Broke and Loving It

San Franciscans write the book(s) on living lean

The scene is the dotcom bust—San Francisco, 2001. Camper English, Dean LaTourrette, and Kristine Enea have recently exited the tech industry. Forced to dial it back, each of these young former professionals finds a new outlet for creativity. The result: a few new books, English's Party Like a Rock Star Even When You're Poor as Dirt and LaTourrette and Enea's Time Off!guides to unemployment, that show the brighter side of being broke.

English, self-described "club trash," became a nightlife reporter post-layoff. After he published a couple of articles on thrifty living, a small gay publisher contacted him about writing a guide to, well, the title really says it all. "I spent about six months buying my scammy friends drinks so they would share all their secrets" to drinking, dancing, and styling for free or cheap, English says.

We're talking, naturally, over a $4 beer in the vast backyard of Zeitgeist, a legendary San Francisco biker bar. "I spent pretty much the whole advance that way." The result is a funny book that blends down-to-earth, detailed advice (sign up on lots of e-mail lists to get free invites and giveaways, wear a crappy jacket and stash it in the corner instead of paying for the club coat check) with outrageous schemes and mean tricks (get a club soda, then bump into someone so it spills and force him to buy you another, you know, vodka tonic.) "The more illegal the things are, the less likely that I've actually done them," explains the cheerful English, whose wraparound sunglasses and vintage-photo tee testify that he's still living the life.

Although the book is pure fun, English, who holds down a part-time administrative job at a hospital for the health insurance, acknowledges a somewhat serious purpose for himself and legions of struggling friends. "I was an unemployed dotcommer, and I was going crazy trying to sit in the house and save money," he says. "If you don't go out and have some fun, you're going to get really depressed."

Dean LaTourrette and Kristine Enea have also run with the notion that unemployment shouldn't condemn you to sit at home feeling sorry for yourself. In fact, says Enea, that can even be counterproductive for your job hunt. "Career counselors say you can't spend all your time in front of the computer sending out résumés and reading rejection letters. Spend 20 to 30 hours a week on that and the rest of the time doing things you like and networking." Their two books, Time Off! The Upside to Downtime, out this June, and last year's Time Off! The Unemployed Guide to San Francisco, are packed with suggestions like these for making the best of enforced free time.

Like so many other good ideas, this one started in a bar. Enea had recently quit her tech job, and her old classmate LaTourrette's company was going under. "We were meeting one afternoon in the Black Horse, the smallest bar in San Francisco," Enea says, when the notion of an "unemployed" guide to San Francisco surfaced. "It was sort of tongue-in-cheek since so many people were laid off and were going to pink-slip parties and things like that. But we realized pretty quickly that we had stumbled across something a lot more serious. People wanted a more leisurely lifestyle and to be pursuing a job that was a little closer to the heart." The two friends ended up writing a pair of guides that not only give suggestions for how to enjoy leisure time without a lot of money—for example, by volunteering, "rediscovering your hometown and spending time with friends and family—but support making the "leisure lifestyle" permanent by finding a job you love so much it doesn't feel like work, as well as where you don't have to spend 80 hours a week to make ends meet. In this, they align themselves with all sorts of movements and organizations promoting a better work-life balance, from Slow Food to flex time to voluntary simplicity.

Both Enea and her partner, as well as English, are themselves putting that philosophy into practice. Enea and LaTourrette self-published their books and formed their own media production company to throw "leisure-promotion" events—essentially, fun parties. English is following a similar route, promoting his book online through a website and blog; he's gotten reviews and mentions as far afield as The Philadelphia Weekly and The Guardian (U.K.). "There's an irony in having to go through an economic downturn to discover what you really want to do," says Enea. "I've talked to a lot of people who have downshifted and are much happier."

 
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