Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Darkest Hours

I see it is traditional to do a “100 things about me” for your 100th post.

This is number 120 so I missed the 100 things post. However, I thought I would show you something else instead. I am sorry it is such a long post but the 100 things post is usually pretty long too. I believe you will find this story entertaining though. (You tell me, I hope you do)

What brought this on is I have been called out a time or two for being a bit of a show off here. You know, talking about airplanes and boats and other expensive toys so I guess it is time for you all to meet Rob from the other side of the tracks.

I had a horrible family growing up. So I joined the US Air Force when I was 16. My parents had to sign papers to get me in so young but they were as glad to have me gone as I was to leave and they signed without a seconds hesitation. (I understand the Air Force will not take you at 16 nowadays signature or no)

I was an airframe mechanic in the Air Force. I worked on planes and I loved it! I made $600 per month. Of course they provided clothing, room and board so it was not so bad. Besides, I would have paid them to let me play with jet airplanes but they did not need to know that!

I was getting near the end of my enlistment and I knew aircraft mechanics at the airlines made like $10 an hour. I could make more in 10 days than I made here in a month! I wanted some of that so I did not re-enlist (besides, I am too much of a free-spirit to be a ”lifer” in the military!)

After I got out I drove to Austin Texas and went to the HR departments of each airline and left my applications. I will never forget Continental Airlines though because when I asked for an application he actually laughed at me! “We have thousands of people laid off and you want an application? HA HA HA HA!” Then he yelled back at someone, “Hey George, come here, check this out, this kid here wants an APPLICATION! – I know, I know! Funny right?”

This is when I got the first inclination that maybe my timing was off juuuuuust a tad!

I signed up for and then was denied unemployment. They said, you were offered re-enlistment right? And you turned it down right? That means you quit your job so you are not eligible! Ohhhhhhh there was a kick in the butt! Only making 600 a month previously I did not exactly have a huge saving account plus I discovered these painful new concepts known as rent and paying for food because you had too not just because you wanted a break from the free food in the chow hall.

I ended up getting a job at the local, small aircraft FBO. My experience with fighter jets did not mean a whole lot to the owner. He was willing to pay me minimum wage, $3.65 an hour at that time, to pump gas and *learn* how to work on private propeller planes.

I actually did OK with that and married the girl I had been dating for while. She waitressed at Denny’s. Depending on tips she could make more than I did. the apartment we lived in is still there in Del Rio Tx. My current living room is bigger than that entire apartment was.

Still, I was looking for a better life. These were the dark times before the wild internet ruled the Earth. I had to actually snail mail resumes out. After awhile I got a hit! Boeing Military Airplane Division in Wichita Kansas sent me a letter to call a 1-800 number for my interview on a certain day and time which I did. Then they hired me by mail. They sent me an offer letter that outlined what I would be paid and told me to show up on Monday morning of such and such date at this address in Wichita. (Oh how the internet and cheap long distance has changed EVERYTHING)

So the Friday before I was supposed to be there we packed everything we owned into a U-Haul trailer and headed for Wichita! We got there on Saturday, I found a duplex in the paper, we signed the lease, paid first and last month rent plus deposit and moved in. Sunday we went to the grocery store and stocked up. We were now very close to broke but we had food and shelter to last us until the first check rolled in no problem. Those Boeing checks were going to be grand too! ($8 or 9 per hour I seem to recall)

Monday morning I show up at the personnel office offer letter in hand. It was Continental Airlines all over again. The lady behind the counter said “What are you doing here?”

I have this offer letter that said to show up here today at 8:00. It’s 8:00 so here I am!

She looked at the letter, looked at me and said, ”Don’t you watch the news?”
“Congress canceled this contract. We have laid off thousands this week and we sure don’t need you.”
“but I have this letter…”
“that means nothing now.”
“I quit my job to come here! We spent all our savings to get here and set up…”
“Son, the unemployment office is right down the street, you ought to head over there”
I was thinking fat lot of good that will do, I quit my job to come here. I already know they won’t pay.

Wellllll, skipping a lot of detail the Unemployment office in Wichita was really good. I talked to a job counselor who started looking for jobs for me and in no time he found a job for me in Richardson Texas, a suburb of Dallas, made the long distance call from his desk, I interviewed right then and got the job!. Again I was told to show up the next Monday morning. This job paid $10.70 an hour. Nearly three times what I had been making before. I was STOKED!

Then reality set in. I am broke! How the hell am I going to get to Dallas. How am I going to live in Dallas once I get here?

The unemployment guy came through again. He lined up a church that bought me a tank full of gas. By driving nice and slow that would get me most of the way there. Another charity gave me $100 cash. Man I felt low. I give to charity I don’t take! :(

I left the wife in the paid for apartment with the full pantries. She was miffed about being left behind in a strange city but I was willing to trade places with her! :)

I got to Dallas and stayed in a hotel not too far from where I would work. The hotel was too expensive but by staying there I discovered the one thing that would save me in the near future. Across the street was a “Ponchos Mexican Buffet” all you could eat for $4 plus tax!

So between gas, the hotel and Ponchos I had used half of my money on my first day, that $100 was not going to last long! I showed up at my new job the next morning and for a change, there was really a job there! They would hold back a weeks pay and two weeks from today I would get my first check.

So I had to last two weeks on about $50. With my new bosses knowledge I parked my car there on the lot but far away from the building close to the street and I started sleeping in my car. (Close to the street turned out to be my undoing)

Every morning I would wake up and walk about a half mile to a Texaco station, go in the bathroom, lock the door, strip naked and take a sponge bath, stick my head in the sink to wash my hair, shave and brush my teeth and put on clean clothes.

After the end of the work day I would walk about a mile the other direction back to that Ponchos Mexican Buffet and pay my 4 bucks and eat my only food of the day. After I ate I would sit in there enjoying the air conditioning and read news papers other people left behind and snack on the buffet until closing time. Then I would walk back to my car and sleep.

I discovered that the back seat is actually more comfortable for sleeping than a reclined front seat.

That first weekend I did my laundry at a secluded section of creek in a park not too far from work.

After 10 days of living in my car pay day is getting close. It is Thursday. Just three more days to go! But even my meager spending has drained me. I have one more good (multi hour) meal at Ponchos and I am nearly tapped out. Hey, I can go three days with out food right? I am rough and tough; it is only hunger I tell myself repeatedly! I have to repeat it a lot because I am not really believing it! :)

I spend my last dollar bill and the change from the ash tray at the drug store. They have a bin full of Jolly Ranchers. I think this is the perfect survival food! They taste really good, they are too hard to eat fast no matter how much you want too, the sugar will help me cope and if I remember right they were a penny each so I could buy a bunch of them with my last gasp of resources.

It was a good plan but I discovered that no matter the caloric intake you may get from hard candy the stomach is still empty and it gets PISSED when it’s that way. Especially if you are working or alternately very board sitting in a car with no gas looking over the same small pile of books you have already read several times recently.

By Sunday I was seriously hungry and the Jolly Ranchers were long gone. I had even already gone cushion diving and scrounged up like 17 cents and to get more Jolly Ranchers. When you find a penny and go “YEAH!! FOOD!” out loud you know you are getting pretty close to rock bottom. :)

One more day dude, just one more day, then I am going to go on a fast food binge! I am going to eat until I pop! I spend hours imagining how grand life will be with Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in the picture!

Sunday afternoon it was warm and I dozed off in the driver’s seat. Sleep was good, your stomach does not bother you nearly as much when you are asleep! I woke up to a cop knocking on my door frame (window was open) I was groggy but he told me he has seen me out here all day and he has seen me sleeping for two hours now. He is looking the messy car and asks me if I was living in this car. I told him the whole story.

I was actually kind of proud of my self. I was not a burden to society. It was tough but I was making it and payday was just one day away and I was making a better life for myself. I showed him my badge proving my employment and that I worked in this building and explained that my boss knew I was sleeping here and since this was a military project there was a lot of security and he could confirm with security I was there with permission.

He asked me how much money I had in had in my pocket. I was thinking, are you not listening? None. Taped out. Nada!

He arrested me for vagrancy. He explained that Richardson Texas had an ordinance that said if you were sleeping in public with less than 15 dollars on your person you were a vagrant. He did hand cuff me and put me in the squad car and took me to jail. They impounded and towed my car away.

I was devastated. While he was driving me to jail I tried to look on the bright side. I would have a bed tonight and it would be air conditioned! And then the thought hit me and I said it out loud as I started to salivate, “Hey! At least I will get something to eat! Right?”

The cop looked at his wrist, and said, “Nope, supper has already been served. No breakfast until 6 am.”

Son… of…… a…… BITCH. Man I just can’t win!

If you have never been in jail let me tell you something you may never have suspected. By tearing very small holes in the ketchup packets included in jail meals imprisoned would be artists in their boredom use the ketchup packets as ink pens to create murals on the cell walls.

Ok, so if anything could make being in jail after not eating for a couple of days worse it would be that the whole place smelled like ketchup. Man it made me hungry!

At 6 am the next morning I had the finest meal any king could imagine. Cold powdered eggs, cold stale dry toast and a cold greasy hash brown patty. To hell with art, I put my ketchup on the crappy food! It was divine!

When I was arraigned the judge upon hearing my story fined me, graciously gave me 30 days to pay the fine and let me go. I jogged back to work, apologized profusely for being late without calling in (they saw my car was gone and knowing I had been out of gas for a week they suspected what happened)

I got paid that day, got my car out of impound, put gas in it and after a total pig fest at McDonald's I drove out of town to a highway rest stop to spend the night with a bag of chips on my chest. I found a place to stay the next day.

A few stray thoughts out of this story:

All these years later, the concept of being fined for being broke still makes my head hurt.

I still get a little short of breath if I don’t have 15 dollars cash on me.


Crazymamaof6 said...

ok i'm totally too lazy to read the whole thing this minute. BUT i've been thinking. and you should DO all the stuff you have been considering. you know why? because you only live once. and it's worth it. to try. you might get all you hope for and more out of the deal. have a fabulous day!

Crazymamaof6 said...

and now i read it all the whole sad story. and HOLY CRAP! GO FOR IT! get the boat. and yeah sad super sad story.


SuperCoolMom said...

Wow! It is CRAZY that the cop didn't give you a break! What the heck!?!

Anonymous said...

You're pretty tough. Good for you! Yeah, sad, but making it through times like those can give you confidence. I guess you know now that you can survive almost anything.


Beth said...

I was sure that the cop was going to give you some money...WTH? Where was his humanity? Compassion??! He arrested you! Jerk.

That is a story....and part of me thinks there's alot more to it than what you said. much, much more.

No wonder you are the man you are today....a Great Man.

Andie said...

experiences like this, where we think we are at the bottom of our rope, strengthens us and makes us great people.

There is no doubt, Rob, that you are a great person.

NerdyRedneck Rob said...

CrazyMomma- “You only live once” Wise words my dear, wise words. And no one knows for how long either. My mother died of cancer at the same age I am now. Things to ponder eh?

SuperCoolMom- I was shocked on a couple of levels when he drug me to jail. One I was on private property with the owner’s permission. I was NOT out in the street with a “will work for food” sign or spitting on your windshield. I was not bothering anybody. So yeah, I was SHOCKED too. I found out later Richardson has a bad reputation for that kind of stuff too. If he had not impounded my car I might have believed he was trying to do me a favor getting me into a bed indoors and put a meal or two in me but it took a good chunk of my first check to get my car back. :(

Anne- I dunno, I was young and strong then. Not sure I could do it now! If I slept in the back seat of my car now my back would be crippled for a week!! :)

Beth & Andi- I appreciate the sentiment but no-no-no-no-no! Not a great man! A total loser making stupid decisions and paying the price for them!

Beth- You know how much I loved your avatar. I am hurt you changed it without talking to me first! :) Can I have your old one?

Crazymamaof6 said...

just another reason i live by my motto "life is uncertain eat dessert first". you only live once i might as well enjoys myself.

tammy said...

And I thought we had it rough to get where we are today! I can't believe that cop didn't take pity on you and help you out. When you go through stuff like that, it really makes you more thankful for things that you might've been taking for granted huh? And makes you more willing to help the little guy. Did you ever go back and get your wife, or did you just leave her there for good?

NerdyRedneck Rob said...

CrazyMomma- Good Philosophy!

Tammy- "And makes you more willing to help the little guy." Very much so!

Jen said...

Wow! What an incredible story. I really thought the cop was going to help you, not take you to jail! What an arse!!

Robin said...

I lost respect for cops when I was

Wait for it.........

-a waitress at Denny's

Maybe me and your ex are the same person.

Sauntering Soul said...

Wow Rob! What a story. I know someone else who went through a period when he had to take his daily 'baths' in a gas station bathroom and slept in his car too. You and he are both incredible men.

Melek said...

what a crazy story. see, this is exactly why i didnt want to call the cops on Homey. what if he's just down on his luck waiting one more day for that elusive paycheck? i'd feel just like that ass-hat cop that arrested you.

Tanya said...

That had to have been tough, but I love America. In our country that rags to riches story is possible.