Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years After...

Wow, another decade draws to a close. And spare me that crap about how the new decade doesn't begin until next year--That may be technically right, but nobody cares. (Seriously, people who jump into a conversation with this nugget of 'wisdom' just need to be kicked in the nuts for aggravated dorkiness). But the 'Aughts' are over, and now we get to the 'teens.

Everyone knows that the calendar speeds up as you get older, but damn, it really doesn't feel like it's been ten years since that whole Y2K nonsense went down.

Back in late 1999, when I was working at Schwab, they wasted untold millions of dollars preparing for the digital apocalypse that never came, and as big of a pain in the ass as it was, we managed to have some fun with it. Oh, they sent out tons of mailers in everyone's monthly statements, and then had an entire web page devoted to the steps they were taking and the preparations that were being made. But that didn't matter--we still had several, shall we say, 'experienced' customers who had to be hand-held through the whole process. After awhile, it just got to be a pain in the ass.

There was this one old dude that called in about a dozen times a day because he had nothing better to do, and he was on everybody's "ah crap, there goes a half hour of my day" list. His name was "Brooker" and everyone dreaded the phone call. He was a senile old man, but had just enough marbles left upstairs to be a pain in the ass.

One day during Christmas week, Eddie B and I were wasting time over at our buddy Devin's desk. Work had finally slowed down a bit, so we were goofing off over there talking about all the usual guy stuff--fantasy football, the college bowl games, Leslie in Trade Support's legs...--when Devin's phone rang. We thought it would be a quick 'quote call', but it was Brooker calling in. Devin snapped his fingers at us to get our attention, and he put the call on speaker-phone. The first thing the old guy says is Hey, tell me about this whole Y2K thing.

Not a conversation you want to involve yourself in. If you rise to the challenge, the rest of your day is gone. Eddie and I shook our heads in sympathy, thinking, Oh man, that sucks but on the inside we were thinking Whew--better him than me!

Devin, however was pretty savvy. The first thing he said was Oh yes sir Mr. Brooker, we have a team of specialists that can assist you with all of your questions about that--one second I'll transfer you over.

We thought he was gonna just dump the call back into the general call-center 800-line queue, but instead, he transferred old man Brooker to our Chinese Telebroker line. Yeah, it was a voice activated, menu-driven automated trading line, but all in Mandarin Chinese.

At the time, it was one of the funniest f*cking things I've ever heard. We sat there laughing our asses off for a good ten minutes listening to this guy on speakerphone lose his shit cursing at the disembodied Chinese voice on the conference line. Good times!

It's hard to believe that it was so long ago. It sure doesn't seem like ten years.

I've already mentioned in an earlier post how we all had to work on New Year's Day at 6:00 am, because the geniuses at company HQ just knew we'd be getting thousands of calls that morning. It didn't stop us from having a great time the night before.

I took my psycho-girlfriend-with-the-huge-rack Corinne out to dinner at the Macaroni Grill, then we met up with everyone else over at Devin's house for the big party. We bailed at 12:30, went back to my place to crash for a couple of hours, then got up at five to go to work (yeah, she worked there at Schwab, too). The day was a total waste, but at least misery had company. We sat there throwing the nerf football around the cube farm and setting up a full-on 18-hole putting course to keep ourselves entertained, but none of us took a single call. They cut us loose after just three or four hours.

I remember walking out and getting sidetracked by a couple of my friends, and we ended up sitting in the bar all day after that, drinking pitchers of beer and making jokes about what we were gonna do with all the canned goods and bottled water we'd been stocking up on.

But the year 2000 was memorable for a lot of reasons. I remember teaching one of my famous option trading classes in early April, and that Friday, the 14th, we finished up and the entire class escaped the office and went to lunch at Houston's. We were watching the TV in the bar, tuned to CNBC, and saw that the market was taking a huge dump--down around 500 points with just an hour left until the closing bell. Since we were all in the finance biz, that was the topic of conversation all during lunch, and I remember saying Oh well, it just means that everything will be on sale on Monday!

Boy, was I ever wrong. That was the beginning of the end of the tech bubble that not only cost me my job and my house, but almost $80,000 that I'd saved and invested, too. Damn, my kingdom for a time machine--I'd go back, cash out all that money earlier in the week, and then buy as many Enron puts as I could afford!

Besides the market crash, 2000 was also the year I bought my condo (a perfect place for me, and I wish I still had it), and was also the first year of the Sibling Revelry cruise that became a tradition with me and my sisters. It doesn't matter how many cruises we've been on since then, we all agree that there was something special about that first one, and I don't think it'll ever be topped. It set the bar pretty high, and those memories are some of my favorites.

2001 seemed ok when it started, but it turned out to be a tough one. The marked continued on it's downward spiral for over a year, and on my birthday, I got laid off, along with about 300 of my co-workers. The economy in Phoenix was in the shiatter, but I got such a generous severance package that I didn't worry too much about it. I grew up in the 80's and profited immensely from the go-go late 90's, so I had no idea what a recession was. So I said screw it and took the entire summer off. I didn't even bother looking for a job, figuring that I'd wait until September and waltz right in to something.

So I spent my summer sleeping in late and watching MTV, then in the early afternoon I'd grab a 12-pack of Pacifico and some meat for the grill, and head over to Derek's place, where we'd have a few buddies over to eat, drink, and bitch about the market. Since money wasn't an issue, I spent whatever time I could out in Marina Del Rey, taking sailing classes and hanging out on the beach. Ed W got the bug later in the summer, and he joined me. Those were some great times.

Of course, the big bummer of the year was September 11th, and that put a damper on things, although I had a very memorable cruise just a week later. That also put the economy into a further tailspin, and my plan of finding a job in September came up just a wee bit short. It turns out that I went unemployed for eleven months, not finding another decent job until March of 2002. (Well, I did work for Washington Mutual for a few weeks in that stretch, but oh dear god that was the most horrible work experience I think I've ever had).

Early 2002 was about the toughest stretch I've ever had in my life--I went absolutely broke. My boys had chipped in enough for me to go to Vegas for March Madness, and a hot craps roll on our last night in town gave me enough money to pay the rent for the next month (by then I'd moved out of the condo and was living with Derek) and cover my expenses on an Easter weekend sailing trip to Catalina with my buddies. But after that, I was flat-ass broke. I remember the day vividly that I hit rock bottom.

I literally did not have a dime to my name, no more money in savings, my retirement account was cashed out, no unemployment benefits, I hadn't picked up any temp work in almost three weeks, and I was down to accepting a $10-an-hour call center job at American Express. I hadn't gotten the formal 'offer' yet, but I'd been through all the interviews and hoops and such and was just waiting for a call telling me what day they wanted me to start. At that point I was desperate, so ten bucks an hour was enough to live on until I found a real job.

Oh, they called me one morning, and instead of saying Come in on Monday morning, they told me that as much as they'd like me to join their team, there was a sudden hiring freeze, so they were unable to make me an offer at that time...

I hung up the phone and just laid back on the bed. I must've stared at the ceiling for two hours--I had absolutely no other plan at that point, no options. I think the best I could come up with was to have a garage sale, sell all my stuff, and then just move back to Atlanta and live in my dad's basement for awhile until I got back on my feet. That's the best I could come up with. Months of job searching in Phoenix had come up empty.

Amazingly, just at the depth of my despair, the phone rang again. I'd been putting out resumes and applications for months, casting my net far and wide, but until then, absolutely nothing had come up.

But on that very day when I thought all was lost, I got a call from a recruiter who I hadn't heard from in three months, and he had a lead for me. There was a new start-up tech company that needed non-geek people in a bad way. They offered $12 bucks an hour plus commissions, and then after 90 days, full-time work with benefits and a raise.

Oh hell yeah. Salvation was at hand. The name of the company?

I jumped on that job like a Great Dane on a porkchop, thrilled to finally be working again. It turns out that they had all kinds of tech-savvy folks, but nobody that could talk to people--the whole place was full of nerds, and they figured it would be easier to find normal people who could talk and sell and train them in technical matters than it would be to train geeks to talk to normal customers.

Things turned around pretty quickly for me after that. I started making huge commissions, and I also managed to sell my condo for a nice $1000 profit about two weeks ahead of the foreclosure. I took that money and Eddie and I had a helluva great weekend in Vegas. Not only did I triple it, but I hooked up with a cute little blond gal on our last night in town, so it was one of the best Vegas trips ever.

Those huge commissions I was making led to friction, however. Every week, they'd send out a company-wide spreadsheet showing who earned what as far as commissions went, and me and another guy were just crushing everyone else.

It came to a head in October. I had just gotten back from the worst trip to Vegas I'd ever had, and that week we had a big meeting where they told us that they'd be restructuring the commissions the next quarter. That sucked. So I figured it would be time to move on again soon. The week before Christmas, they gave us the bad news. The way they f*cked us over would make me go from making about $500-$800 in commissions every paycheck would knock me down to less than half of that.

I gave my notice less than a week later.

I had a little bit of money in the bank, and after such a tough year, I decided to get out of Phoenix and move back to Nashville.

In January of 2003, I loaded up a U-haul trailer, said goodbye to all my buddies, and Eddie B and I headed east on an epic road trip. We arrived in Nashville 38 hours later in the middle of a blizzard, but we were wearing shorts and flip-flops, having left sunny Phoenix the day before.

It was tough going at first, but I managed to find a decent job on the trading desk of a small brokerage just two months later. I thought it was a great opportunity at first--low stress, good money--but it was the textbook definition of a dead-end job. No bonuses, no chance for advancement, and it turned out to be really boring. Not only that, but I had to put up with the Oxford Mafia. Half the guys who worked there went to Ole Miss, and if you weren't part of the club, well, you weren't part of the club. Besides, living in Nashville was really dull. Aside from the family, I really didn't have any friends or much of a social life besides a regular Tuesday-night card game at the Nashville City Club. That was it--I was bored senseless living there in Tennessee.

I wasn't too upset when less than two years later, the brokerage I was working for got bought out. I was told that I could keep the job, but if I did, I'd have to move to Memphis or Little Rock.

Uh, I'll take "None Of The Above" for $8,000, Alex!

Yep, that's what I got for a severance package, so I decided to take the money and move to Las Vegas and work as a casino dealer. I kicked around doing nothing for a couple of months, and then Amy and I made an epic road trip west in February of 2005. (Oh yeah, that story is another one of those long posts that I'll do someday).

About five weeks later, I got my first job dealing dice at the Golden Gate, and then fell ass-backwards into a real job at a big casino a month after that. I've been at the same place ever since, but a year and a half ago I left the dice, blackjack, and Pai Gow tables for the poker room, and I've not looked back.

I really enjoy dealing poker, and it would be the perfect job if I could just get to do it full-time. But I can't complain too much. There are a lot of pros and cons to working in a casino, and overall, the good outweighs the bad. It must, because this is the longest I've worked for one company in my entire adult life!

But here we are on the cusp of 2010, another decade in the books. It's hard to believe, but I've been living in Las Vegas for going on five years now. If you would've asked me back in 1999 what I'd be doing ten years down the road, I would've said "teaching options classes at Schwab, going to happy hour at Aunt Chilada's every Friday afternoon, and spending all my vacation time sailing to Catalina". Funny how life sometimes throws you a curveball or two. But even with all the ups and downs, Joe Walsh said it best--Life's been good to me so far...

Happy New Year everybody!


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