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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dead Man's Clothes

I'm going, going downtown
In a dead man's clothes

We are having the annual Community Wide Garage Sale on March 16th.   I'm going through a variety of clothes and other items, trying to decide what to keep and what to lose.   What to sale, what to keep and what to throw away.  

I hate to throw anything away, I'm not a pack rat but I am a clothes horse and that old concert T-shirt from 2004 means something to me.   Right now for example I've got an old CD from 1998 playing through the lap top speakers.   A song or two jump out at me, bringing back warm and fuzzy memories but the album as a whole doesn't hold up well all these years later.   Still though, I copy it to the memory stick labeled "Rob's old music" and place the CD in the "sell cheap" box.  I'm making space, clearing things out. 

There is a lot of sentimental value that I've attached to certain items.  T-shirts, CD's and even this old electronic blog that no one reads anymore.

I still have some good stuff from my motorcycling days, and as much as I hate to say it; I don't see myself getting back on the bike anytime soon and am therefore selling it.    If any of you read the post back in December of 2016, then you know my reasons that I stopped riding.   If not, while I made a promise to the woman I love. 

So in a way it's interesting that I kept the gear that I did.   I have an old open face helmet, my heavy "winter" riding jacket, some gloves, my Frogg Toggs (which I would keep regardless),   It's been over two years now and there really is no reason to keep this old gear.   It's taking space up in the closet.

Giving up on this equipment means that I am goodbye to biking.   Keeping it meant that I was planning on getting a new bike, to return to biking.   It was a way of me keeping "in touch" with the part of biking that I loved.

Now, if I do get another bike, I would need good equipment.   A good jacket might cost me anywhere from $150 dollars and up.   It's worth the price.   Good gear is always worth the price.   The gear I had was "decent gear" but it did the job well for several years.

My only question is should I try to sell it at all?   Padding breaks down over time.  Things get old.

A full face helmet is, in my humble opinion, not a question.   That could run from $150 to $700 depending on make and model.   I could see myself dropping an easy $250 on one.  My brain is worth it.  Gloves?  $50 to 100 bucks.

I've spent $300 to $1,000 dollars and I've not pulled out of the driveway yet on my imaginary bike.

I keep seeing video's about those motorcycle air bags.   Damn straight I would consider one.  Of course, I would want to play with the stupid rip cord to "test it" the first time too.  Just to make sure it worked when I went down the next time. 

However the point remains.   If I'm not comfortable, or at this stage willing to get back on a bike then looking at gear or having gear really does not make any sense.

There maybe someone looking for an affordable jacket, I've been there.

I also know there are riders that have suffered a whole lot worse than me, yet get right back up on the bike.   I knew a guy named Jim when I lived in Pittsburgh for example,  he lost a leg in a bike wreck.   Yet somehow got back on.

Maybe if my current job didn't take me all the way across town, where I don't have a choice but to use the highways, it would be a different story.   However that is an excuse too.   I'm not ready, nor am I willing to get back on a bike.

It's time to sell the old equipment and move on.  

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A complete surprise to me + Happy New Year!!

On of the reasons that I've always maintained a blog or a journal or something along those lines is because I enjoy writing.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself waking up about 5 or 5:30 every morning for the past couple of months to write a novella, or a short novel.

It all started as a bit of a joke.   I was talking to a friend of mine that actually has written several romance novels.   What we we talking about doesn't really matter but I found myself challenged to write better than half the hacks in that particular field.    So I managed to write a 2066 word short story that got some good feedback not only from them, but from the general public as well.

I'm friends with several writers in fact so I felt that if they enjoyed the work I was doing, then I was on the right path so to speak.

The only problem was that I didn't think I was done with "Emma", the main character in the story.  Could I, a guy, write something from a women's point of view that would make sense to women?   How does one write a particular type of scene if you've never experienced that yourself?

The Emma character story started to grow.  Different chapters were written.  She started to grow into a monster of slightly under 15 thousand words.   Then when that story was finished...I looked back and said, "How did you get into this predicament Emma?   What drove you there?

So the prequel had to be written with the intent to unit both stories into one coherent whole.   That took another 15 thousand words.

I wrote a novella.

It was finished just a few days ago and now, it sits in the hands of five or six trusted friends who will review and edit it, helping me hopefully improve upon it.   There is still a lot of work to do because I'm sure there will be a rewrite or two in some areas, a couple of changes to be made.

Then I intended to see if I can either self publish it, or get it published the more traditional way.  However I'm rather proud of myself.   I managed to write something that may never see the light of day, but I still managed to do it.

That's a pretty cool feeling.

Now as far as 2018 goes!

Honestly the year was not a bad one, other than a costly mistake on my part (I owe about 6K now sadly) the year as a whole was not a bad one.

One of the reasons that I was even considering becoming a truck driver was I liked the idea of a more steady income, something that was recession proof (drivers are always needed) and that I could see the country...and write about it.    After all, this blog was originally designed with adventures in mind right?

I will also admit that I missed writing, I was not doing much of it before October.   I could not really figure out how to back up the tractor trailer properly.   If you can't back up properly your going to cause a wreck.   It really is that simple.

So lucky for me I was able to take advantage of the Annual Enrollment Period in Medicare and keep myself and the lovely Sue from starving in the month of November.  In December, I swallowed my pride and went to a headhunter resume in hand.

By the middle of December I was offered a position with New York Life in their call center.  The pay was acceptable but not great.  The benefits however were amazing!!!

Matching 401K up to 6%, then they would match at 50% up to an additional 4%.   In other words $8 out of every $10 I put into the 401K was matched by the company.   You don't see that anymore.  Pension plan!!!   Also something you don't see anymore.   A medical plan with no copay's?    WHAT!

While I'm not happy with where I'm starting out, I'm told this is the way NYL does things.   At 52 years old I'm swallowing my pride and will do what ever is needed to be done.

You want me to clean toilets for those benefits?  DONE!

Did I mention I was vested as of day one as well?

No wonder it's so hard to get a job there.

The only thing that I don't like about the job is the commute.  It takes me about an hour both ways to reach my destination, which can be longer depending on traffic.   Even though gas is relativity low now, we all know it will not stay that low forever.

Suddenly a motorcycle for the comment starts to make a bit more sense.   Although I would have to ride the freeways again, something that does not appeal to me.  It's also been two years since I've ridden a motorcycle. 

The last time I did, I was gun shy to be honest.  I would hate to buy another bike and be guy shy again.

Sue, when she pushes for a bike at all, wants me to ride a three wheeler.  She just feels that they are more stable and that I would be less likely to take a risk since they are a bigger bike.   Plus, as she points out to me...two of the three accidents that I were involved in were not my fault.   True...but still. 

I have to admit that the Can Am's are fun to ride. 

Although they are not cheap.

Oh well, Happy New Year everybody. 

I got to get back to work.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Being Thankful

It's Thanksgiving. 

A few moments ago I got off a video call where my parents and my brother's family were celebrating Thanksgiving.

I'm here in Florida and missing them.

My father's health is still in question although he's doing well at this moment.   My mother, while she is my mother and I worry about her mental state and her ability to drive and take care of herself father passes.

I lie to them.   Tell them things are fine here at Casa De Wilson.  They don't know that I left my job in late September to learn how to drive a truck.   A half baked idea about finding myself, finding time to write (which I used to do a lot more of, and better...sadly you only get better when you write, and I've not been).

How it was a chance to get off the phones and away from things and look deep into myself and figure out exactly who and what I am.

It's complicated dear reader.   It's complicated.

Why is a 52 year old man still looking for and needing approval from his parents?

Our house is still up for sale, and we recently had a death in Susan's extended family.   I know she wants to be there, to be part of the lives of her friends and large family.

For me, I have mixed emotions about leaving Florida for the cold confines of Pittsburgh.  Part of me wants to go home, to be with my family.  To say goodbye to my Dad when that time comes, to be there for my mother.

To try and start some sort of relationship with my brother...and his adopted daughter.  We just got off the phone and my collection of children's classics is going to her.  They were given to me when I was three and I remember reading Black Beauty, Robin Hood, Heidi and Tom Sawyer growing up.  How those stories enraptured me.    Even now I hold these books with reverence.

They are 50 years old now, these thin blue volumes and the bindings are still good.  The pages slightly faded but the illustrations; looking almost like they were done with old wood blocks, are still fresh and clean.   On a whim I look online and find my books, my books!, for sale for over $100 dollars.   Two of the volumes are missing in that set, my set is complete and probably in better condition.

These were gifts for my kids.  It never happened that way.

I just hope that Avery, my brother's adopted daughter, develops a love a reading; a wonder for words and the worlds that they create.  That one day she will hold these books the way I do now, with nostalgia and wonder.  I touch the covers with love and respect.

Even though our house has not sold yet, we are packing things up to make it easier when that time comes, getting rid of things that we no longer use or need.  Sue's collection of Elephants, once numbering over 600, is being whittled down to sentimental items only.

Old Cd's, tapes, albums and yes; even old books are finding their ways into libraries and Goodwill stores.  The odds and ends that make up a life.  I hold a rare record in my hands and wish for a record player to here the notes of a long dead jazz trumpeter come to life once again, but I put it in the collection bin to take it to the local collector and see what I can put into my back pocket for it.

As much as I would love to keep an old Blue Note album, it is better that someone actually enjoy it before it wraps beyond recognition and repair buried in my closet.  Susan makes a joke about how she's glad it's not a Brown Note album which is an old joke only a music lover would understand.

She tears up over an old photo of her now deceased husband.  Scott was a good man.  Taking care of her and his daughter long after the divorce.  I always respected him for that.  It was what a man was supposed to do.  To care for those that he loves.

me in a horrid picture
It's later now, I raise a glass for the third year in a row for World Peace.  A tradition started on a whim by Pastafarians.  The rest of the world has stopped it seems.   I won't.   #pastafariantoastforpeace

I'm feeling mello and loved and oh so thankful.  I'm also feeling very sentimental as my Facebook memories remind me of rides that I took on this day and the best cat in the world. 

For my father and his being alive.  Even though I don't think I'll make it home for Christmas this year, I hope he'll make it through another.

For Susan, who stands by me and supports me.   Sometimes I wonder why.

For running water, for my home, for my cats that want to be petted at 3 AM when I'm sleeping, for friends, for everything.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

UPDATES - Pittsburgh and the Trucking school

As many of you know, I'm from Pittsburgh.   I did not know any of the people that were involved in the senseless murders.   I don't know anyone that was directly involved.

However it's always different when it's your home.   I know that are of Pittsburgh well, having eaten in the restaurants nearby, having friends that grew up in the area.   I remember dancing in a few local bars.

Squirrel Hill, and to a lesser extent; neighboring Shadyside, where always the Jewish part of town.   Hasidic Jews are very common on the streets, and recently I learned that Pittsburgh has one of the larger Jewish communities in the United States.  It's growing as well.

By now, many people have learned about how the local Muslim Community raised over one hundred thousand dollars for the families of the slain and injured.

Pittsburgh is a special place, everyone raves about their hometowns of course, but we "Yinzers" know something about our town.   Part of it was due to the history of our city, part of it was do to topography.

Pittsburgh is a city of immigrants,and the Jews started to move into the area in the early 1830's.  As was the custom at the time many of them congregated together in certain areas of the city,  Squirrel Hill became the Jewish neighborhood, and it's remained that way since.

Pittsburgh however is not a easy city to get around in, and you often crossed rivers and bridges (literally and figurative) to go from one part of the city to another.   This exposed Pittsburgher's to different cultures, languages and even religious beliefs on a daily basis. 

Since Pittsburgh was a "blue collar steel town", "The Polack, the Jew, the Negro, the Irishman" all worked side by side and provided the steel that forged a nation.  Various words unique to the area but I'm sure a linguist would be able to trace the roots of them back to various languages somehow formed so that everyone could somehow communicate.

What this has meant is that Pittsburgh and it's citizens have been very proud of their city, very open to outsiders and have developed an attitude of "live and let live" when it comes to your personal beliefs and opinions.

Generally speaking, Pittsburgh is a very progressive and forward looking city.  It is stronger than hate.

Now that we got the political part of the blog out of the way......

Let's talk about not succeeding.

I could never really master backing up the truck.   Straight line backing is exactly like it seems and I did OK with that.  Where my issues where is something called "Off Set Backing" and "Ally Backing." 

Off Set Backing is basically go from Lane A into parallel Lane B.  You pull up forward and then back the truck up into the parallel lane. 

While the attached video makes it look easy, it's actually not.   Set up is everything, although the ally docking is a bit easier than the off set.

Sadly I just could not seem to master it.  I had spent over 200 hours of working in class, on the pad (where we practiced these procedures) and actually driving on the road. 

I tried my best, I gave it my best shot.   Even though I mastered everything else, these two procedures I just could not figure out.

Long story short, I threw away a lot of money doing something I'm not sure of I would have liked doing in the first place.  I also find myself without a job at the moment.   I'm not even sure if I can collect unemployment since my former job and I parted ways on good terms, although I was told that I would be welcomed back by former managers.

It's okay no matter what happens.  Life is weird and wonderful and full of surprises.   In the meantime however...anyone got a job open?

Sunday, October 21, 2018

At the end of week two

I'm tired.

I'm one of the oldest, if not the oldest person in my class.   Most of my classmates are in their early 20's.  Most are Hispanic or from the Caribbean. A few are heavy tattoo'd.

Here I am.  The banker, the insurance agent, the wanna be writer and semi-philosopher.   I feel out of touch, out of place and at times lost.

I'm not doing badly, I am doing well when it comes to the day to day law, logs, paperwork.  These are things that I am used to.  This makes sense to me.

It's the practical part of driving that scares me somewhat.  How to maneuver a large vehicle is small spaces.  How to change from one loading dock to another without wrecking.   Why I can't seem to remember that if I want to make that dumb trailer go to the left, that I need to turn to the right when backing up. 

For these reasons and more, I decided to switch over to "automatic only" simply because I was having trouble getting the downshift procedure correct, and with only four days left of class (starting Monday), I didn't think I had enough time to truly master it and everything else that I have to make sure I know.  It will result on a "limit" on my license meaning that I can only drive automatic trucks but frankly the industry is going that way anyhow and nearly all companies have automatics now.

I'm still not sure if I'm making the right choice.  However I'm trying to concentrate on the positives of my choices.   When I was working insurance I've had checks as low as 500 a week and up to 2,000 for a week.   There was no consistency.

I'm hoping that changes.

Now that I'm getting older and facing retirement in the face, I'm planning on working till at least 70, I need a good matching 401K and a few other things.   Trucking companies are one of the few that still match dollar to dollar up to 6 or 7%   Frankly that's pretty much unheard of anymore in banking and insurance.

The idea of being able to take Sue with me and see the country while getting paid is a definite plus in that column. 

Still though, it's the physicality of it that's surprised me.   Truck drivers are often expected to put in 14 hour day.  They can spend up to 11 hours of it behind the wheel, which surprised me.  Of course, I know from an early job in my life that working a 14 hour day and "working" a 14 hour day are two different things.

You arrive somewhere and it takes them an hour or two to load your truck as you sit in the cab resting.  Technically you are "working" but not really.   Your taking a quick nap or watching video's on YouTube.   I get it.

This is the last week, I have a job waiting and two more that I really, really want to try and get into.  It looks like that I'll be driving over the road (OTR) for at least 6 months.  Again, a lifestyle change that scares me.

It's always scary. 

I'm to far in now to turn tail and run.  If this is not for me, then I will find a way out of it, but I will always have the CDL license.   I will always have those skills.

Let's see what happens.

Thursday, October 11, 2018's been a week? Really? Feels longer than that.

For a lot of reasons I decided to change careers.

1)  I was not making the money I was expecting to, even though I have supervised, trained others and such in exactly what I was doing.

2)  I was burned out.

3)  See number two.  I think I just got to a point where I wasn't happy anymore, and it showed.

I should be fine.....right?
This first week has been...long.   We are in class for about 10 hours each day and are basically learning how NOT to fail the DOT CDL exams.    After four days of training, I earned my learner's permit.   Today was that day.  Which means that I can finally get behind the wheel of a truck.

I'm still not sure if this is something I want to do.   I mean, lets be honest, the hours are long.  I'm going to be making good but not great money (although it will be consistent in theory) and will most likely end up away from home for the first six months to a year.  It's rare that a local company (companies that operate within 115 miles) will higher a noob.   You can't blame them.  It's a safety issue and these trucks are not cheep. 

It's only in week two and three that we actually get to drive.  Basically we have 14 days to learn the basics and then get hooked up with several companies.  That being said, I'm not that happy with any of the companies that the school has offered.  They are all big over the road (OTR) companies with shall we say....shit reputations. 

I've a few friends in the industry and two out of the four that my school offers were basically Oh Hell No!!! from the lot.  For several reasons however I'm not going to mention who they are just in case I do end up working for one of them.

Besides I would rather stay close to home (see previous post). 

All I can do really is just try and find the best fit for me and being the geek that I am, I'm going online.   A proverbial crapload of info out there to try and shift through. 

There are also a lot of options out there that I've never really considered before, like cement trucks or working for a local construction company.  Yes, it's possible and that would give me the experience I need for a job later on that might be more towards my liking. 

I just never figured that I would end up doing this.  However I lived with a guy for a brief that that was an OTR driver.  He had a Master's in philosophy and decided to take a year off before pursuing his Doctor's degree and see the country.    He never went back for his doctorate (as far as I know) because he loved being out on the road. 

I loved the fact that his 1/3 of the rent showed up on time and that he was never really around.  When he was about it was always a good time though.  You just never really know where life is going to take you.   So why not find out?

Friday, October 5, 2018

From 2 smaller wheels to 18 big ones

These past two years have been interesting.  I've made some good decisions, some bad ones.  Some were made for me...But as of October 1st, I'v officially left the financial world and enter a new one.

It's a complete change of lifestyle for me, and as you probably guess from the title, I've decided to drive a truck.  I'll get to my reasons in a bit, and since no one really reads this blog, I'll do so in my own time.

I have been in call centers all my life, I've been a phone jockey. I've been a team leader. a trainer, a supervisor, a manager.   Honestly there is much that I've not done.  When I decided to go the independent insurance route in 2016 it was a bit of a shock.  Luckily I didn't lose money the first year like I feared.  I didn't make money either but I didn't have to hijack anything out of our savings accounts to pay bills, so I'll consider that a success.

Then ten months ago a friend of mine called me and suggested I go to work back in a call center.  I would still be an Independent agent, but one where I would not have to pay for leads and that's a large chunk of change saved up right there.   The job also had a few other perks like working when I wanted to, as long as I put in 40 hours, etc.

The first 3 months were training, paid at $18 an hour on Medicare products.  I'm a big fan of Medicare, but not of selling it over the phone.   However I did what I was asked. In the months that followed, I only hit my sales goals once.  Something needed to change and you can read about that more in the other blog I keep.

So why trucking?   Well, I have my reasons but it mostly had to do with skills and being in a job where I would always be in demand.  It's not recession proof, but is damn close to it.  I'm not worried about doing the actual job, I can learn that part of it. While I may be a proverbial monkey with a gun when it comes to anything mechanical, I can learn.

What scares me honestly is being isolated.  I am an introvert at heart but I also know that in the past I've made bad choices because I was lonely.  I'm also hoping that this isolation and new experiences will get me back into writing and blogging.  It's something I've missed, and besides, my first best selling novel should have been written by now (actually I've the first 3 chapters done and it has the working title of "Emma").

I read about drivers that may not be home for months.  Or how you see nothing but strangers (waitress's, dock workers, other truckers) and how your whole world consists of the cab and sleeping quarters of your truck.   A world reduced to 50 square feet.

I also read about seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time and the beauty of the high plains or watching the sun raise over the ocean...then watching it set the same day over mountains in the west.  Of the wonder of leaving the desert and driving into snow. 

What this came down to for me was a change of pace, of needing to finally do something different for a bit.

What this came down to for me was family.  While I can do insurance and banking anywhere in the world (and my former company did offer me the chance to work from home), it's also based on relationships.   That life insurance policy leads to a call about Medicare.  You need Dental work?  I got that covered.  Your daughter is getting married and needs home owner's insurance?  Done.

I remember I insuranced an entire street because I treated the people right.  I've several standing invites for dinner and at least one woman offered to set me up with her Daughter!  Relationships matter.

Still, however, I have to face facts.  My father is ill, and my mother will need help in Pennsylvania.   Sue's family is in the same place, her father doesn't even remember her now. 

The income needs to be more stable moving forward.  I need a job where I can slip into easily without much disruption if we do move.   Insurance and banking is about building relationships, and I'm not willing to spend another two years or more of my life to building those relationships again in a new city.

I just hope I'm making the right choices.

So long story short, I'm back in the blogging game.  Concentrating on travel and trucking and what ever else comes my way.

Take care.