"I don't drink; I don't gamble; I work so hard," he says, shaking his head. "But I never saved money. My wife was so mad at me."
Oh was forced to give up his Fountain Valley home, and moved with his family into a rental. InOctober 2010, he shut down his company. "I lost everything," he says. "I felt like suicide."
He takes off his glasses, and wipes his eyes. "Honestly, it's O.K.," he adds quickly. "I don't have to worry about payroll and taxes any more."
After closing his business, Oh didn't apply for unemployment assistance. "I have never gotten any benefits from the government," he says. "It's my personality. I still have in my mind, wherever I go, I can survive."
In search of prosperity
It is a conviction forged from years of hardship.
Fleeing a difficult family situation in Korea, Oh arrived in Los Angeles at 25, with $800 in his pocket, no English, and no contacts. He took a taxi to Koreatown where a sympathetic storekeeper took him in until he found a janitorial job at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood.
Oh then worked nights at an Inglewood liquor store, where he had to confront shoplifters. "They would say, 'I'm going to get you,'" he recalls. "It was scary."
He signed on at a sewing factory in downtown Los Angeles, where he recalls trying to hide from fellow workers the fact that he had nothing to eat during break.
Finally, Oh enlisted in the Army, but he still spoke little English. "The first year was the hardest in my life," he recalls. "I couldn't understand the military language. People would cuss me. I got mad very quick."
After the Army, he made his way west from Fort Campbell, Ky., landing a construction job with help from an Army officer who owned a Huntington Beach company. After a year as a laborer, he became operations manager.
At the same time, married with a baby, Oh took on two additional jobs. He worked construction all day, and then manned a Garden Grove liquor store until midnight. From there he headed toNorwalk to pick up Korean newspapers, which he delivered until 3 a.m.
"I only got three hours of sleep a night," he recalls. "But after four years, I saved $200,000 to start my own business."
For a decade, "All the way was good," he says. He became a U.S. citizen.
When the recession hit, Oh thought it would be over soon. He tried consulting, but there were no takers.
One day, he noticed a taxi driver at a gas station and asked him how much money he made. The man told him $2,000 to $3,000 a month. "I thought I could make twice as much if I worked twice as hard," Oh said.
When he told his wife he was going to drive a cab, "She cried," he says. "My younger daughter--she was about 17-- said, 'Dad, please don't park the taxi outside.' I'd park a quarter of a mile away and walk home."
Renting the taxi costs $800 a week--a rate that led some local drivers to stage a recent one-day strike. "You have to make $1000 a week just to pay the lease and the gas," Oh says. "If you only work eight hours a day, you're dead."
He hands out little yellow business cards to riders in hopes of building a regular clientele. Still, he says, "I'm up at six-thirty and I get home at midnight. Seven days a week. Otherwise, I can't pay my rent--$2,200 a month. With two daughters in college, it is hard."
His eldest, 24, is applying to a university after several years at Orange Coast College. His younger one, now 20, is at OCC, and hopes to go to law school.
For now, Oh says he feels uncertain about the future.
"I'm trying to forget about the economy," he says. "I try to close my mouth and do the work. I say, 'Every situation makes me stronger.' But I'm an unlucky guy."
Original headline: A job struggle after the recession
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