Silent Sorrow: Filming “7 Days @ Minimum Wage”


God knows I’ve wanted to scribe on Carless in the past few days. Especially with juicy tidbits floating around, like Crain’s (and Chicagoist’s) call for the CTA to dump Frank Kruesi, Daley finally wanting to sell off Grant Park’s debt-ridden downtown garages, and Allstate Insurance tossing a car off of Marina City’s west tower in a commercial reshoot of the classic parking-ramp plunge from The Hunter.

But I’ve been preoccupied. Last week I wrote that I was helping to produce a national video blog kicking off on October 23, 7 Days @ Minimum Wage (as in, seven days at minimum wage), highlighting the hardships people go through when they’re stuck–through no fault of their own–at the bottom of the wage ladder. I thought I would just be doing Internet outreach coordination, the occasional pitch call, standard media stuff.

I never thought I’d be called on to interview anyone. But this past week was crunch time and I had a video camera. So I mobilized my friends and colleagues and set out to find a few folks who wanted to tell America their stories of living at a wage that, though legal, is in most cases incapable of allowing anyone to pay rent. Or in the case of one woman I interviewed over the weekend, to buy food for both her and her four children.

When someone not much different than you, about your age, sitting five feet away, begins to cry uncontrollably because she tells you–and maybe you’re the first person she’s ever admitted it to–that she can’t figure out anymore how to feed her family on a consistent basis and doesn’t feel like she has a future, it’s hard not to put down the camera you’ve got pointed in her face and reach out to hug her. Pretty much all you can do is cry with her too, trying to keep the picture from shaking around too badly or your own sobbing from being picked up on the mic.

This was my experience more than once in the past few days. In Chicago. In Hammond. Different people with different backgrounds, all united by the burning desire to get the hell out of poverty. And all uttering the words, through unexpected, bitter tears, “I hate it.”

I didn’t know what I was bargaining for when I came on board with 7 Days. The press releases say Roseanne Barr is our celebrity host. Barbara Ehrenreich (of Nickel and Dimed fame) may host a chat. Those aren’t bad things. They’ll help get the word out.

But, funny thing. When you say you’re going to tell people’s life stories, then you get to hear people’s life stories. Real people. Just like you and me. Except at the end of their rope–for reasons that could just as easily put you and me there. Chance. Accident. Bad choices. Bad luck.

I knew the people we’d interview wouldn’t be happy. I knew talking about their situations would be difficult for them. I knew they would be in pain.

I just never thought I’d feel it, too.

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