What Money Can’t Buy

A canvas featuring Hornet staff members in 2008
State Hornet Newsroom 2008 on canvas, as seen in the current State Hornet Newsroom in Del Norte Hall. Illustration by Paul Rios. Courtesy of Holly Heyser.

In a world where everything has a price tag, there are still some things money just can’t buy. Like coming home.

The idea that money can’t buy happiness is pretty absurd on its face, and was likely not invented by a poor person. A June survey found that 64 percent of Americans are now living paycheck-to-paycheck. I bet money could buy some happiness for most of them.

“Maybe money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a jetski” comedian Daniel Tosh once said. “And have you ever seen somebody unhappy on a jetski?”

The old cliché doesn’t really mean you can’t purchase happiness; it just means money alone won’t bring you fulfillment.

(But money could bring me to Fiji, and I think I would be pretty fulfilled by a nice long trip there!)

In the era of late-stage capitalism, it’s hard to say “money can’t buy happiness” with a straight face. I don’t think we need to trash the whole idiom, we simply need a little tweak. It’s not that money can’t buy happiness; there are just some things money can’t buy.

What Money Can’t Buy

For instance: some damn sense for Elon Musk. Apparently, there is no amount of money that will stop him from using social media to his own detriment. Money cannot buy sense for Mr. Musk, nor can it stop him from tweeting. He’s lost billions of dollars because of his obsession with Twitter (billions with a b, man!), and he could potentially lose billions more. But has he stopped tweeting? Also, no. He truly cannot log off.

It is never a December to Remember in Dallas

Money also can’t buy a Super Bowl for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, which is equal parts funny and sad. The Cowboys are called America’s Team because they are overhyped every single season and their fans are some of the proudest you’ll ever meet. But every winter, you can take it to the bank: The Cowboys will not win a playoff game (if they even make it to the playoffs). Their season will end without a Super Bowl, as it has every year since 1995.

Usually, the Cowboys will experience a season-ending heartbreak in December: a game that eliminates them from playoff contention, often against a division rival (for extra hilarity). A few years ago, the NFL instituted a rule that every team had to play a divisional opponent in the final game of the season. I believe that rule was created to ensure the Cowboys are eliminated on national television every year, against a fanbase that relishes their demise.  

Naturally, I always tune in, because it truly is excellent television. Especially once the game is ending and they show Jerry’s face. As those final minutes tick away, there will always be a camera shot of the owner watching in horror. The look on his face is grim, despite the fact he knows he’ll be on camera. Jerruh is the most famous and powerful owner in the NFL (maybe all of American sports), and in his stadium suite (which is at midfield, behind his team’s sideline), he has an elevator that goes directly to the field. He has starred in commercials for products he doesn’t own. This is a man made for TV.

And yet, he can’t hide his disappointment. He doesn’t care that we can see him. He doesn’t care if he looks sad; he is sad. He can’t hide the anguish.

I’m confident that in that moment, Jerry would give it all away. I’m convinced he’d spend every last dollar he had, sell every other business and every plane and helicopter, for just one more ring. If he could just hoist that Lombardi Trophy one more time. But his money can’t make it happen.

All the money in all the world…

On some level, it’s poetic. Billionaires manipulate markets and political leaders to suit their every need. Last month, Musk took a nine-minute flight from San Francisco to San Jose; a distance of 34 miles. Kim Kardashian ignored the drought and wasted 232,000 gallons of water at her estate in June. The rich don’t care how their actions affect others. They buy their way out of trouble. And yet, they can’t buy everything, right? There are still things that elude them, that vex them.

But this isn’t meant to be a sad blog; in fact, it’s a very happy one (more in a moment). There are also many good things that money can’t buy.

“On Your Left”

For instance: being in a crowded theater for the Portals scene of Avengers: Endgame. There is no amount of money that can recreate the pure joy and ecstasy of the amassed superhero nerds in that moment (it’s me, I’m nerds). It was a curtain call 10 years in the making and we applauded appropriately. It was like a sporting event: people were hooting, hollering, clapping, crying. Dorks were chanting Yibambe! I might have teared up a little.

Let’s watch another one.

Behold, Cinema!

I still get goosebumps.

To this day, I honestly can’t believe what I’ve seen on-screen. I grew up at a time when superhero movies were a joke; now I’ve lived long enough to see the Avengers lead the assembled armies of Wakanda and Asgard against Thanos. If you had told 15-year-old Fernando about Endgame, he would have laughed in your face. It’s impossible to understand unless you were there. We honestly believed the first Avengers movie would flop. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Putting more than two superheroes in a movie was a recipe for disaster, it was law.

OK, one more:

I have never enjoyed a theater screening more than Endgame (Spider-man: No Way Home was close). Sometimes, I rewatch YouTube compilations of theaters reacting to the scene. It was a moment of pure validation for superhero fans. I don’t care if they ever make a good superhero movie again. I’ve seen what I needed to see.

Talking to strangers for a living is hard; but it’s never boring!

Money can’t buy the experiences I’ve had as a reporter. I’ve ridden shotgun in a helicopter. I’ve interviewed NBA stars. I’ve talked to triathletes, vagabonds, politicians and policemen. Journalism is hard, but it’s also incredibly interesting. You get to learn about new subjects all the time and talk to fascinating people. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

My best pal, Max: my rat terrier. There is no amount of money you could give me to replace my baby boy. I love that little guy more than I love the Raiders.

Speaking of the Raiders; cheering for my favorite teams is something money can’t buy. There is no equivalent to the absolute ecstasy and heartbreak I experience as a fan of my loser sports teams. The first post on this blog is actually about that. I have made many friends because of sports fandom, even with opposing fans. Sports remains one of the few things in the world that still brings people together.

One of the coolest things in sports is when a player or coach “comes home.” They return to a college or a franchise where they experienced success. When a college coach has the chance to return to their alma mater, it is especially meaningful. Coaches have left great jobs and comfortable positions in order to return home, where it all began. The appeal is too great; the ties are too deep.

Hubert Davis was a successful broadcaster with a great job at ESPN in 2011. But when his alma mater North Carolina came calling, he left the cushy job to become an assistant basketball coach. He took over as head coach in 2021 and won a championship in his first season. Look at this man’s face and see if you can decipher what it meant to him.

“Chewie; We’re Home”

Well, I may not be a basketball coach; but I had the chance to come home and I took it.

I am now the Faculty Adviser to The State Hornet at Sacramento State; my alma mater. Yeah, you read that right. I can’t believe it either. And there’s no amount of money that can replace the feeling it gives me.

The reason I became a teacher is because of my adviser at The State Hornet, Holly Heyser. She was an incredible leader, a teacher, a friend and a supporter. I thought her job was one of the coolest teaching positions available; never did I dream I would be taking that job.

Walking through these halls and under these trees, as I did for years as a student, has not stopped being surreal. I teach the Hornet class in a classroom I sat in 15 years ago; now I’m at the front instead of in the back.

It is truly my dream job, and I still feel like I’m dreaming. I became a teacher so I could inspire students, help them accomplish great things. And now I get to do that at the place I learned about journalism.

“Cleveland! This is for you!”

It reminds me of another moment that money couldn’t buy: LeBron James bringing a championship home to Cleveland. A town so bereft of sports success they call it “the factory of sadness,” Cleveland hadn’t hosted a sports victory parade in 50 years. LeBron carried an entire team (and a flat-earther) back from a 3-1 deficit and finally brought a trophy to his hometown, and he did it against one of the greatest teams in sports history. Look at that man’s face; those are tears of pure relief and joy. Those are tears a lifetime in the making. I bet LeBron wouldn’t trade that ring for anything.

I had similar tears when they called me to offer me the adviser job. No joke, when I hung up the phone I started sobbing. Sacramento State feels like home, and now I’m coming home to coach young writers. What teaching job would I ever want more than this? (hint: none)

There is no amount of money that can buy the feeling I have driving onto campus and seeing my name outside my office door. I am now working in the same department as the teachers I had 15 years ago; I still want to call them Doctor and Professor!

“That’s Why It’s Yours”

One of the first things I did as the adviser was to call Holly, to thank her for her inspiration and ask for any advice. In classic Holly fashion, she gave very little; because she said she trusted me to do the job right. She’s still got it.

It reminded me of one other Endgame moment; when Steve Rogers handed the mantle of Captain America (and a famous shield) to Sam Wilson, the Falcon.

“I’ll do my best,” “That’s why it’s yours,”

Sometimes, the job feels like that shield; like it’s somebody else’s. It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around it. And then Holly really hit me with the “it isn’t.”

But rest assured: There is no amount of money that could make me do a bad job here. Too many people worked hard to get me here; I owe it to them to make it count.

People like Holly, Mary Mazzocco, Cindy McGrath, Molly Dugan, Michele Foss-Snowden, Paul DeBolt, Bill Drummond and many others. I can never thank any of you enough. My career is a testament to the incredible educators and colleagues who helped me understand journalism and teaching. I promise I will do my best at both.

But I also owe this to every student I have taught along the way. Thank you for your attention and your patience. I have had many wonderful, talented students (too many to name), and you are the reason I love teaching. You make it worthwhile. I do this job for you.

And now? Well, now I have work to do. Didn’t you hear? I got a new job!

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