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Slithering by a rough financial patch

Brett Wilson and his girlfriend Christy Lynn with their monitor lizard. Wilson runs a small business called Lizard Boy's Mobile Zoo and Lynn does voice over work.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Last week, we had reporters driving cross country as part of Marketplace's special coverage of the financial crisis. I was stuck here in LA, but there are stories here, too. They're just a little . . . different.

I went looking for small business people to see how they're adapting to the economic conditions. I visited Brett Wilson at his apartment. See if you guess what he does by my reaction:

Jagow: Oh, wow. Whoo!

I didn't know what else to say, because Brett opened a duffle bag and pulled out a 10-foot, 60-pound Burmese Python. And then a 25-pound monitor lizard. They're his business associates.

Brett Wilson: I'm the world famous Lizard Boy. Hahaha. Which means that I bring snakes and lizards and frogs, bugs -- a tarantula of course -- out to schools, or parties or pretty much anywhere they need a big bucket of reptiles.

Obviously, a lot of places do. Brett's been making a living at this for six years. His girlfriend, Christy, also has her own business. She does voice-overs for commercials.
They live in a loft in downtown LA with the reptiles and bugs -- and three cats.

Wilson: We were going along pretty good, we'd been putting money away specifically to buy this apartment if it goes condo. And I don't think we put a dime in that savings account since.

Christy: Well, we sold my car. We had two cars, we sold my car, and we decided to buy a scooter.

They're doing what a lot of people are doing -- saving on gas, they hardly ever eat out or take a vacation, and they're trying to keep two businesses alive in this economy. For Brett's traveling show, gas is the biggest cost, followed by . . . rats.

Wilson: Rodent meat is probably the most expensive meat on the planet. They're about $5 to $8 to a pop.

Jagow: I thought rats were everywhere.

Wilson: You can't feed 'em the ones off the street, cause they're might be full of pesticides, or you know. You want something that's a clean, safe, food-grade rat.

Ugh, food prices. This year, Brett raised his rate from $200 an hour to $225. So far, so good. Christy actually benefited from the housing collapse.

Christy: So yes, I raised my prices this year and I lost a lot of clients. But then I got an audition from my agent for a home auction foreclosure company.

Wilson: I mean, it sounds horrible, but it's worked out for us, but then what an awful thing.

Brett and Christy are lucky so far. They really haven't been snake-bitten by this economy. But booking a reptile show might not be priority spending for a lot of people.

Wilson: Being self-employed, particularly in such oddball fields as we've chosen, it's always a crapshoot. What makes me nervous is so much not my business but other people's perception about what they can do with their money.

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