December 17, 2007 -- "DON'T believe the naysayers. The American Dream - the fable that says if you work hard and follow the rules, you'll make it - is alive and well.
Adam Shepard set out on July 24, 2006, with $25 and the clothes on his back. No cellphone, credit cards or global-positioning software.
His goal was to end a year with $2,500, an apartment and a car. Three rules: 1. He could not use his education. 2. He could contact no one to bail him out. 3. "I couldn't start charging stuff on my Visa."
Well, Adam didn't do it in a year. He made it out of poverty in just under six months.
Now, he's publishing a book, which can be found on the Internet at scratchbeginnings.com.
"If you can slop it out for a year, if you can take the bus or walk or ride your bike, if you can work hard, anybody can make it," he said. "The American Dream is not dead."
It's amazing that Adam, 25, even tried. His only guide to this project was Barbara Ehrenreich's negative book, "Nickel and Dimed." In it, the author tells of slumming it with minimum-wage workers, who she concluded were mired hopelessly in poverty.
"It was the victim mentality," Adam said.
Adam decided to live in Charleston, SC. He spent the first night in a homeless shelter, without a toothbrush, soap or exit strategy.
The next day, he found a day job as a laborer, making $6.50 an hour. After taxes and $5 for transportation, he earned just over $30 - enough for shampoo, a towel and his one luxury, conditioner. He ate Vienna sausages from the dollar store.
One day, a shelter resident revealed the secret of steady employment. "Go in and tell the managers you're the greatest worker on the planet!"
Adam applied to a moving company. "I told the manager I'm the greatest mover on the planet. He didn't believe me, but he liked my attitude."
There were setbacks. He broke his big toe and lost two weeks of work. But pretty soon, he shared an apartment in a sketchy part of town. He bought an $800 truck, paying half up-front.
On June 11, 2006, he made it. Adam had $2,500.11, a place to live, and a working truck. He'd stick it out another six months. In the end, he had $5,500.
"It's all about choices. I was scraping by - not eating out, getting my clothes from Goodwill. I could spend my money on beer and cigarettes and lottery tickets, or I could live on Rice-A-Roni."
Funny thing, he never got all obese and slow and whiny either. Because thats supposed to happen when one is living on "poor people food". He could have spent what little disposable income he had on the two mainstays of the victim wannabe; KFC, LOTS of KFC, and grass. The slickest cellphone with tons of minutes, thats important too. Cable with every channel humanly possible and then some. I could go on but most of you get the drift. Think I'll go order the kid's book. Under $20 including shipping and get four for free delivery.