As with all stories, one must start at the beginning:
For the past few months, sales at the dealership have been low. Michigan's economy is tanking, gas prices keep shooting up...it's hard for the lower-income to afford to pay for a car. My dealership works with bad-credit/no-credit customers, charging higher costs and interest rates.
One of my struggles has been this line of work. On one hand, I'm helping poor customers who've fallen on hard times. On the other, I'm charging double the worth of the vehicle and a percentage rate that rivals biblical usury. It's hard to be a good Catholic and work in this type of environment.
Monday I came into work like any other Monday. I did my morning walk-through and stopped in my General Manager's office to say "Good Morning." The office was empty, and the desk was clean...a little too clean. There were no knick-knacks, pictures, or paperwork. Interesting, but I let it slip my mind.
I ran to Speedway to grab my morning
We talked for a few minutes. During the discussion, my buddy surprised me:
"You know, Bossman is looking for you."
"Uh oh," I said jokingly. "What did I do?"
"He's looking for someone to do sales. He wants to be buying cars, not selling 'em. I told him you were a good guy, and I think he wants to ask you if you wanna run the show here."
For those not familiar with the car business, not every dealership looks like King of Cars on TV. Small dealerships usually have one guy (or gal) doing everything: sales, finance, title, and bookwork. My buddy's dealership had near 20 cars, mostly German and Asian imports, with a few techs in back to service the cars. Because of gas prices and popularity, the dealership gets a tremendous amount of floor traffic. Since the owner is the only salesman, he is not always there, and misses out on customers and possible sales.
The sound of Vito: General Manager sounded great. I knew the money would be excellent. But was I ready to make that huge of a commitment? Should I change jobs when I'm this close to paying off all my debt? Should I consider a job that loses me health insurance, retirement benefits, and 3 years of seniority (if seniority actually exists in the car business), but offers me much more money? Would I handle the extra responsibility? What about next August?
I happily considered the offer, then went back to my dealership.
Soon after I returned, the finance manager has a quick meeting with the sales staff: "The GM is no longer with the company. We've decided to move in a new direction. There's more changes coming as well. I'll keep you informed."
"Oh shit," I thought. "I know what more changes means. My customers have repossessions because their company wanted to make more changes." I considered the options, and the possibility that I may soon be out of a job. I've been on the receiving end of a "company restructuring" before. Should I stay and chance it? Should I jump on this opportunity? Again...what about my personal debt and August of 2008? Is this a roadblock, a fork in the road, or the path I'm meant to take?
As I tried to discern a decision in the midst of a business day, I thought about what my feelings were: I was at odds with my current job, despite the security it offered. Only weeks before, I was ecstatic about the poker place announcing plans to play seven days a week (check out that alliteration!). Was this opportunity any different? Did I want out of the car business altogether, or just the BHPH game? Is this an answer to my prayers of concern, or the devil's way of tempting me away from thoughts of priesthood? Oh, if I only had more time!!!
I took a few moments, saying: "God, give me strength. God, give me wisdom. God, give me courage." I knew a decision had to be made that day, and that any decision would wrench me from my comfort zone. I had a plan, now I had to make a new one.
I was working with a customer when my buddy from across the street walks into my dealership.
"Hey, whats up?" I asked, already knowing what he wanted.
Rather than saying "Hey, Bossman wants to see you," he tilted his head towards the other dealership across the street. I knew what he meant, and I knew it had to be done soon. I told him I'd be over as soon as possible.
Perhaps by dumb luck or divine intervention, I answered the phone soon after. On the other line, I hear a familiar message:
"This is collect call from (enter name here) calling from County Corrections Facility. If you would like to accept the charges..."
Normally, one would deny a collect call. However the person that called was the owner's son.
He was slightly frantic, and wanted to speak with his sister, the finance manager. I don't know what was said, but that day, his sister was gone for several hours...presumably to post bail. I looked online to see the arrest charge. The listing said "Public Intoxication."
It was the final piece of the puzzle. If they fired my current boss, this kid calling from jail will be my future boss. Do I want that? I won't judge another for being in jail, I know what it's like. But if he's responsible for my job and sales, I'm no longer confident about my position.
I walked across the street again, expecting to speak with Bossman. He is Bosnian, so his English is somewhat broken. He's a great guy, always has a smile, and seems to think I'm the perfect candidate for running the dealership.
"VEE-toe!" he says when I enter his office. "You are good guy! When do you want to start? I already sell four cars today!"
I was fishing for more information, but I could tell he was doing the same. My hands shook just a little because of the hectic day. It got his attention. We were examining each other, hoping get a better read on each other.
"I let you be Sales Manager," he tells me. "You run things how you feel is best. I prefer to buy cars. I can't be here to sell. Look at all the people. I can't keep cars on the lot!"
And he was right. His lot was busy. I looked across the street to my lot; I could almost see tumbleweeds blowing across.
"Let me talk to my Manager," I finally told him. "I want some time to think it over."
"Does something scare you?" he asked.
He'd already seen me shaking a little. I didn't want to tell him I was scared out of my mind, but he already knew. To save face, I told him about insurance coverage, and how important that was to me. He agreed that it was a serious concern, and something to think about. He said he could not offer insurance yet, but he hoped to within a year or so.
"Haha! We'll make all kinds of money! And I take care of my people. Ask any of them!"
My friend already told me: Bossman was generous with his money.
It's near the end of the day, and I'm frantic about what to do. I want to call my spiritual director, but I lost her number when my phone was stolen (Monday was also when I got my replacement! Very cool.) I called my Mom, letting her know my dilemma. She didn't really give me any advice but to really think about it. I called my best friend, hoping for some pragmatic insight.
My friend Jay is a very methodical thinker. He has a unique way of objectionably looking at any problem, regardless of the emotion involved. If I ever have a question that I need a logical answer to, he's my man.
I presented him with three options via game theory - which choice offered the greatest reward with the lowest amount of risk:
- (Drastic Move)I take the job and don't look back. I may lose a lot of benefits and this job may turn out to be a lot less money than where I'm at now, but I've secured a job regardless.
- (Conservative Move)I stay where I'm at, do my best, and hope that I'm not fired. The pay plan would change, some of my co-workers would change, and my current job may become something drastically different. Make $5000 as fast as possible before they fire me.
- (Open Move)I talk to the manager, let her know my concerns regarding more changes, and perhaps get some better information to help me decide on a course of action.
My buddy answers fast: "Number three. Most managers like when you're direct, they like knowing about personnel changes before it happens, and they're willing to work with you if you're straight-forward. Not to mention, you might be one of the people they intend to keep."
I take my friend's advice, and ask the finance manager for a brief meeting after work...
Wow, I've been typing for about an hour. I know I need a break. If you're eyes aren't bleeding and you're ready, continue on. Otherwise, enjoy with me this brief interlude: the latest remix of Chocolate Rain:
After work, I spoke candidly with the manager: "Okay, my boss just got the axe today. Obviously I'm interested in my future with the company."
"There's a lot of changes that need to happen," she told me. Thankfully, she tried to be as straight-forward as she could. "This is my lifetime job here. I have to look out for me and my dad. The current situation is not working. We're not making any money. Things have to be changed. Some people need to pick up their sales or we'll have to let them go."
When I asked where I stood, she said: "Your numbers are low. I don't want to get rid of anyone, but we can't have low sales anymore. I'd like to see everyone have the opportunity to prove what they can do." She was being sincere, which perhaps made my next statement so easy to say.
"Just to let you know where I stand, sometime in next year I intend to leave. I've considered a religious life for some time, and I'm strongly considering the Capuchins, an order of the Franciscan Friars. I also have another opportunity to run the shop across the street. My question is this: do you think I should stay, or do you think I should take advantage of this opportunity, since it's may not be available for too long?"
The statement rocked her for a moment. In one breath, I told her I wanted to be a priest, I'd quit in less than a year, I was being offered a better position, and I wanted her opinion.
I gave her a moment to sink in all the information, and let her respond. I'm not 100% exactly what she said, but what I heard was: "We may fire you. If you have an opportunity, jump on it before it's too late."
I thanked her for her candor, and immediately walked across the street. I walked into the office, saw Boss Man sitting at his desk with some others around, and said: "So when do you want me to start?"
"Yes! We are going to have great time making money!" he says.
We spoke for about an hour. We talked about payplans, floorplans, police books, and all sorts of other car business things. We talked about what he wanted out of me: someone to keep things in order, sell cars, and do follow up. He wanted to buy cars, expand, and sell more cars. He wanted someone he could trust, someone that came recommended, and someone that would be as laid back as he was. I told him I was his man, and that while I was still a little nervous, I'd do what was needed to sell some cars.
He said "We eat lunch tomorrow, talk about more things. Alright?" We shook hands and parted ways.
Last night I drove home wondering if I'd just followed God's plan or made a deal with the devil. Boss Man is a great guy. Has his family over a lot. I think he likes me because I came recommended. Otherwise I'm positive he'd hire another Bosnian to do the job. Perhaps he sees something in me that I still find hard to see: the ability to rise above my current level and do something great.
Perhaps he's not the devil, but someone helping me further down the path I'm intended.
Tomorrow: lunch, signing a Separation of Employment Form, and a possible high school reunion.
(Because of everything going on, I've put my Discernment and Music blog aside for this week. The next installment will continue this weekend, or when things slow down. Thanks -V"