Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Magic Carpet Ride

I wasn't the best driver at 17 - there I said it.  My friends and family may argue that I am STILL not the best or even a good driver, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respectfully disagree with them.  I did however manage to total my first, hand-me-down car, the Cutlass (1979 Cutlass Supreme that my mother had purchased for herself - it was her first brand new car).  After totaling my first car my mom did what every other mother would do - bought me a brand new car.  And I did what every other 17 year old would do who just got handed a brand new car - bitch and complain that it's not the car I wanted.  So I drove this white Oldsmobile ('old' being key in the name of the car - it clearly implies you should be old if you're driving one), gave it a few dings and dents and righteously declared that I did NOT want this car.  And just like that, demanding like the brat that I was, a few days later I rolled into town sporting my brand new, kick-ass, white Chevy Camaro z28, pimped out with T-Tops, tinted windows and flashy ass rims (did they have 20's back then?). 

I loved this car and it took me to several jobs that I managed to jump to and from but the most memorable was down at the end of Wilson Ave in Newark, a trucking company that shipped carpet to local stores and distributors.  It was a dirty warehouse on one level with a dispatch room - a real trucker depot kind of atmosphere - while upstairs was bright and basically quarantined from the dregs below.  Literally they kept the door at the top of the stairs locked.  I was the unfortunate sap that had to go downstairs to fill the slots with the route schedules and bills of lading for the truckers each day so I was exposed to disgusting, creepy, dirty, old, men - lots of them (I was 18).  This has nothing to do with the story but just to put things into context for you, I was never shocked to find the owner of the company with his pants around his ankles, shirt tucked into his droopy boxers and the upstairs help down around his knees.  And when I say the help, I mean this nasty, cigarette smoking, wig wearing (if we were lucky), same clothes everyday, dirty fingernails, bean sprout of a woman who, forgive the cliche expression, looked 'ridden hard and put away wet'.  Did I mention disgusting, dirty, old, men AND women!  Man if sexual harassment had been a thing back then I'd own a carpet business right now!  <shutter>

Any who, this God awful job had security cameras every where because the other owner (they were brother-in-laws) was a neurotic, compulsive bean counter who watched his money. And his money was in the warehouse - expensive imported, hand woven works of art, that could have been easily stolen and found for sale on a corner some where in Newark along side of a velvet painting of Elvis. The cameras watched the platform where the trucks were loaded and unloaded, the gates where the trucks entered and exited and the cameras watched the cars, our cars that were parked in the lot.  Owners 1 and 2 both drove Mercedes, the southern girl who was forced to move here because of her husband's job drove an old Toyota, and the smelly, cigarette wench drove . . .wait for it. . .a wood paneling down the side station wagon (what else!).  Then there was me and my Camaro, until one day there was just me.  No Camaro.

Let's go to the video tape - nothing.  Apparently there was a brief moment when the camera panned and my car was just out of lens shot and it was within that very moment, that my car was stolen.  Police reports filed, rides were obtained, condolences passed around, it killed me.  The irony was I probably knew the person that had stolen it and it wasn't gone for long.  In fact, it was recovered the next day and the police officer who took the report was so kind, he called me personally to tell me it had been 'recovered'.  Then asked me out to dinner (he was 28) - did I mention creepy, disgusting, old(er) men!

I never went back to that job because of course I blamed them for not having the proper surveillance to protect my vehicle whilst on their premises.  And let's face it, after all the other bullshit that I had to put up with at this rat hole, quitting was within my best interest.  Another job bites the dust.

Side Note - before the car was actually stolen it had been broken into several times, windows busted, T-Tops stolen, tires stolen, column steering ripped apart, radio gone etc. etc. etc. - the actual theft in the end was some what anti climatic because all the thief did was drive it around for awhile.  They could have spared us both the time and effort and just asked for a damn ride.  I did sell the car after that, to my cousin and I watched her drive it until it died.  Karma, I should have kept the damn Cutlass.  As for Lou Boles Carpet Carriers, out of business.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blue Cross: My Personal Shield

A long, long time ago - high school days ago, I landed a part time job.  A really good part time job, for the time that is.  My mother may or may not have had something to do with the job and application process, I can't remember exactly but I think she was definitely, maybe some how involved.  I was a claims examiner at Blue Cross Blue Shield, the insurance company, medical insurance (I think it still is an insurance company but the name has been changed).

Anyway, a claims examiner, completely un-glamorous!  I waded through stacks of doctor and pharmacy receipts stuffed into thick manila envelopes with a claim form stuck to the front of it.  It was my job to validate the charges, ensure the submitter had the right codes to coincide with the service stamped on the invoice and process it.  By process I mean manually type each and every dot and dash into a computer - my 'processing' of the claims made a difference in whether someone got paid or did not get paid - it was that important. . .yup.  

So why did I say it was a 'really good' job - because it paid $12 an hour!  in 1985 that was like a million considering minimum wage hovered somewhere around $3.55.  I hit the big time.  I had my own car.  I  worked 3.5 hours a day, no weekends - long enough to bring home over $100 a week, but short enough to get home before the night was over, so that I could join my delinquent friends in some raucous play that was always eminent with them.  And so for reasons other than monetary this may have been the best job I ever had.

I think it is fair to tell you now that I ultimately lost the job when I didn't bother to call or return after a weeks vacation turned into two (or more) at which point I had decided I really just wanted to hang out all summer, not have a real enough job that I needed to be responsible to go to everyday.  Lazy days, that was what I was into or wanted to be more into.  So they fired me or I quit.  Either way it was mutual and my permanent personnel record was inked with a 'do not hire' stamp that I could visualize even though I had not actually seen it, my record - or the stamp.

This isn't so much about the job as it is about the time we were in - I was in and how that job saved me from having a more severe permanent record, one that you would have to document on future job applications with a yes in the check box next to 'have you ever been convicted. . .'  The job is a very relevant, important piece of the story that you will soon understand.

Monday through Friday I got out of work at exactly 7:52, there were rules about working more than 25 hours a week or they would have to offer us benefits, therefore they (supervisors) made sure we came in just under 25, fine with me - the sooner I was out, the sooner the fun began.  Because I had to leave ever day just as things were being planned for the night among my group of misguided, teenage wanderer friends.  Where the gang was going that night, what we would be doing, drinking, smoking. . .so I was anxious to get to it.  I drove a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, it was brown with a one quarter vinyl roof - it was my mothers, or used to be.  Down route 78 East I would watch the needle bury in the dashboard registering only up to 120mph.  I got pulled over, a lot!  Lost my license, a lot!  But that's not even remotely relevant.

It's warm out, beginnings of summer, school is not over yet but people are starting to act like it is.  Staying out later, partying harder, I was one of them.  Descending onto the city from the 78 off ramp, I drove around town hitting all the usual spots, the big park (real name: Independence Park, it was very big - 1 block wide and 5 blocks long).  I drove slowly to check out the faces, looking for familiarity - I knew all the hang outs and who was hanging at them but I was looking for my regular crowd.  I cruised around some more, next stop, the little park (real name: little park? - it was very small with broken down swings and two cement mounds made to look like mountains.  A log nested in between them that went from one mound to the other - intended for kids to walk across, safety less of a concern back then).  The group had settled at the little park and I stopped when I saw them, a misfit bunch at best (names will not be mentioned to protect the un-innocent).  One of the very tall, lanky dudes was asking if he could put something in my trunk, it looked like a suitcase of some kind, black, nondescript. "Go ahead", popped the trunk, he placed the case inside, closed the trunk - nothing else mentioned.  Bottles in paper bags, quart size beers that were flat and warm were being passed around as well as joints.  I was still dressed in my work clothes, a business casual sort of style, while everyone else was in cut off shirts, jeans and ragtag sneakers.  They were a greasy looking bunch which is why the police probably stopped in the first place.

The police cruiser rolled up, no blinking lights, very casual and two officers descended on us.  Asking questions, frisking the man boys in the crowd, confiscating what they could of our provisions.  The older, staunchly looking one with more experience was back at the car and calling in back-up.  What had we done, seriously - a little over dramatic for just a bunch of tween and twenty somethings hanging out in the park (everyone drank and smoked - in the park or dark hallways, cars, abandoned trailers - it couldn't be about that).  The older officer comes my way - "Is this your car?" pointing at the cutlass which was double parked in the street.  "Um yes?" I said hoping that was the right answer, the one he wanted to hear.  "Where you coming from?", he asked.  I thought, duh but did not say that (a first for me because I never knew when to shut up especially if you were some sort of authority figure), "work, I work", long pause, "at Blue Cross Blue Shield, I'm a claims examiner", why the hell am I telling him this shit.  Staunchly looks me over, up and down, back and forth from the crowd to me, up and down again then stops, eyes on me looking me straight in the face.  "Get outta here - you don't belong with this bunch, go now before you get caught up in something".  It was an order, I knew that and I obliged.  Nervously I walked back to the car, glancing at my friends with their big eyes saying "you're leaving?" and I shrugged giving a head nod toward staunchly like, "he told me to go."

The next day we reconnect, a few of the crew had been arrested that night, possession charges, loitering, drinking in public.  I felt ashamed that I had abandoned everyone.  I did, I really, truly and honestly did.  Being the type of people they all were no grudges were ever held, not this time anyway (it's not like I kissed my best friends boyfriend, different story).  But the fact of the matter was the police didn't find what they were really looking for that night, because they had let me drive off with it, in my trunk.

Yes, Blue Cross Blue Shield saved me that evening and sometimes you never know how a job might save you. I know that many jobs have saved me in many ways over many years that I will continue to write about.  To catch up on previous 10000jobsandcounting stories click the link.

Side note:
I want to add that while I got lucky it was narrow minded to cast me off as a 'good girl' by the officer.  He had no idea who I was or what I may or may not have done.  I was simply wearing the right clothes in his mind and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is an unfortunate scenario that is still true today, people judging, it is a sad truth that I am not overly proud to have been an example of.