Smoke billows from an Oldsmobile as it idles at the stop light. Rust populates the fender, the muffler is held up by a wire hanger, and the protective plastic strip along the driver’s side door is popped out. Another car pulls up. Daylight dances on the chrome and the paint glistens. In the Olds, a little kid in the backseat presses his face against the small portal hole of a window to take a closer look. With an effortless touch of a button, the shiny car’s window smoothly opens. A woman appears and begins pointing her finger at the Olds. The driver of the Olds grips his window’s handle crank and muscles it down. “Excuse me” she says. “Did you know that your car is smoking?” Before an answer is given, the little kid turns his attention towards me. His eyes are full of fire. “You have no right!” he hisses.
With those words, my eyes popped open. I was three days into the Two Dollar Challenge. I had been limiting my income to $2 a day, sleeping in a make-shift shelter with my students for the past two nights, and adhering to a number of other rules meant to assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of the economic lives of the poor.