What I write this week is a private story. I’ve shared with no one. It is embarrassing and raw.
I have not told anyone for fear people believe I’m a thief. Or plain irresponsible. Or that the story is so outlandish that I’m only making stuff up, that this couldn’t possibly happen to anyone.
My car—the one I crawled in and out of the passenger door to play the sympathy card for bigger tips—broke down. Part of my on-the-job responsibilities as an assistant manager at national pizza franchise, was to deliver pizzas, and a non-working car just wasn’t going to work. The repair bill was a cool $1500.
I told Bob, the regional director, that I would not be able to deliver until I earned enough cash to fix the car. He met me at my house. I made him coffee and we sat at my kitchen table. “A broke down car is unacceptable,” he said.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“The job aside, how are you even going to get groceries every week? How is your wife going to get to her job?”
The regional director is the same man that only a few months ago hunted me down for oversleeping. We had a school lunch contract, and I overslept. He walked around my entire duplex, knocking on both front and back doors while I hid underneath the kitchen table in fear. In retrospect, I am not certain what exactly I was afraid of: losing my job, being confronted by a man I respected beyond words?
Bob caught one of his managers doing lines of coke. The cash register was always short every night by at least a hundred bucks to help support the addiction. Instead of firing the manager, Bob placed the manager on personal leave with half pay and sent him to a rehab clinic, which the franchise paid for. The manager was out for 180 days and returned to work as an assistant manager though he retained his manager level pay.
For me, Bob drove me to the school lunch program director’s office, walked me in, and had me apologize to the school. Bob then discontinued the school lunch program because he felt the work load was too much for his employees overall. Bob, if you are reading this now, I cannot thank you enough. This is how corporate America should work.
“I want to loan you the money to fix your car.”
“I can’t afford a loan.”
“Look, we’ll take it out of the store’s operating expense account, and you can pay back a little a time. We can even have the payment automatically deducted from your paycheck.”
I nodded, and every payday, Bob made a point to visit my particular store, took me aside and asked if I was handling the repayments okay. “This is not a financial burden to you?” he asked.
“No. It’s fine.”
“We can lower the payments.”
“I know, but I’m fine.”
“It’s not a problem? Not an issue?”
“Bob, I’m okay.”
“Okay then,” he said. “But you’ll tell me if it’s too much?”
Except, the job in general was a financial burden. Not because of the car. I just wasn’t making enough money. To live successfully in Columbus, you either needed a small studio apartment or two jobs, and at the time my wife Mary was not working.
One day, I went into Burger King for a quick bite, and ran into another of the pizza franchise’s managers working behind the line, and I thought that’s exactly what I needed, a second job.
Mary and I used to drive past this little local grocery store on High Street that every spring put out a huge display of flowers. We had stopped and purchased a few mums to plant out front of our home. And they were hiring. I filled out an application and spoke to the owner. He hired me to work in the produce department. I spent my mornings clipping the brown off the tops of romaine lettuce and restocking the floor. In the afternoons, I went to the pizza shop.
The grocery store owner called me into his office. “Why do you work at that pizza shop?” he asked. I told him about the car. I told him about the sense of community I felt. I told him how I felt like, even though it was just pizza, I felt like I was working toward a greater good somehow. “I’ll make you a full-time department manager, give you three dollars more an hour, and hire your wife on the spot if you quit.”
I put in my two week notice at the pizza shop and that by far was the worse decision I have ever made.