Puerto Rico By the Numbers


Home to 3.4 Million Americans

Iowa 3.1 Million Americans

Utah 3 Million Americans

Mississippi 2.9 Million Americans

Arkansas 2.9 Million Americans

Nevada 2.9 Million Americans

Kansas 2.9 Million Americans

New Mexico 2.1 Million Americans

Nebraska 1.9 Million Americans

West Virginia 1.8 Million Americans

Idaho 1.7 Million Americans

There are more Americans In Puerto Rico than Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, District of Columbia, Vermont, Wyoming



New York to Puerto Rico 3.5 Hours

Miami to Puerto Rico 2.5 Hours

Houston to New York 3.5 Hours

Houston to Miami 2.35 Hours

Puerto Rico is closer to the Continental U.S than Alaska or Hawaii


Currency: US Dollar


51st State?

Through the years there has been discussion about Puerto Rico becoming the 51st State.

On January 17,2017 Puerto Rico’s new representative to Congress pushed a bill that would ratify statehood by 2025.



Airline Seats who’s Chubby Now?

Airline Travel in one word   (Sucks)

There was a time when airline travel epitomizes luxury. The airlines offered champagne, comfortable seats, and offered a choice of beef, chicken or kosher meal included in the price of the ticket  The seats were wide (even for my aunt Katie) and the service was casual passengers were well dressed at the airport.  My mother insisted that I wore a suit with a bowtie.  That was a long long time ago.

Today passengers are treated like cattle. Seated in large staging areas and then funneled into narrow crowded tubes.

There was a time in america when airlines  competed for the comfort of passengers.


Today, its all about profits there is little emphasis on comfort unless your willing to spend a few thousand on a transatlantic flight.  Meanwhile in Economy one hundred and forty passengers have to share three restrooms.    Back in the day, my mother insisted I wear my finest on the plane. Today, I travel in sweats and flip flops with a jacket that can accommodate  my phone, tablet, back up charger and other electronics and books.

In the October 2016 issue of Consumer Reports I learned,in 1985, average male traveler was 174 pounds, the average female traveler was 145.The average width of an Airline Seat in 1985 was 20 inches.   Over the last twenty years the  passengers have gained 20 pounds and the average width of the airline seat is smaller by 2.5 inches.   Leg room shrank 2 inches.    You can buy those two inches of leg room back if you purchase an “Economy Plus” or “Extra Plus.  However should you purchase a ticket on an ultra discount carrier like Spirit, Frontier or  Allegiant the seats could be smaller still with no options for an larger seat. Greyhound Bus an Amtrack passengers have considerably more space than Airline passengers.

 Panic Attack at 30,000 feet

I experienced a form of anxiety before.  The first attack took place on a packed United flight to Chicago.  For three hours I tried (but failed) to keep my bare legs from encroaching on the space of another passenger.  Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe and my heart rate increased.  I knew it was in my head but I couldn’t shake it. So I went into the bathroom and blew into a bag until it passed. My take way was to avoid the Boeing 737. The next episode took place on a crowed Delta flight from Hawaii. Once again I went to the bathroom to recover, unfortunately the blood on the toilet didn’t help.  A very kind woman saw my face and offered her seat in the emergency exit.  I did receive a nice apology and credit from Delta. (no more 757’s)

The Denver based ,Frontier Airlines used to be one of my favorite airlines.

After the airline left Sacramento in 2013, I simply chose other carriers.  Every week I would get Frontier’s Online deals from San Francisco.   Phoenix and San Diego for $19.

As I slept, Frontier became an Ultra Discount Carrier.  Last April, I took Frontier up on their offer of a $19 one way ticket from San Francisco to Phoenix.    I flew on Wednesday afternoon. a traditionally slow travel day.

Image result for frontier airlines plastic seats

Frontier Airlines (what I remembered) the average seat was 19 inches wide and offered 31 inches of legroom.

Not what I remembered

The last time I traveled on Frontier Airlines it was a discount carrier.   In 2014,the airline became an ultra low cost carrier. Everything I knew had changed, seating configuration and fees. Even with the change, I thought I would was safe as most of Frontiers fleet consist of the Airbus 320, a plane known for its roomy seats.  In addition to baggage fees, passengers are charged for carry ons for preassigned seating and more.

Image result for frontier airlines plastic seats

I wasn’t prepared for the hard narrow seats I call inmate grey.  According to the average seat on Frontier  is now 18 inches wide and they offer 28 inches of leg room. These seats do not recline (note the size of the tray table) They will comfortably hold your cell phone or a bag of nuts (at an extra charge of course).  The travel time between Phoenix and San Francisco is ninety minutes.  Within an half an hour breathing was difficult  Even with an empty seat next to me, I could not get comfortable. Arriving in Phoenix, I needed an hour to recover from the flight.

Some people experience forms of space anxiety in crowded space. Most Americans are obese and most airlines have addressed the issue by making even smaller seats. .

Airline Travel and your Health

I’ve long accepted as an obese man (wedging 22 inches into 18 inches) and sitting in pain in a seat with insufficient leg room is just my price of air travel.   I travel about 30,000 miles a year and I’ve only experienced Airline Anxiety three times in 20 years.

I’ve recently learned through social media, I’m not alone, there are many people who are not obese, traveling in pain.  Men over 5.10, some women over 18o pounds travel in one form of discomfort.

Two weeks ago a friend was hospitalized after a flight from Los Angeles to Washington.  He is 37 years old 6.2 and weighs 220 pounds. They found three blood clots, one in each leg and one in his chest.  He travels more than 100,000 miles a year coast to coast.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cramped seating might increase the risk for blood clots (Deep Vain Thrombosis) usually in the legs. Especially on flights more than 4 hours long. They often dissolve on their own, but a serious health problem can occur when a part of a blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, causing a blockage—or pulmonary embolism—which may be fatal.

They suggest occasionally moving your feet and standing up and walking (my question is where?)

Consumer groups are concerned about cramped quarters is that planes are too full for passengers to safely evacuate in the case of an emergency.

As you read this Airline Companies are looking for way to add another seat to your flights. If your under 5.10 and weigh less than 170 pounds your good to go for Sept. By the holidays the airlines could introduce a folding airline seat.


America’s hidden homeless: Life in the Starlight Motel

A motel in Massachusetts reveals the extent of the US’ hidden homelessness problem. Residents share their stories.

Tiffany Drew is 13 weeks pregnant and lives with her partner and daughter at the Starlight Motel in Wareham [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

By: Carolyn Bick/Al Jazzera

Massachusetts, United States – It is the fourth time that Tiffany Drew has lived in the Starlight Motel, and the third time she has been pregnant here.Today, like every time she is pregnant, she has a migraine.

“I’m hoping if I take some Tylenol it will feel better,” she says.

She is almost translucently pale.  

The motel room five-year-old Sofiya shares with her mother and father is cramped and strewn with toys, but it is home and Sofiya and her half brother Colby do not seem to see their lives as any different from those of their peers at school [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Tiffany and her fiancee Mark Maraccini have been living in the Starlight Motel in Wareham, Massachusetts, on and off since 2009. Their current stint started in the summer of 2015. Their daughter, Sofiya, who was born in 2011, lives with them.

Like many considered homeless by the government, the family lives in a motel because – at $200 a week – it is cheaper than a normal apartment, and they have bad credit.

The rooms are an average of about 13sq ft by 13sq ft, with one bathroom and no kitchen. Some residents, such as Tiffany, make do with microwaves.

Like most motels, the Starlight wasn’t built for long­-term stays.? But all the rooms at the Starlight, and the other motels in Wareham, are filled by homeless occupants. Most consider this preferable to the other options available to them: “tent cities” in the woods or homeless shelters.

No one knows exactly how many homeless people there are in Wareham because the state doesn’t have any accurate data for the town. They rely on the information homeless shelters and charitable organisations are able to gather. But Thomas Fitzpatrick of Turning Point, a homeless outreach organisation based in Wareham, says: “We always have the rule of thumb that if there are 25 people [we know about], there are always 25 you don’t know about.”

The stigma attached to homelessness leaves many feeling uncomfortable asking for help and means their homelessness is often hidden from the official statistics.

Although cramped, the motel is home to Tiffany and her family. And while she’d rather be living in a real apartment, she says she knows that isn’t an option considering their “horrible credit”. .

Tiffany picks Sofiya up from the side of the busy highway that runs alongside the motel. She takes the bus to and from school [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

The school bus drops Sofiya at the side of the busy highway that runs past the Starlight. Tiffany meets her there and leads her back to the relative safety of the motel as cars rush by.

Then she watches as five-year-old Sofiya rides the scooter she shares with her half brother Colby, Mark’s son from another relationship who stays with them at the weekends, around the small motel parking lot.

She looks down at her stomach. She is 13 weeks pregnant and anxious about bringing the child to term.


Tiffany lost her unborn baby, Mya, in July 2015 at 38 weeks, due to a detached placenta. ?”She basically suffocated,” she says. “When the placenta came out, half of it was black and shrivelled.

“I was all prepared for Mya. I had everything I needed, and things went bad at the last second, and now … could be anything,” Tiffany says.?

She couldn’t bring herself to get rid of everything she’d bought for Mya. Now, she is glad she didn’t sell the crib. “If I had done that, now where would I be?” she asks with a laugh.

Sofiya, who is watching, chimes in. “We had Mya, and now we have another baby,” she says.

“And where is Mya?” Tiffany asks her.?

“In Heaveeeen,” she says, drawing out the word and rolling her eyes at her mother’s question before scooting across the parking lot to her grandparents’ motel room.

Tiffany shows the necklace that reminds her of her late daughter. The bee holds her daughter’s ashes, while the other charm has small designs of her daughter’s footprints [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Mark’s parents are also living at the Starlight.

Before their most recent stay at the motel started, Tiffany, Sofiya and Mark used to share a small apartment with Mark’s parents. Tiffany says she couldn’t stand it.

“Mark’s dad doesn’t know how to mind his own business,” she says. “They have a frickin’ police scanner to frickin’ listen to people.”

The scanner, a radio set that picks up emergency broadcasts, would go off “all the time”, she says.

Even in the motel, she says they are “nosy”.

“Any time they hear a knock out here, or a car, or anything like that, they go sticking their head out the window.”

But they may soon have to move in with them again.

Sofiya plays in the parking lot of the motel as her mother, Tiffany, keeps watch. She wants to play with her eight-year-old half brother Colby, but he has homework to do [Carolyn B/Al Jazeera]

In November 2015, the town’s Board of Health announced that it would start imposing a three-week limit on stays in hotels and motels in the area. The Board hopes this will force hotel and motel owners to upgrade their rooms so that they can once again host long-term residents.

While the Board has not said that it will actively kick out hotel and motel residents, the chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, which is essentially the executive branch of the town, Patrick Tropeano, said in an email that it may impose daily fines on hotel and motel owners, “usually $100 per day per offence”.

The Board has said it will help place residents elsewhere, but Tiffany isn’t convinced.  

“No one is getting placed … But people with bad credit, they can’t even get a place.”

She crinkles her brow in frustration. “This is all I can afford. Unless you want to find a place and pay my rent for me – that’s what I pretty much told them, too.”?

Although Tiffany and a few other motel residents are under the impression that the Board will pay their first month’s rent, last month’s rent and security deposit elsewhere, Tropeano said that from what he understands, the Board of Health “has no money to give anyone”.

The chair of the Board of Health, Amy Weigandt, did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but Robert Ethier, a health agent at the Board of Health, confirmed that the Board does not have the funding to help the residents. They are working with a local pastor, David Shaw, and the Wareham Housing Authority to place them elsewhere, he said.

Tiffany checks Colby’s homework, telling him to “write it so I can read it, because if I can’t read it, she [the teacher] can’t either” [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

At the moment, Tiffany and Mark barely manage to scrape together their motel rent each week. It isn’t easy as, until a couple of weeks ago, Tiffany was the family’s sole breadwinner. Since they have been together, Mark has lost his job more than once.

The first time, he was fired from the KFC where Tiffany works for taking small amounts of money, she says, so that he could save the money he made for his family instead of spending it. But the sums were noticeable, she says, and the manager caught him doing it on camera.

“I understand he was trying to help and feed the family, because we couldn’t pay the bills. We couldn’t pay the electric or the gas. The gas got shut off, and the electric got shut off,” Tiffany says.?

Then, he got a job at Walmart, but he lost that too. Soon after, the couple lost Mya, and then moved back into the motel, where they celebrated Sofiya’s fifth birthday.

“He lost his job at KFC. He lost his job at Walmart. We lost our apartment. We lost Mya,” Tiffany says. “What else could go wrong?

“I’ve always asked that, every time bad things have happened. I’m like, ‘Isn’t it supposed to be threes? Why am I getting, like, four, five things, before I get something good?'”

Mark has now found some work with a local company whose owner was desperate for help. 

He works “whenever they need him”, Tiffany says, which means she sometimes doesn’t see him until late at night. “It gets a little lonely,” she admits.

Sofiya and Colby play in the motel parking lot [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Scott Richert has been living at the Starlight Motel for two years but insists it’s just temporary, while he saves enough for a place of his own [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Scott Richert: ‘There aren’t the best class of people in this place.’

When we first meet, 52-year-old Scott Richert assures me he is only a temporary resident at the Starlight Motel.

He’s been telling himself that for the past two years – but he still keeps the walls of his room completely bare, because he plans to leave “soon”.

“I lived here years and years and years ago, for a couple months, and it was enough for me then,” Scott says of his comparatively brief stay at the motel in the 1990s.

Although the bathroom is messy, the bedroom area is immaculate. The floor is spotless. There are no clothes anywhere. The bed is tidy. And, yet, Scott still apologises for the mess.

The only signs of his personality come from his collection of videos and DVDs – movies such as Braveheart, Goodfellas, and The Betsy (his favourite, he says).

“Talk about actors and actresses, huh?” Scott says of The Betsy, grinning. “It’s got a whole slew of ’em.”

Scott’s collection of videos and DVDs are the only way in which he has personalised his motel room [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

The state of the room is a strange contrast to Scott himself. An old, paint-covered T-shirt that might once have been a dark blue hangs on his burly 6ft 3in frame. He wears sweatpants of the same colour, and no shoes, as he lowers his bulk onto the bed, and begins to explain how he was forced to move into the motel in 2014.

As a shellfisherman, Scott must live in the town in which he works. But ever-increasing rents mean he can’t afford a place of his own.

He believes some residents, and some motel owners, will find a way around the new law banning people from staying in motels for more than three weeks.

“From what I understand, the motel managers are gonna just start swapping names around, see if they can get away with it,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

He says they might also ask people to move out for three days, and then move back in.

It’s not that Scott doesn’t make enough money. He pulls out a crumpled receipt that shows earnings of $137 for a few hours of work, and says that this is small compared with the prime shellfish season, which is coming up soon.

“Right now, I am making about $55 an hour. During the winter, I can average about $25-$30 an hour,” he says. “So, I make about $500, $600 in a week in the winter, but about $1,200, $1,300 now.”

Scott makes good money as a shellfisherman, but it can be an expensive business to be involved in [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

But Scott doesn’t have a bank account. He gets paid for his work in cash.

Scott contends that between the cost of renewing his shellfishing licence, and the excise taxes he has to pay for his boat and car, he hasn’t been able to save any money, until recently.

He says he can’t move towns, either, because, under the laws of the various towns in which he has thought about living, he has to have a year’s residency before he may begin shellfishing. Wareham is the only town he has found that doesn’t require that. “That’s why I am still here,” he says.

“Like I said, I don’t have $3,000 for first, last and security [rent payments]. But I am working on it,” he says.

Scott suffered a heart attack almost two years ago, when he was helping the daughter of the Starlight Motel manager, Sam Smith, move.

As Scott remembers it, it was the middle of summer. He was helping her move from one third-floor apartment to another third-floor one in a different building – neither had an elevator. Then suddenly, “[I] felt like my fricking heart was going to blow out of my chest,” he says.

Not that he went to the doctor immediately.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Scott says, laughing and giving one of his thighs a jovial slap. “When I was done with what I had to do, and I had time, then I went. Because of that heart attack, I got behind on all sorts of [things]. I am finally catching up … I will be … all free and clear of anything I owe anybody.”

Currently, he says he has $1,300 in savings, but he must choose between an apartment and a new truck. Before the truck he drives now, which was new in 1998, he had a ’67 pickup, and then a ’73 pickup. He drove both until they almost fell apart, he says. He needs the truck to pull his boat, which he needs for work.

When asked what is wrong with his current truck, he dryly replies: “Jesus, you want a list?”

But the choice between an apartment and a car isn’t as simple as just saving up money for them. He also needs to get his gall bladder removed, as it’s creating painful gallstones. That will leave him unable to work for at least a month or two.

“I’ve got to save up enough money for wherever I’m at for … two months, so I can get the gall bladder out. That’ll take a month, and then, when I get the gastric bypass done, it’ll take another month to heal up,” Scott says, folding his arms in front of his stomach.

Scott’s drawer is full of medicines for his various medical complaints [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Financial and medical troubles haven’t been the only thing keeping Scott a step away from an apartment. He was cheated out of his rightful inheritance – a house on Depot Street, less than a 15-minute drive from the motel, he says.

Scott was born in Connecticut, but moved to Wareham with his parents and three brothers when he was in high school. His father had been in a car accident, he explains.

“The doctors told my mother, ‘Well, go take the settlement money and buy a house, or whatever, and make sure you get a fixer-upper for him. Well, she did, and he didn’t get to fix it up – I did,” Scott says, referring to his father’s death about a year after the family moved into the house.

After two of his brothers left for Florida, he helped to maintain the house.

But Scott claims that didn’t stop his older brother from writing him out of the will in 2000, when their mother was on her deathbed. If his brother hadn’t done that, he says, he would “have had the house, free and clear,” since it was paid off. What’s more, he says, he and his youngest brother would have received $20,000 each, if the house was ever sold.

“He [his oldest brother] heard that, went right down to the lawyer’s office,” he says with a sharp clap of his hands. “He took all the equity out of the house. At 100 percent equity, it was all paid off. Got $195,000 out of the house.”

Scott also claims that his brother made at least $70,000 more selling his grandparents’ property, and “blew it”.

“He p***** through it like it was f****** free,” Scott says, shaking his head. “[The house] got foreclosed on. Bank took it. That’s where it is now. Bank’s got it.”

And his brother?

“Had a tree take him out. It’s a good thing the tree did it. Leave it at that,” Scott says, and laughs. “I would say that was four or five years ago.”

He believes his second youngest brother is somewhere in Florida, but doesn’t expect to hear from him again. Scott only keeps in touch sporadically with the rest of his family, he says.

“Got an aunt and her two kids. And that’s it. My whole family,” he says, drawing out the word, ‘whole’. “Other than them? Nothing. Just me. And I don’t rely on nobody.”

The bright spot in the family saga? It helped teach the then-20-something his following trades as a mechanic and an electrician.

And it’s because of his various stints in manual labour that some motel residents and its manager ask him for help around the place. Scott is known as the motel’s unofficial handyman.

Today, he helps Sam’s wife Michelle start her grill. After jiggling a knob or two, Scott gets it going.

“See?” he says to her, as she watches. “Easy.”

But with his heart attack still fresh in his mind, he tries to minimise his contact with many of the motel residents, so that he doesn’t get too stressed. They are his biggest headache, he says. Not only does he find them “nosy” but he doesn’t exactly trust them.

“They were going to send up flatscreen TVs for the place, but Sammy [Sam Smith] told them not to,” he says of the motel’s conversion into a rooming house, which means there will be a communal kitchen and new furniture. “These a******* will break them or steal them. There aren’t the best class of people in this place. And this is one of the better places. A lot of these places are bad.”

Scott’s motel bathroom may be a little messy but his room is clean and tidy [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Becca Weiss recalls the circumstances that led to her living in the motel [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

Becca Weiss: ‘How can all that happen to a person?’

Soft jazz floats through Becca Weiss’ darkened room at the Starlight Motel.

This is home for the 38-year-old former legal assistant and her boyfriend, Mike, with whom she splits the weekly $200 room fee.

But not that long ago, Becca would have been unable to imagine that she’d end up living in a motel.

“It’s like a bad Lifetime movie,” she snickers. “It’s like, how can all of that happen to one person, without that person doing something … really wrong? It just happened.”

Becca has been living at the motel since just before Thanksgiving 2014, and has made the room feel cosy and safe. She burns incense and cooks in the makeshift kitchen she has set up. There is a rug in the centre of the spotless floor. On the wall above her bed, decorative lights are strung over pictures; iconic depictions of Jesus and crosses hang next to a picture of a blue door and trees.

“For me, it’s just one,” Weiss says. “I follow more of the religion of spiritualism. It’s really just a balance of Father Sky and Mother Earth – or God.”

She pauses, struggling to keep back the tears that are filling her large, brown eyes.

“For some people, it’s so hard to find a balance,” she continues, after a moment. “But once you find it, you know – it’s a beautiful place to be. But it takes a bunch of different influences. Treating people how you want to be treated, basically.”

But Weiss hasn’t always been treated the way she treats others.

Becca puts out some incense she has been burning [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

She was born into a family that she says placed an emphasis on outward appearances, taking care to project an image of affluence and stability. It was easy to maintain during the booming 1980s, she explains, as her father ran a few stores and a deli and her mother made a name for herself in real estate.

“It was the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons and that was our upbringing,” Becca remembers, brushing a strand of light brown hair from her face. “We were taught how to be ladies, and manners were very important, and setting the table, and making everything look nice. But, at the end of the night, you’re drinking wine by the bottle as you’re cooking.”

These “inconsistencies”, as she calls them, have followed her throughout her life – from her childhood to her current situation and her struggles with anxiety and depression.

Since Becca lost her job in 2012, the motel is the first stable place she has lived. She had been working for her father as a legal assistant, but after she went on maternity leave to have her third child, she says her father gave her job away.

Shortly after, Becca lost the townhouse in which she was living, because, without a job, and without her child’s father around, she couldn’t pay the bills. A judge sent the baby to live with his dad, and the state’s Department of Housing and Urban Development sent Becca to a shelter for women who have suffered domestic abuse. It was one of the least safe places she had ever been, she says.

“It was awful. The door literally looked like it had been either beaten with a bat or kicked in by the cops. You could reach right through and unlock the deadbolt,” she recalls. “You can’t just take someone from a middle-class life and throw her into this.”

Becca’s shelves are full of holistic herbal remedies meant to help her mental and physical wellbeing [Carolyn Bick/Al Jazeera]

There was a woman with a set of keys, some papers to sign, and a lightless hallway, she recalls. She didn’t even last the weekend.

“I never felt safe there,” Becca says. “But because I didn’t want to live there, I became ineligible for any kind of assistance or shelter. So I had to live out of my car.”

Becca met Mike soon after, and the two lived out of her car for seven months.

“Nothing brings you closer than living in a car with someone,” she says wryly. “There’s nowhere to go. You learn everything about each other. And I mean, everything.”

She and Mike eventually came across the motel, and, with Mike’s job, were able to afford the room. But it pained her to have to move in here.

“When I walked to the door, I cried,” she recalls, crying. “There was nothing here. It was just hot cement and a trash bag full of my clothes.”

She used to have more than that, she says, but from the townhouse to the motel, she left a metaphorical trail of possessions behind her. She says some of her things are still in a state storage facility; others were stolen. Still more were tossed out of her car by a police officer, she says, after he stopped her for speeding when she was living out of the vehicle.

These days, Becca’s life is a little less tumultuous, but it still isn’t easy.

She was once involved in theatre and acting – in a life that now seems to have belonged to someone else – and she has decided to take the free acting classes offered by a non-profit theatre venue down the road. But because she doesn’t have a car, she says she has been “approached by a couple people offering me money [for sex],” while walking to the theatre or to the grocery store.

“It’s part of the territory,” Becca says of calling the motel home, and the assumptions men make about women on the side of the road. “But it’s weird, too – like, what about me gave that off?”

She pauses for a moment then adds, with a light laugh: “I came home in a [police] cruiser, like, four times.” She didn’t feel safe walking home alone at night, along the side of the highway.

Becca says she is still waiting for the state to grant her Social Security Disability Insurance, a benefit programme for people who become disabled before retirement age. She says it will take two to three years, at least, for her to get the insurance, because she is suffering from mental traumas, not physical ones. Becca has depression and anxiety, which have been exacerbated by the extreme stress of losing her job and home in 2012, and the subsequent instability of a transient life.

Though she is handling the depression and anxiety as well as she can, Becca says she sometimes finds it hard to leave the motel room, and often prefers to keep the blinds shut. That’s why she tries to keep the room neat and to create a calming environment within it.

The worst part, she says, is not the depression and anxiety; it is trying to live off the little money given to her by the state while she waits to be accepted into the insurance system. What she receives for rent doesn’t cover half the expense of living in the motel, she says – and the Starlight is the cheapest in town.

Although she finally feels comfortable calling the motel home, it isn’t where she wants to be for ever.

“I do want to have my own little house someday, or an apartment, or something,” she says. “But, right now, this is what it is, and I am grateful to have it. It is better than a car.”

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Big Man Rides 2015/2016 Volkswagen Passat


One cant mention Volkswagen without mentioning the International
Diesel Scandal. Which effects nearly the entire Volkswagen line  including the Passat.

There are many questions concerning the future of VW and resale values.  Sales for VW through May 2016 is down 13%

Volkswagen is currently the largest automaker in the world, larger than Toyota and General Motors.   Volkswagen is the parent company of Audi (some of the Audi Diesels were included in the scandal), Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda. The company also builds commercial vehicles and motorcycles.

VW was once a major player in the American market. For years, Volkswagen outsold every foreign automaker.  Today, Subaru sells more cars than VW.

Volkswagen created the current Passat for the American market.  The former generations were smaller and more expensive and the company needed a car to compete in the very competitive mid size segment.    The current model is larger than Passat’s sold in Europe. The current generation Passat has been around since 2012  and built in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The car has been refreshed through the years and there have been several engine changes. From the rough 5 cylinder to the current 1.8 turbo.

A few months ago I rented a 2015 Volkswagen Passat SE (the basic model) and drove over 3300 miles.

11 Day 3300 mile Super Road Trip

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It was driven through mountains, deserts, mud, rain, and back roads, and freeways.  I have driven more miles in the Passat than in my personal car this year.


The 2016 received a much needed technology refresh.

The Good

Despite having an out of balance tire, the  2015 Passat  was a champ. The car feels solid. Being a big/tall man I appreciated the  ample space front and back, I have driven full size trucks with less room. There is more leg room in the mid size Passat, then in the full size Chrysler 300 and Ford Taurus.


Visibility was close to flawless  The fit and finish was good. The trunk is beyond huge.


The Passat is a fun to drive brick (squarish car), the  1.8 turbo had ample reserve power, braking was good and the fuel economy was superior. A V6 is available. The ride was German firm.   It averaged 36 miles per gallon up to 41 miles on the freeways.  The computer promised nearly 700 miles on a tank. I got close to that at 661 miles.  If you have tallish teenagers, or frequently carry big or tall passengers this is your car.  For 2015 the Volkswagen Passat was a top safety pick.

The Bad

While the Passat was designed for the American market, its controls are more German.  If you’ve driven an American, Japanese, or Korean car, its will take a while to adjust to some of the controls,especially the cruise control.


The electronics on the 2015 is dated. Bluetooth which is in nearly every rental car was missing in the Passat  along with the absence of USB ports and Satellite Radio. Speaking of the stereo, the sound is poor at best (again this is the base model)



30 Minutes in the 2016


It’s still a brick, which looks very expensive in Black.  I drove the mid level SEL, which came with Power and heated seats, a very nice sounding Fender head unit with Nav.  For 2016 they have added quite a few USB and charging options. Apple Car Play and Android and a host of safety up dates like Automatic Braking and Frontal Collision packages have brought the car up today.


My 2016 Passat was quieter than the 2015. The materials are a bit better and its the car  your  friends will demand on those long road trips.

The ????

With the exception of the Volkswagen Tiguan . Volkswagen sales across the board is down. So deals are available.   Resale on the gasoline models hasn’t taken a huge hit, reviews on the line has been positive including the refreshed Passat. The diesel scandal doesn’t just effect the US its International.  Volkswagen has had a US presence for nearly seventy years however, if the low sales continue the network may take a hit.


The Passat isn’t swoopy like a  Fusion, Sonata, or Optima, its a brick.  In some colors its bland, in fact it seems bland inside and out.  In other colors it can look like a  Mercedes.  The car is fun to drive, its incredibly  roomy, has a huge trunk and gets very good mileage. If you have growing teenagers or frequently transport four adults there are few cars that compare.


Prices start at $22,500 for the base model and climbs to $35,000

More than generous deals are available on new Passats

‘Paris is pricey, but it’s the best city for students’

Every year thousands of students come to France to study and most of them head to Paris. Giving us the lowdown on student life in the capital this week is American Anne Waldrop, who says even on a budget Paris is the place to study. 

The famous Paris Sorbonne University and left Anne Waldrop enjoying being a student in the French capital

Anne Waldrop, 23, originally from Kentucky in the United States is studying a Masters degree in ‘Civilisation Francaise’ at the famous Sorbonne University in Paris. Here she gives The Local the lowdown on how she landed a scholarship and how to survive as a student in the City of Light.

How did you end up studying in Paris?

It’s always been a life-long dream to study in Paris and I felt I had unfinished business from when I studied French in high school so I applied for an ambassadorial scholarship with the Rotary International. They sponsor students from all over the world to go and study in other countries. They basically fund students to study abroad with the aim of improving cultural understanding. I have to do some talks to different Rotary Clubs but essentially they help pay for my studies and my life in Paris.

Was it difficult to get accepted?

I just applied and had to have an interview. It was not a long process and it was easy for me to convince them why I wanted to study in Paris. They gave me about $27, 000 for the year. Although that would never pay for a place on a course at a US university it was more than enough for Paris, where my course costs around €5,000 for the year. The costs do vary however from course to course.

What about the dreaded visa process?

At first it was intimidating because I needed a student visa for longer than six months. I had to visit a French consulate in the States and I was worried about what they would ask me, but in the end they just wanted to take my finger prints and my photograph. They seemed pretty keen to welcome students. You just need to follow all their instructions and it will be fine.

How did you find accommodation?

I had heard a lot of horror stories so I thought the best thing to do would be to wait until I got here before I looked for a flat. I thought one would just fall into my lap by walking around Paris, but after a while I ended up looking on the web, mainly through the websites and In hindsight I should have organised a flat before I arrived here. That’s what I would advise others. You just need to make sure the sites are reputable and the adverts are genuine.

What is the course like?

It’s everything I had hoped for. One of the good things is that we are not constantly being assessed like we are in the States. We just have exams at the end of the year. Everything is taught in French obviously, which was quite difficult at first. There was a steep learning curve, but after a few weeks it felt more natural and I could actually concentrate on what the lecturers were teaching us. People should not be put off by that. Doing a course in French is one of the best ways to learn the language.

Any tips on how to afford life in Paris as a student?

It might be an expensive city, but on the other hand it’s a great place to be a student because you can get so many great deals. People should always show their student card wherever they, as there are always discounts available, even when they are not advertised. For things like museums, concerts and the cinema there is normally a student rate. To get around you just need to sign up for the Velib bikes, which also offer a really cheap annual rate for students.  And there’s so much to do that is free like all the great parks. Basically if you are going to live in any big city as a student then Paris is the best place.


And finally where’s your favorite student hangout?

It has to be La Crocodile in the Fifth Arrondissement on Rue Royer-Collard. It’s tiny but it has the most extensive cocktail menu you can possibly imagine. It has a good mix of locals and students.

The “middle class” myth: Here’s why wages are really so low today

Want to understand the failures of the “free market” and the key to getting a decent wage? Here’s the real story



Let me tell you the story of an “unskilled” worker in America who lived better than most of today’s college graduates. In the winter of 1965, Rob Stanley graduated from Chicago Vocational High School, on the city’s Far South Side. Pay rent, his father told him, or get out of the house. So Stanley walked over to Interlake Steel, where he was immediately hired to shovel taconite into the blast furnace on the midnight shift. It was the crummiest job in the mill, mindless grunt work, but it paid $2.32 an hour — enough for an apartment and a car. That was enough for Stanley, whose main ambition was playing football with the local sandlot all-stars, the Bonivirs.

Stanley’s wages would be the equivalent of $17.17 today — more than the “Fight For 15” movement is demanding for fast-food workers. Stanley’s job was more difficult, more dangerous and more unpleasant than working the fryer at KFC (the blast furnace could heat up to 2,000 degrees). According to the laws of the free market, though, none of that is supposed to matter. All that is supposed to matter is how many people are capable of doing your job. And anyone with two arms could shovel taconite. It required even less skill than preparing dozens of finger lickin’ good menu items, or keeping straight the orders of 10 customers waiting at the counter. Shovelers didn’t need to speak English. In the early days of the steel industry, the job was often assigned to immigrants off the boat from Poland or Bohemia.

“You’d just sort of go on automatic pilot, shoveling ore balls all night,” is how Stanley remembers the work.

Stanley’s ore-shoveling gig was also considered an entry-level position. After a year in Vietnam, he came home to Chicago and enrolled in a pipefitters’ apprenticeship program at Wisconsin Steel.

So why did Rob Stanley, an unskilled high school graduate, live so much better than someone with similar qualifications could even dream of today? Because the workers at Interlake Steel were represented by the United Steelworkers of America, who demanded a decent salary for all jobs. The workers at KFC are represented by nobody but themselves, so they have to accept a wage a few cents above what Congress has decided is criminal.

The argument given against paying a living wage in fast-food restaurants is that workers are paid according to their skills, and if the teenager cleaning the grease trap wants more money, he should get an education. Like most conservative arguments, it makes sense logically, but has little connection to economic reality. Workers are not simply paid according to their skills, they’re paid according to what they can negotiate with their employers. And in an era when only 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to a union, and when going on strike is almost certain to result in losing your job, low-skill workers have no negotiating power whatsoever.

Granted, Interlake Steel produced a much more useful, much more profitable product than KFC. Steel built the Brooklyn Bridge, the U.S. Navy and the Saturn rocket program. KFC spares people the hassle of frying chicken at home. So let’s look at how wages have declined from middle-class to minimum-wage in a single industry: meat processing.

Slaughterhouses insist they hire immigrants because the work is so unpleasant Americans won’t do it. They hired European immigrants when Upton Sinclair wrote “The Jungle,” and they hire Latin American immigrants today. But it’s a canard that Americans won’t slaughter pigs, sheep and cows. How do we know this? Because immigration to the United States was more or less banned from 1925 to 1965, and millions of pigs, sheep and cows were slaughtered during those years. But they were slaughtered by American-born workers, earning middle-class wages. Mother Jones magazine explains what changed:

“[S]tarting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods — or go out of business. Wages in the meatpacking industry soon fell by as much as 50 percent.”

In Nick Reding’s book “Methland,” he interviews Roland Jarvis, who earned $18 an hour throwing hocks at Iowa Ham…until 1992, when the slaughterhouse was bought out by a company that broke the union, cut wages to $6.20 an hour, and eliminated all benefits. Jarvis began taking meth so he could work extra shifts, then dealing the drug to make up for his lost income.

Would Americans kill pigs for $18 an hour? Hell, yes, they would. There would be a line from Sioux City to Dubuque for those jobs. But Big Meat’s defeat of Big Labor means it can now negotiate the lowest possible wages with the most desperate workers: usually Mexican immigrants who are willing to endure dangerous conditions for what would be considered a huge pile of money in their home country. Slaughterhouses hire immigrants not because they’re the only workers willing to kill and cut apart pigs, but because they’re the only workers willing to kill and cut apart pigs for low wages, in unsafe conditions.

In Rob Stanley’s native South Side, there is more than one monument to the violence that resulted when the right of industry to bargain without the interference of labor unions was backed up by government force. In 1894, President Cleveland sent 2,500 troops to break a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Factory. On Memorial Day, 1937, Chicago police killed 10 striking workers outside the Republic Steel plant. The names of those dead are cast on a brass plaque bolted to a flagpole outside a defunct steelworkers’ hall. They were as polyglot as a platoon in a World War II movie: Anderson, Causey, Francisco, Popovich, Handley, Jones, Reed, Tagliori, Tisdale, Rothmund.

I first saw those sites on a labor history tour led by “Oil Can Eddie” Sadlowski, a retired labor leader who lost a race for the presidency of the USW in 1977. Sadlowski was teaching a group of ironworkers’ apprentices about their blue-collar heritage, and invited me to ride along on the bus. Oil Can Eddie had spent his life agitating for a labor movement that transcended class boundaries. He wanted laborers to think of themselves as poets, and poets to think of themselves as laborers.

“How many Mozarts are working in steel mills?” he once asked an interviewer.

In the parking lot of the ironworkers’ hall, I noticed that most of the apprentices were driving brand-new pickup trucks — Dodge Rams with swollen hoods and quarter panels, a young man’s first purchase with jackpot union wages. Meanwhile, I knew college graduates who earned $9.50 an hour as editorial assistants, or worked in bookstores for even less. None seemed interested in forming a union. So I asked Sadlowski why white-collar workers had never embraced the labor movement as avidly as blue-collar workers.

“The white-collar worker has kind of a Bob Cratchit attitude,” he explained. “He feels he’s a half-step below the boss. The boss says, ‘Call me Harry.’ He feels he’s made it. You go to a shoe store, they got six managers. They call everybody a manager, but they pay ’em all shit.”

The greatest victory of the anti-labor movement has not been in busting industries traditionally organized by unions. That’s unnecessary. Those jobs have disappeared as a result of automation and outsourcing to foreign countries. In the U.S., steel industry employment has declined from 521,000 in 1974 to 150,000 today.

“When I joined the company, it had 28,000 employees,” said George Ranney, a former executive at Inland Steel, an Indiana mill that was bought out by ArcelorMittal in 1998. “When I left, it had between 5,000 and 6,000. We were making the same amount of steel, 5 million tons a year, with higher quality and lower cost.”

The anti-labor movement’s greatest victory has been in preventing the unionization of the jobs that have replaced well-paying industrial work. Stanley was lucky: After Wisconsin Steel shut down in 1980, a casualty of obsolescence, he bounced through ill-paying gigs hanging sheetrock and tending bar before finally catching on as a plumber for the federal government. The public sector is the last bastion of the labor movement, with a 35.9 percent unionization rate. But I know other laid-off steelworkers who ended their working lives delivering soda pop or working as security guards.

Where would a high-school graduate go today if he were told to pay rent or get out of the house? He might go to KFC, where the average team member earns $7.62 an hour — 57 percent less, in real dollars, than Stanley earned for shoveling taconite. (No hourly worker at KFC earns as much as Stanley did.) The reasons given for the low pay — that fast-food work is an entry-level job that was never meant to support a family or lead to a career — are ex post facto justifications for the reality that KFC can get away with paying low wages because it doesn’t fear unionization. It’s a lot harder to organize workers spread across dozens of franchises than it is to organize a single steel mill.

As Oil Can Eddie pointed out, a class consciousness discourages office workers from unionizing. There’s a popular discounting company in Chicago called Groupon, where the account executives — who are all expected to have bachelors’ degrees — earn $37,800 a year. Adjusted for modern dollars, that’s about Stanley’s starting wage, without overtime. Because they’re educated and sit safely at desks, they don’t think of themselves as blue-collar mopes who need to strike for higher pay and better working conditions.

The fact that many of today’s college graduates have the same standard of living as the lowest-skilled workers of the 1960s proves that attitude is wrong, wrong, wrong. If we want to restore what we’ve traditionally thought of as the middle class, we have to stop thinking of ourselves as middle class, no matter how much we earn, or what we do to earn it. “Working class” should be defined by your relationship to your employer, not whether you perform physical labor. Unless you own the business, you’re working class.

“The smartest people I ever met were guys who ran cranes in the mill,” Oil Can Eddie once said.

They were smart enough, at least, to get their fair share of the company’s profits.

Dollar Madness on 12 & S

It was coming and long overdue, I had to let go of my blue dustpan.   It was abused over the years ,walked on, sat on,  its been a part of my household for over four years now.(wiping a slow tear)

But I had to let Betsy go.. (yes it has a name!)

I have a weakness for dollar stores.  I walk up every aisle looking for that one thing I didn’t know I couldn’t  live without.   In some circles, I could be called a collector.  In others, an impulsive shopper.  I prefer a connoisseur of great values .

I like dollar stores, you don’t have to walk miles for a can opener, the stores on average are cleaner than any K or Wal Mart and people actually know where things are.

Not hung up on labels.  I could care less if my giant fork was made by Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid.  I simply want to turn my meat. (smile)

The only small wee problem I have is focus.   Who knew you needed a leveler, candles, pens, gas carburetor cleaner ( one day I will actually put it in my car) air freshers and other must haves.

One day I went to the 99 cents store or Northgate for 2 packs AAA batteries, I spent $ 27.47 I forgot the batteries but I have three nice pairs of reading glasses.(somewhere)

My favorite store is the Dollar Tree on 12th and S.   Parking is easy and its in and out.  They have a security guard there at night, is shoplifting a problem?  “Look he has a foil turkey pan in his pants-get um”

Today I was good… not only did I get a new dustpan, some Christmas candles I had to have, Fiddle Faddle  AND  a new dish brush.   Total 8.51.


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