The View From the Bottom

What's it like surviving the telecom bust? Numbers alone don't tell the story.

Somehow they manage to make the mortgage payment every month; carrying no credit card debt helps. But there have been weeks when Bennett has to rely on God's Food Pantry in Plano because "it was our only food," he says. His ethics won't allow him to take food for free. Once a week, he volunteers at the pantry, sacking groceries and stacking cans for the hungry, who now include people like himself. Pantry co-founder Bobby Glenn Taylor cites a startling increase in the number of former telecom workers who regularly frequent his pantry. "Of the 7,000 clients we feed every month, at least 500 of them were laid off from jobs associated with telecom," Taylor says. It doesn't help matters that the demand for food keeps rising because of the economic downturn. "Food donations are only up 2 percent over last year," says Jan Pruitt, executive director of the North Texas Food Bank, which supplies food to 222 agencies in a nine-county area. "But distributions are up more than 18 percent. We just can't keep up at that rate."

Bennett finally received his MBA in August 2001. "I thought with an MBA, I could finally reach my ultimate goal of being the guy in charge. Now I have more modest goals: getting food on the table, making sure the mortgage is paid and the cars keep running."


How can he make his wife understand? Ted Woods is convinced he made the right call, coming to The Samaritan Inn in McKinney. There is something about being at the homeless shelter that makes him feel safe. Its rules, its bunk beds, even the cinder blocks, remind him of his days in the military. His life feels structured here, his anxiety harnessed. He doesn't blame his wife for not joining him, what with their baby and all. But this is the first step in putting his life back in order and, selfishly, he wants her to be there. Small steps, that's what his therapist keeps telling him. Forget telecom for now. That's why he got a part-time job driving a forklift at the Blockbuster warehouse. Small steps, that's why he wants her with him. To be part of his life as he restructures it, getting it back on line. "Everything has a line it has to follow," he says. "And if it doesn't, it has to be brought back to it. I am trying to bring myself back to it."
After three successive layoffs, telecom engineer Ted Woods hit bottom, moving into The Samaritan Inn, the only homeless shelter in Collin County.
Mark Graham
After three successive layoffs, telecom engineer Ted Woods hit bottom, moving into The Samaritan Inn, the only homeless shelter in Collin County.
A "for lease" sign outside telecommunications giant Nortel Networks serves as a nagging reminder of hard times in Richardson's Telecom Corridor.
Mark Graham
A "for lease" sign outside telecommunications giant Nortel Networks serves as a nagging reminder of hard times in Richardson's Telecom Corridor.

They prayed about it and his family agreed: If John Bennett got the job with Deutsche Telekom, they would move to Bonn, Germany. If nothing else, he had an interview; the Germans would be calling at 10:30 a.m. sharp. He tries to remain upbeat, optimistic. It's the only way to survive the times. It was a long shot, answering an ad from an international online job board, but he fit the job requirements to the letter: MBA, fluency in German, background in international wireless support. He has done his homework; he understands their business model; he even worked with the same carrier during his tenure at Alcatel. His mellifluous voice should sound impressive even in German. He stares at the phone. It's 10:30. It doesn't ring. Thirty minutes go by and still nothing. Quickly, he e-mails his German contact, but the call doesn't come. It's enough to test his faith.

Late into the night, champagne is flowing at Walter Jenkins' house. It's cheap champagne, but champagne nonetheless. He found a job, or rather the job found him. A stroke of luck, really. He started October 7 doing business development for a telecom software supplier. When the offer came, his feelings soared from worthless to elated. No longer would he have to worry about losing his home. The bankruptcy and the job would give him a fresh start. It was a "tremendous rush," he says later. "But there is a sobering part." He was only out of work for three months, but what about those less fortunate than he was, people unable to find work for a year, two years, people in breadlines or on the dole, bright, talented people who got caught up in the meltdown through no fault of their own? "When your mom told you life isn't fair," he says, "this is what she was talking about."

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