Wednesday, June 14, 2006

An Unexpected Milestone

I was so tired last night from all of the running around I've done for the past several days, that I got home and went straight to bed at 10:30. That meant I was up ready to go at an early hour this morning.

As I prepared a pot of coffee to kickstart the day, I used the last of a package of 500 Albertson's coffee filters that I've been hauling around with me for several years. While adding the water to the coffeemaker, I remembered back to when I first got that package of filters--It was back in September of 2000.

How do I know this?

Well, in September of 2000, in the middle of the summer Olympics in Sydney, three of my sisters and I went on our first cruise together, starting a tradition that we followed every autumn except this past year.

Anyhow, the day after I got back from the cruise was a Monday. I had to work that day, but I left as soon as the market closed, headed over to the bank, and picked up a cashier's check for several thousand dollars. My next stop was to a title company in Tempe, where I spent about 25 minutes signing my name on a stack of papers about half an inch thick, walking out shortly thereafter with the keys to my new condo.

I was now a homeowner.

Having been renting just a bedroom in a private home (kind of like I'm doing now), moving in was a snap, especially since the previous owner left about 90% of the furniture behind.

The following weekend I hosted a housewarming party for about 15 of my closest friends. Being a thoughtful and generous group, I received some fun and useful gifts. My friend Kristin (supermodel hot and as sweet as a box of Valentine's candy) gave me a very cool margarita serving set which is still sitting in the kitchen cabinet at Derek's house back in Tempe. Another thing I got was a new coffeemaker and a basket of related supplies, a package of 500 coffee filters being one of the included items.

I just used the last of the filters this morning.

Standing there waiting for ten cups worth of water to drain through to the grounds gave me plenty of time to reflect on the journey that the coffee filters and I have taken these past six years.

I was laid off from my job just seven short months later, and had to sell the condo (under duress) after owning it for less than two years. I think I beat the foreclosure goons by about three weeks, somehow managing to squeeze out a thousand-dollar profit after paying off the bank.

I ended up moving in with my buddy Derek for about a year before giving up on ever finding a good job in Phoenix. I had worked for a new start-up company in Scottsdale, you may have heard of, called Go-Daddy software (there were only about 30 employees when I started). I started off at the bottom making $12 an hour plus commissions doing tech support and sales. After about three months of that, two other guys and I started a new department called 'Customer Retention' where we proactively went after sales from existing customers, giving them price breaks on hosting and such. We hit our stride about a month later and were cranking out $1000+ weekly commissions, where the average phone toad there was lucky to hit $300. That lasted about about two months before the bosses decided we were making too much money and drastically changed the commission structure and took away about 90% of our incentives, making it impossible to make a decent paycheck.

I gave my notice a week later, rented a trailer, and me and my coffee filters moved to Nashville to be with my family--it had been a very rough year-and-a-half. I ended up moving in to the back room at my mom's house about two miles from downtown, but hell-and-gone from the nightlife and weekend buffoonery I was used to while living on the cusp of Scottsdale with my buddies. The filters stayed in a storage box in the attic with most of the rest of my kitchen supplies for the duration of my stay in Tennessee.

It took a couple of months, but I managed to find a decent job back in the world I knew--trading options, stocks, and mutual funds for a securities company. The money was fairly good, but the work was extremely boring. Having worked for a behemoth like Schwab for years, where trading options for active clients was a lot like standing at a hot dice table for eight hours a day, a little boutique type of place with field brokers scattered all over the small towns calling in to make $500 trades once a week was a step down on the excitement scale.

I realized about two months into my career there that it was the textbook definition of a dead-end job. No chance for promotion or transfer, and since the company was owned by a bank, there were no quarterly bonuses and annual raises were a 2% joke. The only saving grace was that my boss and the other four guys I worked with all graduated from SEC schools, so the sports banter was never-ending.

After having been un- and underemployed for almost two years, I was finally able to start paying off the thousands of dollars in debt I'd been drowning in when the tech bubble burst and sent the economy (and me) into a tailspin. I'd lost almost $80,000 in the market and had all of my savings wiped out, but living on the cheap in Nashville and taking home a decent paycheck, I started to claw my way back.

My biggest obstacle was my new truck. I'd bought a brand-new Nissan Frontier in March of 2001, and I've mentioned before that my first payment was due on the day after I got laid off. It wasn't much of a problem right away because I got a generous severance package, but six months later, the money ran out, and the economy was still in the shitter (this was right after 9/11). After negotiations with the finance company failed to yield any workable solutions, (and having moved out of my address of record), I just sent money orders in for a few bucks here and there whenever I had any spare cash. So I fell sharply behind in my payments, but since they didn't have my address, the repo man couldn't find me.

Anyhow, now that I was in Nashville and had a good income, I started sending in double payments to try and catch up. After a couple of months of that, I re-established contact with the finance company to try to make some sort of arrangement. They were all sweetness and joy, telling me that it was no problemo and they were happy to accomodate me. So a couple days later I sent them a check (with my current Nashville address printed on it) for $800, thinking all was well and there was a light at the end of the tunnel of financial despair I'd been trudging through for the previous two years. Two weeks after that, I woke up to find that the repo man took my truck in the middle of the night.


One step forward, two steps back.

The fact that I had the truck repo'd didn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that I'd just sent them eight hundred bucks. Of course the check had already cleared. So I borrowed mom's car for a couple of weeks to make the daily commute until I had enough cash put together to find cheapass used car from one of the small lots in the not-so-nice part of town.

Hello, Ghetto Sled!

About this time, I found out that my job at the securities company was being eliminated, due to the fact that Regions Bank was buying out Union Planters (the bank which owned the company I worked for). Regions had a huge brokerage operation going already since they owned Morgan Keegan, so they didn't need the five of us. Long story short, I was told I had a choice to either move to Little Rock or Memphis and keep my job, or take a severence package. Having been to both cities, it took me about half a second to tell them to give me the severance package. I'd been laid off before, I knew what to expect.

Two months later, I got all of the storage boxes down out of the attic, loaded up a U-haul trailer, and me and the rest of my coffee filters found our way to Vegas after a most adventuresome cross-country trek.

The rest, they say, is history. Life in Vegas has been a positive experience, and I'm finally back on the same track, financially, as I was five years ago.

500 pots of coffee. Who ever would of guessed that it could be such an adventure?


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