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TimeSpace: Half A Tank

Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

In Las Vegas, A Slow Recovery


Cynthia Lucero goes through a scrapbook that holds photos of some of the things her family lost in the last year. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

It took just three months for Cynthia and Timothy Lucero to lose it all -- the 22-foot boat, the Ford Bronco and the three-bedroom house in a neighborhood where their two teenage sons felt safe.

It will take much longer, the Las Vegas couple said, for them to get any of that back.

“It’ll take a year for me to get on my feet, but it’s slowly going uphill,” Timothy Lucero said. “At least it’s not going downhill. I don’t know if it could have gone much more downhill.”

When Michael and I first met the Luceros toward the end of July, they were living in a two-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood where clothes left outside to dry risked being stolen. Their gas had been shut off. They were behind on rent. And to pay for groceries, they often resorted to pawning their sons’ Xbox (only to buy it back when they could).

“I can totally understand where this recession is hitting,” Cynthia told me at the time. “It’s hitting me in every single way.”

To update you on some of the people we met during our summer-long journey through the United States, I called the Luceros, wondering if their circumstances had changed at all. I dialed not knowing--but fearing--that they wouldn't even have the cell phone I was calling. (When we last saw the family, they were down to one phone for the four of them. They had also, in a desperate but painful move, given up their two dogs, Mater and Cooper. Pictures of the two adorned family scrapbooks).


Cynthia and Timothy Lucero look over a family scrapbook that features photos of their dogs, Cooper and Mater. They had to give up both animals because they could not afford to keep them. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

The phone rang twice before Timothy answered. He was at work. He sounded happy.

“I’ve been working every day,” he said. “It feels good.”

An asphalt paver earning $17 an hour, Timothy said his hours are inconsistent and his boss has warned the crew that they should “take it while they got it, because they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” But so far, he said, there has been enough work that he's been able to come off unemployment and even hire two of his friends. He's also told his sons, ages 13 and 17, that the family will no longer have to keep the Xbox in hock.

“We’re slowly catching up on our bills and as soon as I get a chance, I want to get us out of that apartment,” he said.

But Cynthia, who handles the bills, said the family is barely digging out of the hole they had fallen into and won't have their old life back anytime soon.

The gas remains turned off, which means dinner is still cooked on a hot plate. The family's 1998 Buick--their only car other than the one Timothy's job lends him--still needs a new transmission. And lately, the couple's youngest son has decided he wants a job. “He said, ‘Mom I’m just tired of being broke as a joke,’” Cynthia said.

Still, there is reason for optimism. There is now an income where there had been only unemployment.

"It’s been a slow progress,” Cynthia said. “It’s not enough where I feel comfortable, but I can see some improvement.”

Her short-term goal: to have the gas turned on by winter. Her long-term hope: to get completely caught up on bills so that by next year, she and her husband might have $150 in their savings account.

“That’s my biggest hope,” she said. “I’m not reaching for the stars."


Cynthia Lucero stands in front of the hot plate she has cooked on since the gas in the family's apartment was turned off. She chats with her 13-year-old son, David, about what she should make for dinner. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

By Theresa Vargas  |  September 29, 2009; 11:26 AM ET
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Next: Possessions Lost, Perspective Found


Best of luck to the family! I am happy to hear things are looking up. When the whole family gets involved it is much easier to pull yourself out of a hole. I think this couple has shown that by scaling back and really making tough choices they were able to keep the family afloat! This story should be a lesson to others out there that when things start to go bad, you have to make some tough choices and change the way you live. So many people think they are able to keep the life style even if they lose the job that afforded the life!
Great reporting! thank you!

Posted by: keb09 | September 30, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

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