Book Review: Scratch Beginnings

Posted by Dave W. | Sunday, March 02, 2008 | 0 comments |

When you think you have it rough, remember someone out there always has it worse. That’s the message Scratch Beginnings: Me, 25 Dollars and the Search for the American Dream delivers. While most recent college grads are out starting their careers and partying on the weekends, Adam Shepard chose a dramatically different route. Adam wrote this book in response to Nickel And Dimed, a book by Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich set out to find out whether a person could live on $7/hour. She worked various jobs in different areas of the country and concluded that it was impossible for someone to survive on minimum wage and were destined to stay in poverty. Shepherd felt Ehrenreich was taking a victim mentality and set out to prove her wrong.

So what did he do? Armed with $25, a sleeping bag, an empty gym bag and a 8×10 foot tarp, Shepard picked a city out of a hat (Charleston, SC) and left on a train. His goal was to have $2,500 in savings, a furnished apartment and a car within one year of leaving home. Adam had some rules: He couldn’t beg for money, sleep on the street or use any connections or his college degree to find employment. On his first night in Charleston, after being approached by several beggars, he was nearly beat up by someone he mistakenly thought was begging for money. Adam did not sleep on the floor with his sleeping bag on the advice of the shelter due to the risk of getting scabies. Shepard would spend the next 2 months in a homeless shelter while working day jobs for $30-$40/day after taxes. He was then able to afford to get his own place, the attic above someone’s house that he did landscaping work (pulling weeds) for. He would eventually find a job moving furniture. It was here that Adam would meet Derrick Hale, a fellow mover, who would prove to be an inspiration on Shepard’s mission. He would also meet Derrick’s brother and future roommate, BG (short for Bubble Gum, BG’s childhood nickname).

Eventually he was able to get enough money together to move out of the attic apartment and into a house with BG. Adam was extremely frugal (aside from the Sunday trip to Mama D’s Dirty South Barbeque). He would shop for clothes at Goodwill, buy in bulk and all but eliminate entertainment expenses. BG, on the other hand, would spend his money on beer and lottery tickets. He would borrow Adam’s car, not refill the gas tank and not chip in on the food expenses. This, coupled with the fact that BG and Adam worked on the same moving crew, caused a lot of tension in the house. This would lead to a fistfight that Adam was on the losing end of. Adam did earn BG’s respect though and they would eventually make up.

I really enjoyed this book; I read through it in about 3 nights before bed. Adam glamorized nothing about his journey and it made me think twice when I complain about situations in my life. Some critics have argued that Adam wasn’t really homeless and this book was an affront to those that are. They also said that he was taking up a spot from someone that really needed it just for the sake of selling books. Whether he was or wasn’t, for the time he was in the shelter, he was indeed homeless. From what I gather, there was still room on the floor for another if needed. Could Adam have quit anytime and went home to his parents? Yes, I suppose he could have. There certainly would’ve been a lot easier ways to make a buck. But he didn’t. And that’s the point, he saw the journey through when most would’ve bailed.

Well you know that Adam got his apartment and a car (a $1000 pickup that Adam needed a screwdriver to start). But the story doesn’t end there, you’ll have to get the book to find out what happens after that.