When I moved out, I was nursing a shattered heart from a broken engagement and making $6.00 an hour at a locally owned bookstore (since closed). It was the job I had all the way through college, and though I had gotten my degree six months earlier and hadn’t yet found my first technical writing job, it was past time to get out of my dad’s house. So I moved into something maybe a click and a half north of a housing project, mostly because it was all I could afford.
I loved that place. It was a smallish townhouse, about 40 years old and with gas heat so loud you couldn’t hear the television. Every three or four days it reeked of curry from cooking two doors down. I heard a gunshot once in a while. I encountered at least one cockroach most days. But it was mine. Shit was always where I left it. If I wanted Froot Loops and a Michelob Light for dinner, that’s what I had. You know what I mean.
But even living “in squalor,” as my college friend Micah put it, I had a very tight budget. I’d have thoughts like “OK, I paid bills, and now I have $8 left to eat on for the week.” Haven’t touched ramen in 14 years; let’s just put it that way.
So I had to have some more money, and still not having my first in-my-field job in hand, I decided to sell cars. My aforementioned friend Micah was doing well at it, so I called him, and three weeks later there I stood with a tie, a shirt pocket full of business cards, and a boss I needed to “check with.” I was officially employed in the second-most-hated profession in America! Woohoo! This is progress!
The car business is hard. You can do it half-ass—well enough to keep your job and eat—without it hurting you too badly. But to make the big money (and believe me, it’s there to be made), you have to marry the business. And I knew guys who did. How many jobs can you name that can pay you six figures in your early 20s? Pretty short list, isn’t it? For too many, the stress of the job, the hours, and chasing that kind of coin meant, and means: alcoholism, divorce, and just about any kind of failing health you can name, including mental. I’d guess that of the guys who make the big money, it’s about one guy in ten who also manages full normalcy in his life. Micah is one, incidentally. My brother-in-law is another.
The highs were very high. I made $800 in 30 minutes once. Reckon I’ll ever make almost $27 a minute again? I don’t. Conversely, the lows were very low. I also made $800 the entire month of December 1993.
I had to work some people to death. I sold an Integra to a local TV personality on perhaps her ninth visit to the dealership, and she stole the damned thing. On the other hand, I made about a quarter of my money for the month on another couple for which the hardest thing I had to do was watch her drive a Canterbury Green Legend and a Sherwood Green Legend around the parking lot and offer my opinion on which one she looked better in.
I said I was home, careerwise. I can’t remember exactly how I felt; I might have even believed it. But I wound up getting a follow-up call from a company with whom I’d pursued employment almost a year earlier, and I jumped. Aced the interview, and it was over with. I started working in software documentation in January 1994.
Things have worked out better for me on this path than they would have had I stayed in car sales. But I still remember my short stint fondly as a great course in human nature, and I enjoy friendship with some of my former coworkers even today. It was all just the right thing for me at the time.