Other Sides of the World
(Life in Culture; Work)
a Journey 4 Broadening Mind
Simplest things bring greatest joy, and that fateful trip to France was the first I was exposed to ways of life more modest, conscientious, open-minded and accepting than those of the American South.
I was 17, and the hospitality I experienced by a people so markedly different than those of my own country and place made an impression on me that has never gone away: Their grace and patience was much.
I had never been so far from home, and was very fortunate to have as my host family the Flaurauds: Modest, upper middle class, gregarious. They showed me the volcanoes their region is famous for, exposed me to local foods exceptional in their Auvergne region, and took me to family holidays where relatives received me as their own.
It was a most transformative experience, and I adopted from their culture an approach to life that is with me to today: Who you are exceeds - indeed transcends - your status in society by every measure. A person is not the title we give them, they are not their job, or what they do for money. That is how it seems here in America, but it is not so.
There is something much more sacred in identity than rank or numbers, and after the duties of your work are done, when you have taken off those clothes and have gone home, then becomes the person that you are - to friends and family, loved ones and neighbors, also strangers.
I remember being discontent as could be once back home, once returned to the homogenous sprawl I say is suburbia, buried behind the neon wall of a mainstream wasteland.
I was recruited as a senior for a full academic ride by a university in central Tennessee, but it was no good fit for me. I left at the end of my freshman year, and traveled.
Two years later I found myself out here.
Auto & the Iron Lands of Do
(Community as Family)
Introduction to Excellence
When I picked my car up from Russ I made as if I knew what I was looking at: Had him pull the car inside on a rainy night after closing, dry the car so I could see it. I popped the hood, 'inspected' it, ran my fingers along the edges of the panel to check for tape lines (a trick I'd learned from Jon Martinez) - I paid close attention to details.
I didn't know at the time how difficult it is to find a quality detailer, and apparently I made a good impression. Inside at the desk, closing out paperwork, Russ offered me a job: Rookie detailer (i.e. shop grunt).
In the beginning days (ok, months) no one would even let me touch new paint - not with my fingers, not with a polish pad and sure as 'Hell no' comes from Mike Huber's mouth I was in no way to consider - on pain of termination - buffing paint. (And I had been the top guy at 2 top shops !!)
The most I was allowed to do was wash a car, blow wet paint dry (yes, with air - no chamois allowed), give interior car make overs (a complimentary service we gave every car that came in the door) and pull cars in and out of the shop. Of course I swept and cleaned the shop, and all else, too.
I met Mike Boone who introduced me to the finer elements of luxury cars made new again. It is incredibly tedious work, requires a steep, continuous learning curve and thankfully Mike's about the most patient man I've ever known. I took care and eventually (years later) took over Mike's position as supervisor when he left the shop to venture onto his own affairs (he now does quality fence, deck and small build construction work, owns and runs the business himself).
It was as Detail Supervisor I began to spend time in direct contact with and answering to Russ - and learn what he was about. I have never ceased to be genuinely impressed.
And I was fortunate: Mike and he both liked me, shielded me from the sometimes hostile nature of paint crews and body men I would play messenger to (delivering the re-do message they love so much) or sometimes f*ing up their work. We were a high volume, industry-leading facility recognized as having by far the most stringent autobody standards in the South Puget Sound. No question.
And insurance companies with competing shops both were on constant watch to discredit us (gradually, I understood why). But at the time I was still naive, kept my hand at the task, delivered cars as they were supposed to be: Good as showroom new, every time, without question and without fail.
Until the office got new computers.
Basic Good Business
It was random but when new computers came for the office, I ended up the chosen one for setting them up, installing software and pretty much hooking it up. There were 5 new ones and as Russ tells the story he asked me to do it for one reason only: He had seen me reading at lunchtime a book on Egyptian hieroglyphs. So he gave me a shot.
The computers didn't crash, the building didn't burn, Russ needed a competent office man - I was chosen. The work was cake compared to consistent 12 hour days of exacting shop work, and I enjoy learning, challenges, helping and very much more of what the new job required. I picked it up fast and had an uncanny eye for the detail missed on an insurance sheet (the estimate we got paid off of).
The insurance company M.O. is to short your sheet for time and repair parts both - they want to put out as little money to repair your car as corporately possible. But that means quality suffers, safety is compromised and the value of your car goes down - this is opposite of right. So we held our ground, demanded for our clients that cars be repaired in keeping with iCar certified standards, and made cars exact.
It was my task to educate new clients on the benefit of going with a reputable, highest quality independent shop, and to negotiate on their behalf, for concerns they didn't even know existed. Always at the forefront of our shop's concerns were returning cars to exactly like-new condition - even where you would never be able to see, up under panels, behind welded parts, etc., the cars were returned to new. That's integrity.
The point is: Safety and value are at the core of your well being: We treat you and yours as if you were us and ours, as if you were our family. We care for your concerns, the money takes care of itself. This is what I learned most from Russ, dedicated, conscientious family man he is.
It was also my task to hold insurance company's feet to the fire. Regardless of their company's (regressive) policy, our concerns were the safety and value of our clients, not an insurance company's bottom line. Safety and value both must needs be thoroughly addressed if you are to be a quality shop intentionally bent on securing the repair in best keeping with the interests of your client and their family.
Community (those coming in the door) is as family.
That alone justified our reputation and the cost of our repairs.
I did this under Russ for many years, as his right hand, until the man Russ and I both worked for became too much - it was time for me to move on. Russ had not yet gone out on his own, though when he did he called on me to help him start Paramount Centre, an honor I hold as one of the highest I've been given to date.
Perceiving the Game
(Industry or Individual)
Sales & the Business of Business
I was now in my late mid- twenties, had dedicated myself to learning small business from the inside out and ground up, had put in the hours and the work. I had not had a real vacation in 5 years, so I took one, spent 6 months on the beaches of Boca Raton.
I had not yet been introduced to what I call the 'Garden community' culture of the Pacific Northwest, and the Beaches and the food and the drinks and the nightlife of Florida were fine to me. For a season. (Also family is there).
It was during this time that I picked up a book by a known successful business type; in it I read words that would put me on a journey I have never quite recovered from. In it he puts forth the unassailable argument that in every profession of life there is a simple need if one is to succeed: You have to be able to sell. You have to be able to present what you offer - or people will buy from another that does know how.
Teachers convince us of their authority, workers of their ability, doctors of their knowledge and even children of their need for toys. We hire, listen and submit ourselves accordingly. And I knew upon reading this that in order to achieve a certain level in my field I would have to understand this apparently twisted little game - I would require the experience though I hated it in advance.
I had always considered (I still think somewhat rightly) that those benefiting from an exchange with you of their goods must inherently carry with them the biases tied to the productive standards and assumptions of the industry they're in - with rare exception I still think this is true.
And so there appears a conflict of interest between a sales person's desire for a paycheck (he has to pay his rent), a company's desire for profit (that's how industries now work) and your own better interests, with those you love. You want your own best concerns to be cared after, but this is not in the strategy books of corporate offices - they have their whole game centered around their own interests: Profit.
So there is a kind of smoke screen I call The Neon Wall where a company projects an image - to get you to the door; and then at entry you are approached by a person trained professionally to maintain the perception that the image projected by the company is real. What's more, that person gets paid after they have manipulated you into a decision!
The training books of corporations and companies dedicated to the perfection of the sales craft are so ubiquitous and inexhaustible - as is the culture of this madness - as to beg the question of how it happens that more people are not utterly aware. And though at times it may appear that most do not care, I know a great many of us do care, which is all the potential necessary for effecting the ways of life desired.
At any rate, I returned to Tacoma, followed a friend to Luciano's and while he gambled sat at the bar with a beer. A young man nearby at the bar introduced himself to me (he was there with his work crew) and lo and behold I was recruited - for sales.
Utterly naive to the game, I performed very well. As time went on - as I saw behind the curtain, my numbers fell. What I learned at the end of it all was simple: I had already been doing sales under Russ. The difference? He offered real value in keeping with the interests of those with whom he did business. So Russ is still around - has a family, a good community, stability, strength and vibrancy of life.
I have kept tabs on the other guys, the ones once so bold, so confident, so big in talk (we call them 'Fronts'). 2 have been through rehab, one should be, one's in a wheel chair, one guy's slinging finance down on South Tacoma way, another's selling cars on River Road. All but 2 are more or less alone.
So I say: Align yourself with real value; strive to benefit your peers; take the long road, gain experience, build others uP. That's my own approach, and this is what I have done.
Rarest Thing on Earth
So now is time for me to work toward lasting things, to effect for my community some value, a benefit. It is not so easy - it is not as if the people here do so bad. By my eye you do most everything much better in most ways than other places I have been - this just seems true.
This Guide is one thing I am doing to benefit the ones I see bettering our lives: Using my learned skills and natural talents to build up the individuals and families responsible for the availability of the lifestyles we enjoy here, one by one. Together, I believe, we achieve something truly remarkable: A higher standard of living that is accessible (mostly) to anyone desiring to take part.
Doing what I can to contribute, I hope to add something of a better experience myself, build us up, introduce others at least to the people and places that have bettered my own life and which are better by a certain standard than places they've become accustomed to. I seek to present those providing this benefit well, come what may.
My belief: Others will appreciate and value this life with us, will adopt those parts of Northwest life and culture that fit their own understanding and existing ways. Even partial acclimation benefits us much: Money spent here stays here, circulates and flows. Awareness grows. Life is bettered.
And one more thing I've done: I helped us start the Lumins Festivus - an Autumn celebration thrown for the simple joy of life. It's fun, and sometimes it does us well to simply and just for the sake of it . . delight. Delight and joy are good, and somber times are plenty. So we do this (video) in Autumn, after harvests and long hours: It is a festival of lights.
For more on the work of this Guide, I have already written its history here, how it came to be. I'm also very much approachable - should reach out to me if you like. And if you haven't already i would request you read through the indi Inspiration and Understanding page. You have already read this far - you should at least understand what it's all about.
Thank you, for reading so much - and for caring. Those of us that care should well align, get in the game, team up and play together. We seem rare that care, but we're not nearly so rare as you think. And it's rewarding, even fun. We and friends and loved ones all of us benefit, every single one, and end up getting more of what we want. Just a thought.
Do wish you prosper, and be happy . .
Letters for Colleagues