Well, that certainly didn’t go as planned. Thanks to a monetary buffer, it turned out well. My main computer died today, or at least went catatonic. It may yet live again, but its status will be diminished. In the last two weeks, some generous people made it much easier to upgrade a few key things just as those things slipped from well-used to almost useless. Thanks, folks. Now, my bicycle and my business are in much better shape. Maybe I will be too, soon.
This morning started with a fascinating conversation with some people with amazing histories and resumes. That may sound hyperbolic, but hey, impressive people happen. We got together to work on affordable housing on Whidbey. A planner, a homeless advocate, a financier, and a real estate broker (me) got together to talk about some possibilities and how we could make at least one of them happen. Typical for Whidbey, those four titles cover about a fourth of the skills represented at the table (monk, rocket scientist, English major, talk show host, …); but I’ll save that story for later.
We met at the South Whidbey Commons, a coffee shop and book store that is run by and for students, that also lives up to its name of Commons. Sit there long enough to drink a cup or two of coffee or tea (my preference) and probably be in the vicinity of some discussion about charitable activities for the island, or even for the world. I regularly use it as a typical Gig Economy workspace. I even have a my favorite table, chair, and most importantly, electrical outlet. (The Chromebook I had with me has to be plugged in.) After about an hour and a half most of us were looking at our watches as our work, advocacy, or school schedules reminded us of our other obligations. We all packed up and strode off to whatever was next. I did the same thing, then remembered that my next meeting was in the same place at the same table in a couple of hours. About face! March back in. Reclaim the table. Order another cup of tea, and get to work.
That’s when things froze up.
Yes, the snow is fallen; but the freeze happened inside my Chromebook. As it powered up the screen lit up with the splash page that advertised the companies involved (as if we needed to be reminded of what we buy) – and stayed there. My tea steeped as I dialed customer support. After about ten to fifteen minutes the customer service rep declared my computer broken. It was far past warranty; so it would take a few days and about $250 to fix. If that was my Mac, I’d get it fixed; though I’d use my local service folks. It’s a Chromebook. New ones can cost under $200. No brainer. Also, no reason to wait and plenty of reasons to act quickly.
I have yet to make any money as a real estate broker, but we’re past the holidays and people are ready to move on. A quick check came up with a list of about a half dozen possible clients that I’m having conversations with, and about another dozen who might do something later this year. Add in my regular clients for my consulting business and it made sense to get operational as soon as possible. I hopped in the truck (took a detour to help a friend get home on a wintry day) and drove an hour north to the land of chain stores. There was one stop along the way, just in case an electronics business on the south end of the island sold computers, but nope.
Buying computers can be a chore with complicated options, competing companies, and array of incompatibilities. The store had three Chromebooks. Two were demo models. One was in a box in the back. It seemed too impulsive to just pick the one available, so I dithered for no other reason than to slow myself down a bit. The universe has a sense of humor. The only computer in a box was the new version of my old computer. Add in a microSD card (because the new computer can’t use old “clunky” full-sized SD cards) and a sweet deal on a USB drive (32Gig for $11); add in the gas and a deli lunch; and the total came to the same total from four years ago (~$300).
Three hours from start to finish and I was back in business. All of that was enabled because a friend decided to give me a monetary buffer. My situation is well-enough known, and they knew something researchers are only now discovering. The best way to help people who don’t have enough money is to give them more money. It’s almost too simple. In a capitalistic society, you need money to make money. Businesses fail if they are under-capitalized. That’s well understood. The fundamental problem with the poor is that they are under-capitalized. Skip the fancy non-profits, initiatives, and government programs and simply give people money. They’ll know what to do because only they know what’s happening in their lives. Worries about mis-use aren’t backed up by data. Because of that buffer, my business was only shut down for three hours. I was back to billable time by the afternoon. (As to whether that buffer is a gift, grant, or loan I’m not sure; but it’s moot until I have recovered enough to pay it back or pay it forward.)
A similar thing happened with my bicycle. Most of my cycling gear is from before my ride across America in 2000. Water bottles had fallen apart and were replaced with whatever fit in the rack (and probably rattled.) Gloves had holes in them (and not the stylish ones people pay extra for.) Safety features like lights were re-purposed hiking gear strapped to my helmet that made people stifle their laughs when I rode up. Even socks were wearing thin and out.
A gift card made a big difference. So did patience. It’s February. REI’s holiday clearance sale reached great discounts, and if I bought enough I also got an extra $20 credit. Thanks to sales and a willingness to dress somewhat tackily (tacky is safety in the bicycling world), I was able to replace my water bottles, winter gloves, summer gloves, get real helmet lights and taillights, and some very nice wool socks.
Sounds like a small thing? Consider the price of gas and health care. My truck gets about 13 mpg (which made that hour long drive up and back expensive.) My doctor did a great job of convincing me to get back into shape (a diabetic scare will do that.) Two major issues taken care of because someone gave me a gift card that helped me leverage discounts and sales into something that saves me money and helps me get healthy. Total cost to me, ~$6.
I sit here sipping some box wine, typing on my ten year-old MacBook, not intending to go for a ride for days, maybe weeks. A rare sea-level snow is falling. A pot roast with cauliflower is roasting. (They were both on sale.) The new computer has already been used. One advantage of Chromebooks is the fast setup time, minutes instead of days. Tomorrow, I’ll explore it some more, just to see what has changed in four years. I’ll swap some of the removable memory, personalize more of the settings, and exercise several clients’ accounts, just to make sure.
And I look forward to paying generosity forward, to help others as I’ve been helped – hopefully, even more so. And, I’ll probably find some day to take apart the old Chromebook for curiosity, and maybe to fix it. (Which, by the way, was also the result of a gift from a friend.) It would be nice to have a backup. It would also be nice to pass it along to someone who needs and can use it. Little gifts (…/grants, loans, and buffers) can make a big difference.