Part III: To continue …
In the middle of the ‘99 – ‘00 school year I had an epiphany. This was my 31st year of teaching. I’d never paid much attention to the details of the retirement system, because that was for “old” people. Which I was rapidly becoming one of…
One day, while idly scanning the WEA newsletter, information that had been presented previously an infinite number of times finally managed to osmose though the concrete shell of my brain. Under the retirement system that applied to me, teachers with 30 years of successful classroom experience could retire at an annual rate calculated as the average of 60% of their two highest years of pay.
If teacher salaries were not being raised annually, and they were not, that meant that in my 31st year I was working 100% of the job for 40% of the salary, as I would receive 60% of it if I stayed home! Wow!
That system has been altered considerably since that time, as improvements in personal health habits and medicine meant that many teachers were living too long for the actuarial tables that had defined the system. Teachers were intended to die sooner than they were – pesky critters! People like me…
At the time I had the best possible situation for an English teacher. Juanita High School is a mile and a bit from my house, which meant no commuting woes and cheaper insurance on my cars and motorcycle. I was the head of the English Department, which meant I only taught 4 classes a day. I had one class period as a planning period, which was needed, and one for English Department business, which was way more than required. I taught all electives that nobody else taught, and there were waiting lists for all of them. I had created the entire curriculum for each of them, and I taught in a portable, away from the crowds, noise, and lack of ability to control the heat teachers in the main building had to deal with. Nobody else used my classroom most semesters. I had a parking spot 20 steps from the door of my classroom. As the “Voice of the Rebels” that announced the home football and basketball games I knew most of the staff and students, whether from the academic, athletic, or arts “cliques” of the school. Pretty much could not ask for anything else, and yet.
I was ready to move on. Here was an opportunity to think outside the box. Way outside the box. I was not ready to retire, but almost any job I wanted to apply for would pay more than 40% of a teacher’s salary, so I could have a new career and pretty much be assured of earning more money.
Instead of applying for a different job, I invented one.
By this time I’d been working for Doug’s Mazda / Suzuki / Hummer on a part-time basis for two and a half years. In that time I’d met some of the movers and shakers in the car business, including the regional sales manager for Mazda. He had impressed me as a pretty sharp mind, and so I asked him to meet me for coffee. To prepare, I went to my Apple Mac computer (remember those?) and created a 5 page plan with the specifics of my whacky ideas.
We met at the Larry’s Market in Totem Lake (sadly a victim of poor management that went belly up a few years later) and I lobbed my concepts across the table. He’d previously expressed eagerness for the things I was doing and expressed the wish that more dealers would follow Doug’s lead. So… what if I were to work for all of the dealers in the Puget Sound area through their regional marketing budgets? There are a lot of Mazda dealers in the Puget Sound region. I would appear at events (in a current year Miata appropriately “farkled” for the duties at hand, of course) and do customer relations and e-mail Q&A work for all of the dealers. Full time.
My friend was really excited by the ideas I presented. With his encouragement I handed him the printed proposal and placidly sipped my coffee while he read through it. He was sold on the idea, with only one flaw. The head office was currently going through a “restructuring,” and he wanted me to wait until April before mailing him my proposal, as by then the dust would have settled and he would have a clean budget to work with. As it happened, he later moved to Portland to be a regional sales manager for VW, so perhaps the dust did not settle in a pattern he liked.
I was excited by our meeting, as his reaction showed me that I was not completely off the beam. My proposal had merit, and a real chance of success. It was now February, so I had two months to wait. Instead of sitting idly by, I fired up the Apple Mac again and created two more copies of the proposal. For one of them I took out every mention of “Mazda” and replaced it with the words “Dodge Viper.” It seemed to me at that time that the Dodge Viper was a fine car (particularly the GTS coupe version) that was not being marketed very much at all. The few owners were rabid enthusiasts of the car, but hardly anyone else knew about it. I could change that and besides, I thought I would look really good in a “company” Viper! With a few deletions and additions to the proposal, and by affixing a $.37 stamp, it was on its way to Detroit and Chrysler Corporation headquarters. The fact that I never heard back from them does not mean it was necessarily a bad idea…
I then made a 3rd version, deleting all references to cars and replacing them with motorcycle terms. There was only one dealership I knew of that was big enough to support the ideas I was proposing, and that was Cycle Barn. I had several advantages with Cycle Barn. For one, I’d worked there 8 years previously for two summers as a simple parts counter geek, and during that time got to know owner Jim Boltz reasonably well. I think he was intrigued by the oddity of a junior high school (at that time) English teacher who wanted to work for a motorcycle dealer, and we chatted about the business often. I was fascinated by everything around me, and surely asked a lot more questions, and received more detailed answers, than a typical part time employee.
My second advantage was that I’d purchased a new motorcycle from Cycle Barn the previous fall. Boltz had always teased me when I worked there because I rode a Yamaha – one of the few brands Cycle Barn did not sell. When Susan and I finally chose to throw in the towel on our financial boat anchor of a Porsche 911 and replace it by selling both the Porsche and the motorcycle and then purchasing one brand new motorcycle, I first called Boltz to tell him I was now ready to purchase a motorcycle.
He laughed that it was about time! When we went to shop we did not have to deal with any sales staff but were passed straight to Scott McMillan, the sales manager. But first, I wanted Susan to see the models I was interested in, so we started with the used bikes housed a separate building. The Triumph Daytona was on my short list, as well as the Honda VFR.
What I really wanted was the Kawasaki ZRX, but I never mentioned it to Susan because I was sure she’d hate the lurid metallic green paint scheme with purple and white accents. Her job, equipped with a long list of what I said I wanted, was to ask questions and do whatever necessary keep me from purchasing the wrong bike.
After looking at dozens of used bikes, we strolled up to the new bikes building. We were looking at a Honda VRF when Susan said “Oh – what’s that? It’s gorgeous!” It was, of course, a Kawasaki ZRX, which filled all the requirements except for not having a center stand. The braced swing arm that made a center stand impossible eliminated the chance of a center stand, but why quibble? It was obviously the bike we both loved.
The negotiations went about as expected and we purchased the bike. When I came back as a prospective employee the following year Scott remembered me as a knowledgeable enthusiast who was not a complete jerk in negotiations, which was a handy little add-on.
The 3rd asset was that I had proposed a sort of similar job to Boltz… in 1989! The concept then was that I would lead customers on rides once or twice a month in return for the use of a new Kawasaki Concours all year. Keep in mind this was well before the days of cell phones and e-mails, so getting the word out by snail mail would have been a challenge. Nevertheless, Boltz was all in favor of the idea, but his insurance company put their foot down – part-time employees were not going to be covered on company bike 24-7 while only working one or two days a month. Still, the concept registered in his medulla oblongata – or wherever.
In any case, for the price of one more $.37 stamp, an envelope, and a few minutes on the computer I was in business with yet another version of my proposal.
The 3rd time was the charm, as Jim Boltz called me two days later about 5 seconds after he opened my envelope. Often a step or six ahead of his competitors, he’d been mulling over some of the same ideas for quite some time, but had no idea where he could find a person who could an odd skill that involved the ability to write reasonably well, speak on any topic to any audience for any length of time, and also have the skills and desire to ride any model of motorcycle made by any manufacturer. While he was pondering that and getting nowhere, my proposal came in the mail, laying out in precise detail how to achieve the same end goals.
Here’s a poser for you. Of the job skills just mentioned, which do you think is the hardest to hire for? Here’s a hint. I didn’t know this at the time, and it took me several years before I believed it.
Ready? It’s “the desire to ride any model of motorcycle made by any manufacturer.” Turns out that most people only want to ride one kind of motorcycle, and in many cases only one model made by one manufacturer. That to me is just crazy. Imagine someone gave you the keys to their candy store and you went ate only one kind of candy – the same kind – every day, ignoring all of the other potential yummies!
Boltz asked me to come in to talk about it the next day, which was a Friday – and actually St. Patrick’s Day, which is of no importance at all. I rode up after school and we tossed exciting ideas back and forth for about two hours. We were definitely on the same page, or actually several pages. It never occurred to me to ask some basic questions, like how much would my salary be? Hours? Benefits? Vacation? We were both too excited for such trivia.
I drove home in a blissful fog. That evening, I sat in the living room and explained to Susan, “I think this is going to happen.” I’d be leaving a job with excellent benefits and a known structure; a job where I pretty much could not be fired unless I did something way way way out of character. I would be trading for a job that did not exist anywhere else, a job that would be an experiment by the company that could be ended at any time for any reason, and a job with no benefits. I had not negotiated the hours, wages, or conditions of employment – and I was sure it was going to work. How would any spouse react to such a proposal?
Susan was so excited for me she began jumping up and down like a small child who has just seen the presents under the Christmas tree. She was positive this would be great! I am a lucky man.
Next – the Cycle Barn hiring process and developing the job.
Copyright 2013 David Preston