One hundred and eighty dollars.
That's how much the U.S. government, or rather the lack of a functioning government, cost Todd Dylan on Tuesday.
One hundred and eighty dollars. That's a day's pay, which Todd would have earned had he entered the gate at Offutt Air Force Base at dawn and begun inspecting the navigational system of an Air Force spy plane to ensure that it was flight-ready.
That is Todd's job: making sure planes are safe. That's what the government hired him to do.
One hundred and eighty dollars. That's the money Todd counts on to pay the mortgage on his little house in Bellevue and the payment on his little Ford Focus. The money he uses to support the city's restaurants and bars and bike shops when he has some left over. Maybe the government will pay him that money when the shutdown is over, like it did the last time the government shut down in 1995. Maybe not. No one seems to know.
One hundred and eighty dollars. It isn't all that much, except Todd is worried he may lose $180 on Wednesday, $180 on Thursday, $180 on Friday, and then $900 next week.
Not that much money until you realize that in Todd's group, 50 civilian mechanics are furloughed, and some have kids they are putting through college or grandkids they send to day care.
Until you realize that Todd Dylan is an Air Force veteran, who spent a year of his life in the Middle East, and all he expects in return is an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. Until you realize that this isn't just about $180.
“I grew up trusting the government,” the 31-year-old says as he sits on his front porch. “I would like it if I could be confident that they would be there for me.”
He lights a cigarette.
“This is insane, isn't it?” he says.
He wants to quit smoking. Today is a bad day for that.
“I guess I should start updating my résumé.”
Todd and I sit on his front porch on this Tuesday afternoon, and we look up and down the quiet, tree-lined street of this Bellevue neighborhood near Fontenelle Forest.
Before I showed up, Todd had been inside staring at the TV, watching politicians and talking heads yammer about this shutdown like it's an abstract thing.
They talk like it's somebody else's fault, Todd thinks. Like it's somebody else's problem.
And now Todd looks up and down Logan Avenue, and he takes his Marlboro Light and points it across the street. An airman lives over there with his family, he says.
The airman is not going to be furloughed, but how much slack will he have to pick up because people like Todd are?
Todd points down the block. Another civilian employee lives down there, he says.
Maybe he had the same type of Tuesday as Todd did. Maybe he went in, signed some paperwork, made some dark jokes about going broke, cursed Congress with his colleagues and drove home 20 minutes later.
News reports say about 800,000 government employees had that sort of Tuesday.
There's no doubt that some of these people are crummy at their jobs, unworthy of their positions, fat that could be trimmed from the bone, Todd thinks.
There's also no doubt that many of these people are employees who make the federal government a tiny bit better when they show up for work every morning.
“I have friends who go up in those planes,” Todd says of his job. “I take pride in making sure they are safe.”
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
A decent chunk of these 800,000 workers, including Todd, have already been furloughed for five days this year because of budget cuts that are part of the sequester.
And now, Todd thinks, well-heeled politicians who have never worked for a twice-a-month paychecks in their lives are yanking more workdays away from them. Maybe it will last one day. Maybe 30. Nobody knows.
“A week ago, we evidently had enough money to go bomb Syria,” Todd says. “And now we can't figure out how to pay these people?”
If the government is still broken tomorrow, maybe Todd will hike in Fontenelle Forest or bike one of the local trails.
If it's still broken the day after that, maybe he will get rid of those dead limbs in the backyard.
He will update his résumé, and if the shutdown lasts much longer, he will start trying to figure out how unemployment works.
In his free time, Todd is a stand-up comedian, so he's thinking he might try to squeeze a couple jokes out of the government shutdown.
But then he thinks about the Offutt planes that will eventually start to stack up, awaiting maintenance. He thinks about his car payment due on the 14th, and a mortgage payment due on Halloween.
He thinks about those things, and then he doesn't feel very funny.
“I just want to do my job,” he says, and he stubs out his cigarette, shakes my hand and goes inside to see if the government is running yet.