Homeless, Unemployed, and Broke: How 2020 Was the Best Year of My Life
I spent the first day of 2020 with waxed boards strapped to my feet, hungover as all get out, whooshing my way down a mountainside in the snow. I was skiing not because I’m wealthy, but because I happened to work at a ski lodge, and skiing for free was a perk. I lived at this lodge, as did 95% of my coworkers. We were truly packed into random cubbies and rooms that the average visitor surely had no idea even existed. The living was you’re-lucky-if-you-get-a-door cramped, and the pay amounted to almost nothing. However, the food was fantastic and free, the beer was cheap, my coworkers were amazing, and the skiing was world-class (and also free).
Life seemed very, very good.
It remained that way until mid-March when suddenly, everything jerked to a halt.
My March will look sadly familiar with all too many. Sometime in mid-March, I got an unexpected notice from work saying we were potentially shutting down. Two days later, I was laid-off. I happened to live at my place of employment, and thus I also got an eviction notice. In the span of three days, I was homeless and jobless. Plus, since my paycheck was less than $1000 a month, I also was flat broke. I mean $600 in my bank account tops.
I had never before felt this sense of dread. Yes, I was used to living off meager means, but I had 10 years of restaurant experience and was generally an outgoing person. I had always felt confident in my ability to land a job and feed myself. Like 10 million other Americans, that reality suddenly collapsed around me.
Luckily, two weeks prior, I had just started dating an absolutely amazing young man. We had worked together for months, and thus he also lost his job and home. It was lucky because he had a truck. We call the truck Babe. Babe is a Ford F-150 4x4 with a rudimentary camper set up in his bed. It’s about 3 pieces of plywood under a camper shell, but it was something.
Under normal circumstances, I doubt I would have ever been an advocate for moving in with a man you’d been dating for two weeks. During COVID? Honestly, we didn’t think twice.
So my partner and I packed all of our belongings into the truck and proceeded to live in it. We hoped to wait until unemployment kicked in and then find an apartment. In the meantime, we self-quarantined in our truck, sleeping on BLM land as we saw fit. It wasn’t always pleasant. We had neither shower nor isolation. Nights were very, very cold. We ate mostly noodles cooked over our single-burner camp stove. On social media, we billed our “trip” as more of a pleasure vacation of opportunity.
In reality, we were scared and struggling.
At first, we were both denied unemployment because we had only worked in our state of residence for less than six months (the ski job strikes again). I applied to my previous state and was accepted a month later, although my partner was repeatedly denied. That wasn’t unusual. In March of 2020, an estimated 44% of applicants were denied unemployment benefits. That meant a lot of people living off of savings or credit or pure hope.
My check did arrive, eventually. Luckily it was a direct deposit since I no longer had an address. We used my first unemployment check to rent an Airbnb apartment for a night. The shower was glorious. Then, we started looking for a place to rent. Soon after, we were met with another hurdle: scammers.
More than 200,000 Americans filed suits and fraud claims during the pandemic in 2020. This amounts to around $145 Million in losses during an already tumultuous time. Right around the first stimulus check, I put down $1000 on an apartment without seeing the place. Stupid in retrospect, I know. At the time, the “we can’t show the place because we’re quarantined” excuse seemed legit. Out a whopping $1000, our dreams of apartment living seemed farther and farther away.
All of this happened before May. I want to say circumstances improved, but we were actually robbed twice more (in completely different circumstances). However, we did get an apartment. Eventually, there were jobs. The money situation didn’t get to improve too much. Like most American’s in similar situations, we kept our heads up and enjoyed the things we could.
You might be asking, “Ok, well, how in the world did this lead to the best year of your life?”.
2020 was filled with ups and downs, sure. However, we didn’t lose anyone dear to us, and we did find ways to keep our bellies full. We saved money by learning how to bake bread. Our vacations consisted of us driving Babe the Adventure Truck out into the mountains for a weekend. We formed a “social pod” of former coworkers, all hell-bent on keeping each other fed. Then we spent lazy nights outside around a campfire with them. I started getting paid to write, which still floors the heck out of me.
COVID-19 and the entire insane pandemic forced me to take a hard look at the things that made me happy. I learned to find joy in simply being. Canning 2 boxes of peaches my coworker got for free suddenly became an actual treat. It felt like abundance. Nights spent reading with my attentive, sunny-faced partner in the apartment we worked so hard to get were moments I truly cherished.
Having fresh mountain air in my lungs suddenly felt like a revelation. Being able to interact with someone socially became a privilege. A warm home and a roof over my head were an excuse to be thankful. I truly learned what it meant to be grateful. How many other people learned the same?
2020 isn’t going to go down in the history books as a joyous year. Clearly, there was too much death and strife for that. However, I hope that for most of my fellow humans, 2020 was a year of self-discovery and resilience. I hope that, like me, you learned what you were capable of handling and what things were worth holding close.