Who Wants to Be a Thousandaire?

A shabby blue, rusted-out Nissan Sentra from the Reagan era is streaming up 101 north carrying two young men who dub themselves "Millionaires in the Making." Otis, 19, and his partner Willis, 23, are driving to Sausalito to make a "drop" to some "rich kid dope fiends."

It's just one stop on what Otis calls "the paper route:" picking up and delivering methamphetamines all over the Bay Area, from Marin to Martinez. They claim to have once turned a $10,000 profit in a single day. But they have a larger vision: they're taking the money from the paper route and investing it in the stock and real estate market. The promise of profit gets them out of bed in the morning. As Otis put it, "If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense."

Money hunger is plaguing my generation. Though I can safely say that I would not employ such tactics, there's still a part of me that is restless and wonders, "If I don't make a million now, when will I?" The electrified atmosphere of the New Economy -- of wealth and cash and its consequential sense of urgency -- is driving some young people mad. Every day, there is another young millionaire who made their fortune in the tech world (their website gets bought out, they invent a product) which creates "dollar dementia" for those on the other side of the digital divide.

It's unclear whether the money itself or the drive to acquire it is trickling down from the top. But one thing is certain: if you grew up broke and you're not techno-savvy, you still want to be rich. What are your options? I talked to some friends of mine who are trying to build their fortunes in other arenas. It seems the attitude toward monetary gain is the same across the board whether the methods be traditional, unconventional or flat-out illegal. Dope dealers and dot commers, strippers and stock brokers share the same philosophy when it comes to the almighty dollar.

Growing Up Wanting
Otis explained that his obsession with fund raising has to do with growing up with nothing. He came of age in a run-down neighborhood full of "tweakers," or meth addicts, with a drug-addicted mother. Their family was dependent on government assistance, most of which went to support his mother's habit. His father was an alcoholic who rarely made an appearance, and Otis was left to provide for himself however he could.

"I remember seeing other kids wearing Jordans and having their own Nintendo," Otis lamented. "I wore the same dirty rags every day and my fridge was empty. Now, I practically got a cow in the freezer. " Otis noted that things have changed since elementary school in other ways, too. Now he sees people his age wearing designer suits and driving European luxury cars. But he keeps things in perspective. "This is America, man. Money is the great equalizer. If I'm wearing Versace and mashin' around in a [BMW] M3, nobody would ever know that I came up broke."

Climbing the Ladder
Sitting in a cluttered, musty living room, David, 18, is smoking cigarette after cigarette, lighting one off the other. He keeps his eyes in his lap and his head rests in his palms for most of our conversation. His eyes dart around and he whispers as he speaks as if what he's telling me is top secret.

David is taking a series of tests to be a certified Microsoft engineer. He's been told by his instructor (whose name he didn't want to give, as the "classes" might not be entirely legit) that once he passes the tests, he'll be guaranteed a job starting at a minimum of $60,000 a year. Apparently, Microsoft engineers are in demand.

He dropped out of community college in his second semester earlier this year to focus his energy on the tests and certification. He says he has no plans of going back to school, as he'll be "too busy making money."

David was born in Russia under communist rule and his family moved to the U.S. when he was eleven. Though he was young, he says he can still recall the initial shock of moving to a country where capital is everything. David says that his parents still tell him how grateful he should be to be living in a place where he's allowed to make as much money as his own drive will allow.

"Working with computers doesn't really interest me, but it allows me to make a lot of money," he said. "I don't really think I can be truly happy unless I have a lot of money. So, in a sense, this prospect is about my happiness as a person, my personal well-being."

Happiness is a pair of Gucci sandals
"For me, it's all about havin' thangs," said "Violet", a 19-year-old stripper at La Gals. "I think the happiest moment in my life was last year when I bought these little Gucci sandals. It was the first nice thing that I had bought with my own money. I swear, I almost started to cry when I was in line waiting to pay for them." Now, Violet claims to have over thirty pairs of designer shoes, several purses and a countless number of outfits. She's leasing an Infinity Q45, but has no place to sleep. She doesn't seem bothered by that. Nor does she seem bothered by her line of work.

"Ass is ass, you know? Sex and intimacy are two very different things. Sex is cash, it's like a form of currency...I don't feel degraded at all [by what I do] because I'm actually bettering myself--I'm making money. I feel like I'm getting over on these men who pay me to sit on their laps and bounce."

Refusing to Lose
The three didn't talk a lot about their plans for the future. There were, however, hints that money served as a fountain of youth. Any mention of raising a family or living a standard, suburban life was hurriedly doused with talk of wealth and possessions. "I'm not gonna sell myself short and just be on this earth makin' children", Otis scoffed. "I won't settle for less. I refuse to lose."

Violet echoed the children-as-obstacles sentiment. "The worst thing I think that could happen to me is that I would get pregnant. And I don't mean just 'cause I'm young or whatever. [Having a child] would just be something in the way of what I gotta do for me."

David shows signs of regret and reluctancy too. At one point while we were talking, he got solemn and furrowed his brow. He spoke about how he feels like he may have let his parents down by dropping out of school. But before he could finish the thought, he took a drag from his cigarette, scratched his near-bald head with the base of his palm and spoke slowly and intensely with a hint of masked misery. "I'm not patient person," he admitted. "I can't handle watching time pass me by. I want it all. And I want it now."

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