“Lucky Leroy” Redefines Greed

Occasionally you will see a story that just makes you shake your head in dismay about what it says about the human condition.

For me, at least, so it is with a story about a guy in Michigan who won $2 million in the state lottery TV show called “Make Me Rich,” but nevertheless remains eligible for food stamps — and continues to use his food stamp card to buy his food.  The man in question, Leroy Fick, says he doesn’t feel bad about still using taxpayer money to buy his food.  Fick’s $2 million lottery winnings don’t disqualify him from a program that is supposed to help the poor because, under current law, food stamp eligibility is based on gross income and lottery winnings are considered liquid assets.  As a result, a guy who has more money in the bank than the vast majority of taxpayers is happy to have those taxpayers pay for his groceries.  What a greedy jerk!

I recognize that this is an extreme case, and obviously the “liquid assets” loophole needs to be fixed.  But what it really sad about this story is that a guy who has had a stroke of incredible good fortune has absolutely no regrets about taking advantage of that loophole, and thereby taking advantage of his fellow citizens.  Why doesn’t “Lucky Leroy” Fick have a conscience that causes him to realize that using his food stamp card under these circumstances is just wrong?

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia.

My 3-month global Eurail pass hasn’t made train travel as easy as I hoped. Often, I’ve had to pay for my train rides – usually 2-10 euros – because tickets are only free on trains that don’t require reservations. A limited number of seats are set aside on each train for Eurail pass holders, and they’re often booked up, forcing you to choose between paying full price for a seat or changing your plans.

I chose the latter option when I learned that all the Eurail-designated seats were taken on the night train from Paris to Barcelona. Roland and I decided to book a flight rather than pay 170 euros each for the train. We found a flight on ryanair.com from Beauvais, a small town only a short, cheap train ride from Paris, to Barcelona for only 70 euros each. It seemed like a great deal at first, but I lost my enthusiasm for it when the airport security made me throw out the shampoo, shaving cream and body wash I had been using since the beginning of the trip, as well as my harmless tableknife.

The Mellow Eco-hostel

In my last post, and in the review I later posted on hostelworld.com, I wrote that our hostel in Paris was the worst I’d stayed at. We must have been due for some good luck, then, because our hostel in Barcelona, the Mellow Eco-hostel, was the best-run hostel I’ve stayed at. It was like a model hostel used to teach new hostel employees what a hostel should be like. There were plenty of showers and bathrooms, the staff were friendly and knowledgable about Barcelona, and the kitchen was fully-equipped with cooking equipment and all the ingredients (vegetable oil, butter, etc.) that you need but are unwilling to buy when you’re only staying somewhere for a week. There were many good hang-out areas, including a patio with an excellent view of the city, and the vending machines had cans of Estrella beer in them for the very reasonable price of one euro. I knew it was a winner when they got us two glasses of ice water when we arrived. Finally, Roland got to stay somewhere that showed him how good a hostel could be.

My only complaint is that to get to the hostel from the metro station, you must climb up these 162 steps:

The 162 steps to the hostel.

After travelling alone for almost two months, it’s been difficult to adjust to having to compromise with Roland on what to do, what to eat, and how to get places; but a little compromise is good while traveling. Roland has introduced a few changes to my routine that I’ll continue after we part ways in Madrid, such as making tuna fish sandwiches for lunch instead of eating the bread and tuna separately. Roland is a much better cook than I am, so nearly every night in Barcelona we cooked pasta with chicken and tomato sauce and chopped onions, carrots, broccoli and zucchini. The night we didn’t cook dinner, we went out for a tapas dinner with plates of potatos, promisciuto, calamari, chicken, olives, and something called “bombas.”

Our tapas dinner.

Roland also persuaded me to go to more art museums than I would’ve gone to myself. Shortly after arriving in the city we went to the Joan Miro museum, which proved to be my favorite of them all, to see the collection of colorful, abstract, emotional paintings and sculptures by the local painter. Afterwards we headed to the nearby MNAC museum of national art, where there was a Courbet exhibit that Roland wanted to see. Later, we visited the Picasso museum, which didn’t impress me much. Although I like Picasso (who was from southern Spain and spent a lot of time in Barcelona), it seems like most of his great works have ended up in other museums. Almost none of his cubist paintings were there. I thought that the most interesting paintings in the museum were the ones he did in his early teenage years, which were so realistically painted that they would hardly look out of place on the walls of the Louvre.

My favorite works of art in Barcelona were the buildings of Gaudi. Gaudi was a Catalan nationalist, and his architectural style seems to have the same wild, colorful vivacity of the paintings of Miro and other Catalan artists going back to the middle ages. They are strikingly beautiful in Barcelona, but they would look out of place in any other city. Unfortunately, his buildings have become the most popular tourist spots in Barcelona.

Gaudi's Casa Battlo apartment building.

The Casa Mila.

Gaudi’s most famous project, the Sagrada Familia cathedral, is still under construction despite having been designed in the late 19th century. Of all the cathedrals I’ve seen on my trip, it’s my favorite. I like the colorful fruits at the tops of the spires and the stonework that looks like the inside of the cave. It communicates a more friendly, optimistic, personal feeling than most cathedrals.

The Sagrada Familia.

I’d been warned that Barcelona had an uncommonly large population of pickpockets (Roland’s aunt had her purse snatched there), but I saw no evidence of crime during my visit, apart from a woman who took a few metro tickets Roland had mistakenly left in the purchasing machine. The metro was exceptionally clean and well run – I never had to wait more than few minutes for a train.

Roland and I spent the first half of our last day in Barcelona hiking up one of the hills on the outskirts of the city, where there’s a beautiful cathedral next a rudely-situated amusement park. We spent the rest of the day at the surprisingly clean beach, full of immigrants selling cold beers for a euro, where I went into the water for a while so I could say I had swum in the Mediterranean.

The view of Barcelona from the cathedral.

The beach.

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

Closing The Loop

New Albany is a good place to live in that is getting better all the time.  However, it does have one drawback — it’s new, and that means there is still a lot of vacant land on which to create subdivisions, plot out new lots, and build new houses.

This fact poses issues for the owners of existing homes who want to sell their properties.  In the current bad economy, the market for real estate is soft everywhere.  When new homes are constantly coming on line, it just makes the market for selling existing homes that much more challenging.  In that respect, New Albany is different from Upper Arlington and Bexley, both of which are established Columbus suburbs where every inch of available ground has long since been the location of a house.  In those communities, if you want to build a new home, you have to buy an existing home and tear it down to do so.

So, for current New Albany homeowners, the familiar sight of yellow construction equipment, pallets of bricks, and building supplies is a double-edged sword.  We know that adding more new homes is going to affect the market for our homes, but we also know that the ultimate goal has to be to build New Albany out so that the market becomes more fixed.  If you’re like us, and don’t have a house on the market right now, you want developers to close the loop and get the new builds done before you put that “For Sale” sign in your yard.