He used to own a nice home and make good money. He had his own business with hundreds of clients.
But those were the old days. Now Lopez – he goes only by his last name – lives in a cramped travel trailer a mile north of Dollars Corner in what he calls “basically a junkyard.”
The change in lifestyle occurred in 2007, when his window washing business in Portland crashed along with the economy. Lopez said he specialized in high-end jobs, not only washing windows but also taking out and cleaning window screens, and even wiping out the tracks where the windows would slide.
“When the economy tanked, people didn’t want to pay for that,” Lopez said.
These days, the 44-year-old man makes a living by doing odd jobs. He’s often seen standing at the Dollars Corner intersection with a big green sign that reads, “For Hire – Laborer by Freelance.” He won’t say how much money he makes, only that “I’m at the poverty level.”
The jobs vary. Recently, he helped someone build a carport for their RV. Lopez also has done painting, landscape maintenance, and helped detail a boat at a marina.
“I’ve even been paid just to talk to someone,” he said, explaining that he was hired for a job but the “boss” never got around to putting him to work, paying anyway after an enjoyable conversation.
Before finding the travel trailer, Lopez lived in a van for a couple of years. He was proud, though, and didn’t want to look like a homeless man. He showered at YMCAs or other places that had public facilities.
“I would always present myself nicely,” he said.
He wanted to work for himself rather than taking a job advertised in the newspaper or by the state employment office. Lopez said working for someone else isn’t his style.
“I don’t want to go back to that again,” he said. “After testing the life of a self-made man, it’s an issue of dignity.”
He learned to work hard as a child by helping tend fruit trees on his family’s acreage in northern Washington. Despite his financial setbacks, he chipped away at online community college courses until he acquired an associate degree.
His goal is to acquire bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in technology that will position him for a career in the aerospace industry, particularly space flight. He believes people will eventually repeat the western U.S. migration of the 1800s by establishing colonies on other planets.
“One day it will be history all over again,” Lopez said. “Some oppressive government will make people want to leave.”
When that happens, he hopes to have the sophisticated transportation equipment needed to help people start over in outer space.
“I am going into the interstellar travel business,” Lopez said, adding that he admires what millionaire recluse Howard Hughes accomplished.
“He was a visionary in the first half of his life,’’ he said. “He knew how to put deals together, and came up with a lot of innovative ideas for business and aircraft. I adore Howard Hughes. He was ahead of his time.”
Lopez also wants to establish a business to help other people like him find work. He envisions a network of employers with only a couple of employees who want to hire freelance laborers for odd jobs, just as he is doing.
His company’s website is www.freelancecat.com with the motto: “Be free, be independent, live well.” His phone number is (503) 708-9947, and he welcomes calls from anyone who wants to hire him or other freelancers for jobs.
Over the years, Lopez said, he has gone through the depression and embarrassment of being unemployed and homeless. He hopes his fledgling company will help those who are where he has been, saying, “I have a heart for helping humanity.”
Meanwhile, he will be at the Dollars Corner intersection with his sign. Lopez believes it’s preferable to being a workaholic whose only goal is the acquisition of wealth.
“It has its ups and downs, but it’s a lot better than not working at all,” he said.