Memory Lane

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On Ogden Avenue, Downers Grove, IL

Unexpected memories of times’ past have crept up in the past couple of days, as I (inevitably) wax poetic about the year, my progress, my health, and my relationships.

I was discussing the ultimate fate of a greasy-spoon joint called Omega, with a longtime classmate of mine via Facebook.  This place was one of several in the Chicagoland area, specifically the Downers Grove location.  It was open 24 hours, and I have very vivid memories of it going back to as early as 10 or 12 years old.  

My Mom worked for Ameritech after “Ma Bell” was broken up and bought and sold and bought again, back in the late 80s and early 90s.  She actually worked at the telephone company’s Downers Grove building location for 34 years or something, before they came on hard times in the late 90s, and basically pushed her into retirement…but she used to work the overnight shift in a building filled with rows and rows of switching machines, where she would fix problems that arose with peoples’ telephone lines.  Occasionally, she’d take one or a couple of us kids with her to keep her company, since things were usually slower on nights than days (a fact I found to be true 10-15 years later during my own career, when doing on-call work on airplanes).  She got her work done, and her management didn’t seem to care (or maybe they just didn’t know) that she had visitors.  In any case, many times on her lunch break (at 3am), we would go to Omega and grab breakfast.  It was a thrill for me to be up and eating “breakfast” at three o’clock in the morning as a child, and I have vivid memories of many people being up and either working or taking a break from work at the same time we were — random construction workers, cops, even the waitresses who worked the shift were wide-eyed and functioning.  It was unimaginable to me that these people could be up and still working at that age, since Mom usually had to wake me up before we went to the restaurant.  

The other set of fond memories that I have of this restaurant came later, in my college years.  We used to spend hours and hours and hours at this restaurant until all hours of the night, smoking endless cigarettes (back when I smoked) and drinking coffee.  Very often, we’d be coming back from whatever drunkenness we’d found earlier that night, and equally as often, we’d have a group of us just sitting around and enjoying the free time we had with each other.  One night, we had this waitress named Barb taking care of us — sweetest lady you could ever want to meet.  She got to know us a bit, offered advice when we asked her while we tried to sort out whatever angst-ridden early-20s problem we were entangled with, she was just wonderful.  Since we were regulars and so was she, we grew to respect her like one of our own elders over time.  

Once, I overtipped her by five or ten bucks in a way that was obviously an accident (I don’t recall the specific details after all these years), and the next time we came in a couple of days later, she made sure to give it back.  All of it — she showed me the math.  I told her that I really appreciated it because we were all getting through college and broke as I was, those dollars were much appreciated.  I threw it in with her regular tip that night, and made sure she knew it was for her.  

Having waited tables before (at Red Lobster) to get through college myself, I know the logistics of the job.  As such, I watched out for Barb whenever I could, making sure my friends tipped her well, and always tipped as much as I could for her time rather than for the single cup of coffee I ordered, four hours ago (and that she never let get below half empty).  I made sure we never took up one of her tables when there was a wait at the front door.  And I made sure I had enough to tip before I got my meal.  It was then that an interesting thing happened:  As tight as money was, I was actually saving money to tip her with.  I was not ordering the extra piece of pie or whatever so that I could tip her as abundantly as I could.  I loved knowing I was helping her, in whatever small way I could. 

Tipping culture in our country is often controversial, but the truth is that your local server makes about three bucks an hour, and every dollar you tip does matter.  If you want to be a class act in front of the server (and in front of your family and friends), put away your 18% tip calculator app.  It’s simple:  Take ten percent of the bill, double it, and throw another couple of bucks in.  For example, your bill is $36.72.  $3.67 is ten percent, so that means roughly $7.20 is about twenty percent.  Bump to an even ten bucks to be a class act.  That is a good tip, and your server will remember it the next time you come in.

I digress.  The point is, this restaurant in Downers Grove, IL has taught me a little bit about one of life’s important lessons, and I’m proud to call it one of my own watering holes, despite not having lived there for quite some time now.  It’s nice to have an Omega to go back to a couple of times a year when I’m in town.  

Most of you reading this probably aren’t from the same place I’m from, but I’m sure you have a story about a local place that affected your life somehow.  Feel free to share ’em here.  We get enough of them on here, we can gather a group and go on a treasure hunt!

Incremental Growth.

I know it has been a few months since I last posted.  I guess life kind of ebbs and flows — sometimes I’ll have the bug to post twice a day, sometimes not twice a month.  But as this year has progressed, it fascinates me to realize that I have been growing all along and hadn’t even realized it.  This year was a very important one for me in many ways, and by the time this post is over, you might know me a little better, if you care to.  (NOTE: I say “I” way more times in this post than I typically care to, but I found it difficult not to when looking inward at my own self.  Believe me, achieving an inflated sense of self is not my goal at all here!)

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Credit: Constructivecoaching.com

You may remember a post that I wrote last year about Seasonal Affective Disorder (click the link to the post in a new window), and what it means to me.  I was a brand-newly licensed Realtor in an office that maintains a very high level of energy, and an ethos and culture of integrity, honesty, and gratitude.  I loved it.  But they would sit us in class after class, meeting after meeting, and tell us that we needed to be “setting and executing goals for our business.”  Our “business.”  Well, I didn’t have any, and I didn’t know what it felt like to plan goals for “my business.”  It depressed me that I felt like I was only going through the motions when I filled out these plan forms (because I was).  “Wait!  So all I have to do is sell six listings and six homes to buyers, and I’ll make a hundred grand next year??  <Facepalm> Why didn’t I think of that?!”  It was impossible to practically and functionally imagine the effort it would take to achieve what I was writing down, simply by virtue of the fact that I hadn’t sold even one home yet.  I didn’t even know how the home buying process worked at that point.

I was unhappy with my job instructing aircraft maintenance because we weren’t paid spectacularly well (we still aren’t), and some of the students I had were grown men who somehow found it acceptable to try to bully their way into passing grades.  (They failed.)  I was also depressed because it really can be a struggle to be so far away from my dearest friends and family.  Then, about mid-way through the year, we learned that the for-profit school that I worked at was being closed down.

It was a trying time for Alli and me both.  I held onto the school job for as long as I could before running the risk of being let go — the instructional staff was kept on to “teach out” the remaining students — but the time came for me to find a life raft before the boat sank.  I found a job as a Service Advisor at Audi, and quit the school to develop skills in a different industry all together.

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Credit: mycouponexpert.com

And then it all clicked.  I don’t know what it is, but things began to fall into place all at once, in early October.

They announced that the school was reopening, and my boss told me I was the first person he wanted to come back because I had such a great relationship with the students, and am so enthusiastic about aviation.  I agreed to return because during my short time at Audi, it became clear to me that even if I had been able to sell more homes, the minimum 60-hour-per-week work schedule wouldn’t have allowed me time for it anyway.

I had two homes close in three months.  After doing my first deal in real estate waaaaay back in March, I had virtually no activity until October, when my second home deal closed.  Given current trends, I thought that was it for the year, but then, out of the blue, a dear friend out here introduced me to a friend of his who needed to buy a home on a pretty short timeframe — five weeks.  As it happened, luck was on our side and we got it done, and that home closed last week, in early December.

I filled out my first Profit and Loss statement, and my real estate business is in the black.  It hit me as I was doing this that I do, in fact, have a business to set goals for now.  My P&L showed me in plain numbers that the business took in nearly $1.2 million in revenues, and despite only being in the black by a few thousand dollars, it’s still in the black after operating expenses and taxes.  Many businesses run at a loss for the first couple of years, so I am pretty grateful that my family and friends have given me opportunities to help.

I am a business owner.  I have wanted to “own my own business” for the better part of a decade now, talking about it as if a business is something that you can buy, polish up, and drive occasionally (but never in the rain).  It wasn’t until I realized that I have spent the year transacting business — taking in commissions (revenues), managing where the money needs to go (operating costs and taxes), and managing my pipeline and reputation as well (planning for future business) that I thought of myself as an actual, self-employed business owner.  Of course, I am not yet fully self-employed — I still rely on my work at the school for income — but I am on my way to getting there.  I have high hopes for 2014 in this regard.

I am once again a student, enrolled in Eastern New Mexico University’s Aviation Science program (it’s all online, and they give 67 full credits just for having earned the FAA’s A&P licenses!).  Hopefully in the next couple of years, I’ll finally have the Bachelor’s Degree I should have earned ten years ago!

I can feel that I am growing in very small, slow increments.  Business is getting better, now that I recognize what I need to do to earn it.  I am honing my craft as a communicator while instructing our students at the school.  I am developing the way I interact with people with a level of care and awareness that I have never before had.  I have never had this happen to me before, and it fills me with an excitement and hope that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.  Factor in that Alli and I are still happily “dating” like we were 8 years ago when we first met, and what more could a guy ask for?

I hope your year has been filled with personal growth and productivity, and that your business has boomed!  Thank you for reading this far in, sorry it’s a bit of a novel.  Have a great rest of the week!

Anti-Gay Gays

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credit: nydailynews.com

I had a fascinating conversation with a student at our school yesterday afternoon.  She is openly gay (which is no surprise among women in the field of aircraft maintenance), and easily speaks of her girlfriend, their horses, and the fact that she is from Mayberry, NC.  (No kidding — that Mayberry.  The Mayberry.)  I like to think she feels comfortable talking to me because I don’t have much intolerance in me and try to practice general sensitivity to others’ feelings on a regular basis.  In reality, she probably talks to me because I’m generally affable, and we are both good conversationalists.  (You can be one, too.) It’s strange that what dominates your mind during a conversation can be the furthest thing from someone else’s.  

Anyway, she and I often have easy conversations about the world’s happenings and peoples’ attitudes, and she surprised me today with one of her own.

In the midst of our discussion, she said, “That’s why I don’t like the gays.”

I don’t stammer much during conversations, generally, but I was trying to find a way to diplomatically say, “But uh…you’re gay, right?”  All I could muster up was a chuckle and, “Ahhh….okay….?”

She went on to explain that she doesn’t go to the Pride parade, she doesn’t make out with her girlfriend in public, she doesn’t do this and that…she told me, “My only goal when I wake up is to go to work, come home, and take care of my family.  Some people don’t understand that just because you’re gay, not everyone wants it thrown in their faces.  So I try to respect their feelings like I expect them to respect mine.”  

I told her jokingly that she was a new hero of mine.  People like her are few and far between, it seems.  I think there’s a lot of truth to what she says there, and it’s refreshing to know that there are people out there who understand that every action has a reaction.  If a gay man rides in the Pride parade down the street on a unicycle wearing nothing but a banana hammock and covered in rainbow paint, and people laugh at him, it doesn’t mean they are discriminating against someone whose goal is obviously to be seen in public flying their freak flag.  I wish we weren’t so quick to point the finger of discrimination in this country, but I also wish we’d be a little more cognizant that we exist together in the same environment.  Each of our actions affects many, many others’.

In the meantime, I want you to keep in mind after reading this that for every cause you support, someone supports the opposite cause.  Sure, we’ll have recurring national debates about things like the Defense Of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (borne out of irrational fear, if you ask me), but we need to — as a society — start treating each other with a little more respect.  And that includes those in the LGBT, feminist, and NAACP-type communities who are constantly pulling the fire alarm when there’s no fire.  Respect the feelings of the people next to you, the people you work with, the people you spend your time with.  Be careful of the things you say to those around you (as this guy needs to learn), and actually give some thought and evidence to the causes you choose to become an activist for (as I have).  Learn to support them thoroughly, but also learn to keep from becoming combative or militant because the delivery method of your message will become lost.  People want to “stumble upon” your message on their own, and will actively avoid your cause for no other reason than because it is human nature to defy someone who forces them to listen to or do something.  

After all, you’ll always catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

If you like this kind of content, feel free to click the “Sign Me Up!” button on the right side of the screen.  And if you have a reaction or opinion to this, I am eager to hear it and have a discussion in the comments section.

As always, I appreciate you having taken the time to read this.  Without you, I’d have no reason to write!  Have a great week!

 

To Walk A Mile In A Server’s Shoes

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A Typical bill, All-You-Can-Eat Crab Legs on a Monday afternoon…

I read an article today which was more or less an open letter to someone ignorant and anonymous.  It was really well-written, and was written by somebody who witnessed somebody lose their mind and flip out on a fast food cashier over ketchup on a hamburger.  Read it here.  It’s worth the read, trust me.

I have a lot of love (or tolerance, at the very least) for those in the customer service industry because I spent a goodly portion of my non-professional career working customer service jobs.  I am not a “big government” kind of guy — in fact, the smaller, the better — but I do believe that everyone should be forced into working a customer service-based job, if only for a little while when they are in their teenage years.  It sounds hypocritical, but if this happened, I’d bet you a year’s pay that adults would be nicer to each other.

For example, I waited tables at Red Lobster and Emmitt’s Ale House (great place in Downers Grove, IL…drop by if you can) to get through college, and it taught me a lot about organizing and prioritizing your attention to juggle more than one thing at a time.  Unless you have done the job, you don’t realize how much attention it takes to make sure you approach the table in a reasonable amount of time, then take drink orders, then food orders, then put the food into the computer so it gets to the kitchen, then hand-make salads (at places which have you do that, like RL does), then deliver it, then refill any empty drinks, then drop off the check, then pick up the payment(s), then split the check five ways (because no one said to keep everything separate, which would’ve been easier), then drop off the tabs and hope for a nice tip.  You may be thinking, “Heh, big deal…I could do that for my table all by myself.”  And you’d be right.  But imagine juggling four, five, six tables — all with varying numbers of people, varying drink orders, varying food preferences (extra bleu cheese, dressing on the side, medium rare burger, etc), and varying start-to-finish timelines.  Seriously, think about it:  If five tables of four come in all at once (not typical, but possible during the lunch or dinner rush), you’re literally taking care of twenty separate people.  Twenty separate drinks, twenty separate salads, twenty separate meals…twenty separate tips that you have to work for, simultaneously.     

You don’t realize until you work in the restaurant industry that Corporate is screwing you every time they come out with a new promotion.  Exhibit A looks like a “three-course-meal-for-twenty-bucks” promotion.  At Red Lobster, we dreaded their “Endless Shrimp” and “All You Can Eat Crab Legs” promotions.  All-you-can-eat promotions do servers absolutely no good —  sure, they get business in the door, but the server takes the brunt of, “Sure, I’ll have another refill of crab legs” for an hour and a half, while the total price for the bill ensures a tip that will barely break minimum wage, if enough people don’t come through that day.  The problem is that when people see the price on the bill, they tip for that, not for the level of service they just received, whether it took twice as long as normal or not.  I literally witnessed a guy eat 220 — two hundred and twenty — butter-covered shrimp scampi during Endless Shrimp Month at Red Lobster.  (They bring you twenty to start with, for reference.)  Guess what his total bill came out to.  Not even thirty bucks.  What do you think the server made on that?  

My Dad used to be a huge proponent of abolishing the “tipping” culture that America seems to have a fetish with; he’d much rather have a set price for any given service.  He’d rather have paid more for a meal with the tip already built into the price than have to deal with the variable of charity (which is what he thought of it).  I don’t suppose I blame him, but it doesn’t change the way we do things here.  The fact is, your server is probably making north of three bucks an hour to provide you service, and 95% of their income comes from your tip.  College kids in particular:  If you have enough for the meal and not enough to tip, you don’t have enough to go to the restaurant.  

Oh yeah, one more thing: Don’t be an ignorant, self-important jerkwad to those who handle your food.  I am not lying when I say that I have witnessed an employee of an as-yet unnamed establishment literally spit into the food of someone who was a very self-entitled, holier-than-thou customer.  I don’t condone compromising anyone’s food at all under any circumstances, but you’re rolling the dice if you’re an a$$hole and think it won’t happen to you.  Frankly, I think you get what’s coming to you in that case.  Oh–you poked a sleeping bear in the face with a stick?  And then he got pissed and attacked you?  The nerve of that bear! What was he thinking?!  

Well…what the hell did you think would happen?

Just remember this:  People who send their food back because their steak was undercooked don’t get spit in their food; people who do it with a crap attitude and are obviously looking for a free meal do.  Get up in arms all you want about it, but it’s the way the world works.  

And really…if you were a server and walking in their shoes, wouldn’t even a small part of you want to do the same? 

 

Relics? No Way…

I was watching music videos on YouTube (which I’m prone to do on days when I have the time), and I came across this old gem. There’s so much music out there in the past couple of decades that guys like Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Prince, and Tom Petty have nearly been lost to history on most radio stations. It’s a tragedy, really.

Anyway, I was listening intently to the sheer enormity of the first bar’s drum intro (at 2:18 or so on the video), and had forgotten how the clarity of Clapton’s guitar intro just moves me in a way I don’t get from the majority of the music I’ve heard before. And oh lord, his guitar in the second verse…the note at 4:20, the E bent-up to the F…that one, single note just cries like it’s pleading its guts out for something.

One thing I really enjoy about Phil Collins’ music in particular is that he has a composition style in which he likes to keep the drum part so simple that it lets the of the song really emote its purpose. And it’s cool to know that yes, that is his real voice — none of this overdubbed-third and -fifth crap that you hear in every song on the radio today.

Take a listen to his other hits. You’d do well to hear the live version of “No Son Of Mine” that he did at the Billboards in ’91. There’s an authenticity there that just isn’t there anymore in radio today.

Comment if you agree!

*GROAN*

Ever spend an hour crafting a blog post — writing here, editing there, inserting pictures in juuuuust the right spot — only to re-read your final product and go, “Man…this post sucks” and chuck the entire thing? frustration

Well, it just happened to me for the umpteen-hundredth time. I wonder how many times that happens and nobody knows it. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if Hemingway, or Nabakov, or Melville just reached a certain point and said, “Ugh…eff this, I’m going out and getting bombed.” Oh, the HUMANITY! Think of all that would be lost! And more importantly, think of all the electronic gold I’ve just thrown out that you’ll never get to read! It’s too bad, you’ll never know what was floating in my head and at my fingertips for the past 90 minutes, the past ten or twelve days…oh how can you go on with life???

Heh…don’t worry, I’m not deluded enough to think I write on the level of Ginsburg or Ms. Angelou…but it’s frustrating, just the same. Oh well, have a great weekend.

Shakespeare, out.

Race-Related? Watch Your Mouth.

mistake A couple of days ago, I walked into the lunch room at our school, and into an ongoing conversation about Zimmerman being pronounced “not guilty.” I said “Oooh boy” under my breath but also out loud, as I got my lunch out of the fridge, kind of without thinking about it. You know — sort of an involuntary reaction which says, “This should be good…” even though i had no intention of injecting myself into the conversation. Then he looked at me and said, “Oh, well what do you think would happen if it was a black man killed a white man?”

I should have said, “Hey, OJ got off, didn’t he?” but instead I took the diplomatic route: “The same thing that would happen when a black man kills a black man. It’s murder, he’d go to jail.” Or, he’d be voted not guilty by a panel of his peers. Or they wouldn’t have bothered trying him at all, because the DA knew right out of the gate that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.

I thought he was going to be alright just discussing the topic. It isn’t smart to discuss these things at work because they can get people riled, but I don’t get offended easily and am careful about the opinions I put forth. I also respect others’ right to their opinion, and don’t go off the handle when someone disagrees with me. He also kept a pretty even tone, and didn’t appear to be losing it, so I was open to what he had to say. But he somehow then managed to go straight into slavery –f*cking SLAVERY — telling me about, “Why is it right that some people get reparations and others don’t?” (That’s a direct quote, I’m not making this up.)

This is a black, late-fifties security guard, asking me this in front of another instructor of ours, who happens to be black as well. Who I happen to have a pleasant working relationship with. Way to put me on the spot there, pal.

My immediate reaction was to tell him, “Because neither you nor anyone you have ever known was a slave in this country.” He told me that his mother’s grandmother was born in 1886 (or some similar personal fact), but it’s irrelevant. Even if his great-great-great grandparents were slaves, we are five to six generations removed from those atrocities, and an increasing majority of people in this country had little or nothing to do with them. My family wasn’t even in the United States yet, while that was going on. I continued, “Also, because taking money from people who had absolutely nothing to do with what happened and giving it to people who didn’t either is wrong.”

He told me, “No, it isn’t,” and I knew that we could no longer have an intelligent, rational conversation. He made a big stink about “ending the conversation” as he left the lunch room, and after he left, all I could think of was, “WHY did he have to go and do that?”

After we got back from lunch, I told my class that sometimes, discussing things of that nature at work gets dangerous, and that once they are said, they can’t be UNsaid. They kept pushing me to give them the details, to figure out what happened and who said what; I declined but told them, “I didn’t tell you this to talk sh*t on this guy behind his back; I told you this so that you can watch your mouth when you’re in the field and working around people you don’t know.”

I realize that I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to have a family history related to that era, and for folks who do, the memory of what happened never really dies. I also believe, however, that it makes no sense for people to direct anger at each other over something that happened over a hundred and fifty years ago. Doing so is a large part of the reason that problems are the way they are in the Middle East, for example. Senseless atrocities happen all the time. There’s no minimizing them, of course, but when there’s no one to hold accountable, there’s no choice but to find a way to move on. Penalizing people unrelated to the crime is wrong, however good it might make one feel.

In any case, I want to caution you to bite your tongue at work. I am not much for ‘polite’ etiquette, but as I said to my class, you might reveal something about yourself which will change your coworkers’ — the people you see more than your own family, in some cases — opinion of you for the worse.

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