Culinary Student: Economy Should Be Better By Now

Morning Edition has been looking back to 2009, when the economy was in the throes of the recession and when President Obama was still new to his office. David Greene has been reconnecting with people he interviewed during his road trip across America to commemorate Obama's first 100 days in office. Today we hear from Sam Terrell, who two years ago was working in a diner in Atlanta.

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DAVID GREENE, host: Over the last few weeks, we've been looking back to 2009. It was a time when the economy was in the throes of the recession, and a when President Obama was still new to that problem and also to his office.

We've gone back to a series of interviews I did with people on a road trip across the country to commemorate President Obama's first 100 days in office. Recently, I called back the owner of a houseboat company in Kentucky who had to lay off all 27 of his workers back in 2009. We also reached back to two elderly ladies who have breakfast and talk politics every week together in Indiana.

But the group of Americans who are arguably the most affected by the faltering economy in recent years are young people. On that trip a couple of years ago, I met a lot of college students and recent grads, all working at the Stone Soup Kitchen, a greasy spoon diner in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: The kitchen manager at the time was Sam Terrell. He was also doubling as a hip hop musician in an up-and-coming Atlanta group called Supreme. He gave his thoughts on the economy a backbeat.

SAM TERRELL: This is called "The Best Years Are Right Here."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEST YEARS ARE RIGHT HERE")

SUPREEME: (Singing) This is the best times of my life right now. This is the best years of my life.

TERRELL: Sort of a dramatic, kind of a dark beat with the dark violins, and then he's sort of droning on in the chorus, like, these are the best years of my life. And we're kind of being ironic, because...

GREENE: Kind of being ironic but for Sam and 2009 the recession wasn't all that bad. As he saw it, it was a good excuse to hang back and not make any big decisions about the future.

TERRELL: I think it's more of an opportunity than anything, to take this time now to go back to school and save whatever money I can.

GREENE: And we managed to track them down again.

Sam, I understand you've made your way from Atlanta to New York.

TERRELL: Yeah, I'm in Hyde Park, New York right now.

GREENE: And what are you up to?

TERRELL: I'm attending the Culinary Institute of America. I'm two years into school now and looking to do another year and a half maybe, for the bachelors program.

GREENE: And remind me how old you are?

TERRELL: Twenty-six.

GREENE: Twenty-six. So what do you think? You heard your voice there. You, at the time in 2009, said the recession was, you know, an okay excuse to not make those big decisions. Are you still feeling like the economic troubles are opportunity for you?

TERRELL: Not as optimistic as I may have seemed. But still in the same boat, I would say. After two years, you know, I'm pretty much following that's a thought process I was on: go to school, get a degree, lay low, not worry about trying to be a really big force in the job market right now.

GREENE: Well, what do you think of the restaurant/catering industry? I mean you're in culinary school, the job possibilities looking good. Not so optimistic?

TERRELL: I'm pretty optimistic about getting a job when I graduate. I think the restaurant industry has been doing fairly well considering the recession. You know, people still really want to go out and have a good meal, and people always need food.

GREENE: You know, when I stopped at Stone Soup Kitchen, the Atlanta restaurant where you're working, it was such a happy environment. But I could hear the fear about, you know, what the future would hold, what that recession in 2009 would do to the country.

How do you feel in general about, you know, your generation - people in their 20's who are graduating from schools and looking ahead?

TERRELL: I feel like a lot of my friends are kind of in limbo and don't really know exactly where they want to go. But at the same time, they don't seem too worried. I don't think it really keeps them up at night. I don't feel like were panicking too much.

GREENE: When would you hit the panic button?

TERRELL: If I don't find a job quickly right after I graduate, which I'm not too worried about because being a graduate of an institute it's pretty easy to find a job in that level. But, I guess, when I would start to panic is maybe a few more years down the line when I maybe want to settle down or have a nicer apartment in a better neighborhood, or maybe if I - and still making that much money and things get worse, and I can't support myself.

GREENE: It's interesting. We have a lot of reports and conversations on the air about how bad the economy is right now, how it might be, you know, it could be in rough shape for a sustained period of time.

What gives you that level of hope, and when you read those headlines and hear things on television and on the radio?

TERRELL: I don't know, maybe luck in the past, maybe naivety.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TERRELL: But...

GREENE: Feeling naive, but in a good way.

TERRELL: Yeah. Maybe just that I'm young and haven't really had my back up against the wall just yet. I mean in general about the economy and the recession, I'm not very hopeful.

GREENE: Why that?

TERRELL: I thought by now things would have gotten better.

GREENE: We've been chatting with Sam Terrell. He's a culinary student and aspiring musician.

Good luck, Sam. And thanks so much for talking to us.

TERRELL: Thank you so much, David Greene.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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