Centralia, PA is an interesting place. It is said that map makers and GPS providers want to take it off the maps. Ever since a seam of coal caught fire below ground decades ago, a smoldering coal fire has burned below this town.
From a town of 2,000 residents, it is down to about 10, but some houses still remain. Main Street is still paved but without a single building on it. Railroad Avenue pushes out steps that once belonged to what look like thriving businesses. All gone now.
Evidence of the mine fire is hard to spot. You need to look near the old cemetery to see smoke and heat that emerge out from cracks in the ground to support the continued claims of the fire that continues to rage below my feet as I stand here.
Walking down a back road and searching for more smoking holes in Centralia I ran into Al and Rob and got a chance to talk to them about the economy, credit and debt.
Al & Rob
These guys are the only two that specifically said they make it a point to pay their credit cards in full each month to avoid paying interest charges.
While they have some distinct opinions about those that have fallen to the doorstep of bankruptcy, they are also forgiving when options are limited. Their comments about the need for savings are important. Rob was rescued by his emergency fund when he was laid off.
Al recommends that people using credit cards need to be responsible for reading the fine print of contracts but he observes that his pest control customers don’t read the contract for his services.
Subscribe to Debt Interviews
You can subscribe to my series of debt interviews through iTunes by clicking here.
Interviewer: I’m standing here in Centralia Pennsylvania with two very fine gentlemen and you are?
Rob Rossie: My name’s Rob Rossie, Rob.
Allen Haber: Allen Haber.
Interviewer: Come here a little closer. All right, now I know why I’m in Centralia Pennsylvania, why are you here?
Allen Haber: Probably the same reason, curiosity.
Interviewer: See the mine fire, yeah.
Allen Haber: Curiosity basically.
Interviewer: Yeah, where you guys from?
Allen Haber: I’m Philadelphia.
Rob Rossie: I live in Hatfield.
Interviewer: Okay, that must be somewhere not too far away?
Rob Rossie: Right outside Philly.
Allen Haber: Yeah.
Interviewer: I been traveling all around the country asking people about the economy, how things are going. What’s your impression? Do you think that things are dire and desperate as we hear on the news all the time?
Allen Haber: In my opinion things are definitely getting better. It was much worse last summer as far as I see things. I own a business and I do see a difference. Things are definitely picking up. It’s not where I want it to be yet, but it’s definitely getting better. To me, over the past couple months it’s been definitely getting better.
Interviewer: Do you think that –
Allen Haber: I’m busy.
Interviewer: Well that’s – what kinda business do you have?
Allen Haber: Pest control.
Interviewer: Okay well there’s –
Allen Haber: I won’t plug it.
Interviewer: Oh that’s okay. Pests never go away do they? It’s –
Allen Haber: They pretty much are here to stay.
Allen Haber: They’ll be here after us.
Interviewer: Now that’s interesting, in the pest control business, people have pest issues all the time but do they make conscious decisions in down times that well, we can’t afford to take care of em?
Allen Haber: Well, that is the problem. People will go out and get the can of Raid. They’ll try anything on their own and then they’ll call me afterward.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s just more expensive that way isn’t it?
Allen Haber: Pretty much, I mean sometimes you could do things on your own but I wouldn’t know cause those people I guess don’t call me because they’re doing their own thing but what could I say?
Interviewer: How about you in your world? What’s the economy like in Hatfield?
Rob Rossie: Well, I work for a big company. I work for Johnson and Johnson and I haven’t really seen, I mean at work it’s been pretty steady for the past couple years cause we haven’t been affected too much. But outside of work I think it is getting better like Al said, over the last year or two with gas prices coming down and people are spending a little more money now I think than they were. People are taking vacations. We’re out all the time on motorcycles. We see people out.
Interviewer: What do you ride?
Rob Rossie: We have a – we both have Kawasaki’s.
Rob Rossie: And we’re all over the place.
Interviewer: I ride too.
Rob Rossie: Oh you do?
Rob Rossie: Yeah, we have the Kawasaki Tours and we go out for a given day, we left this morning at like nine, we’ll go out all day and ride and we don’t even – it doesn’t affect nowadays even with gas prices. We’ll go out. It doesn’t, you know stuff like leisure time like today.
Allen Haber: Cheap day riding.
Rob Rossie: Yeah.
Interviewer: That’s true, it is cheap day. What about people who, you know all over the country there are people that are struggling with credit and debt issues. They got money troubles, they might be worried about their houses, they might file bankruptcy, they feel like losers and rejects. What advice do you have for people who are in that situation?
Rob Rossie: Just ride it out. I was unemployed for 4 or 5 months a couple years ago and it takes a while to recover, even from just a 3 or 4 month layoff. So I can’t even imagine – my heart goes out to people who are still you know for a year or two you get to the point where you just don’t know what to do with yourself.
Interviewer: So now they’re looking down on themselves that somehow they had failed.
Rob Rossie: Same thing happened to me when I was unemployed and you just have to keep going, you have to keep looking and eventually you will find a job and feel better and recover. But yeah, it’s a tough time for a lot of people right now and I’m just lucky right now that it hasn’t really affected me too bad.
Interviewer: All right and how about you? What do you have to say to people who are struggling?
Allen Haber: Save your money, don’t spend it and things will get better. There’s not much more to say. Once you spend the money and make the mistake, there’s no real turning back. Just gotta, like Rob says, stick it out, hang on, things are getting better.
Interviewer: Well you know one of the things I run into are people that are faced with maybe only bankruptcy as a real option but feel that there’s a big stigma or a moral shame about going bankrupt. Do you have any problem if somebody goes bankrupt if they don’t have any other choice?
Allen Haber: Really I don’t have a problem with it. Credit card debt to me though is not a reason. It’s irresponsibility for the most part. Not with everybody, some people are in a jam, they need to charge things but when you owe 10,000 or 20,000 or more on a credit card, then you wanna blame somebody else for it, doesn’t cut it.
Interviewer: How about with you? What do you say?
Rob Rossie: Yeah, like Al said, I think it’s the same kinda thing where – I don’t look down on people that file bankruptcy. But if it’s their own fault and they’re going out and they’re buying stupid stuff and living way out of their means, then I hate to say they deserve it but you have to be a little more careful. And I’m sure people learned. You know that’s probably the only good thing about it is the economy kinda, when it’s this bad I think people kinda learn, well, in the future I’m gonna really make sure I have a couple months saved up.
Interviewer: Yeah, well some people have described it as the teachable moment. It kinda woke a lot of people up that –
Rob Rossie: Oh yeah, yeah I believe that cause we was – I mean it was too good for a long time.
Interviewer: A long time, yeah.
Rob Rossie: People got this false sense of security, they started spending too much money and –
Interviewer: What about credit cards? Have either of you noticed that credit card companies have started reducing limits and raising interest rates?
Allen Haber: I didn’t see that as much. I’m hearing of it. My rate is still the same fixed for I don’t know how many years, probably about eight years now and I never let anything go beyond 30 days so the credit card companies don’t like me. I pay everything off as soon as I get the bill.
Interviewer: Yeah, so you never pay any interest.
Allen Haber: And when it is the rate is like 7.9 I’m paying if I were to pay it and that’s still not – it’s the same as it was for like years. So yeah, some people are paying more but you gotta read the fine print. Don’t sign on something you’re not sure of, especially now.
Interviewer: You know a lot of people don’t read the fine print at all.
Allen Haber: I know, I know.
Interviewer: Now when you sign a – you go to a customer’s house, you have a contract right for pest services?
Allen Haber: Sure.
Interviewer: How many people read that?
Allen Haber: My contract is not even a contract cause we don’t really do contracts. And what is to read there is like three paragraphs, which could be read in like less than a minute. There’s no fine print and like I said, there’s no contract, it’s strictly a 30-day thing. They could add on if they want to. It’s their option, so there’s really no contract with us.
Interviewer: Do you notice people read all three paragraphs or they just sign and forget it?
Allen Haber: Most people don’t even read it; they just sign it, exactly. And I’ll usually read it to them. I’ll let them know what it says at last, just you know, common courtesy.
Interviewer: All right and how about you? Last question, have you noticed any change in credit cards, limits, interest rates, access to credit?
Rob Rossie: No, I’m actually in the same boat as Al cause I have the same cards for years and I don’t carry a balance. So I haven’t really tried to get a new card in so many years. It didn’t really impact me at all so I really don’t know.
Interviewer: All right, well thank you very much gentlemen.
Allen Haber: You are welcome.
Rob Rossie: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Interviewer: All right thanks Rob, thanks guys. Have a safe ride.
Allen Haber: All right, thank you.
Rob Rossie: Hey, thanks a lot man.
Allen Haber: Enjoy.
Interviewer: Bye.An Interview With Two Guys Standing Atop a Burning Coal Mine by Steve Rhode