Greg McCray didn't watch the inauguration. He wanted to. He would have loved to have seen a man who looks like him become our nation's 44th president.
But there was no television in the conference room at the Hatboro insurance company where McCray spent Tuesday analyzing numbers.
He didn't hear Barack Obama's pep talk about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off. McCray was too busy trying to do just that.
When the speech was over, I called him. We've been talking every couple of days for the last few weeks. He's a man in pain.
McCray first contacted me after the New Year, when the repo men came for his 2004 Dodge Durango. They hooked it in his Roslyn driveway at 10:30 on a Sunday night, leaving him no way to get to work.
Ever hear a man cry over a truck? It'll grab your attention.
I called around on his behalf and didn't get anywhere. What happened to him is not illegal. It's increasingly common in these cold times. That doesn't make it fair. I kept thinking of him as Obama spoke about the challenges ahead.
McCray owed $440 on the vehicle when the tow truck came for it. The following day, his next payment arrived, knocking the amount past due to $280, his records show.
"That truck was my lifeline," he said. "It was helping me get back to some sort of financial stability."
McCray, a data analyst, has been downsized three times since 2004.
The Durango was gray, with a leather interior and a DVD player that entertained his granddaughter Kayla. The 10-year-old would sit in the back like an heiress. "She's my heart right there, that girl," he said.
He bought the SUV in May for just over $13,000, and paid Chase Auto Finance $307 a month. He was up to date in August, when his boss called him into a conference room at Unisource and let him go.
The first time he was downsized, he'd been with FleetBoston Financial for a decade. His job went when Fleet merged with Bank of America. Then came American Meter, where he created sales reports. It closed its Horsham office in January 2007 after a German company bought it. "They told me they liked my work," he said.
During this period, he and his wife amassed a credit-card balance that averaged more than $10,000 a month. He was surprised this spring when Chase agreed to finance the Durango. He said it felt like someone believed in him.
A nasty tone
After he started falling behind on payments, the letters and the phone calls started. One day, a collector called him 21 times in a row. McCray, who says he used to make collections himself, by a more genteel set of rules, felt abused.
He also felt used, as one of the taxpayers funding the $25 billion bailout Chase received from the government.
"I helped pay for that," he noted.
Michael Fusco, a Chase spokesman, said company policy prohibits him from commenting on a specific case, but when customers fall too far behind, "they are clearly told they must bring the account current or face repossession of their vehicle."
What kills McCray is how close he came, and how little anyone seems to care.
"There is no concern for people like me," he said softly.
The West Oak Lane native graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School. "I tried to do college. College didn't work for me," he said. Some 30 years later, he is at it again, one-fourth of the way toward a degree in computer information systems at DeVry University.
As hard as he is trying, he says he cannot get anywhere. So he just does his new job, following the rules, worrying, driving to work at age 53 in a borrowed car.
"If I sound bitter, yeah, I probably am," he said. "I try to do my best on my job, and I see everything taken away from me."
He is not sure what the new president can do, but he loves his message of hope.
"Hope," he said, "is all I've got."