"I know people are really struggling out there," he says. "But I looked for a few months and I ended up at the world headquarters of the Limited Brands, and I didn't even have my degree yet. I mean, months. And yeah, they were stressful but when I look back, I mean, a few months and I ended up there and I didn't even want to be there. I mean that's unreal. That's unreal opportunity."
Santamaria left that job and won't be seeking work at the city's tallest building, 41 stories housing state employees. He set his sights since growing up in Toledo on "being able to do something you really loved to do," more than raking in riches.
So he is moving to Pittsburgh to set up a nondenominational Christian church on the University of Pittsburgh campus. He won't be getting paid but hopes to get a foot in the door at a counselor's office and someday become an academic adviser and preacher.
Kayla Ruffin, 17, from Sylvania, Ohio, gives voice, too, to the idea that it's the young and restless who are sunny side up.
"It's really hard to get me in a bad mood," she said during orientation for new students at Ohio State University, where she is a freshman. "I'm usually pretty excited to learn new things and meet new people."
She's free of the burdens of college debt and likely to stay that way, not typical for many students. "My dad, he has it all figured out," she said. "He's been planning my tuition since I was like born. So he's made it easy for me."
Ruffin will be studying aeronautical engineering and wants to design spaceships. "I just love everything that NASA does." And if that doesn't work, she said she'll tap into the same design skills to make golf clubs.
The February Gallup poll found that pessimism about life for the next generation deepened with age. Also, that the poor were more optimistic about tomorrow than the rich.
However down Americans get about the country's direction and what the future might hold, they tend to be more satisfied with their own lives.
Carl Adler, 69, is one of those. A retired Lutheran minister, he said his family learned to live on modest means and, with Social Security benefits and his wife's pension from years of teaching, "I'm wealthier now than I've ever been in my life."
Still, he said, "I think people my age are finding it difficult to be optimistic."
Does he believe the American dream is alive? "Oh boy, I don't know. I think it will be possible for fewer people."
"I'm not sure what the American dream is, to be honest, anymore. ... It seems like the middle class is disappearing."
This is more than an abstract thought for him. He's giving part of his retirement income to his son, who is married with two young kids and hasn't seen a raise in three years at the public college where he works in information technology. His daughter-in-law is in nursing school.
Ohio is a battleground state, so the political opinions of people who are out and about in Columbus no doubt matter more to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns than voters' attitudes in the most dependable Democratic and Republican states.
But do people here think actions in Washington affect their lives? The capital seems awfully far away. Optimism, or pessimism, may have roots closer to home.
Adler's sense of wealth comes not just from retirement money but from family gatherings that carry on a life-long musical tradition: "If all the family is together, we have 28 people playing horns," he says.
For Santamaria, too, joy isn't derived from what happens inside the Washington Beltway. He says, "I don't depend on any president for my happiness."
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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