When I was in my mid-twenties in the 90’s, I had a job working as an account manager for a national janitorial company. We would contract with someplace like Best Buy to clean all the stores in a given district, and then find local folks to subcontract the individual stores to. We made money on the spread between the amount we got and the amount we paid the subs.
Because I am pretty good at de-escalation and have good people skills, I would often be used as a trouble-shooter on troubled accounts. There was much I did not like about this job: Many of the subcontractors were undocumented folks we were taking advantage of; Our entire business model consisted of paying as little as we could to small business so we could make as much money as possible; and we always took the side of the clients over the workers. Always.
When I first started troubleshooting, I was told by the CEO of our firm that his technique in these situations was to do a site visit, assemble the cleaning crew, tell them their performance had been unacceptable, and then fire half of them right then.
I asked how he knew which ones had been causing the problems.
“I don’t,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. They don’t speak English, so you couldn’t find out anyway. Just fire half of them, and the rest will be so scared they will do whatever you tell them.”
Then he invited me and my then-wife to come to the Christmas pageant at his church.
“The choir is so good. It just really makes you feel like Jesus is right there, you know?” he told me.
See? There are reasons this was not to be my career.
Anyway. The one thing I did like about this job was that I traveled a lot. I would fly into Flint, Michigan, for example, and then rent a mid-sized car and spend a week visiting every Best Buy in the state – I think there were 14 of them at the time. I might drive 5 hours, and then visit with the store manager and do a tour and makes appropriate noises and then drive 3 hours and do the same things in a different store, and then rent a room at whatever motel was by the store and eat at a decent chain restaurant and then go back to the room and crash, because I needed to be up at 4AM to see the cleaning crew, and then keep repeating that until I had seen the whole district.
I don’t like driving, but I like solo road trips. I like the meditative aspects of the roadside passing by, the sky unfolding in front of you, the hum of the tires on the asphalt, the feeling of vastness that is this country.
This Thursday, I’m renting a mid-sized car and driving 12 hours to Raleigh, NC for the memorial service for my friend Blugh. She died way too early, for reasons that make no sense to anyone, especially not her partner and kids.
When I met her, she was homeless but getting clean after years of a heroin habit. Eventually, she got and stayed clean and came to work with me as a Peer Support Specialist, helping people who were still using or who were experiencing homelessness get access to resources they needed. She was so good at that work – it was as if she had been made to do it.
Even after I moved away we still talked on the phone once a month or so, and back in October, she asked me if I thought she should keep doing this work. She was in a rough patch, and she was considering giving it up. I told her that she was incredibly gifted at this work, but that one doesn’t win wars by dying for your country. I wish I had advocated harder for the “take care of yourself” camp.
I’m giving myself 24 hours to do a 12-hour drive so I have time to be alone with my thoughts. I might drive straight through, but also might just stop at a motel along the way if I get tired.
In other words, it’s pretty unstructured. I need the alone time to think, time to remember my friend, and tell myself that none of this is my fault.
Eventually, I may even believe it.