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My personal story (pt 1)

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I’ve never used this blog feature before, but since people have wondered (and asked) about my personal story, I figured it was best to do it in here rather than the forums.

It may come across as anecdotal, but I assure you that this same type free market story is working itself out all over the country and the globe. Even in the face or increasing government interference.

I was born in Western PA the third of four boys. When I was still a baby, the second child died of spina bifida and my mother never recovered from the loss. When I was 5, my parents divorced and my 24 year-old, mentally disturbed mother moved to Washington DC with 3 young children. She struggled to earn enough money to keep us fed and housed. We moved from $#@!ty apartment to $#@!tier apartment until, when I was 8, she remarried to an older man with a little money. He enrolled the three of us into private school and I got a sense of how the other half lived.

That didn’t last long, though. They divorced after 2 years and we were back to moving around from section 8 to section 8. The next few years were really bad. We all wore dirty clothes, hardly bathed and lived with the rats and cockroaches. We never had friends over and we’d get made fun of for wearing the same clothes over and over. In spite of how bad it was, my worst fear was that we would end up homeless on the streets. It always seemed like a very real possibility. Obviously, these struggles only increased my mother’s mental disorders. My older brother was sent away and I became the oldest male. My mother turned to drugs to dull the pain and the occasional prostitution to make ends meet. I didn’t know it at the time, but being poor was perhaps the greatest privilege I ever had.

When I was 14, the law finally allowed me to get a work permit. Unfortunately, you had to have a job lined up before you could get the permit, but the first thing an employer would ask me is if I had the permit. Our apartment complex was next to a shopping center and I went everyday trying to get a job at the stores. As soon as they found out where I lived, however, they didn’t want to hire me. The neighborhood kids had a reputation for theft. But my daily pleading finally paid off when the guy from the ice cream shop felt pity on me. I did the necessary paperwork and started working at minimum wage.

I learned by working hard, I pleased the owner. To my surprise, he gave me a raise of 20 cents after 2 months. When the summer was over, he fired everyone in the shop but me. He even gave me a set of keys. I was making just over minimum wage in a part-time job, but it was enough to help buy food for me, my mother and my little brother. But in the middle of winter, no one buys ice cream. I felt so guilty getting paid to sit around doing nothing that I offered to quit. The owner responded by giving me a 50 cent raise to stay. I didn’t really understand it because I wasn’t providing him any value, but looking back, I think he just wanted me around for the next year.

I worked the through the next summer, trained all the new employees, but ended up in the same place the following winter. Everyone else was fired but me. I offered to quit again and again he offered me another 50 cents. This time, though, I didn’t feel right accepting. I was 15 and without a job. Things got rough at home since my mother had come to rely on my income. After I turned 16, finding a job was a little easier and I went to work at a grocery store.

The grocery store was a union shop and I had to join. I started by cutting vegetables for the salad bar at about $1 over minimum wage – a little more than I was making at the ice cream store, but still not what I would have been making had I accepted that last raise. I wasn’t the perfect employee, but I was certainly better than the competition. In spite of the union rules, the management moved me around from department to department and gave me “special” raises above the contract raises. I became indispensable to the store because I could work most departments. By the time I graduated high school, I was making pretty decent money and they offered me a full-time job as the lead janitor – college was not an option in my family. On top of the food, I started paying my mother “rent”. A year later, my little brother went into the army as an escape and my mother committed herself.

I moved into an apartment with 3 friends from high school. I already knew how to pay rent and manage my money so things got much easier. By the time I was 20, I already escaped my childhood poverty. Because my needs were low, I had loads of disposable income. I began experimenting with drugs, traveling, and even got my pilot’s license. I went back to part-time at the grocery store to make a higher hourly wage in a different department and finally, after 9 years, I got a full-time receiver position making about $35K/year (real good money for back then). The union rules kept trying to get in the way because I didn’t have the seniority of some people, but my bosses were always good about finding ways to work around the rules. I provided the value that made them look good and they wanted more of it.

At 26, I decided I had enough of the city and knew that I could apply those same skills I learned anywhere. My mother moved to Florida and there was nothing else keeping me in DC. Growing up poor and overcoming it allowed me to operate without fear. I knew my lot in life was up to me. And I knew how to live poor, so if I had to live like that again, it wouldn’t matter – I was used to it. In one week, I broke it off with my girlfriend, quit my good-paying job, and gave my landlord notice that I was leaving. I had about two months’ worth of savings and moved back to my childhood home in Western PA with no job, no home, and no prospects.

I found an old trailer to rent month-to-month and started applying for jobs. I went in to a new department store that was opening to drop off a resume. I had my long hair in a ponytail and was wearing a ripped t-shirt and jeans and they pulled me in totally unprepared for an interview. They offered me $6.75/hr and I told them to make it $8 - they agreed. I worked on the dock unloading trucks and getting the store ready for opening, again easily outworking my peers. After a month, the store was ready and they trimmed the dock staff from 50 to 10. I was one of the 10 and they made me lead which was another 50 cents. At the end of the year, we were up for reviews and they offered me another 50 cents. I told them to make it $10/hr or I’d find something else. They agreed. Within 2 more months, the dock manager went on a training assignment and they promoted me to his position – if I remember right, it was about $30K/year. When he came back 6 months later, they promoted me again to inventory manager making $35K. Within a year, I was back to what I was making before I left DC and the cost of living in PA was much lower. At that point, my sights were still pretty low, but I bought a brand new trailer and moved to a trailer park.

But I never got involved with the trailer park social scene – I could easily see how dysfunctional it was.
I started dating the HR manager (who would later become my wife) at the department store and when they let her quit over a management dispute, I quit right behind her. I worked there for 3 years, had a car payment, trailer payment, and lot rent, but I knew that I was in control.

I applied for a job on a railroad taking inventory of the cars. The hiring manager could tell I was a worker and I had mentioned that I flew planes, so instead he hired me as a locomotive operator. We worked one-man crews in a steel mill. The hours were long, but the pay was good and I really enjoyed it. I had zero experience and worked with guys who had been doing the job for 30 years, but I learned fast and worked hard. Basically, I just had fun. After 6 months, they offered me a job as the yardmaster. I was good. It would have been worth more than $40K/year but it wasn’t to last.

The company lost their contract with the steel mill and everyone was laid off. This was a dark period for me. Out of everyone at the mill, they offered me a job in Shreveport, but I turned it down because I didn’t want to move away from my girlfriend. I turned to unemployment insurance – evil bastard that it is. Because I was getting a weekly check, I was picky with the jobs I would look for. I became lazy and my self-esteem was the lowest it ever was. Worse than when I was the dirty poor kid in middle school who didn’t have the money to socialize with people. I took a job at a tire plant, but quit after 3 days because the work was too hard. I did a week stint at a ceramics factory, but couldn’t stand the assembly line work. I was becoming the kind of worthless $#@! I always despised.

Luckily for me, the unemployment ran out and I had to find a job in earnest. I was hired at a family-owned cement block plant as their dispatch manager. My background with receiving, inventory and yardmaster got me the interview, but my attitude got me the job. It was a $30K/year salary. After 6 months, they bumped it up to $35K. I knew, however, that unless I married into the family, there was no room for further advancement. Besides, things were getting serious with my girlfriend and I knew I needed to create a more solid career footing. My time on unemployment taught me some things about myself and I resolved to never allow that to happen again. I began to set my sights much, much higher.

Updated 02-26-2016 at 07:51 AM by CaptUSA