“Grandpa, tell me what it was like back in the old country before the fall.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“I dunno. What was it like just before the fall? Did anyone know what was about to happen.”

“Oh, I think some people did. Back in ’08, Grandma and I went up to Gold Country for a little trip.”

“Were you looking for gold?”

“No, no. We were just going to a place with a little history to celebrate our anniversary. We’d been married for five years at that point.”

“History? Like how old?”

“Well, the first night we stayed in the oldest hotel in Placerville. It had been built in 1857.”

“Grandpa, that’s not old! Everything here in _______ is older than that.”

“Not everything.”

“Just about.”

“Anyway.”

“So you really weren’t looking for gold?”

“I mean, we joked about it a little, but all the gold mining novelty shops were sold out of equipment. Too many other people were trying to find it.”

“What’s ‘novelty’ mean?”

“Hm. It’s like a knick-knack, or a little trinket. Something you don’t really need, but you buy because it’s cute or you just impulsively want it.”

“That’s weird. I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah. I guess not. Huh. There used to be shops full of them in America, before the fall. But not so much right before the fall. Most of them were closing.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. On that drive up to Gold Country, we passed all these half-deserted towns and suburbs. There were all these signs saying ‘For Lease’ and ‘Space Available’. But they looked like they were in the middle of nowhere. Places people had built thinking everything was always going to grow and expand. But then… it didn’t. And there were just shells of buildings.”

“Kinda like Gold Country, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Old buildings and old towns that were kinda deserted. People moving on. I guess the difference is that no one knew where to move on to in the suburbs. Back in Gold Country days, there was always more opportunity just over that mountain.”

“Or so they thought.”

“Yup. So maybe it was the same.”

“When did the banks start failing? That was a big part of what started it, right?”

“Oh definitely. Let’s see, that was… huh. That morning, actually. I’m almost positive. I’d brought the laptop up to Gold Country and checked the news that morning and it said IndyMac had failed. That was the first one. It didn’t seem like much at first, but people knew then that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going down too. And they were half the housing banks.”

“Why’d people choose such funny names for banks? They sound like people.”

“That’s a good question. I guess they wanted to sound friendly and helpful. ‘Like a good neighbor,’ that was one of the old slogans an insurance company had. Just like some regular Joe on the block who’s helping you out when you need it.”

“But can’t balance his own checkbook.”

“That’s pretty much exactly right. I’m not sure anyone in the old country knew how to balance their checkbook at that point. It was pretty clear that nobody really cared. Until all the banks started failing and then everything changed.”

“When did you and Grandma get out?”

“Of Gold Country or the old country?”

“Old.”

“Probably not soon enough, dear. Probably not soon enough.”