way of paying the September or October rent, so on September 15, my landlord filed an "unlawful detainer" suit against me. In the state of California, if an unlawful detainer suit is filed against you and you file no reply within 5 days, you will lose your case by default, and you will be forcefully evicted from your apartment by a county sherif's deputy at gunpoint in 10 to 15 days. So, obviously, I filed an reply.

Now, there are 3 basic kinds of reply: a "motion to quash" (which I should have filed, because the complaint had severe errors), a "demurrer" (which says "even if all the allegations are true, that would still not be grounds for the court to provide the requested remedy"), and an "answer", which denies some or all of the allegations in the complaint. Since the complaint contained serious errors, I should really have filed a "motion to quash"; but I was under extreme time pressure, and I didn't have time to research the different kinds of response and which would be best (I only learned about these later), so instead of filing a "motion to quash", I filed an "answer", using a "habitability" defense. (A "habitability" defense states that a tenent shouldn't be evicted, and should be allowed to pay a lower rent, due to unresolved maintainance issues with the apartment.)

The next day, I contacted the Orange County Legal Aid Society. They scheduled me to come in the next Monday to one of their "unlawful detainer clinics". I came in and they helped me to complete an "ammended answer", properly laying out both the technical defenses (regarding the errors in the complaint -- more on this below) and habitability issues, regarding maintainance problems in the apartment. What I really should have done was contact them the very next day after receiving the summons and complaint; then they would likely have taken different action, such as a motion to quash. But I ran out of time and had to reply without advice. Live and learn: If sued, always seek legal advice immediately! Don't wait! Not even one day! Some lawsuits have very short deadlines, and evictions are in that class. Also: if a complaint against you has technical errors, file a quash motion or a demurrer, rather than an answer; that can force the plaintiff to drop and re-file his case, which will buy you precious time.

In the mean time, in early October 2008 some friends of mine helped me find an apartment for myself and my mother to move into, in the community of Antioch, California. (The rents up there are much cheaper than in Orange County, California. In OC, most 2-bedroom apartments rent for $1200 to $1600 per month; in Antioch, they go for about $800 to $1000 per month.) I needed to go there in person to check out the new apartment, show my ID, sign papers, do a credit check, give a holding deposit, etc., I checked out airfares, but they were outrageous ($300 was the cheapest I found, and that was a meandering 6-hour multi-hop journey). I looked at Greyhound, but it was about a 13-hour trip and about as expensive as a train. So I decided on Amtrak.

I Amtraked up to Antioch, through the San Joaquin Valley (a long and interesting trip; I'll put the details in a separate post, though, because they don't have much to do with the topic of this post), went to the apartment complex my friends had lined-up for me, and completed the necessary paperwork, including application and credit check (which I passed, to my surprise). Pending only a document called a "recurring gift form" which a certain friend of mine was supposed to fill-out and return, I now had an apartment to move to! [Edit, 2/22/2009: or so I thought! I never did move into that apartment. You'll see why, if you read the later posts in this blog.]

Since I now had a firm move date [or so I thought!], I attempted to settle the eviction case out of court; but my attempts were rebuffed by the assistant to the attorney for the plaintiff, who insisted that the case go to trial.

The trial was on the morning of Friday October 17, 2008. As soon as the plaintiff finished presenting his case, I moved that the attempts of the attorney for the plaintiff to "ammend" the complaint's severe errors (falsely stating that I owed money for August when actually August was paid in full and I only owed money for September, and including a copy of a "3-day notice to pay rent or quit" from August instead of September) be rejected, and that the complaint be dismissed and the plaintiff be required to re-file. The judge was impressed; he raised one eyebrow and said "one of the better arguements I've heard from an in-pro-per defendant. I'll have to research this issue in my law books." He retired to his chambers.

The plaintiff and I had to wait about 30 minutes for the judge to return. When he came back, he said, "while this is one of the sloppier pleadings I've seen in my years on the bench, and while it is true that this complaint does have technical errors, the court finds that the technical errors are not of such severity as to warrant dismissal of the case, especially seeing as the defendant did not file a motion to quash or a demurrer, but instead filed an answer and an ammended answer." So there went all hope of delaying eviction any further. Since I didn't have time to develop the evidence for the habitability issues in my case, the judge found for the plaintiff.

So now I'm waiting to see when the sherrif shows up to post the initial eviction notice. After he does so, I'll have 5 days after the day on which the notice was posted in which to move. One week after posting the notice, the sherrif will return with the manager, a locksmith, and a gun, to force my mother and myself out and to confiscate all of our possessions to be sold at auction. I intend to be gone from here before that happens.

Now it's early morning, Saturday, October 25, 2008, and the sherrif still hasn't shown up. This is good. He's unlikely to show up during the weekend, and if he posts notice next Monday (or later) I'll be able to wait until the 1st before moving, so I won't have to put anything in storage, as I had feared. Now the only things left to iron out is renting a truck, and getting someone to drive it, and to help with loading and unloading. That, and transportation for my mother and myself from Tustin to Antioch. [Edit, 2/22/2009: Actually, the situation was far worse than that, and ended disastrously. Read my post "Fishing in Antioch? Not!" for more on this.]

Monday, October 27, 2008
San Joaquin Valley Amtrak Trek

On my way from Orange County, California, to Antioch in Contra Costa County, California, to check out an apartment for rent, I had the good fortune to Amtrak up the length of the state, through the San Joaquin Valley. What a trip! It has nothing to do with my other troubles, but it's a fascinating story in it's own.

I left home around 10PM, got to the Santa Ana train station about 11PM, picked up my reserved tickets from a Metrolink vending machine, and caught an Amtrak bus to Bakersfield at 12:10AM. The northern half of the bus trip, from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, was very dark. At one point, we were on a winding road lined with trees on both sides, and it was so dark that all the traffic was going about 35MPH, even though the posted speed limit was 55MPH, because even with high beams, we could only see about 30 feet ahead! Very spooky. I arrived at the Bakersfield Amtrak station around 4AM. Amtrak train #711, Bakersfield-to-Oakland, was waiting there for us. The train left at about 4:45AM and headed northwest.

Around 6AM, the sun rose over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which was a spectacular sight. For the next 5 hours, we traveled the length of the San Joaquin Valley from south end to north end. About 1.5 million acres of grapes, almonds, cotton, strawberries, boysenberries, apples, oranges, corn, wheat, and pastures of green grass being grazed by cattle. A large part of planet Earth's food is grown in this one valley.

I arrived in Antioch at about 11AM. The train station is near the "downtown" area, which is very old. Much like stepping back several decades in time. My apartment, however, is about 2 miles SW of downtown, in a recently developed area. I went to the apartment and completed the necessary paperwork there, including application and credit check (which I passed, to my surprise). I stayed overnight at the Ramada Inn (ok, but a bit noisy because it's right on California State Highway 4) I caught a train out of town at 11AM the next morning.

I Amtraked back through the San Joaquin Valley. More cows, wheat, corn, cotton, apples, etc. I caught an express bus from Bakersfield to Los Angeles Union Station, then the Pacific Surfliner to Santa Ana station. I walked north to 17th st, caught OCTA line 60, which took me home. Whew! Long journey; about 1000 miles round trip. But very fascinating!

Friday, February 20, 2009
Fishing in Antioch? Not!

[Note, 2010-09-20: I've edited this section, removing accusatory rhetoric and items which constituted breach of confidentiality on my part. (The fact that certain persons may have acted inappropriatly in this affair is not a valid reason for me to do likewise.) I also considered removing the actual first names of certain persons, but I decided against that. I'll leave the real first names of all the primary characters of this drama in here, regardless of whether that makes them feel honored or violated. (Really, that's dependent on their own behavior, not mine.) And as long as I'm naming names, I'd like to give a special "thank you" here to certain persons who were especially helpful to me in my time of trouble: Mike R. in Tustin CA; Mike D. in Anaheim CA; Dave M. in Glendale AZ; Karen S. in Redlands CA; David D. in North Carolina (now moved to somewhere in Europe); Dwight S. in Santa Ana CA; Scott M. in Midway City CA; and probably a few others who don't immediately come to my mind. Thanks, guys and gals; without your help my mom and I could not have survived this ordeal. Certain persons, on the other hand, were less than helpful: i asked you for aid, and you either ignored me, or promised aid but then failed to deliver; you know who you are (or should), and you'll have to deal with any guilt you feel in the privacy of your own mind.]

Continuing the story of my post titled "Eviction", as you recall, on November 1, 2008, my mom and I got evicted from our apartment in Tustin, California, but we weren't as panicked as we would have been, because we thought we'd be moving to an apartment in Antioch, California (in Contra Costa County, eastern Bay Area), with some promised help (financial and otherwise) from two friends of mine, Clair (in England), and Lisa (in Antioch, California). The new apartment was supposed to be ready for my mother and I to move into on November 7, 2008, so we had only to find some way to put our stuff into storage, and find 7 days temporary housing for the two of us, then we'd move to Antioch.

But even as late as November 1, 2008 (the day I got evicted from my apartment), many problems still needed to be solved before the planned move could possibly work. We had no driver willing to drive a U-Haul truck from Orange County to Contra Costa County, for one thing. In fact, we had no driver, period. And we had no funds for U-Haul, driver, moving help, or a storage facility. Fortunately, at this point, my good friend Dave in Arizona helped us greatly by sending us a loan of $700 via Western Union. (Thanks, Dave!) That allowed me to put about 75% of our stuff in a storage facility in Orange County, with money left over. (I couldn't get 100% into storage, because we ran out of time, ran out of space in the U-Haul truck, and ran of space in the storage cubicle.)

Of the remaining 25% of my stuff, two friends of mine, Mike D. and Mike R., graciously agreed to store approximately 2.5% at their homes (thanks, Mike and Mike!), and I managed to reclaim approximately an additional 2.5% a day later, with the help of two friends of my friend Karen (thanks, guys!), so the total amount of stuff that I had to abandon was about 20%.

On the evening of Sat. Nov. 1, after putting as much of our stuff in storage as I could, my friend Mike R. drove my mom and I up to the house of my friend Karen in Redlands, CA. Karen graciously agreed to shelter us in her own home for the next 10 days. (Thanks, Karen!)

Unfortunately, however, at that time Karen was in the process of selling her house, because of a bad loan which would force her into foreclosure if she didn't sell quickly to avoid that. So my mom and I only had maybe 11 days or so in which we would be able to stay at Karen's house. We thought that would be enough, but alas, things didn't turn out as planned at all!

During that period of Nov 1-11, 2008, I had many long but fruitless conversations (over both telephone and Internet) with Clair and Lisa, trying to resolve certain nagging problems which were preventing the move to Antioch. Chief amongst these was that "Recurring Gift Form", which either Clair or Lisa was supposed to sign. It basically stated that one or the other of them was going to give me a gift of $2000 per month. (Not that my friends planned on actually giving me that much money; the form was really just a formality required by regulations.) But there's where the nightmare began.

Lisa kept saying that Clair would fill-out and send-in the form (which she didn't), and Clair kept saying that Lisa had agreed to fill-out and send-in the form (which she didn't). They both kept pointing fingers at each other and giving increasingly unbelievable excuses for why this one simple piece of paperwork was not getting completed. (It's a very short and simple form, half a page, a couple dozen words.) Eventually, after I repeatedly asked her to do so, Clair did send in a copy of the form... but it wasn't filled out! So I talked to her and got her to send in another copy... but it was only half filled-out, and not signed! I was getting desperate, as time was getting short (it was already November 10, and the apartment had been ready to move into since November 7), so I begged Clair, in earnest, to finish correctly filling-out the form, and send it to the Apartment complex in Antioch. On November 10, she finally did so. I thought to myself, "Whew! Once big hurdle overcome!"

But one other big hurdle remained: Clair had promised to wire $1200 to my mother's bank account on November 7, 2008; but as of November 11, 2008, the money hadn't yet arrived. When I questioned Clair on this, she said "the money has left the account". Notice that she didn't say "I sent the money to your mom's account", just "the money has left the account", which could mean anything! This worried me greatly.

On the evening of November 11, Karen had to start packing up her stuff and preparing to move, so my mom and I had to find lodgings elsewhere. We couldn't move to Antioch yet, because while the apartment complex now had the form, and indeed sent me a "final confirmation" that I was approved to move into the apartment, I still didn't have the promised money in hand for the rent and security deposit. So on the night of November 11, 2008, my mom and I had to go sleep on couches in the living room of my friend Mike D. in Stanton, CA.

The next day (November 12, 2008) we found that not only had the promised $1200 not yet shown up in my mom's bank account (and indeed, it never did), but we also learned that Clair had called up the apartment complex in Antioch and rescinded the "recurring gift" form! That caused the apartment complex in Antioch to send me a "notice of denial", stating that since my income no longer met their requirements, they would not rent to me. So no fishing at the Antioch municipal pier or golfing at the Antioch miniature golf course for us. Antioch-bound, we were not.

I imagine you're wondering "why did Clair do that???". Well, I've asked her that question several times over the past few months, but she has never given me a clear, complete answer. She has hinted that it might have had to do with financial issues and childcare issues, but that doesn't really explain why she didn't just tell me that, rather than leading me on till after the point of no return, then pulling the rug out from under me. I'll likely never know the full story. At this late date, it hardly matters, I suppose. But still, I'll always wonder.

As for Lisa, she hasn't answered my phone calls, instant messages, or emails from 11/12/2008 to present, so I don't know what her side of the story is either. Again, I'll probably never know, and in a sense it doesn't really matter at this late date; but still, I'll always wonder.

As a result of the fall-through of the Antioch deal, my mother and I both ended up homeless. For 7 days (about Nov 13-19), we stayed at the Salvation Army Hospitality House in downtown Santa Ana, California; but that place only gives you a 7-day stay, then you have to wait 30 days before you can stay there again. So around November 20 we had no place to stay at all! At that time, my mother agreed to contact Adult Protective Services and be placed into a retirement home, paid-for by her Social Security and SSI money.

Adult Protective Services could not provide aid to me, though, because they only help the elderly and disabled. So I was completely homeless for almost another month, and I had zero homeless shelters available to me. Some nights I managed to scrounge up money for a motel. Other nights, I just rode night-owl busses around Orange and Los Angeles counties all night; not going anywhere, just traveling. Impossible to get any sleep that way, but at least it kept the cops and robbers -- both of which are the enemies of the homeless -- off of me.

Around December 5, 2008, the National Guard Armories finally opened up their seasonal Cold Weather Shelter programs, and started allowing the homeless to sleep on the concrete floors of their armory buildings. I slept at the armory on Edinger Ave from December 5-14. Not very comfy sleeping arrangements -- each person gets a 1" foam-rubber sleeping mat and a single grey wool army blanket -- but it was better than being out on the street.

Then around December 15, I was finally accepted into a transitional housing program which I had applied for about 2 weeks early. (For security reasons, I'm not going to mention the name of the program or of the entity which sponsors it.) This program which will provide free room and board for me for 12 months, in an actual apartment (which I share with 3 other men), which is much better than sleeping on the street or in homeless shelters.

So in short, as of mid-December 2008, my mother and myself are finally off the street. But the situation is still far from optimum. Neither of us have access to our possessions (computers, Internet, books, household goods, etc). And I still don't have a job, so I have no income. (My mother has her Social Security and SSI money, but her retirement home takes all but $97/month of that, so she has very little available income.)

So my task now is to get a job, save up some money, get permanant housing for mom and me, get our stuff out of storage, rebuild a comfortable household, and put our lives back together. Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010
Still Laying-To

As of Thu. Sep. 9, 2010, my stay at my "transitional" housing arrangement is still ongoing, about 20 months so far. Unknown how long I'll be here. I've had almost no employment during that time, except for a brief 1-month stint as an address canvasser with the US Census Bureau during mid-2009, and a job as a consultant for a small company in Santa Ana, which began about 2 months ago. Roughly 20-35 hours per week at $15/hour. Not huge wages, but much better than nothing, and since I'm not paying rent, and some of my food is provided for me, I've been able to save about $1000 quickly, and I'll hopefully save a lot more in the next couple months. Then I'll be looking for some kind of cheap lodgings somewhere.

As for my mom, she's still chilling her heels at her retirement home. Not an ideal situation (her current room mate appears to be slipping into Alzheimer's Disease, and is driving my mom bonkers, for one thing), but much better than being homeless. Perhaps I can eventually get the two of us back into a 2-bedroom apartment (or house, condo, townhouse, cottage, or whatever); but for now, we're making do with our current situation.

We're both still "setting a close-reefed main topsail and laying-to", so to speak, and riding out the remainder of the 2008-2010 global economic storm. Hopefully when the waves abate, we'll be able to put in to a reasonable port. Stay tuned.


Written Sat Aug 29, 2009 by Robbie Hatley.

Last updated Sat Aug 29, 2009.

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