Making amends

When I worked at the finance company I was presented with some difficult but wonderful challenges. The company was going through some growing pains and I was immediately tasked with some big issues. Their need was in the “back end” of the business. That is a nice way of saying “repo”.

When I joined the company they were being inundated with cars coming back due to bad loans. My background in appraisals and remarketing proved to be a valuable asset. I had connections with auctions all over the country, offered alternative outlets such as salvage auctions and private sales, and I created a valuable network of tow companies.

One particular tow operator was a local guy named Mike. I essentially inherited him when I joined the company but his role was minimal and I expanded it. I always try to do business with a local guy, it’s just good business.

Mike is a really likable guy, the kind of person I enjoy doing business with. He was a independent with one truck but willing to work all day to earn a living. I gave him a lot of tows. He did a pretty good job for me for a few months and then I began noticing a side of him that didn’t work for me…he “Yes’d” me to death and wasn’t honest about his availability. He was growing his business through AAA tows and had begun to fall behind. He failed to tell me that he hadn’t gotten to previous assignments while gladly accepting new ones, which chaffed my ass greatly. I had to cut him back.

It wasn’t long before Mike came to see me in my office to apologize for his underwhelming performance. We talked at length. I told him how the demands of my job required a more reliable transporter and that I would keep him on but on a more limited basis. He reached across my desk with his big, greasy hand and shook mine, thanking me. He was hard not to like.

Mike continued to work for me for many years and was of great service on the AAA end of things helping me and my family with our five cars.

One Saturday I was getting ready to go out and my car wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it, it was dead. I called Mike and asked him if he could help. He was there in 15 minutes.

He pulled in with his rusty old Ford pickup, his dog and wife in the cab with him. I said hi to his wife, a very unpleasant and morbidly obese woman who I had never seen smile. She grunted in my direction.

Mike somehow got my car started. I asked him if he took credit cards. He didn’t. I was at a loss. I had no cash on me. He said don’t worry about it, remarking that I give him so much work that it more than worked out. I sheepishly thanked him.

His wife scowled at me.

I always felt bad about that day. Yes, I did give him a lot of work but I should have been able to pay him. I lost my job soon after. Mike and I lost touch.

Last week I saw on FB that he had a birthday. It caused me to reflect on my past dealings with him and how much I liked him. I decided that it was time to right a wrong. I took out my checkbook and made out a check for $100.00. I grabbed my stationary and wrote a short note.

Mike, I always felt bad about never paying you for the AAA service years ago. You’re a good man and you deserve better. Please accept this check as good will for a good deed.
Take care,
Bill

I mailed it that day. He FB inboxed me 3 days later thanking me. He said I shouldn’t have. I disagree.

My mother likes to tell me that I am determined to spend every penny I have. What she doesn’t get is that I am charitable within my means and I am not afraid to make amends.

Besides, the check to Mike isn’t about money.

It’s about respect.

My special purpose

On Thursday I entered the dialysis clinic with my bag containing a blanket, books, my laptop, headphones and half of the trepidation I had felt on my first visit. I was greeted by an entirely different Nursing Staff, which gave me the opportunity to drop my “oil change” joke 💀. It was fairly well received. I’m going to ask for a tire rotation next time to test the waters.

I already know the routine. I weighed in and sat down while 2 nurses, 2 potentially new sounding boards for my repertoire of Dad jokes, went through an impressive routine of programming the machine and unwrapping needles and fastening clamps and god knows what else. It really is something to watch, it must have taken a hell of a lot of training. When they were done and I was hooked up, they went on to other patients and I settled in for 3 boring hours.

I wasn’t in the mood for TV and not ready to read so I looked around the room. There are 12 stations in the room and every chair was full. I recognized most of the patients in the room from my first visit. The staff was all new to me. In particular I noticed a thin, older woman with a buzz cut making the rounds of the patients. I figured her to be the Nurse Manager. She was making her way towards me. After spending a few minutes with the gentleman next to me she came over and introduced herself as Kim, the clinic’s Social Worker. She knew who I was, had researched my case and apparently was looking forward to meeting me. Part of me wishes I could say the same. I respect social workers and what they do, but their goal is to get me talking about myself and my condition and how it has affected me and everything else that I don’t want to talk about. I deal well by not talking about “it”. Social workers chew away at my armor.

Kim sat down next to me and asked me a few questions about my overall reaction to the dialysis process, was I feeling better? Did I have any issues or complaints? Standard stuff. I immediately found her east to talk to. I had been anticipating an interview and instead found myself in a conversation. I certainly had time so I decided to drop my guard a bit and see where it goes.

The questions flowed easily from her and although it was standard fare; how long have I been sick; my marital status and my living situation. I answered all of them honestly and in some detail. She was taken back by my story, especially at the saga of my marriage collapsing. She kept asking, in different ways, if there was a chance at reconciliation and I continued to say no. She was surprised at my acceptance of the situation but dropped the subject. She then asked me if I was working, would I be able to or plan to in the future. I explained my situation with SSDI and that seemed to satisfy her. She then asked me what I used to do for work.

I found myself telling her all about my most recent position at the finance company and of all of the things I loved about it. I don’t know how long I spoke of it but when I was done and looked at her she looked captivated.
“If you could see the look in your eyes as you talk about that job” she said.
I had actually teared up as I had told her my tale.
“It meant a lot to me, Kim. You will never hear me utter a word of hubris, but when it came to that job I was damn good at it. I miss it.”
“I can tell.”

The conversation eventually wound down and she moved on to another patient. The emotional reaction to talking of my career lingered on. I explored it deeper and had an epiphany of sorts. Of all of the things I hate about my current situation is that I am no longer needed by people in my life. My family no longer seeks or expects support from me. I no longer go to work each day and try, in some small way. to make a difference in someone’s life. See, I had no throttle control before this happened. I was “all in” on life with family and career. I was active as possible as a parent and a husband, Teaching, mentoring and loving my kids while giving what remained of my ass to my job was what I lived for. I was a doer, a guy that made shit happen. A guy people came to. I was a great father, husband, friend and co-worker. I rode bikes and walked miles in the name of charity. I donated money I didn’t have and didn’t care.

Now I have none of it. Maybe the pace proved too much for my body.

I have beaten to death my family life on this blog and it is well documented that I love my family with all of my earthly strength. But I haven’t discussed work often and it was a big part of who I was. Men have often been accused of strongly tying their self-worth to their profession. I was guilty of this. I vowed never to be the guy who called in sick and no one noticed. My job, to quote Steve Martin in ” The Jerk”, I had found my special purpose.

The days when people came to me for advice; when calls were transferred to me because no one else knew enough or how to talk to an irate customer; having the owner boast that you are the “best in the business”; being given a seemingly impossible situation and finding a way to fix it. I have such fond memories of talking to people where the conversation started as a confrontation and ended with a “thank you.” It wasn’t that I was particularly skilled at everything, I just knew how to talk to people and I really, genuinely cared about them. I was proud to go home many days of the week with the knowledge that I actually may have helped someone through a tough day. I don’t have that anymore.

I have tried to be as useful as possible since the collapse. I volunteer at the food bank, I help some of the older people in town with basic chores. I don’t charge them, they don’t have the money. I am kind to my fellow man and I put out zero negative energy into the universe. I hope to become healthy enough to volunteer at a camp for the families of terminally ill children next summer. I am being the best person I can be.

But I don’t feel needed. I can’t believe how much I miss that feeling.

The day the walls came crashing down

Back in the good old days, when I was a working and contributing member of society, I was an auction guy. I didn’t start in that industry. I worked at a restaurant for a very long time, until I was 31 to be exact. When I was diagnosed with Cancer I made a change. A haircut, a closet full of new suits and a pay cut of $20,000 later I entered the “real world” in the exciting world of car rental.

As the unofficial world’s oldest trainee, I ran circles around the recent college graduates and moved up the ranks fast. I was a blur known as “who the fuck is that guy?” After 18 educational months, I was forced to take a stand (a story for another blog) and I quite ceremoniously (also a story for another blog) left the company. No skin off of my nose, I had secured a position with a concrete company. I would become a dispatcher of concrete trucks servicing the USA’s second biggest, only second to the Hoover Dam, civil project, the Central Artery Tunnel AKA the “Boston Big Dig”.

It was a bloated, bureaucratic, enormously expensive and corrupt project but it was great for my resume. I acquired fleet, management, union negotiation and project supervision credentials in a short time. The job was killer, 6-6 daily nailed to a desk answering phones, monitoring job sites, and listening to drivers whine like bitches (some, not all) but it was worth it. Seeing the project coming to an end 2 years later and fearing downsizing, I went on the internet and found an opening at a National Salvage Auction. An industry I knew nothing about. Using the internet, not a real familiar medium in 1999 for me, I was interviewed within a week and off to CA within 2 to learn how to be an Assistant General Manager of a Salvage Auction that I had never been to and had not met one employee. 8 weeks later I would return from job training, walk into an unfamiliar building and ask for a Manager that I would grow to hate. I lasted 2 years, despite the fact that she never wanted me there. Gordon Gecko was less of a control freak than this woman. At the end of my 2nd year, an old friend from my Enterprise days reached out to me. He was the new GM of a wholesale auction and he needed me. Wrecked cars to whole cars? I thought to myself, why not? I joined him.

I was immediately hooked. Being on the road, talking to dealers, being around cars new and old (I love cars, have since I was a kid) and then there was auction day. Auction day was about deadlines, a week worth of preparation going off at 10 whether you were ready or not, regardless of weather or any other excuse you could come up with. It was “Go Time”. Hundreds of dealers, lane after lane of bidders frantically waving as auctioneers spoke lightning fast selling cars at the rate of 1 every 30 seconds per lane. There I would be, maintaining my dealers, meeting new customers, shaking hands and making money. I would turn out to be very, very good at the auction business. For the first time in my life, I had found my special purpose. Apologies to Steve Martin.
steve martin

I had never done sales in my life. As it turns out, being knowledgeable of your product, attentive to your customers, and passionate about what you do is enough. I worked hard for my customers, I earned their loyalty and I never had to be “Slick Willy” once.  I simply did what I said I would for my people and I became a well-known guy in the business. With success comes some obstacles and the owner eventually decided that I was making too much money, despite the 38% increase in overall volume during my tenure. I warned him that I wasn’t taking a pay cut and should I leave my customers were coming with me. He called my bluff and he lost…bigly.

For several years after I left this company I expanded my experience in the car business. I dabbled in retail sales for a bit and one day in 2008 I had a serendipitous moment. My mother-in-law worked with a woman in Real Estate whose husband was GM of a sub-prime Automotive Loan company. He was looking for a guy with car biz experience. Once relayed, my mother-in-law, over a glass of Chablis immediately took down the husband’s phone number and called me. I went to meet him the next day. He was looking for someone with experience working with car dealers, sales management, remarketing and strong negotiations skills. In particular, knowledge of auto auctions. It was a perfect match. At first, he didn’t believe that I knew the people that I said I did, but as good fortune would have it several dealers would traipse through the office that day, poke their head in to say hi to the gentleman I was interviewing with, and subsequently say “Bill, what are you doing here?” As the saying goes, SOLD!

I was hired on the spot, given a department to set up, funding to staff it and leeway to run it my way. It would take time, but I became an integral part of the operation. Part of my responsibilities were to attend the auction every week with my GM. For 9 years we went to the same auction, a huge operation in MA where we sold our repos, mingled with our dealers and met as many new dealers as we could. Because most of our dealers were there, it was the ultimate way to conduct business. We would get there early, I would evaluate our vehicles and set prices and hunt down any poor sap that owed us money. When 10 AM rolled around, I was “on the block” selling cars. Wheeling and dealing, as they say, working with the auctioneer as he captured bids as fast as lightning. Once I was done, my GM and I would evaluate how we did, process our titles and then relax. On nice days, we would lean against the outside wall of our lane and enjoy the weather.

Last year to the day, a driver lost control of a vehicle, sped into a crowd of dealers and crashed through the very wall that I would always lean against. 3 innocent people died and 24 were injured. It was a senseless tragedy.
LWAA
Fortunately, I wasn’t there that day. My career was over by then.

Being in the industry as long as I had been, I had seen accidents before. People are careless and walk in front of cars as they roll up to the line to be sold. People run across entire lanes in order to bid on a vehicle at the end of the building. They forget that these are used cars and the brakes may be old and worn out. In this particular case, old and worn out described the driver. He maintains that the accelerator stuck. Something was clearly defective because the first victim he killed was hit at approximately 35 miles per hour.

I was reminded of this incident by Facebook Memories today. I had posted a tribute to the victims last year and briefly touched on my history at that auction. I re-read my post, had a quick moment of silence for the victims and then I read the comments. I had completely forgotten the response my post generated. The most significant aspect was how many people immediately thought of me when it happened.

It was a pretty well-known fact among my friends that I was in the industry. I would often post pictures of nice cars that I saw at the sale. All of my dealers knew where I was every Wednesday. But the number of people who I thought had no idea what I did for a living was checking in with me on Messenger, calls, and texts to make sure I was unharmed. It really affected me today. Well, that and the actual tragedy itself…you know what I mean.

I didn’t have the heart to tell most of those that checked in that I was out of work for health reasons. I thanked them for their concern and assured them that I was fine. But it is nice, at the end of the day to know that people are there for you when you really, really need them.