Reading The Economy In The Local Eatery

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A writer sees ominous signs of recession in his Los Angeles neighborhood. His favorite restaurant is only half-full these days and even garage sales don't seem to be doing the business they used to.

MARCOS MCPEEK VILLATORO: I have my barometers on the economy. I just look around the barrio.


It's Day to Day contributing writer and now amateur economist Marcos McPeek Villatoro.

MCPEEK VILLATORO: Over at El Reconsitos Alvorenio, the most popular Salvadoran restaurant in the valley, half the seats are filled. More rusted bicycles make their way up Van Nuys Boulevard. They're rickety, but hey, they're better than throwing a chunk of the paycheck at the gas tank.

But you know things are bad when in a working class deal-minded barrio like mine, a garage sale can't make it. Ours was held at the Taekwondo school. It's a tradition. The martial arts students shed our belts for the weekend, bring together the best of our old belongings, make signs and staple them to telephone poles, and break out the colas, orchata, hamburgers, and chips. We help the neighbors walk through the halls of clothes and furniture and DVDs, and we collect the money.

I don't get it, said Apoleen, our sensei, on the first night. Last year, we made 1,700 dollars on Saturday. Today, just over 500. We cranked up the Green Day on the CD player. Teenagers walked in and bought some old movies but just not much movement. We were disappointed, but nothing that couldn't be washed out by a little tequila.

Sunday night, we closed the front door, slammed down the mats for Monday morning's Kendo classes, and sat around the big table in the parking lot. Henry from Aikido grilled burgers. I placed down ten fingers of shot glasses. Katy chopped limes with the edge of her hand.

We've all joined the Sensei Apoleen School for various reasons. Discipline, dealing with fear, with insecurity, or simply wanting to get in better shape. The school is the most disciplined I've ever encountered, with a military precision that I appreciate. But even black belts have to let their hair down.

And during these rough times, I'm reminded of all the different struggling and poor communities I've lived and worked in. People have got to party. People who struggle perhaps know that better than anybody. The economy is in the toilet. My money doesn't stretch like it did. Hell, it doesn't even stretch. Better to laugh a little with everyone else who feels the pinch. Tomorrow, we'll put our belts on and try to kick a little ass. For now, pass the limes.

CHADWICK: Writer Marcos McPeek Villatoro is the author of the Romilia Chacon crime fiction series.

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