The Town Where Americans Still Write Checks, and Other Notes on Rural Economics

In the trailer just behind the post office, that’s how I tell people where to find me—and it’s often that I have to tell people where to find me. Addresses are no good here, though they function better for out-of-towners, like me, than for the locals. Hillsboro, West Virginia, where I live, only switched last year from using the old route model—numbered county highways—to street names, and to house numbers instead of boxes at the end of the road. The state decided to revamp the nomenclature of all its rural areas, worried that emergency services wouldn’t otherwise be able to find people in need.

What the state Department of Transportation didn’t consider is that many roads aren’t marked with signs, and many houses, like mine, don’t have visible numbers. When I got a flat tire and called AAA, the woman at the call center couldn’t find my location on the map, though I described it in detail, named the numbered route and cross street. The local mechanic she connected to called me back and asked if I lived locally. Yeah, I told him—I’m in that gas station parking lot just past the grocery store, near the fairgrounds—and he found me, no trouble at all. Despite living directly behind the post office, I can’t get mail here because there’s nowhere to direct it; instead, a numbered post office box is my most permanent claim on the world.

Last week I called the bank and ordered new checks, which I’d been meaning to do for months, because for the first time in my life I was running out.

Five Incidents of Tuning in to Money

I’m an AmeriCorps member, serving as a quasi-social worker helping low-income families with their financial difficulties. I’m explaining to my client in painfully incompetent Spanish that there’s nothing she can do legally, that the landlord’s letter she handed me says she needs to move herself and her family out of their apartment by tomorrow, that the county will probably offer her shelter since her kids have social security numbers, even though she doesn’t.

Can I Bail On Americorps for My Dream Job?

I find out tomorrow whether or not I have the publishing internship. Should I take it—bail on Americorps and children who need my help, take the risk that I might be unemployed again in three months—or stick with the job that I know I have?

It Turns Out My Work Ethic Is Pretty Flexible

As it turns out, God and country is trumped by my desire for cold hard cash.

Can I Afford to Help People?

In the fall I’m going teach childhood literacy as an AmeriCorps member in Minneapolis.

The job description says that the pay is approximately $900/mo., but other AmeriCorps members have told me that after-tax take-home pay is more like $800/mo. That’s $200/week, $9,600/year—a small number no matter how you phrase it. I’m passionate about childhood literacy—it’s why I applied for AmeriCorps in the first place—but before committing to the job I had to take a serious look at my finances. Could I afford to spend this year making such a small salary?