Because the Road to Nowhere Leads to Me

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Road to Nowhere – The Biggest Mistake of My Life

Red Eye Stop

I had spent the weekend dreaming of my new Corvette but struggled to control my excitement because I knew from past experiences that allowing hope to overwhelm reason would often result in disappointment. I wanted to tell all of my friends about the test drive and the deals that were being made but limited myself to telling only one other person when I pulled Shawn aside and spoke with him quietly allowing myself a moment of release.

After the weekend ended, I had never been so happy to see a Monday morning. I practically jumped out of bed and made the morning rounds with a bounce in my step before getting behind the wheel of my Camaro for what I believed to be the last time. I anxiously awaited the phone call from Ronnie; the Chevrolet dealership manager that assured me the necessary strings had been pulled but as the hours ticked away, my excitement gradually turned to despair.

Most of the day dragged by with the phone ringing numerous times but none were the one I wanted. In the final hour, I decided to call Ronnie instead but he had already left for the day. By the time that Tuesday morning rolled around, I had already decided that I would go to the dealership on my lunch hour and find out exactly where everything stood.

A few hours passed and late in the morning, I decided to step out of the office to visit the convenience store located across the street. I honestly don’t remember if I intended to make a purchase or if I just wanted out of the office to get away from the phone that refused to ring. I was walking by the bathrooms on my way to the beverages when I decided to make a pit stop. The men’s room was out of order but the cashier, who had come to know me over the past year permitted me to use the employee bathroom.

The bathroom had the basic sink and toilet but it also served as a secondary storage closet with the usual supplies stacked in the corner on a shelf. The door was being held open by a bungee cord that had been hooked around the knob and anchored to the shelf by a knot on the other end. When I reached to remove the cord, I heard a warning in the back of my mind; that little voice that reminded me how dangerous bungee cords can be but somehow in that moment it wasn’t enough. After unhooking the bungee, the metal hook slipped from my fingers and struck my left eye.

Upon impact, I saw a bright flash of light and felt a burn that left me staggered. My first instinct was to rub my eye but all I could feel was a warm wetness against my hand. I tried to open it but the burn was far too intense and after having lost the vision in my right eye to diabetes several years earlier, I found myself completely blind.

I felt along the wall and made my way back into the store calling out for help to anyone that could hear me. I recognized the voice of the cashier as she reached out and guided me to a chair behind the counter. She asked me to hold my head back and I felt the rough texture of a towel against my face. It was cool to the touch, moistened with cold water and I held it there while she asked what had happened. Obviously I couldn’t open the left eye but it stung just to open the right so I kept both eyes closed while I explained everything.

One of the oil company employees came into the store and found me there before guiding me back across the street to my office where I called Heather to come pick me up. I could hear the gasp of fear in her voice followed by that sense of urgency that so many of us experience when panicked.

She arrived very quickly and drove me to the Ophthalmologist that had served as my primary eye care physician over the past decade. Soon thereafter, I was placed in one of the rooms. The nurse had applied numbing drops to both eyes so that I could be examined but it didn’t do much good. The eye had filled with blood and the doctor couldn’t get a clear view of the damage. His recommendation was that I go home and rest for a few days, give the blood a chance to clear and come back on Friday for a more thorough examination to better estimate the amount of damage done.

It would be three very long days before I discovered that the bungee had ruptured the lens and that it would need to be replaced with an implant. Numerous blood vessels had bursts under the strain, continued leaking deposits into my eye and would require a multitude of laser surgeries to repair the damage. I had a long road ahead but my life had come to a complete standstill while I repeatedly replayed the moment in my mind. So many variables had come into play that day and it was enough to drive anyone mad if given enough time; something I suddenly found in abundance while dwelling in the darkness. The life that I knew was over and it had all vanished in the blink of an eye.

Little Red Corvette – Another Dream Within Reach

1997_Corvette_Coupe

I have dreamed of owning a Chevrolet Corvette since I was a young boy. It was my first choice when pushing Matchbox cars around the tracks that I had fashioned in the dirt, the ramps made of cardboard and the electric and radio controlled toys that followed. The first time I watched the movie Corvette Summer starring Mark Hamill, I thought it was one of the most beautiful cars I had ever seen on screen; a Hot Wheels brought to life and I simply had to have one.

Before my mother’s passing, she had offered to buy me a Corvette for my sixteenth birthday. With our being as poor as we were, often struggling to make ends meet, I honestly don’t believe she could have ever afforded it and maybe she was just making empty promises as she often did while drinking but to a naïve teenage boy, it was a promise worth holding onto.

My sixteenth birthday came and went just as many other days with her plowing through cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon before passing out while I sat in my room quietly just waiting for the day to end.

I still held onto the dream however planning to make the purchase myself one day after the “you can be anything you want” speeches had convinced me that it was meant to be. When I wanted to be a rock star, I thought of all the Corvettes I would own. And when I studied architectural design, I envisioned a future with the big house on the beach and the Corvette in the garage.

I admit that I lost sight of the dream after tasting office politics and having that bitterness  linger in my mouth but while managing the oil company, the dream came back stronger than ever with a very real possibility of it actually coming true.

My Mazda Rx-7 had been burning through so much oil that I had to keep extra quarts in the car just to keep it topped off each week. Smoke billowed from the dual exhaust every time I started it up, if it stated up at all. It was getting harder with each turn of the key and I found myself paying a mobile mechanic $250.00 each week just to keep it on the road. Just over a month and more than a thousand dollars later, I decided it was time for the trade-in. But it wasn’t the Corvette that I went after. Instead it was a Camaro that was two years old; red with a grey cloth interior and black T-tops. I chose it because the divorce and subsequent Chapter 11 filing had ruined my credit. I was paying far too much for my monthly payments but it was still less than half of what the Mazda was costing me. And I was thinking that maybe, just maybe I could pay on the Camaro for a while, show that I was a responsible consumer, maybe build up my credit score and finally get the car that I had dreamt of for almost 30 years.

After getting the raise at the oil company, I was ready to make my move and take the leap from Camaro to Corvette. After all of that time, I was finally ready to sign on the bottom line and get the deal done. Heather and I drove to the local Chevy dealership where they had a Torch Red Corvette sitting on the showroom floor. I sat down behind the wheel, smelled the new leather and felt a surge of excitement pass over me. I spoke with the dealership manager who was on good terms with my boss after brokering the deals whenever he wanted his next Corvette. I explained my past financial problems, the ugly divorce and the even uglier bankruptcy. I continued by explaining how I could make the Corvette payments easily with less than one week’s pay, how it had been a lifelong dream and how I needed his help to make it happen.

He ran the numbers and the request was automatically rejected but he told me not to lose hope because he was friends with a local bank president that often golfed with him on the weekends. He offered to speak with the banker and promised we would get everything ironed out before the close of business day Monday.

I asked to take the car for a test drive. I couldn’t resist the urge but instead of allowing me to enjoy my cherry red, I was handed the keys to a Bowling Green model they had parked on the lot. Heather and I got in and with a quick turn of the key, I sat there feeling the power at my fingertips. I drove the car downtown before hopping on the highway and giving it some gas. The sound coming from the engine was a low rhythmic rumble as it smoothly accelerated to cruising speeds that allowed me to breeze by the other vehicles. Sitting behind the wheel of a dream and having Heather at my side on a sunny Saturday afternoon was a perfect moment in my life or at least as close as it could have been without having signed my name to the paperwork and claiming ownership of my prize.

Now I hold onto that perfect memory because my life was about to be forever altered and sitting behind the wheel of that test drive Corvette would be the closest I would ever come to driving that dream before being forced to walk down a much darker path.

Money Talks – Another Oily Company Offering

Sanke3

I had been managing the oil company for nearly a year and I imagine this is where any number of people working any number of jobs might say that it had its fair share of ups and downs but that simply wasn’t true. Aside from a nice paycheck and weekends off, the position was mostly a downward spiral with a dead end destination.

During a moment of weakness after a particularly brutal few months, I let down my guard of professional fascade and confessed my frustrations to one of our frequent business associates. I told him how tired I was of all the bullshit. I had made that company a lot of money during my tenure. I had made the employees a lot of money. And I had tried and lied to help them whenever I could however I could. But none of that mattered because I was just the guy in the office doing a woman’s work, something that real men would never do. Or at least that was the perception created by years of ignorant inbreeding and the ever popular redneck mentality that clung to that place like the crack heads clung to their pipes.

After spilling my guts to our business partner, the CEO of his own oil company out of Atlanta, he surpised me with a job offer but it wasn’t just any job. He promised a hefty pay increase, full benefits package complete with all the bells and whistles, a company vehicle and the respect that I so richly deserved. But everything comes with a price and my golden ticket as it turned out would require me to betray my boss. Remember when I said that the oil business was a pit full of vipers? Well this particular snake in the grass wanted me to turn over all of the customer names, the volume of oil they produced, service dates and most importantly, the revenue they generated as he planned on expanding his business to South Carolina and handing me the keys to the kingdom.

Now I could pretend that I was above such tactics but after sinking low and going nowhere fast, I had to at least consider his offer. I even copied all of the necessary files to a flash drive and took them home with me while I pondered the possibilities. All I had to do to get the white collar career that I wanted was burn my current boss to the ground.

I took the weekend to think about it and when Monday morning rolled around, I declined the offer. I would like to believe that some kind of morality was in play, a sense of doing the right thing, making the good choice but the fact that all I had was the word of a man so ruthless that he would ruin the life of another person didn’t sit well in my gut. Everything that he promised could have easily just been what I wanted to hear and there were no guarantees that he would keep me employed after the new business was established. The whole pipe dream could go up in smoke as soon as he got his grubby hands on the information he wanted and it was a risk that I was not willing to take.

My boss came in later that same week and sat down at my desk. He had heard that I was considering going to work for another oil company and wanted the details. How did he know? It didn’t matter because there was nothing to share. I was staying with his company and that was all he needed to know. Had I mentioned the proposed arrangement, I am certain that his anger would have trumped his better judgment potentially severing one of our business contacts and costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. I had been trusted with extremely valuable information and pushed to help build those profit margins. Both were under my protection and I wasn’t ready to see either of them fall.

There was however a powerful bargaining chip in play and my value had been made clear by another company’s interest in me. My boss saw it and reewarded me with a pair of Oakley sunglasses, a massage chair for the office and an immediate $200.00 per week raise with another $300.00 promised on top of that after I helped establish his new quick oil change business. It really didn’t improve the taste of the shit sandwich I had been chewing on but it did make it more palatable.

Into the Black — The Loss of One of My Closest Friends

Into the BlackOne of my closest friends has died.

I first met Derek when I was working as a delivery driver at a local restaurant. I viewed him as one of the luckiest people I had ever met. He came to my home every weekend for almost seven years to hang out in our circle of friends and disappeared after marrying and falling off the radar. The two of us kept in touch by phone however and during our last conversation, we spoke of the usual topics that revolved around work and family. He said that his job kept him jumping and was very proud that his son just turned four. I asked about his ventricular fibrillation, a heart condition that he had been diagnosed with a few years ago and Derek reassured me that the doctors were taking good care of him and that everything was under control. Three days later, he was gone.

His funeral service was labeled “A Celebration of Life” but it wasn’t. It was two preachers from two different churches reading scripture and a guy with an acoustic guitar singing a few songs in between. Most of the faces were strangers and nobody seemed to be celebrating anything, least of all Derek’s life. It seems like everyone should have been sharing their favorite memories of him. The way he would do everything he could to help others and made the world a little brighter just by being in it. I cannot recall a time where he wasn’t smiling, laughing and joking with those around him. And now the thought of never seeing him again consumes me. It doesn’t seem real; more like a poorly written cosmic joke where I’m still waiting for the punchline.

I had hoped to visit his grave to say a private goodbye, to get some closure but his wife had his remains cremated and I was denied the opportunity. Her and I have an unpleasant history to say the least but out of respect for my friend, I will keep those thoughts to myself. I’m sure that sooner or later, it will hit me, that moment where I accept the reality of the situation, break down and allow myself to mourn but for now, there is just a stoic numbness where I am unable to feel the full impact of his passing.

Derek,

I loved you like a brother and counted you as one of my closest friends. You were part of the inner circle and now that circle is broken. I miss you man.

Fire It Up — My Managing a House of Crack

Smoke Face1When I accepted the position of Office Manager at a local waste oil company, I honestly didn’t know anything about running it but it didn’t take long to discover just how dirty the business really was. My office was nothing more than a notepad, desk and 3-drawer filing cabinet filled with crumpled pieces of loose paperwork that the workers had scribbled on and shoved aside. The owner had inherited the business from his father and grew it from the back of a truck with an oil drum to a multimillion dollar facility filled with some family members and a group of his closest friends. He was a spoiled manchild that had grown up with rolls of cash in his pockets and was accustomed to getting whatever he wanted. He showed off his collection of big boy toys before introducing me to his mistress along with his wife and kids. Outside of the family, I was introduced to the rogues gallery of various business associates; many of whom had been corrupted and placed personal gain above any sense of morality. If there was ever a snake in the grass, this was a definitive pit of vipers.

It became obvious that the owner wanted me to run the company so he didn’t have to anymore. One of our first orders of business was to have me added to the company account. I was going to negotiate the prices for our services, the value of the used oil that we sold to refineries and handle the company paychecks. After our trip to the bank, I was given carte blanche to purchase a new computer and whatever else I wanted to personalize the office to meet my needs. After bringing my workspace into this century, I was given a crash course in OSHA regulations, which rules had to be strictly adhered to, which could be bent and which could be broken. But following the rules wasn’t nearly as difficult as trying to lead a den of thieves. The men I worked with were redneck pirates born and bred, just as likely to stab a man in the back as shake his hand. Most of them came from troubled backgrounds that involved any number of crimes that ranged from drunk and disorderly conduct to robberies, charges of violence and drugs. At least two of the employees were addicted to Crack Cocaine but they were kept on the payroll due to their relationship with the owner. I was writing paychecks every Friday ranging anywhere from $2000 to $3000 on average and those men would be completely broke by Monday morning. One of them had a moped that the owner had bought for him and the other walked to work. Knowing that that those two were smoking an excess of $4000 each weekend completely confounded me. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever put themselves in that position, to give up everything for a taste of that pasty white rock. But then I remembered my old friends from my own hard partying days. None of us had picked up a bottle, popped a pill or fired up a smoke with the intention of addiction but it happened anyway. I’m sure we all thought we could handle it just as my co-workers had and just like with everyone else, the addictions proved otherwise. I wondered if granted access to that much money when I was surrounded by the beautiful people at their beautiful parties if I would have fared any better.

Take This Job and Shove It — My Promised Promotion

Warrant DRFSR

I had been training as the new Assistant Manager of the restaurant for months and it had not been an easy transition. I was making far less money than I had been as a delivery driver and even with Heather’s income from The Fresh Market where she worked in the bakery, we were still living from week to week and struggling to make ends meet.

The restaurant had just installed a new computerized system that kept track of practically everything and with my being the only one with any real computer experience, it seemed that most of the employees, including the Manager, looked to me for answers on how to navigate the new technology.

The installation was a shake and bake operation where the system developer sent in a quick setup team that offered basic instructions before vanishing with only a technical support number left behind. I preferred to explore the operating system to find what I needed before dialing the lifeline and it impressed my co-workers. The only other person that had any computer experience at that time was the newly appointed Manager, who frequently enjoyed the use of his WebTV at home. Before that, all records were kept in log books and random sheets of paper stacked and stored around the office.

After everyone became comfortable with the new system, I developed a rotating schedule that not only gave our employees the full time hours they were looking for but offered each of them a full weekend off twice a month. I tried to explain how it would benefit all of us but the idea was quickly dismissed by the Manager. Joe was a great guy, real salt of the earth and as good as they come but he did not like change, especially that which involved new technology and decided the old tradition of manually writing out a schedule for all employees each week was the way to go.

By the end of my training period, I had the restaurant running like a well-oiled machine. Even the owner had complimented me on how far I had come… before introducing me to the new Operations Manager; the very same position that had been dangled before my eyes before I accepted the role of Assistant Manager.

Tony, the new Operations Manager, was a New York Italian that spent the majority of his time staring at women and making lascivious comments. I was in my late 20’s and to watch a man in his early 50’s with a porn star mustache and glossy bald head talk of sticking his tongue between the thighs of some sweet young thing was cringe worthy. It became absolutely disgusting when he stuck his tongue out and lapped at the air in an attempt to show me how he would handle the situation. I couldn’t understand why the owner would hire an oily old pervert but Tony was put in charge over all of us and it was his duty to discuss my promotion after the training period ended.

The two of us went into the office to talk privately. Just as the owner had done, Tony also complimented my work as I sat there thanking him while anxiously awaiting the good news. After all the accolades and praise, I was expecting something big from the previously promised “substantial bump in pay”. No longer would Heather and I have to choose between paying the rent or buying groceries. No longer would we be receiving phone calls from collection agencies or final notices on past due bills. Our financial worries were over… or so I thought. My reward after all that work and effort, months of training and teaching others was only worth an extra $0.50 in their eyes.

“What is that, some kind of introductory rate for completing training? How long before I get the real raise?”

Tony told me that was it. He said that $7.50 an hour was the best they could offer and I refused to believe it with the owner’s teenage son driving around in a brand new Mercedes-Benz. The cycle of thoughts made me furious and it was in that moment that I knew I had to get out of there. What a fool I must have been to ever think that a man who gave us fruit baskets as Christmas bonuses would ever offer fair wages for a job well done.

The meeting ended and I began looking for another job shortly thereafter. I received word from a friend of mine that a local waste oil company was looking for an Office Manager. I told him about my reservations still having a strong distaste of office politics in my mouth but he assured me that would not be the case. I agreed to meet with the owner and took the job before turning in my two week notice at the restaurant.

Tony was displeased with the news. I could see it all over his face while he bit down on and held his slimy tongue. He came back the next day and called me into the office again. He had spoken with the owner and they had decided to offer me a yearly salary of $24,000.00. It was nearly $10,000.00 more each year than that joke of a number they originally gave me and it may have been enough if that had been the original offer but it was a day late and a dollar short.

“I’ve already been offered more than that to start with the new company and its all first shift, Monday through Friday with weekends off.”

Tony lost his temper and turned bright red before shoving a stack of loose paperwork off of the desk to scatter around the room. “How can you manage an office when you can’t even keep this one clean?!” he snapped before storming out. Two, maybe three months later, Tony was found dead. From what I heard, he had a particularly hard night at the restaurant, went home and had a heart attack in his recliner. I felt bad for those who knew and loved him but in all honesty, with the amount of stress he was under, it didn’t come as a surprise. The restaurant went out of business shrtly thereafter and I remember thinking that I got out of there just in time.

Days Go By — My Ex-Girlfriend Moves Back In

Vegas1

You
Still a whisper on my lips
A feeling at my fingertips
That’s pulling at my skin

You
Leave me when I’m at my worst
Feeling as if I’ve been cursed
Bitter cold within

Days go by
And still I think of you
Days when I couldn’t live my life without you
Dirty Vegas, “Days Go By”

It is not very often that we get the opportunity to rekindle a flame after it has been burned to ash. After all of the women I had been with, Jessica was the only one that had come back into my life to share a moment of intimacy before disappearing again. And then there was Gina, whom I suppose could be counted on some deeply sadistic level for the repeated break-up make-up cycle that was the death rattle of our relationship.

But then there was Heather, who had been my most recent girlfriend and even though everything was going well for us as a couple, I decided it was time to end that relationship. The two of us stayed in touch however with frequent phone calls that would sometimes last well into the night and almost always ended on a somber note when one of us had to go. It was that moment where neither of us wanted to hang up the phone that I realized my mistake of letting her go. The conversations shifted and what started out as mundane “How was your day? How have you been? What have you been up to?” evolved into something deeper as we began to discuss the undeniable feelings that were still there between us.

I wish I could remember the words I used to ask her to move back in with me but I can’t. There is just the sense of joy I felt after she said yes, hopped on a bus the next day and came home to me.

I knew the mistakes I had made in the past, the poor decisions, the selfish motivations and unforgivable actions that ultimately left me standing alone at the end of a trail of tears. But more importantly, I knew how to recognize the warning signs and how to avoid them. At least that is what I believed. In my heart and mind, I knew that this time had to be different; it had to work after all of the others didn’t and I was committed to making that happen; I was committed to her.

Randy immediately made plans to move out. He admitted to feeling like a third wheel and had met someone in Las Vegas that offered him a place to stay. He kept his answers intentionally vague saying that they had been talking for a while and he felt that he could trust them to do him right. A name was never offered nor anything else aside from the ambiguous “they” or “them” but given his interest in hermaphrodites, I knew that whatever secrets he guarded or details he decided to divulge were completely up to him. He seemed certain of his decision though and that is all I really needed to know. With a firm handshake and manly hug, he was out the door and I never spoke with or saw him again. I wonder now, more than a decade later, if he ever found what he was looking for. I hope he did and want to believe that he is still in Vegas making every day an adventure.

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