Thankfully, Google Apps, which I've used happily for a couple of years now, allows you to upload E-mail from Outlook directly to their mail application. As a result, I now have access to all of my mail online, which is kind of neat. However, some of that mail is necessarily not the most comfortable. Some of it is from dead people (Mark Bingham joking about Trader Joe's pot stickers he left behind in the house in Oakland where we used to live, Steve Kastner saying hi after hanging out at Lazy Bear, than kind of thing), but some of it is troubling for other reasons.
Dan and I were fortunate enough to take a sabbatical back in 2002. It had become clear that the dot com boom was going bust; we'd both saved up some cash, figured that it was a good time to go on a nine month road trip in Australia, and did just that. Back in 2002, the US dollar was strong: the Australian dollar was just 52¢. Diesel was cheap too: it was about US $1.80 a gallon in suburban Australia, going up to about $3.00 a gallon in the very remote outback. Needless to say, we drove quite a bit - I don't have the numbers handy, but it was probably on the order of 20,000km or more. We had a huge diesel Land Cruiser; it took about 12l of diesel per 100km, so we probably burned through 700 gallons of diesel - that was about $1,500 or so.
Looking back through some of that 2002 e-mail today, and I'm noticing some of the prices we paid for lodging while we were there:
Adelaide: Franklin Central Apartments, 2 bedroom apartment: $54
Alice Springs: Rydges Resort: $61
Brisbane: Hotel George Williams: $47
Darwin: Carlton Hotel: $66
Melbourne: The Duxton, $54 (our car got broken into there, though, so it wasn't really that good a deal)
Perth: The Chifley, $47
Stawell, Victoria: Best Western Magdala Motor Lodge: $47
Sydney: Medina Grand Sydney: $105
And what would these rooms cost if I were to book them today? First off, the dollar is weak: it now costs 84¢, not 52¢, so prices are automatically 62% higher than they were in 2002. Here's what those rooms look like now:
Adelaide: Franklin Central Apartments, 1 bedroom apartment: $134
Brisbane: Hotel George Williams: $75
Sydney: Medina Grand Sydney: $155
(Methodology: All room pricing courtesy of wotif.com where possible, just as we booked them back in 2002.)
Fuel prices have risen too: diesel is now about US $4.00 a gallon in Sydney and presumably somewhere up around $7 a gallon in the remote outback; the fuel that cost us $1,500 in 2002 would now probably cost us nearly $3,500 today.
So what am I getting at here? The first decade of the 21st century has been really frustrating. Starting in 2000 and 2001, I got the distinct feeling that costs were going up and job opportunities were going down. We did well to seize the chance we had in 2002 to go to Australia for nine months; the US dollar is now so weak (and oil so expensive) that we couldn't afford to do a trip like that in 2010 if we wanted to - those $60 hotel rooms are now $150, fuel prices are more than double, etc.
Right now, I'm delighted that I have a great job with a company I really like; I'm challenged every day and paid well for my efforts. But this sense that things have been sliding downhill has been with me for almost a decade, and it's starting to really wear on me. As good friends continue to lose their jobs and it becomes apparently increasingly clear that we just won't be able to take any more crazy Australia-style sabbaticals, won't be able to ever buy a fabulous house with a pool, you name it - costs keep going up but income never does at the same time - my happy go lucky expectation reduction seems finally to be hitting that wall where I find myself thinking OK: how much more ridiculous is this going to get?
Meanwhile, I'll keep saving up funds for an eventual second sabbatical... but it isn't going to happen unless prices go back to where they were in 2002 (at least in US terms). I'm not real hopeful about that, though - even the Australian dollar prices have gone up somewhat (especially outside of Sydney). Oh well!