Monday, May 05, 2008

working for a living

This was originally going to be a blog about Starbucks, but then I got carried away remembering all the places I had worked for...

When I was 15, I got a job washing dishes at The Wright Place, owned by Forrest and Charlotte Wright, in my hometown of Samson. When was 16, I upgraded to waiter, and did that for two more years in high school, then off and on for another three years. Its quite possible that Sandy Wright, the middle daughter of Forrest and Charlotte, was truly my first love--she was that chick who was ahead of you by 3 in grades and a billion miles in leagues.

My gigs at radio stations WKMX and WTBF were also lots of fun... I had the Friday evening shift with Rod Connor, helping out with the high school scoreboard, then at midnight, I took over on the airwaves. Now, they do voice tracking--as in, someone does all the "radio stuff" during the day, and computers play it at night, as if the DJ was really there, but in 1995, I was really there. It was great, but tiring... considering I'd go in at 8pm, I wouldn't leave until 9 the next morning... I wrecked a car this way. Fell asleep at the wheel, the day before Heather Howell and I were going to Atlanta to see Beauty and the Beast at the Fabulous Fox.

WTBF was a smaller station, but with the smaller station I had lots more freedom. I did the mid-morning show, from 9 to noon, and at noon, I would run the board during the Rush Limbaugh Show. I was a Bill Clinton fan during that time... and then discovered Rush.

Every Wednesday night I did "The Wednesday 90s!"--keep in mind this was around '98, so most of the 90s had gone by. I pulled in my two boxes of cds and cassette singles, playing all the forgotten favorites like "Better Than You" by Lisa Keith, "That's What Love Can Do" by Boy Krazy and "Solitude" by Edwin McCain.

Sunday nights were more fun, though, as I did "Sunday Night Power", a 3 hours Christian music show. I even managed to finagle on-air interviews with Audio Adrenaline, Plumb, Third Day, Cindy Morgan, Watermark, Point of Grace and a few more... tons of concerts, free CDs, and with free concerts and free CDs came dates that were inexpensive. Christian women are righteous babes, that's what I always say.

Considering I'm jumping all over the chronology here, I have to mention my freshman year's catering experience at Marriott Catering at Troy State University. I also waited tables there at Troy State for Marriott--along with half of the Indian nation. Funny story, one day I'm moving glasses off of a table, and another waiter, Naveem, was doing the same. The professor engaged him in conversation, finding out he was from Bangladesh. After Naveem left,the professor turned to me, looking at my then-darker and slimmer features, asking, "What country are you from?" I gave him a weird look, and a more southern slang than I intended, I said, "I'm from Alabama."

I did my time in fast food, mine being a Dairy Queen. Its truly a wonder I still can eat Blizzard from there, as I've made plenty of them. I also know that the health department does in fact allow a certain number of tiny gnats into the Blizzard mix, as its impossible to keep them away. They also never cleaned under the chicken pan, when they breaded chicken, and it was quite odiferous. As you pass down 231, coming into Troy, wave at the Dairy Queen. Thirteen years ago, I was there.

Movie theaters are a joke. I worked at two, once in college, once living in Birmingham. I worked at the Carmike 10 in Montgomery for a while... its unbelievable how lazy some high school students--most of the people that worked there--can be. I did get my entire fraternity in for a discount at "12 Monkeys", so thats something. At the time, I worked with Bobby Black, now a Grammy winning and Tony nominated artist, and Lisa Turk, one of my old school BFFs at Troy... I mean, how hard can it be to tear tickets? Not very.

Lisa ended up quitting because she was getting married that March. And they wouldn't tell her they would give her a few weeks off for the wedding. I just decided to stop going. Not sure why Bobby left.

The other movie gig I did was at the Summit here in Birmingham. That place is miserable, I tell you... boring and miserable. I remember working the theater the night the first Harry Potter movie came out. I had my arms outstretched, holding back mobs and mobs of kids and parents of those kids who wanted nothing more than to sit down and finally get their children settled. Of course, one of the good things about working at a theater is that you see lots of movies for free--I watched "From Dusk til Dawn" about 30 times, "Powder" another 30 times, "Life as a House" a few times and... you know, maybe it wasn't that great. I left the Summit 16 because, despite the fact I told the managers there I had a day job and could only work nights, they kept scheduling me to work 11am shifts. I just quit going.

Another job at Troy that I loved was The Pied Pipers, the children's theater troupe. Seriously, we all got dressed up in funny costumes, learned and acted out goofy children stories like "The Three Little Pigs" and "The Tortoise & the Hare" and others, and we would tour the southeast, in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. Imagine spending a week on the road with a bunch of actors, crammed in a van, staying at some of the seediest hotels ever. The All American Inn in Bonifay, Florida? Stay away. I do have some fond memories of The Hampton Inn on Mobile Bay, though... but that's a whole other story.

The stories then? What about the time I actually did throw up in my mouth because a fellow actor smelled so bad? Or the box of cereal that was filled with weevils? Or the very flaky Heli and her odd Lil' Pig? Or the time when Mitch passed out, and we had to cancel "The Tortoise & the Hare"? Perhaps one day I'll share... I'm sure Wendi Deckermiller could add a ton more.

I remember Suzy McGinn was always nice to me. I remember traveling with Michael Brown, and Mitch Kissam, and Whitley Porter (Rives), and and yes, Ambre from Rock of Love 2 with Bret Michaels was there.

Our director was Dr. David Dye, a generally good guy, but a very serious, perhaps offbeat director. We were paid something like $35 per day, and maybe $15 or $20 per day for food, I don't remember which, and our travel expenses and hotel/motel accommodations were covered. But from what I gathered, it was nothing compared to what Dr. Dye was making out of the deal. It reminds me of that scene in "The Shawshank Redemption", where Red is discussing the Warden Norton's "Inside Out" prison worker program... "And oh, how the money rolled in." Kinda felt like that too.

FYI, for anyone interested, I found this site which gives the fate of several Troy actors...

Did some time at The Disney Store too. Like Dairy Queen, I was the first person hired after the initial staff's opening. This is back in the day when The Disney Store was actually owned by Disney (now most of them are owned by Children's Place), and this location was in the Montgomery Mall--and this is back in the day when you could go to Mo'Mall and not get shot. At least, not repeatedly.

That location is gone now, shut down when Disney sold the business and closed a bunch of stores. Actually kinda saddens me, and it has crossed my mind more than once to apply at The Disney Store here at the Galleria.

My first job in Birmingham was a story I'm not proud of. So, therefore, I'm not going to mention it, because you know what, its embarrassing.

However, that bad experience led me to a temp agency, which led me first to a $8 an hour job at Regions, working in the back, scanning checks. Like, I would take a pile of checks, feed them in the machine, and stand back. In 2 weeks, I scanned over 3 million checks (it kept a tally on screen). When the machine broke down, I just sat back and waited for them to fix it.

Its important to note that at that temp agency, a guy named George Marling asked me if I had found a church. I said no. He handed me a green pen with a church named Valleydale on it. He said I should try it. So I did. And 9 years later, I'm still there. Don't ever let anyone tell you those green, now brown, pens are stupid and useless.

It then led to me AmSouth Bank--where Lori Smith Beirne would come to work years later--doing check research. Holy crapping smack was that job boring. I would actually spend 8 hours on five checks, pouring over books and books of data, trying to fill in gaps and figure out where they belong.

And then, that led me to the fateful decision of working at Parisian Corporate/Saks on Lakeshore, first for $6.15 per hour. They had just started the "Home Division", so really, I was doing data entry there. However, out of the 20-something temps they brought in, they only hired like, four, and I was one.

Parisian was truly a great experience... I spent time in the Home Area, then in Advertising, and finally in the Men's Buying Area, and by the end of it, I knew how to run assembly in the warehouse, how to operate the buying systems, how to track the shipments headed to Michigan and Iowa, how to shake down a candle company who refused to pay (I'm not kidding--Iris of Excelsior rued the day they crossed me and Janna Morrison, my buyer) and everything else you could think of. Buyers who were coming into the company making 70 and 80 and more per year were coming to my desk to learn how to do basic data entry.

Janna told me once, "Dave, there are 500 divas in the world. 400 of them work here." She was not kidding. Some of the most beautiful women ever worked in that area, but what you thought was honey was turned to sour salsa when you got to know some of them. Especially in cosmetics and shoes. Those women are vicious.

When I got the job at Cox Radio, the department manager said, "Okay, David, what can we pay you to stay?" I said, "$12 an hour". He said, "You already make $10.75. That's really high for your position... actually, you aren't even a sales assistant, you'd be considering an area specialist." He tried for $12, but didn't get it.

At the time, Cox Radio consisted of Oldies 106.9, Rock 97.3, and 104.7 WZZK... I was hired to work for Oldies and WZZK as a sales assistant, and at first, it was really rough. My boss was a lady named Vickie, and... well, she was mean. She wouldn't let me do my job without hovering. I was very, very glad when she left, because then I took over.

Rob & Shannon, freshly plucked from Magic 96.5, was taking over the morning show, and I worked with them in the morning... the first day was September 10th. Of 2001. And you know what happened the next day.

I was with Cox Radio for almost 4 years and in that time, I outlasted 75% of the staff. The entire Rock 97.3 staff was let go, as it became Oldies 97.3, and 106.9 became The Point--The Best of the 80s and More. My job really consisted of helping the sales team with their presentations, slide shows and stuff like that, but it evolved into me being pretty much everyone's right hand guy. I was the guy you turned to when you needed something--to bring up Shawshank again, I was the Red of Cox Radio for a few years.

And oh, how the rewards rolled in... I mean, The Lovely Steph Leann and I (dating at the time--which is funny, because at Parisian, the men's buyer and his assistant I worked for begun to hear the name "Stephanie" as I was leaving the company... they knew little about her, only that I was sort of enamored with her... where was I? Oh yeah...) pay for the Comedy Club Stardome or Birmingham Broadway tickets for over three years. It was awesome. Gift cards from Cracker Barrel and Logan's Roadhouse and IHOP and everywhere else, and free hams from Honeybaked Ham and free CDs and more. Sometimes I didn't have anything to do, so I sat in my office and read comic books. Seriously.

I had the overhead lights pulled out in my corner of the office, and a table lamp in there. I had a cubby full of snacks, and an empty area on the far right of my desk that was empty only because it was where Natalie, or Bob, or Adam or Marcie or whoever would come and sit when they wanted to talk through a presentation, or just talk. I knew so much crap about so many people. It really was one of my favorite jobs ever.

About 2003, I took a job at Starbucks. February '03, to be exact, just part time. I had a day job, so I worked 4 nights per week--I had to start saving money to buy my woman a ring, ya know. And pay some bills.

It was something big that took me away from Cox Radio... perhaps it was God, knowing that if I had stayed there, I might have stayed there forever, and never gone to Starbucks. I mean, 106.9 is now The Eagle, an awesome station, and WZZK has Rick & Bubba, so imagine what kind of fun that job would be now. Of course, going on that rationale, what if I had stayed with Regions when they offered me something permanent?

Anyway, I got offered a job at NBC 13. This was a dream opportunity... I mean, 8 years out of college, and I was going to finally get to use my degree for something purposeful! Yes, it was another sales admin job, but a year there, and I'll be able to work my way over to production, right? I mean, I directed, produced, wrote and sometimes anchored the news in Troy (working with Steve Hauck, thank you), so that experience would pay off, right?

NBC 13 was the absolute worst job I've ever had. There was no room for advancement, there was no room to move, some of the sales people I worked for were, for lack of a better word, complete morons who would blame me when they screwed up (I'm really only thinking of one in particular, though a few more weren't much better... on the flip side, though, I loved me some Kelley G...)

I made at least three serious attempts to make the jump to production, even being willing to work for free to learn what I could. Shot down. Told to stay put. Then, when I was leaving the job, one of the managers said he didn't think I had ambition.

One of the good guys, Gary, they let go. For whatever reason. I received a letter from him at work a few weeks later, simply saying, "Hey, I hate that I didn't get to say goodbye but I was forced out. Thanks for working so hard, and you let me know if I can help you any. David, you're one of the good guys there. Don't let them get to you -- Gary A."

Here's the kind of place it was... Salesgimp #1 asks me to organize files. So I did. Salesgimp #1 later pulls out a file, and then puts it back in the wrong place. Comes to me asking me where it is. I say, "I filed it, like you asked", to which the reply came, "I can't find it". So, I spend the next hour and a half of my time searching various file cabinets around the office for this missing file. Finally, I go back to his office, where Salegimp #1 is gone for a meeting. I decide to take a glance in the desk file cabinet... surely looked there, right? The file was misfiled, about four files away. As in, its supposed to be here, count four file folders with your fingers, and there it was. Clearly marked. I told my boss about it. I got in trouble for it, for calling Salesgimp #1 out.

I didn't leave on the greatest of circumstances with NBC, though I guess thats only with the management. Or one or two in particular, anyway. In one of those "we must decide the best direction" conversations, I volunteered, "I am turning in my two weeks. I'm done. I'll be honest with you guys... I hate this job, its miserable, and you guys make for a terrible work environment." I mean, I'm leaving the job, so what the hey?

"Like, the other two people in my position hate their jobs, your salespeople can't do anything for themselves, Salesgimp #1 (I used his real name in this instance) blamed me for that file missing when he screwed it up, and I still got the heat for it... I feel like I spend the whole day with a napkin in my hand, just awaiting the chance to wipe their mouths."

If you've never had a chance to unload on your boss, especially when it doesn't matter because you are leaving, the feeling is unbelievably refreshing. Some of the sales staff took me to lunch later--Kelley, Barbara, Clif, Minea--and they told me I was getting screwed out of a job. "Its a club," Clif said. "If you aren't in that club, in that clique, you don't make it here. I'm sorry, man. You were one of the good guys."

On the positive side? I became friends with Brooke Smith (from the Bachelor), Stephanie Walker and the wonderfully wonderful Wendy Garner.

In the weeks that followed my departure, one of the sales managers up and left, another was fired, a few more quit, and I was enjoying my full time gig at Starbucks. It was supposed to be temporary, making $8 and some change an hour, until I found something better. My wonderful Lovely Steph Leann said, "Don't worry about it. Take your time, you find what you want to do, we'll make it work. It will be tight, but we'll make it work."

And I discovered that... I liked Starbucks. Not just for part time work, but I really, really liked the company. It was a great company... and so, I finally made the leap, did the interviews and went full time career with The World's Best Coffee Company.

Its one of those stories where I look back and realize what I learned everywhere else... people skills at The Wright Place, cleanliness at Dairy Queen, cultivating creativity at WKMX and WTBF, how to make a napkin into a swan, a peacock and a crown at Marriott Catering, theatrics and drama in Pied Pipers, interpersonal savvy at Cox Radio, adversity at NBC 13...

So, here I am, in the working field now almost 17 years. I'm a manager of a Starbucks Coffee and Tea. Makes me wonder, if this is what all the other jobs was leading me to, or if this is just another learning journey that God has for me, en route to something even bigger.

For now, though, I will continue to do my job. And love my job. Because I do.

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