For the people of the hollow, opportunity begins where the road ends, and that was where they now went, driving onto a dirt path that vanished into forest, the Washington Post reports.
It was here that they came at the end of the month, when the disability checks were long gone, and the next were still days away, and the only option left was also one of the worst.
The goal was simple. Get to the top of the mountain. Collect as many wild roots as possible to sell to a local buyer. Avoid the copperheads and rattlesnakes. Descend before the rains came again and flooded their way out.
“My doctor gets on me all the time getting out here and doing stuff like this,” said Donna Jean Dempsey, 51, who had quintuple bypass surgery in 2011, as she gripped the passenger-side handle inside the truck. But what alternative was there? Her $735 disability check was the only steady money she and her brother Bobby Dempsey, who was driving, had coming in, and it was never enough. She didn’t have running water. She didn’t have furniture. For seven days in a row, she had worn the same gray flannel shirt and ripped jeans, muddy from the mountains.
“You can’t just sit still,” she told Bobby, 52.
“You got to keep going,” he replied.
And where they were going was deep into the underground American economy, where researchers know some people receiving disability benefits are forced to work illegally after the checks are spent — because they can’t hold a regular job, because no one will hire them, because disability payments on average amount to less than minimum wage, sometimes much less, and because it’s hard to live on so little.
After the check is gone (Washington Post)
Bobby Dempsey, carrying a pickax and a plastic bag, ventures up the mountain above his home on foot in search of roots to sell. The road was impassible for vehicles because of fallen trees.