Sunday, May 17, 2015

2015: A Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part 5 -- The Rest of the Story

You may remember when we left off I had just accepted a job with Company B. I found a nice, quiet place in the small town of Douglas, (near where I'd be training) with nice roommates who didn't care whether Tom Brady was named MVP of the Super Bowl. It looked as if this little mini-ordeal was over.

And now, here's the twist:

You may also remember that in Part 3  of this serial I alluded to sending my resume off to Company B and Company C. Company C contacted me the same day to set up a phone interview. The phone interview happened. I got an email a couple of days later telling me to expect to be contacted shortly for an in-person interview.

I waited. Six weeks went by and I was never contacted. Clearly they're not that interested in me.


....I'm about to start at Company B and I get a call. It's Company C. They want me to come in for an in-person interview. Of course. Timing is everything in life. I just accepted another job.

But one of my life mantras has become "never decline a job interview". So I go on the interview. Two days later, I'm invited into a second interview. The interview lasts about an hour. There's ample opportunity for me to ask questions. There's a lot of discussion about the benefits of working for Company C.

I've been on a lot of job interviews in my life, enough to know what's about to happen.

Three days later I get an email. I have to go piss into a cup and submit to a background check. The background check, I'm told, will take between two and three weeks. They weren't kidding. I got a copy of the background check the other day. It was 12 pages long (of course, as you can tell the past few months have been chaotic enough to warrant a three-week background check by themselves). Three weeks later, I get the official offer. A significant raise over what Company B was offering me, which is significantly more than what Company A was paying me.

Now I have to go tell Company B that, sorry, there's been a new development. I've been in this situation before, and as you can imagine it's awkward. But this is the only life I get. I have to do what's best for me. Here I am with Company C, who is training me, ironically, right up the street from where I used to live.

And so this crazy saga that is the past few months of my life ends, exactly one-half mile from where it began six months ago. Life has literally come full circle. I have no idea what's in store for me next. But I've learned a lot abut perseverance, about making the most of the opportunity that's in front of you, even if you're not 100% thrilled about it, because everything happens for a reason even if you don't understand why just yet. My salary has increased about 40% from what it was last Halloween. I'm happier. And for the first time in awhile, I feel like I can focus on something other than mere survival.

Fingers crossed that this feeling will last for awhile.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

2015: A Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part 4 -- Blizzards and Negotiations

When we last left me, I had just been contacted by Company B to interview with them.

I've interviewed with Company B on two other occasions -- in fact, one of my earliest blogs was about my 2011 job interview with them that ended rather bizarrely. I interviewed with Company B a second time in 2013. This time I was offered a job, but I didn't quite feel like it was the right opportunity, so I turned them down.

Now it's 2015 (apparently every two years I have a job interview with Company B). We set an interview date a week in advance. The Winter of 2015 began to grab hold of New England, and as Interview Day approaches it looks as though we're going to get a blizzard the afternoon of my interview. But nobody calls to reschedule the interview, so that afternoon I leave work and head to Worcester. I left early, taking into account potential rush-hour traffic and crappy weather, and I get to Worcester very early, so I have time to kill. By the time I pull into Company B headquarters, some light flurries are touching down.

Not sure if the person I interviewed with really liked me or simply wanted to get home before his car was buried in snow, but within 10 minutes he's offered me a job as Store Manager Trainee. And offered to pay me more money than I'm making at Company A. Outside of having to drive home in a blizzard, this day has gone better than my wildest dreams expected. And the next day, Company A calls me back and actually sweetens the pot by upping the offer by an extra $25 a week.

More money, a chance to return to Massachusetts. Seems like a no-brainer.

But it's not quite that simple. I do have a certain amount of loyalty to Company A. They saw potential in me and I've always appreciated that. I get along well with just about everybody here. It's always awkward going to a new company and learning new policies and procedures. My boss at Company A is a great boss, he's always backed me up, a couple of times even taking a bullet for me when I screwed something up.

So I sit down with my boss and explain to him that I have a job offer from Company B, and the benefits of that job offer. He talks to his boss. The three of us get on a conference call. It's kind of an awkward conversation. But they ask me if they can try and come up with a proposal that would allow me to stay with the company, and I say yes.

A couple of days later they get back to me. Unbeknownst to me, the day I approached my boss about the offer from Company A, the manager of another store in the district resigned to take a job in another industry. Suddenly, there's a manager opening at another store in Company A, not far from my old store in Marlboro. They offer to transfer me to that store. I can move back to Massachusetts.

But... pay raise.

Well, that kind of makes my decision for me. Yes, I understand their rationale. It's a smaller store. They've given me two large pay raises in a very short period of time -- my annual pay raise last November, and another one for transferring to a bigger store. Asking for a third raise is four months probably, well, unprecedented. Still, I have an opportunity to earn it somewhere else. I have to do what's best for me.

And so I give my notice. I offer to stay until the end of the month, for a variety of reasons (allows for a smoother transition with my successor, puts me in line to collect one final monthly bonus check). I never thought I would say this four moths earlier, I'm leaving Company A.

But I get a chance to move back to Massachusetts, be closer to friends and family, earn more money. It's a happy ending.

Except this isn't the end. Just when I was about to ride off into the sunset, there was a new development.

Stay tuned for Part 5: The Rest of the Story

Thursday, May 14, 2015

2015: A Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part 3 -- The Convenience Store, or There's No Way Out Of Here

While I was having roommate issues, I was also trying to settle in to the new store I was managing. It was definitely a busier store. It was a hard-working staff, but at the same time morale was low and I figured out why pretty quickly.

When I was managing the Marlboro store, I had 135 hours of payroll to work with per week. In Manchester, I had 205. This sounds like a lot more. But when I started to crunch the numbers, it wasn't, and here's why:

* Manchester was a 24-hour store, which meant there were 5 1/2 hours per day it was open that my old store wasn't.

* In Marlboro, because it was not as busy a store, I was expected to work 20 hours a week in the store by myself, working the register as well as doing all the manager stuff -- processing invoices, daily sales paperwork, scanning deliveries, stocking the cooler, etc. -- that store managers do. (Most of the time I worked alone about 10 hours a week. But when associates took vacation or sick time, I would always get stuck floating their shifts for them and in those weeks I'd work about 50 hours a week by myself, so if you averaged it out over the course of a year it'd come to about 20.) Store managers are salaried, so my hours don't count as part of the 135. In Manchester, while I might hop on the register when an associate was taking a cigarette break, I didn't have any designated register shifts.

* The Marlboro store had a Dunkin' Donuts embedded in it, and while Dunkin's was a separate company that simply leased space from us, having a food service chain in the store still served a purpose in lessening my workload. The Dunkin's in Marlboro was open 16 hours a day (15 on weekends), and had double-coverage during the morning rush, so it generally ran 20 payroll hours a day. The Manchester store had no embedded food service chain, which meant in addition to providing the routine convenience store, we also had to put out donuts, make coffee, inventory food service, service machines when they need repair, etc. We were the Dunkin's.

One thing I've become good at is knowing my limitations. I'm talented at many things. Food service is not one of them. Anyone who knows me at least reasonably well knows I don't like coffee. I barely know how to make a pot. Trust me, nobody wants to drink a pot of coffee brewed by me. If I wanted to work in food service, I'd go work for Dunkin' Donuts.

So, going back to payroll hours, I did some quick math.

135 + 38.5 extra store hours + 20 extra non-manager hours = 193.5. And that's not including about 140 extra hours of food service that Dunkin's provided. I felt like I actually had fewer payroll hours to work with in Manchester. For a store that did twice the sales as Marlboro. No wonder this store had a graveyard of store managers before my arrival.

I don't want this to turn into a rant. Generally speaking Company A is a good company to work for, and I admired how hard-working the associates were. But it's never good when morale is an issue. People start to turn on each other. I became really good at giving pep talks, because there were several occasions when I felt like at least one associate was on the verge of quitting. The store had a classic rock soundtrack on the overhead speakers, and the overnight guy and I started joking that one of the soundtrack's regular songs -- "There's No Way Out of Here" -- was the store's anthem.

Also, I went to a gym regularly when I was still in the Worcester area, and I still had 25 unused personal training sessions that I'd already paid for. They weren't cheap. I used that as a excuse to get away from my roommate issues and headed down to Massachusetts continue to work out. But that's an extra two hours driving time I'm adding to my life, and the extra gas was nullifying any advantage I gained by not paying state income tax.

I start thinking about how nobody seems to be happy here. I start thinking about how I'm not as happy here. How I miss being in Massachusetts, where most of my family and friends are. The direct deposits with my big-ass raise are hitting my bank account, so I feel a little guilty. But quality of life is important, and you can't always put a price on that.

So one Sunday I'm on my laptop and I get an urge to surf job websites. On a whim, I apply for managerial openings with Company B and Company C.

Monday afternoon, I get a call from a phone number I don't recognize. I bounce it to voice mail. Whoever it is leaves a message. When I get out of work, I listen to it.

It's Company B.

Stay Tuned for Part 4, Blizzards and Negotiations  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015: A Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part 2 -- How To Be Interrogated By Police Without Really Trying

When we last left me, I had just been promoted to a bigger store in New Hampshire. I thought about staying in Worcester and commuting, but then I realized:

* I would hate that commute
* My car would hate that commute
* Massachusetts would probably force me to pay state income tax to work in New Hampshire, which has no state income tax.

I began looking for a place to live in the Manchester area, and I stumbled upon something that looked good. Cheap rent, all utilities included, decent neighborhood. The guy I would be living with was a big New England Patriots fan, and by December I was starting to feel like the Pats might be on the verge of something magical. Plus, he didn't even ask for a security deposit, just first month's rent. So I jumped at it.

After a few weeks, though, something seemed off. Generally what would happen is, he'd ask me if I wanted to hang out on a Friday or Saturday night, and I'd already have plans. I mean, I was living in New Hampshire, but my family and the vast majority of my friends were still in Massachusetts. There was one night when I stayed up in New Hampshire, to watch one of the Patriots playoff games with one of my new store's cashiers. He knew of a good bar in Manchester and I wanted to build rapport with the new staff. I didn't really feel comfortable inviting my roommate. I also had a vibe my associate wouldn't like the roommate.

New England wound up making it to the Super Bowl, and after an emotional game that (three months later) I'm still exhausted from, they gutted out a victory in the final seconds. Once again, I watched the game with friends down in The Bay State. After much partying, hyperventilating, and a blizzard that was closing in right as the game ended, I didn't get back to New Hampshire until about 2am. And, I had to turn around and get up three hours later to go into work. My plan, which was to post some photos and go to bed, was interrupted by my roommate, who barged into my room.

"Did you think Tom Brady should've been Super Bowl MVP?" he asked.

"I dunno," I said. "I mean, you could've picked a number of guys -- Edelman, Malcolm Butler. But usually when there's no clear-cut MVP they always go with the quarterback for the winning team. And yeah he threw a couple of interceptions early, but he did carry them on his back in the fourth quarter and lead them on two touchdown drives."

My roommate shot back: "It was a terrible pick. They should've given it to Butler. Brady shouldn't have been MVP."

At this point I put my hand up and said: "I couldn't care less who got the MVP, and I really need to try to get some to sleep, OK? Good night."

That following week something seemed off with him, like he was in a fog. I went about my business at work, and whenever he saw me he'd bring up the MVP thing again, and I tried to ignore it. Until, finally, that Friday night, I was on my way out, running a little late, and he once again says, "I can't fucking believe you think Brady should've been the MVP."

And as I walk out the door, I say, "I don't care. Shut the fuck up."

A couple hours later I'm with friends and my phone rings. It's my roommate. "I've thrown all your stuff out into the shed. You need to move out."

I'm like, is this for real?

I tell my friends something came up and I have to leave. I get home and....a police cruiser is sitting in the driveway. I walk in and a Londonderry police officer is waiting to speak with me.

He says: "[Your roommate] says you haven't paid rent since you moved in and you verbally threatened him."

This is ridiculous. I look at my roommate. He's got a beer in his hand. And suddenly, everything comes into place for me.

My roommate is unemployed.

I haven't seen him sober since the Super Bowl.

Empty vodka bottles have been piling up in the sink all week. 

I point to the officer and say, "Can I have a word with you outside?"

I tell him that I'm current on my rent and offer to show him my bank account to prove it, that I never threatened him, and explain the Super Bowl MVP debate and make my observations on my roommate's sobriety. The officer nods and says, "Yeah. I can't believe I'm here for this."

We walk back inside and the officer tells my roommate, "Sir, you can't evict your roommate because he disagrees with you about who should be MVP of the Super Bowl. You're going to have to learn to coexist." My roommate argues with the officer, points at me and says, "I want a..." and I think he wanted to say a "restraining order," but he's slurring his words and instead he said "a replacement order."

And the sad part about this is, that night I figured my roommate out. Shortly before I moved in, his girlfriend of 17 years left him. He's unemployed. He doesn't have many friends. He's turned to other things since she's been gone. I can't be his girlfriend, but he's lonely and wanted a friend.

I get it. There have been times in my life when I've been lonely too. But there are better ways of coping with this. I have my own life and challenges and I don't need to absorb his problems too. 

I walk back outside with the police office and before he gets in the cruiser he apologies to me and asks, "Have you thought about moving out?"

I nod and say, "Yeah."

Stay tuned for Part 3: The Convenience Store, or There's No Way Out Of Here

Monday, May 11, 2015

2015: A Soul-Searching Odyssey, Part 1 -- The New Hampshire Project

Despite the title, this post really begins at the end of October 2014, when I had my annual review with my employer (Company A).

It was an excellent review, and it came with a big raise -- bigger than I expected. And my boss asked me if I would be interested in taking on the challenge of a bigger store.

Company A has a couple dozen stores. Most of them are located in Massachusetts; however, two of them are in New Hampshire. I liked the idea of running a bigger store. But I had just moved to Worcester after having some issues with my previous landlord. I remember the exact words I said to my boss:

"Well, I wouldn't want to move to New Hampshire, but yeah, I'd be interested in taking on a bigger store."

A few weeks go by. Fast forward to one morning shortly before Thanksgiving. I had to let another store borrow one of my associates, so I'm by myself. The phone rings and it's my boss.

"I'll be swinging by in about 20 minutes so we can have a conference call."

Conference calls are serious business. Did I fuck something up? "Am I in trouble?" I ask.

"No it's a good call," he says.

"OK, but I'm stuck on the register for the next couple of hours, so I can't be on a conference call."

He says he'll call me right back. When he does, he tells me he's pulled an associate from another store to work the register for me while the conference call is going on.

And then they hit me with it: the manager of one of the New Hampshire stores has resigned, and they want me to take it over.

And I'm like, Figures.

I ask a few questions. It's a big store -- the third-biggest store in the entire chain. And I've been in the professional world long enough to know, when they ask you about a potential promotion, they want you to take it. If you don't, you may never get offered a promotion again. After asking all the questions about the store, I asked, "So, would this come with another raise?"

"Well, think it over and we can discuss that in a day or two."

I just got a pretty decent-sized raise. It's not normal to receive two raises in such a short period of time. That said, if they trust me to run one of their biggest stores, I think my salary should reflect that. This was an opportunity to force myself to move out of my comfort zone. I crunched some numbers and came up with a salary figure that, I thought, was a little outrageous. A lot bigger than the big raise I just got. It's either going to scare them off, in which case I'm comfortably in central Massachusetts, or I get a salary offer that's too good to turn down.

The next day, they call back. "Have you given it some thought?" they ask me.

"Yes," I say, "but in order to move up to New Hampshire I feel like I should be paid $x/week."


"Well we can't pay you $x/week. But we can pay you $x - 15/week."

Well, then. This wouldn't be the largest raise I've ever received (I got a whopper of a raise when I was promoted to management at the 2010 Census). But it was easily the second-largest raise. I can't really turn this down over $15 a week.

That was it. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, I was New Hampshire-bound.

And thus, the wheels were set into motion, and one of the craziest years of my life (and hell it's only May) began.

Stay tuned for Part 2: How To Be Interrogated By Police Without Really Trying