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Over Coffee

How People Are Learning to Adapt
Jan 8, 2009 - 9:39:12 AM

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Last week I called my Over Coffee column “Changing Habits for a Changing Economy,” so I really had to use some brain matter to come up with another headline for today’s column on the same topic.

Because of the wide range of comments I received when I asked people about the state of their “personal” economy during my normal errands around town last week, I decided to make a deliberate stop at a place where I knew that people gather every day to discuss just such issues.

I went to Winn-Dixie in Sun City Center.

No, I didn’t stand at the door or near the cash registers taking a poll, I went directly to the rear of the store on two separate occasions where the local coffee club gathers some time between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

Right, discussing the economy now, from left, are Ellen Jackson, Don Schuster, Ted Hadley and Bob Butte. Penny Fletcher Photos

Knowing that the daily (and almost-daily) sippers attend on different days and at no structured time, I went back twice, finding some of the same people there both days but others only on one. I had visited and reported on this group seven or eight months ago, when they were talking mostly about politics and thought they might be an interesting (and certainly varied) lot to question about changes in lifestyles – either their own, or those of friends and family –  due to the big “R.” You know the word I’m referring to; the dreaded R of recession, which I have been prone to tell people, is nothing like the ones I remember from 1987 or even 1974.
Sorry, I’ve gotta’ tell you, what I’m observing now is much worse. But I didn’t want the column to be a complete downer, so I searched for questions that might offer some hope, including, “What adjustments are you making that are helping you through these tough times?”

Wow! You’d have thought a dam had burst.

Remember now, this group is very exclusive. They don’t just accept anybody. They take everybody who wants to join them. That’s why I knew I’d get a host of extraordinary comments.

They all had something to say, whether they’d lost nearly $100,000 or more in the stock market, recently been laid off from a job, or simply couldn’t stand the idea of paying today’s costs of fruit and vegetables coming in from foreign countries when we used to be able to pick all those up from our friends “the farmers next door” who – except for the fantastic few still tilling their farmland– no longer seem to exist.

I started with Roberta Rowe, better known in the community as “Bobbie.” A successful Realtor who owned her own business for many years and has also worked for other agencies around the area, I know a lot of her power lies in her networking ability to belong to local organizations and that there’s hardly anybody who doesn’t know, or hasn’t at least heard of, her at one time or another.
Turns out that, “How’s business?” isn’t a good question to ask a Realtor these days. With the housing market in the tank, Bobbie’s urging her clients to become extremely creative to make their homes stand out from the crowd. Naturally I won’t tell her secrets here because they’re enabling her to, well- as I just said- to stand out in the crowd. Yet this powerhouse of a woman isn’t above taking on a second business of her own when necessary.

Right now, she’s walking dogs for her clients, shut ins and business people who can’t make it home before Rover or Molly or whoever it is needs to run at the end of a leash.

But Bobbie doesn’t just look for new ways to bring home the bacon; she looks for new ways to cut her spending too, like getting shorter haircuts so she won’t have to keep going back to the beauty shop. (Funny, I used to use the opposite method, going for shoulder-length, then straight down the back nearly to the waist, so I just had to go for a trim once a year.) But that was before I met Tiffani at the new Great Clips in Summerfield about three months ago. Until then, I didn’t know anyone who could make me look as good as I wanted to when I got out of the salon chair.

Roberta (or “Bobbie” as I call her) came to South County in 1973 and remembers (as I do) the long lines to buy gas in the ‘74 recession. But she also remembers there were still jobs to be had and in many cases, getting to work was what created the long lines at the pumps.

“I remember we had to go on odd-even number days, based on your (license) plate number,” she said last week. “When we had to go to my husband’s mother’s funeral, we used someone else’s plate so we could gas up.”

Another thing Bobbie called to mind was a saying of her grandmother’s: “It’s a recession when your neighbors are out of work, but it’s a depression when you’re out of work.”

That makes lots of sense today too, Granny. I think our grandmothers would have gotten along well together.

Others had stories to tell too.

Howard Hatch, who drove the Sun City Center Minibus for several years, is now out of a job because the Community Association is hiring transportation rather than keeping a driver on staff. That sounds like a budget cut to me. But he and his wife, Terry, aren’t in as bad a shape due to this job loss as some people because they were supplementing Social Security. “We haven’t lost our entire income, like so many others,” Howard said. “The ones that are in trouble are our kids. They’ve been stuck with a house for sale up North for three years and they still  can’t sell.”
They too, he said, wanted to come to Florida where – believe it or not – compared to other areas of the country, the economy is still in fairly good shape.

When I got to Bud Lang, he took awhile to think, Bud’s home overlooks a golf course and he said what comes to mind first is that he doesn’t see the numbers of golfers he did just a few months ago. And there aren’t anywhere near as many as in previous years. 

Can’t people afford to golf, or are they just not here? Or maybe, he suggested, some of the old-timers can’t take walking (or even driving in a golf cart) around the links anymore.
Roger Artner, a regular with this group for quite some time, is assistant manager at the Gibsonton Wal-Mart and has been with that company for 20 years. He is the only member of the daily coffee club group who has a job that requires him to punch in on a “time specific” basis. The rest either work for themselves or are retired.

Roger says even with Wal-Mart’s success in hard times, he is glad he has a job because he sees so many people come in looking for any kind of work. Job seekers flock to the discount houses because they know that when times are tough, people who used to go to specialty shops and department stores now find places like Wal-Mart more wallet-friendly and spend more of their hand-to-get cash there..  
Don Schuster and Ted Hadley were at Winn-Dixie both days I interviewed there. Don brags that his business will never slow down.

Since he’s a funeral director, some of the others around the table joked that they would someday be his clients. Even though his business is doing well, Don said he hesitates to trade cars like he used to every two or three years.
“I’d like to, but this just isn’t the time, even though my business continues to be steady,” he said. 

None of the group seemed to fear joking about that- or about their age.
“I’m the oldest woman in the cathouse,” said Ellen Jackson. And this is true, but she often finds herself in the doghouse too.

At 87, Ellen volunteers regularly at CARE, the “no-kill” Critter Adoption & Rescue Effort on 27th Street in Ruskin. Although Ellen now mainly helps with office work, she still enjoys visiting and socializing with the animals. She is also very active in her church and was absent the second day I interviewed at Winn-Dixie because I was there on her regular Bible-study day. Ellen says attributes her anti-aging formula to “exercising her mind and body with extreme regularity,” the same things that get her through tough times. But with a twinkle in her eye, she admitted to making some tough but smart financial decisions after her husband’s death. “I wouldn’t want my children to have to do it,” she said. “So I did a few things myself to make things easier on all of us.”

And then there was Bob Butte, a Korean War veteran, a little younger than some of the others, who still teaches self-defense. He discussed politics with me awhile, and I was glad to find someone who expects better times from the incoming administration. “Things had better get better,” he said. But it’s his grown children he worries about more than himself and his wife, Juanita. His son, who had worked for UPS in California for almost 12 years, has recently been laid off.

With children 7 and 8 years old, Bob is just glad his daughter-in-law is still working for the San Diego Department of Transit and his son is eligible for unemployment.
“You wouldn’t expect that, not after 8 or 12 years,” he said. “But there are a lot of layoffs there.”

He doesn’t think the job losses around the country are over yet.

Neither do the others.

Ted Hadley is trying to make light of his financial losses. He jokes frequently about the stock market being in the tank but holds to the thought that things will bounce back eventually. He says he is fortunate he was in the electrical power business designing and building power plants all his life.

“My dividends haven’t been hit because people are still going to use electrical power. My stocks have probably lost $80,000 in value but the dividends keep coming. And my wife (Claire) is very talented. Everyone wants her to play,” he said proudly. 

Claire Hadley is a musician and director, very well known all over the area, in Tampa as well as South County.

“I used to sing in some of her choirs,” Ted said. “But I have vertigo and the last time I performed I fell and took down nine altos so I don’t do it anymore.” He does, however, play shuffleboard and lawn bowls and attends social events. One of his favorites is the Winn-Dixie coffee club, where he tries to go every day of the week even if he just has time for one quick cup.

Terry Hatch and Pat Kuzmik surprised me with their unbelief when I stated my age as 63. “And you work full time?” I was asked.

I laughed, having “reinvented” my longtime 8-to-5 reporting and editing job into a freelancing position more than a year ago.

“Yes, between selling my books on my Web site ( HYPERLINK “” writing stories and columns for The Observer News  and the Riverview Current, editing for private authors and for Amazon Books, and of course, raising my granddaughter, I’d say I work full time,” I answered. “But good grief. Think about it. I chose to come here today I’m getting paid to be sitting here drinking coffee with you! Now how cool is that?” 

I think I would like to continue to live this way until my time comes to do business with Don!

 *Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.

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