Last night Alfie and I attended an auction fundraiser for The Pea's elementary school, and we were reminded again of the incredible amount of wealth that is floating around in this area. Not that we ever really forget. Palo Alto's proximity to Stanford University and Silicon Valley attracts a highly educated, professional, -- and therefore affluent -- community.
But the big money around here, i.e. the Google/Yahoo!/internet millionaires, tend to live relatively low-key. You wouldn't guess that the dad in sweatpants biking with his daughter to her public elementary school actually owns two vacation homes and a sailboat. And sometimes it's hard to believe that the cottages we pass on our way to school are actually worth $2 million, and the 3,000 square-foot mansions, which might cost half a million in other parts of the US, are actually worth $10 million here.
Not only that, they send their kids to the local public school, which relies heavily on parental involvement to supplement the pitiful allowance that California gives its public schools. And the way our school does it is with our silent and live auction fundraiser. Last year's auction raised over $70,000. The PTA ended up with too much money (apparently there are all kinds of restrictions on how PTA funds can be spent), so this year they decided to scale it down and set a goal of just $50k. Just??
How do 150 auction items end up making that kind of money? Some auction items do end up selling for reasonable amounts; last year, we were actually able to snag some great buys: opera tickets at half-price, a summer camp session with Camp Galileo at $35 off the regular price, and a $50 gift certificate to the Fish Market for $55. But some items, especially those that are auctioned live, end up selling for waaaaay over the minimum bid, indeed, way over their face value. When we left the auction last night, a package of 4 Cirque du Soleil VIP tickets (face value $300) had reached a bid of $800 (and the bidding wasn't over yet). An apple pie baked by the school principal sold for $2000. What chance does an ordinary middle-class guy have bidding against budgets like those?
Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against rich people; in fact, I wish I was one of them. If I had lots of money to spend, I'd bid $400 for a Nighttime Star-gazing Party too. I know it's all in the spirit of raising money for the school; just writing a check for $4000 is boring, it's much more fun to engage in a bidding war with your fellow-millionaire friend on something worth $800. I am grateful for their donations; their money is supporting my daughter's school and giving her the quality public education that is a major factor in making Palo Alto such a desirable place to live. And in the end, even though we don't have the kind of money it takes to pay $700 for a football autographed by Steve Young, I am grateful for what money we do have.
So what did we bid on last night? Well, to put it in the the style of a certain popular Mastercard ad:
5 hours of babysitting by the director of the onsite afterschool care program: $700
Dinner party for 6 at Bistro Elan: $2500
Weekend at a 3-br cottage in Carmel: $4000
Tickets to a Father-Daughter dance (the only auction item we bid on this year, 1st 75 bidders at $10 or more win): $10
Alfie ooking forward to the pleasure of an evening with his Princess Pea: PRICELESS
For more thoughts on money, click here.
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