Nick’s CDL skills test went well. Or — it went bizarrely, but he passed all three events, even though the sun was down by the latter two: pre-trip inspection, the backing maneuvers, and the road test. The examiner was Mr. Mixed Signals but anyway it’s over now.
A really exciting thing, though, is that Doug, the head of HDS, invited me to sit in with his leadership team on a weekly Zoom meeting with another campus, reviewing their key performance indicators, in order to get a sense of what that might look like for me starting something up in Hawaii. His overall campus director (of all six schools, currently) is this wonderful, sharp woman named Amy who’s just as curious about the MVD/3rd Party Testing terrain in Hawaii as I am. Everyone overall seemed very interested in what the truck training market, oversight, and compliance situation in Hawaii might be. So I was already curious to make inroads there on my own, and now I feel I’m on friendly good terms with a very well-run organization that grows truck schools in tandem with running their own carrier, Digby Southwest, or DSW. The dual nature of their enterprise, with the CDL training plus the carrier, allows them to recycle older fleet trucks into the training pool, place recent grads in the fleet pool, transition over-the-road drivers into local work seamlessly, and overall exert a very positive and powerful footprint relative to their industry niche.
Best of all, the meeting had this very comfortable tone. I’m grateful for the management and leadership experience I got with my former employer, who was their direct competitor here in Tucson, but I have to tell you — those leadership meetings gave me fucking hemorrhoids. There was a strangely hostile tone to them, a sort of “gotcha” climate, that honestly brought out the worst in people. I would drive to Phoenix for our manager’s meetings with a pit of dread in my stomach, and I’m not easily intimidated. Certainly not by anything overt, and that was the problem: it wasn’t overt. It was…ambient. And here I was, mostly just wanting to be a truck driver or at most an instructor, having somehow Forrest Gump’d (Tom Hanks is a pedi and also probably dead) my way up into campus management — and I learned *good stuff*, I wouldn’t take it back — but, yeah…not my tribe.
Anyway, Doug’s meeting and leadership and climate was exactly what I like. Everything important was overt — goddamn, they measure everything, things I didn’t even know could be measured — but the whole vibe was unified. Didn’t feel like warring factions, endlessly subdividing and privately taking offense.
So that was the highlight of my day, yesterday. In the scheme of things, it’s just a breadcrumb, but quite a breadcrumb. And in light of my Rich Dad, Poor Dad reading, I’m a lot more clear that any effort I assign in that direction needs to be in service of not just creating a job for myself, but an eventually-passive income opportunity. Doesn’t have to be passive right away, but it’s got to have the right structure. I learn slow, but I learn.
Oh, the other highlight of my day was seeing Audri, who bought my car for cold hard cash. Audri is this *bam* voluptuous, sunny, gorgeous Latina with a wild mane of very curly hair, and we used to work together here in Tucson. When Nick and I drove away, I asked him, “How old do you think Audri is?”
“Maybe…thirty five?,” he said.
“She’s about to turn fifty,” I announced with smug, vicarious satisfaction. Nick was shocked. She’s a total babe. Anyway, it was the most pleasant experience. We were reflecting on the big changes in Audri’s life, since we first met. She’s saving to buy a house right now, and meanwhile her apartment feels like a wonderful oasis, and she’s dating a guy who’s just crazy about her. He wants to move to be closer to her, but she’s a little hesitant. “I like my own space, and my own life!,” she exclaimed. “Like the other night, I just made broccoli for dinner and I loved it! Just broccoli! Because it’s just me and dinner doesn’t have to be anything fancy.” Leading me up the steps to go get the big wad of cash, she confided over her shoulder, “I was, like, Mario’s girlfriend but he wasn’t my boyfriend for a long time at first. You know? I mean…I was dating other guys but he didn’t want to date other girls, and I was like that’s on you, you know?”
So when I first interviewed Audri for the frankly low-pay, high stress position of Receptionist at the truck school, she was in a chronically traumatized state. Her husband of many years (twenty plus, I think?) and father of her children had just trotted out an actual mistress — like a full blown mistress — and had compartmentalized Audri’s involvement with the finances, ALL the finances, to the point where she was panic stricken at not only the prospect of life after divorce itself, with everything that means emotionally, but with a financial fight on her hands and unfamiliarity with the simple daily money logistics, PLUS entering the workforce for the first time in twenty years. She didn’t know how to run a computer, an Excel spreadsheet, a multi-line phone, a complicated Xerox machine, none of it. She cried, like, all the time.
We were laughing, standing out by the car, just remembering. She said, “You were so patient with me! You would tell me, ‘Okay, just go in the bathroom, and when you’re done crying, splash your face, and then enter these leads into the tracker’,” or whatever. I don’t remember that exactly; I was tached-out on stress, myself, at this job, and it was mostly just a blur of really fucking needing everyone to please do their job at at least 70% capacity so that the wheels didn’t come off the whole fucking thing.
I told her, though, “You know, I hadn’t been in that position of hiring/firing people before — I was always the one just trying to interview and get a job for myself or whatever — and you know what I found out really quickly? It’s not so much about what anyone knows or doesn’t know, walking through the door. It’s like, ‘just please don’t be an actual piece of shit, with zero integrity’, right? It’s easy to work people into whatever job, if they’re a good human being in a basic way.”
And that’s true! It was crazy to see that from more of a bird’s eye view. Good people can learn roles, evolve their roles, evolve into other roles, evolve out of being limited to one particular role altogether and simply become a fierce subject matter expert in their own right; all kinds of things. Audri moved on to another role within the same company, quite quickly, and these days I’m sure she’s just one of those core people who holds it together, regardless of her official title. All the churn comes from bad people — sorry, sounds simplistic but I’m just gonna go with it — bad fucking people, who make everything harder, who make everything about them, who create problems just by walking around everyday and breathing. Had a bunch of those, too. And maybe if I had been a better manger, I could have harnessed those human resources to better effect, idk. I had big limitations myself, definitely. But I was at least a good enough manager to fire bad people. It’s obviously not ideal to be triggered or trigger-able about anything, but I’d get super triggered by bad employees — I mean, personally bad at their jobs — who, in addition, swaggered around upsetting the good employees and thinking they had some kind of immunity.
I fired one lady and she tried to immediately debunk it. “You can’t fire me. Only Sean can fire me.” This was amazing.
“You can consider yourself fired or not,” I said, “but just don’t come to work tomorrow.”
She called Sean, right there on her cell phone, in order to fact check me.
“Hannah said you’re fired?,” I heard Sean’s voice say, from the phone.
“Yes, but —”
“Well then you’re fired,” he said and hung up.
When I first started there, Sean had me sit in on a private execution. It was time to fire Dallas, and Troy had to do the dirty work. Dallas was very upset — “But we had a gentleman’s agreement! A gentleman’s agreement!” Troy was a stone cold motherfucker — not as a person, but in this role. You just have to be. I wanted to cover my face with my hands, it was so uncomfortable. I hated being in the room. I didn’t know what Dallas had done wrong, I was brand new.
Anyway, my feelings about that changed completely. When you realize an existing employee is just a bad person, or worse — someone you yourself hired pulled the wool over your eyes and now their true colors are emerging — ooh, that’s enraging. That happened to me too. I probably got a little too Kim Jong Il, to be honest, but that’s the beauty and the danger of private industry: it’s not the government. There isn’t enough time or money for dead weight. When you hire someone to do a job, you really need them to do that job, like, for reals. You’ve probably been doing it yourself, plus your own job, plus one or two others, the whole time you were advertising the vacancy and reading the resumes and conducting the interviews, as if you had any fucking time for that. By the time you pick someone and do all their HR bullshit and basically train them, it’s like you’ve been holding your breath for five minutes underwater and you can’t swim to the surface and breathe again until they, you know, start doing their fucking job.
So yeah — my initial avoidant reaction to that no-context firing changed completely, once I’d been through this meat-grinder with trying to find good people and just have a good team and man, you’re almost there, you can almost taste it, but then this one guy — this one fucking guy, or gal, or whoever — just *can’t* not be a piece of shit. Just can’t show up for work or basically be respectful to the female students or basically teach people to shift or basically do whatever.
So yeah, the problem with me, at first, was that I made this switch from being uncomfortable firing people to being way too comfortable firing people. I was like, “Dude I don’t even know what file cabinet the termination paperwork lives in, yet; I just know you’re fired, and you suck at your job, and I hope you use me as a reference because I’m going to make sure they know you’re the scum of the earth.”
Then the unemployment/unfair termination claims came and my boss was like, “Hannah, you have to create a paper trail in order to terminate employees, and the warnings and corrections have to be documented and signed by them, along with recommendations and opportunities to correct their behavior.”
I was like, “Oh.”
The great thing is there was always more practice, because there are just so many shitty people! There are so many shitty people out there, and you inevitably hire some of them because you literally need bodies in the office, in the classroom — you can’t do it all yourself, all the time — and so it’s always this judgement call of “how shitty at your job do you have to be before it’s worth it for me to fire you, knowing I’ll then have to do it myself until I find someone new, who may not even be better.” It’s really tough.
One of the funniest times was when I fired a guy and he threw his keys at me, the whole ring of keys, and stalked out the door, banging it so hard it almost broke. I was actually firing him for time clock infractions, which sounds mundane, right? He’d punched in late for work three times, since the installation of the new pin pad machine, and we’d widely disseminated the new company policy: three time clock strikes and you’re out, no questions asked. You’re just done.
I, and everyone else, thought this was amazingly draconian, but my boss was a savvy guy. He explained to me: Look, the good people are gonna figure out how to punch in on time, and largely they already do. The bad people are gonna create problems, because that’s what they do, and they’re also the first ones to go for a discrimination claim, or an unfair termination claim, or a lawsuit when you fire them, because they’re pieces of shit. But surprise: you can get ‘em on the time clock and it’s cut and dried, no wiggle room at all. Guaranteed the problem folks won’t figure out how to clock in on time, and then you don’t even have to deal with all the other, more subjective problems they cause.
He was right! The bad employees got themselves fired over time clock three strikes, one at a time, and the good employees just figured out how to make it happen, like they figured out how to make everything else happen, too. The good employees make me almost want to cry, when I think about them. They’re just so resourceful and amazing and impressive. There’s no feeling on earth like having made a good hire.
Anyway, so this guy who threw his keys at me was just a primordial stew of issues — I didn’t hire him, I’d inherited him — and boom, time clock got him. I mean, this is the same guy who asked me if he could go home early (and have me cover the rest of his shift), because he was sleepy. I was like: are you ill? The one good thing about him was, he couldn’t lie. I saw him physically try to lie, and he couldn’t. “Yyyynnno. I’m just really sleepy.”
“I’m busy covering my own shift,” I said mildly, “so I’d appreciate if you could cover yours.”
Anyway, it was a year or two later now, and he threw his keys at me, and I was like whatever, and just put them in my top drawer. Next thing you know I’m home from work and relaxing, and he’s blowing up my phone. I ignore his calls, obviously. But then Steve, the night shift instructor, calls me. “Jason says he left some keys here, and one of them is his wife’s work key, and she’s trying to go to work right now and really needs that key?” Hilarious. The guy threw keys at me, violently, in an attempt to harm me, that his wife would be really needing, like an hour later. I told Steve where the keys were and they accomplished the exchange, it was fine.
He went on to litigate, against the school but also me personally, and by then I had figured out how to document things properly, and he lost. He said that I had coerced him to pencil whip the skills exam process and that a bunch of graduates’ CDLs were invalid because of it. Can you imagine, trying to fuck over a whole group of people who graduated and were already out in the work force, just to try for some additional leverage against someone you threw your wife’s keys at, and missed? Anyway, if there’s one thing I had going for me, it’s that I really, honestly care about training and testing being performed correctly — I think any blog readers know that by now — and he had no leg to stand on.
Then there was this other girl I fired, for x y z, and AFTER her termination I realized that she’d been embezzling money! And not even from the school per se but from students directly; students who’d been in collections, working out deals with them in exchange for future training that then she’d cheat them out of, in the event they actually came to collect it. It was actually quite ingenious — bypassing the campus level entirely and brokering this graft between the student and the corporate level. No one had ever thought to do it before, so there were no particular safeguards in place. I was so angry about this, I wished I could get her back in there to fire her again, and possibly fire her every day for the rest of my life.
Ah, good times. Anyway, in the context of all this, Audri was a nothing short of a ray of sunshine. I didn’t care that she cried all the time or didn’t know how to work Excel. That was easily corrected, by time and training, and she went on to be just a wonderful employee, a wonderful influence in the office, a wonderful friend, and ultimately a wonderful purchaser of my car, here at the last minute.
So it was really nice to see her, and especially to see her so bubbly, so contented, so in command of her emotional and financial resources, enjoying a relationship with a man who’s crazy about her but also being careful to hold her own space. Her kids are grown and doing great — the purchase of my car was actually a gift to her son, who’s expecting his first child in April.
And then we went on to have dinner at my friend Wade’s house, and we just didn’t want to leave. It was so fun to hang out and catch up, and finally I was yawning more than not-yawning and we had to go. Wade is very familiar with Buffy, of course, but hadn’t met Milo before and it was really fun to show him off. We had spinach salads with balsamic and big, delicious plates of hot spaghetti with vegan meatballs. Wade is doing very well. He worked so hard, growing his own insurance business, and he made very little money for the first several years. He was wrangling his aging car, trying to make it go in the scheme of this very travel-intensive job, and keeping up on rent, minimal groceries, expensive advertising options, and having zero expendable income. He kept at it and kept at it and has now crested an important threshold. A lot of his income is essentially passive now, a thriving pipeline that does just fine as long as he keeps adding new clients in, and he’s genuinely good at helping people navigate the complexities of retirement age insurance options. He won’t work with companies he considers to have predatorial premiums or policies, and only reps plans he personally believes in. And, we used to play music together, and so I bought that CD I found of our early vocal harmonies and we all listened to it. Wade agreed, it was so much better than we had realized or remembered, and it was so nice to reconnect with that.
So, a lot of nice breadcrumbs from the universe, yesterday. The final bugaboo vet appointments went just fine, Nick’s CDL test ordeal is over, and I just have one appointment today with my fantastic friend and permanent makeup artist Pam, to re-do my eyeliner and brows, before we had back to cold cold Flagstaff with our rental SUV. A little more to do at the house and then off to Hawaii this Sunday. I really want to connect with my friend Rich in town before we go. The people who have proven themselves, in 2020, to have their heads screwed on straight, are few and far between, and Rich is one of them. He always has his eye on the metaphysical/spiritual prize, and consciously aligns his actions with his beliefs and larger vision in a totally unperformative way that I appreciate. Good people everywhere.
Okay, that’s it for now! On to the next thing.