Not having a car is a fantastic way to save money. The typical American spends more than $10,000 a year gassing, maintaining, parking, and paying taxes on his or her car. And while Seattle isn't the easiest city in the world to navigate carless—even though the first light-rail line opens this year, we can't compete with transit cities like Chicago, New York, or San Francisco—a bike, a few Metro bus schedules (or a BlackBerry or iPhone with access to www.onebusaway.org), a membership to Zipcar (www.zipcar.com), and a little patience should be enough to get you around the city without too much pain and suffering. Just remember: Metro is not a cab (take a book, prepare for delays, and learn how to share space with others), a bike is not a car (watch where you're going, ride defensively, and wear a helmet), and bumming rides is only cool if you offer to help pay for gas.
First, ask around. You'd be surprised how many people (your parents? Your friends? Your friends' parents?) have an old bike lying around. But you must get the bike tuned up (around $40, or have a bike-geek friend do it in exchange for beer—having brakes that work: priceless). If you have to buy a bike and you have money to spend, the best bet is a new hybrid bike from a brand like Marin or Giant, which will set you back between $300 and $500. The advantages: They usually come with some sort of warranty (or at least a free initial tune-up), and you know what you're getting—used bikes could be damaged in ways that aren't initially obvious (like a bent frame). If you decide to buy a used one, go with a reputable store: Recycled Cycles in the U-District has a good selection. You need a helmet, and if you're going to ride at night, a front and back light. And a back fender is a good idea.
Is there a better job than being a drug dealer? There isn't. Fact. And there's no better time to get into the business than right now. An overburdened jail and court system means you're not likely to get prosecuted for minor drug offenses in King County, especially if you're only selling weed. Countywide budget cuts have forced courts to brush away folks charged with possessing up to 100 grams of pot or 12 marijuana plants; up to three grams of cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine (but don't use or deal heroin or methamphetamine, okay?); up to 20 ecstasy pills; or up to 50 prescription pills.
Again, definitely illegal, but landing in the slammer is less likely than ever. If you get arrested—which probably means you just weren't cut out for being in this line of work, anyway—you may walk away with a gross misdemeanor on your record, which is, well, not the felony you would have been charged with when the economy was better and the courts had more money. As a bonus to being able to get high and play video games on your couch for a living, you'll be that much closer to living out that Tony Montana fantasy you've had since you were 15 and gain some good material for your forthcoming rap album. Now all you have to do is find somebody who can afford to buy your shit.
The whole point of unemployment benefits is to help people who have been screwed over by a recession, or by sudden big-business downsizing, or by some other economic force of nature. If you want to receive unemployment benefits, you need to be among the screwed over.
This means no getting shit-canned for stealing paper clips or quitting in a huff over something stupid. "If you were fired or voluntarily quit, typically you wouldn't be eligible for unemployment," says Mark Varadian, spokesman for Washington State's Employment Security Department. (There are some exceptions if you're forced to quit for a "good cause" reason. For example: your pay and/or hours have been reduced by 25 percent or more; your spouse is in the military and has been transferred, forcing you to relocate; or your employer is allowing illegal activities or unsafe working conditions.)
Your employer regularly pays into the state fund that distributes unemployment benefits, and in general, a business has to pay more into this fund if it has a history of layoffs. Which creates the possibility of a perverse incentive—essentially, it can be in your employer's financial interest to have you quit (or find cause to fire you) rather than lay you off. Questions? Fears? Employment lawyers aren't cheap, but they do know the ins and outs of this. And while the state unemployment hotline (800-318-6022) can't give out legal advice, it's a free resource and can advise you of all the job- departure scenarios in which you will (or won't) get unemployment benefits.
Apply online (www.esd.wa.gov). If you must file your unemployment claim by phone, don't hang up if you're put on hold. On a recent Saturday, most calls to the state unemployment hotline were answered in two minutes—but most people who were put on hold waited only a minute and a half before giving up. "You have to be patient," Mark Varadian of the Employment Security Department says. "If you are on hold, don't hang up, because when you call back you're going to be at the end of the line." (The hotline number: 800-318-6022. The hotline hours: weekdays 8 am–5 pm, Sat 8 am–noon. Best times to call: Wednesday and Thursday morning. Worst time to call: Monday morning.)
What do you need to know before you sit down at the computer or pick up the phone? "You need to know the names and addresses of all your employers for the past two years," Varadian says. "You also need to know your start dates and end dates, and why you lost your job." That's it. Your employers will report how much you were paid and the Employment Security Department will calculate your benefits based on those reports.
It's complicated, and the best way to figure it out is to go to www.esd.wa.gov/uibenefits/benefitcheck/how-much.php. But briefly: Say you're filing for unemployment sometime this month, March. If so, your unemployment check will be based on what you made between the fourth quarter of 2007 (Oct, Nov, Dec) and the third quarter of 2008 (July, Aug, Sept)—specifically, on the average of your two highest-grossing quarters within that period of time. By looking at paycheck stubs, you can figure out which were your highest-grossing quarters, add the gross income from those two quarters together, divide by two, and multiply that figure by .0385. This will be your weekly check amount within a decent degree of accuracy. For example, if you were making $36,000 a year back then, with no raises and no breaks in employment, your weekly benefit amount would probably be around $346 per week. The bottom of the current weekly-benefit scale is $129 per week, and the current top of the scale is $541 per week. But thanks to the passage of the recent federal and state stimulus bills, weekly unemployment-benefit checks will be going up, with the Feds giving you $25 more per week (retroactive to Feb 22, but not showing up in your unemployment checks until first week of May) and the state giving you $45 more per week (effective the first week of May).
Artists have been doing it forever. The performer and Free Sheep Foundation cofounder DK Pan, for instance, has been paid about $10,000 over the last decade for the medical experiments he's taken part in. One involved him taking an antipsychotic drug with 30 other men, all of them sitting around a table and trying to stay active for six hours while testers yelled at them to keep them awake. Another involved being hooked up to a morphine drip and given electric shocks. But those were exceptions. In general, he says, "It's boring and just involves a lot of blood draws." The main lab looking for subjects locally is Charles River Clinical Services Northwest in Tacoma (3615 Pacific Ave, 877-NW-STUDY). You can also sell your blood plasma ($20–$50 each time, Biomat USA, 7726 15th Ave NW, 782-6675, don't bother if you're a sexually active man who has sex with men), sperm ($60–$100 per shot, Seattle Sperm Bank, 4915 25th Ave NE #204, 588-1484), eggs (up to $5,500, www.overlakereproductivehealth.com), or hair (www.thehairtrader.com). On the Hair Trader, the record sale is a 37-inch dark-blond-with-red-highlights ponytail from the head of a girl in Wenatchee, Washington, for which she got $2,600.
Want more? Be paid to drink socially: Call UW Project FRESH at 543-5536. Be paid to eat carbs for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (if you're a healthy, overweight, nonsmoking man aged 18–45): 667-2547 or www.carbstudy.org. Get a $30 Safeway card to smoke or not smoke: Call 543-7680 or e-mail email@example.com. Get paid to continue having Irritable Bowel Syndrome: 616-9955. Get paid to have skin biopsies if you've had nongenital HSV-2 (herpes): 720-4340 or visit www.herpes.washington.edu.
The day-labor market isn't exactly booming, but it's an option. Time was, you could show up at the Millionair Club Charity (2515 Western Ave, 728-5627) between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m., sign up, and probably be out on a job that afternoon, making at least $9 an hour gardening, pulling carpet tacks out of hardwood floors, and so on. Not anymore. According to spokesperson Deborah Crawley, the number of people looking for work has gone up 15 percent and the number of people looking for workers has gone down 15 percent. The hall is full every day, she says, and if 30 out of the assembled 125 find work, "it's a good day." (Winter is slow, anyway.) CASA Latina (2330 Western Ave, 229-2272) has a similar day-labor program with similarly grim numbers. Unofficially, the Lowe's parking lot (2700 Rainier Ave S) is the place to hang out and wait for day-labor work. Even if the Millionair Club probably can't find you work, it can get you fed. Around 500 people a day eat breakfast and lunch there. Anyone can eat, no membership or faked enthusiasm for Jesus necessary. Last December, the Club served its 10 millionth meal.
Ironically, due to massive budget cuts, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has completely overhauled how it prosecutes crimes like theft, forgery, possession of stolen property, organized theft, identity theft, money laundering, insurance fraud, and burglary. If you're smart about what you steal, and keep your crime under $1,000, you're not likely to face felony charges. (It's possible your case could get kicked down to the municipal courts, but then it's only a misdemeanor. And hell, you may not even get caught.) Some officers in the Seattle Police Department already say they're hesitant to do anything other than catch and release small-time shoplifters and petty criminals, and the King County Sheriff's Office has also said it will be hard-pressed to investigate low-level property crimes.
According to law-enforcement sources, "most of the stuff" on Craigslist is stolen, but there's not much the police can do. Just make sure you're not offering a too-good-to-be-true discount. That's what the cops are looking for. Two final pieces of advice: Don't go stealing cars (the county still has a mad-on for car thieves), and don't rob a bank (two-thirds of bank robbers get caught, and the average amount obtained in bank robberies is $10,000—not nearly enough to live somewhere warm for the rest of your life sipping drinks with tiny paper umbrellas in them).
First and foremost, lock your shit up! Thieves and marauders won't be able to gain easy access to the contents of your home, car, or CB-2000 if you just take this one little step. Get a U-lock for your bike. Don't ever leave anything of any value visible in your car. Carry a fake wallet around—filled with a few bucks and a worthless ID card—if you're worried about getting mugged. Listen to your gut. And call the Seattle Police Department if you believe you're in any real danger.
If you're low-income—it varies based on family size, but a two-person household making between $758 and $2,333 a month qualifies—you may be eligible for the Washington Basic Health program (www.basichealth.hca.wa.gov), which provides preventive, mental health, urgent, and other basic care for little or no cost. However, because the budget for Basic Health was cut last year, you may have to wait a while to get a slot in the system. Even if you don't qualify, everyone is entitled to use King County Public Health clinics (http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health.aspx), which offer low- or no-cost medical services including family planning, immunizations, STD screening, and basic health care. The downside: long waits. There are also a number of privately run community health centers—Country Doctor Community Clinic (500 19th Ave E, 299-1600) is probably the best known—that serve people on a sliding scale throughout King County. A complete list of community clinics is also available on the county health department's website. Although the county offers some dental care, you can also get low-cost cleanings and other services at the University of Washington School of Dentistry (www.dental.washington.edu). And for family planning, STD treatment and screening, and abortion referrals, go to Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org/ppgnw).
There's only one guaranteed method to pass a drug test: Don't do drugs. But you'd have to be high to choose that method. Realistically, passing your test is more difficult than it was a decade ago, when a glut of products cleaned urine with reliable results. As technology to detect those products advances, fewer and fewer work. The best advice: Stop smoking pot the moment you find out you'll be drug tested. THC, the active ingredient in pot, is by far the most tenacious of the chemicals that can linger in your system. Drink lots of water beforehand to dilute the concentration of metabolites in your urine. Don't let your first piss of the day be the one you take into that cup; metabolites build up as you sleep. If you can, switch your piss with a sample from one of your straight-edge friends. And there are products online and in tobacco shops to help: detox pills, shakes, and drinks. (Note: Evading or tampering with a drug test could be illegal—of course, so is smoking pot.) If you fail your test anyway and you still want that job, superstar pot-defense attorney Jeffrey Steinborn recommends challenging the scientific merits of the test (you'll need a lawyer to do this). Most labs can't afford to prove in court that their methods—chemical scans, print-outs, and data analysis—actually work. "When you are desperate and have no choice but to challenge that test, you have a damn good chance of prevailing," he says.
What stage of indebtedness are you in? If you've only missed a few payments, the best route is to call the company and see if you can negotiate a deal that allows you to keep your credit rating mostly intact while paying the company back at a slower rate. This sometimes requires freezing your credit card for a while, but that's better than losing a source of credit altogether. If your cards have been frozen or your debt has gone into collections, you still have options. Figure out—before you call your creditors or pick up the phone when one of them calls—exactly how much you can afford to pay. In most cases, creditors are happy to negotiate over the exact amount of monthly payments—they want to get their money back, even if it takes a little longer than they'd like. The worst thing you can do is ignore them—contrary to all-too-common belief, debts cannot be wished away. Deal with them head on, and remember: Even credit collectors are people, too.