Jean Barker

Uber Storage Hell

2016-08-26 07:38

Jean Barker

“So what else do you do?” I ask my Uber Driver? Uber Driving (or Lyft) is the limbo of jobs in LA. You do it while you pay off the car, or in the hours after your first job. You do it while you’re between jobs. Every uber driver has some other job, even if it’s an imaginary job, also known as “a dream”.

I’ve heard “I’m a businessman, but I haven’t started my company yet”. I’ve heard “I’m really an actor (and here’s my card)” and of course, “I am working on a screenplay”.

But one of my favorite answers took a while to get out of the guy.

I asked: “So, what else do you do?”

He said “You won’t like me if I tell you.”

So obviously I had to know. I began to guess.

“You work for Donald Trump?” No.

“You… own a late night ‘massage parlor’ staffed by ‘manicurists’?” No.

“You’re in marketing for the NRA?” No.

Hmmm. “Obviously, you are an illegal arms dealer. You can let me out here.”

He laughed: “No… but that reminds me of something that happened once.

As we drew closer to my destination, UHaul Self-Storage, he finally confessed to his dirty sideline: “I auction off the contents of storage units. Like on Storage Wars – but without the cameras”, he says.  

Guns? Drugs? Jewels?

I was delighted.

“That’s awesome! So you found a storage unit full of guns?”

“Yeah, he said. “Well, not really. I once auctioned off a storage unit full of money… and there were also a few guns.”

“That’s a movie” I said, thinking, “Maybe I’ll write it”.

“Yeah. But mostly, it’s just junk”, he said. “It breaks my heart. Like, people spend $39.99 a month storing broken couches and ugly pictures of trees and stuff, for like, six years. That’s a lot of money if you like, add it up.”

“They could have gone on a trip!” I say.

“Or bought some like, really cool stuff”, he replies.

So $39.99 x 12 x 6. That’s $2879.28. That’s enough to go on a pretty great holiday. Or buy a few iPhones, or about 280 crappy tops made by children in foreign countries from Forever21. What’s sad is it’s also enough to replace everything that’s in most of those storage units, a few times over, presuming you bought stuff of the same quality at Goodwill (or even new at Ikea). 

This article on US clutter stats tells a story of the obsessive role that ownership of stuff plays in American life (which, let’s face it, probably predicts the life of most middle class people worldwide).

The scariest stat of all?

This: “The United States has upward of 50 000 storage facilities. There is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing.”

I think of those people, who couldn’t bring themselves to throw away their stuff. 

My gut tells me they’re not really that different to the homeless guy wandering around with a shopping cart full of magazines, broken radios, dead TVs and filthy pillows mixed in with unrecyclable bottles...just a little bit wealthier. Somehow, this garbage became treasured. Why? Somehow, this junk, this mere stuff, defines the owner. What other reason could there be to keep it?

I’ve been forced to shed my stuff, over and over. The only thing I carry everywhere, is this card I stole from my parents’ Monopoly set when I left home after high school.

Jean earned an MFA in Directing and Screenwriting and works in the LA film industry. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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