Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'm Killin yo FB Memes

There’s a new(ish) FB meme floating around called The Travel Challenge List. 100 places are named, and people check off where they have been. Everyone gets around 25 or 30 of the 100 and then complains about how poorly traveled they are. This is similar to the “BBC” book list that circulated around Facebook a while back - in that both lists are completely arbitrary bullshit.

The plus side - for lazy writers like me, the only easier column gimmick than making a list of some sort is to poke holes in an existing list. Let’s have some fun.

Here are my major complaints:

A lot of the sites are range from "okay" to "worth checking out if you happen to be in the same postal code, but otherwise lame." All of the sites are theoretically impressive, but some of the lamer ones include:

Devil's Tower, Wyoming. I've never been, but I've seen pictures. No way is it amongst the most impressive places in the world. Shiprock in New Mexico didn't make the cut, and it looks far more awesome to me. Ditto Saddle Rock in Arizona. That's just two superior monoliths in the Western US that I can think of off the top of my head. Extend this to the world, and no way should Devil's Tower be included.

The Gateway Arch - come on. It's a fucking arch.

Gettysburg Battlefield - Sure, an important battle to the US, but it's the only battlefield on the list. Lazy, lazy pick.

Hollywood Boulevard - If they wanted to list a place to see washed up celebs and score hookers and blow, they should have gone with Avenue Revolution in Tijuana.

Napa Valley - I've never been. I''m sure it's nice. Other nice places to see grapevines include Chianti, Tuscany and the Loire Valley in France. I'm sure the latter are much nicer than the former, but only Napa makes the list as a wine country rep.

Niagara Falls - Angel Falls and Victoria Falls do make the list, as does another waterfall in Africa that I've never heard of. Do we really need four waterfalls on the list? Wouldn't two work?

Portland Head Lighthouse - it's a fucking lighthouse.

Sears Tower - See, I'm not just being a homer here. The Sears is the tallest and most famous skyscraper in Chicago, but it's not in my top 20 Chicago sights. If Chicago gets one attraction (and on a list of the 100 best sights in the world, I'm okay that Chicago only gets one) then it should be the Tribune Tower. Or Millennium Park. Science and Industry would work too. I'd have no argument with Wrigley Field. Michigan Avenue or State Street or The Loop would suffice. Even the John Hancock Building or the new Trump Tower would be more worthy of this spot.

The Space Needle - Why? I love Seattle, and I know the Needle is the most famous landmark, but there are plenty of more architecturally interesting observation towers in the world. I'd actually rank Seoul Tower higher, and I have no great love for Seoul Tower.

The Alamo - I've never been, but all accounts I've heard have been underwhelming. Historical significance you say? Sure, if you're a Texan. Why not Deally Plaza? At least that's national history rather than just Texas history. If history is key, then why not Westminster Fucking Abbey? Did the Roman Forum do something wrong?

The Leaning Tower of Pisa - insanely famous, but Pisa sucks. There are plenty of more interesting things to see in Italy. The Leaning Tower is probably the most famous place that I've been to that's far more interesting in pictures than real life.

The Pebble Beaches of Nice - interesting I suppose, but there are far better beaches in the world. Hell, there are far better beaches in France.

Atlantic City Boardwalk - y'know, downtown Gary, Indiana was important in the earlier part of the 20th century as well. Since I don't have much interest in getting shot, I'll avoid them both for the time being.

A lot of these sights are in clumps, either right next to each other or visible from one another.

St. Peter's Cathedral and the Sistene Chapel - right fucking next to each other. Everybody sees them both in the same day. Sure, both are worthy sights, but couldn't they have just listed "The Vatican" and been done with it?

The Washington Monument/The White House/The Smithsonian. Why not just go with "The National Mall?" There are several vantage points in DC from which all three of these sights are visible.

New York - do we really need to include The Empire State Building, Times Square, The Met, and the Statue of Liberty? I'm not knocking the Apple here - no one city, neh, borough, should include 1/25th of this sort of list. Between New York and DC (4 hour train ride), one could theoretically see 7 of the top 100 sights in the world in a single day.

This list is WAY too US-centric specifically, and Western in general. I'm not saying this as an apologist. I think the west has awesome sights, and America particularly so. I understand that this list has to be grounded in some sort of travel realpolitik, and I know most people reading this list would much prefer to visit the 8th best sight in Spain than the best sight in Burkina Faso. Still, this list includes:

An insane 32 places in America. 32! Nearly a third of the list is in the States. The island of Manhattan (33.7 square miles) ties the continent of Africa (11,668,599 square miles) at 4.

On top of that, the western world (North America, Europe, Australia) makes up a whopping 70 sights.

Southeast Asia has two sights, which is one more than Wyoming. Russia has one sight, which is one more than Indonesia. Even Canada gets slighted at one, which ties it with the city of St. Louis.

Nuts. Lazy. Bullshit.

Finally, this list leaves off all kinds of worthy sights, which I suppose is predictable. Where is Boracay? Where is Bali? Did Shanghai do something wrong to piss off the creators of this list? Did Dubai? On a U.S.-centric list like this, where the fuck is Yellowstone?

I admit that creating a list of this ilk is an absolutely impossible task, and I'd have an argument with it even if it were my own personal list. However, I maintain that they could have done better than this steaming pile of wildebeest excrement.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fire It Up!! (part 2)

If you missed part one, click here

The Culture

So, how do you keep staff at a horrible job with next to no chance for success? Here's were the marketing work that they were promising in their ads really comes in. You essentially create a cult around the business. You ... I don't know why the fuck I'm writing in the second person.

I mentioned the charming interviewers/branch managers and the morning meetings before. These are not minor details, these are the core of the business, especially a business that values constantly hiring new recruits above moving product, since new recruits create new warm markets to move the product into. Every branch manager openly brags about how much money they make in their position every single day. Why? To dangle the carrot, so that hopeless recruits will continue to sling art door to door in hopes of opening their own branch one day.

What else do the short meetings achieve? They kill a longer part of each peon's day, which makes each peon less likely to have a life outside of work. Life outside of work is bad. Outsiders might have crazy ideas about what a horrible job this is, and the less time a peon is exposed to outsiders, ie, friends and family, the better.

The job also thrives on the cult of positivity. If someone said "what's up?" it was forbidden to respond with the usual "nothin' much." The only acceptable answer was "Everything!" See, positivity breeds good feelings toward the company, makes a peon less likely to walk. My unshakable cynicism kept me from ever taking this job too seriously.

What did the meetings consist of? A whole bunch of chants and cheers. Lots of seemingly intelligent people yelling "Fire it up!" in a shitty warehouse in an office park. Lots of loud music. Lots of jumping around. Of course, there was always a recitation of the "5 and 8," ie, the 5 steps of a sale and the 8 steps to success. I wish I remembered them or could find them online.

The message board community regarding these companies is unbelievable too. Try googling any pertinent information in this post - any time somebody starts a thread dissing one of these companies (art or otherwise, they're all the same), there's always a douchy customer response. The response always blames the individual peon because they couldn't hack it, couldn't take advantage of the greatest opportunity ever. You'll notice that I haven't named any names throughout this lengthy post, largely because I don't want to attract the vindictive Kool-Aid drinking victims of this scheme to this space. I've openly attacked Mark Zuckerburg here before (hey Zuckerburg, fuck you!) , but I also know that he and his people are too busy to come down here to NES/NAS, the Gary, Indiana of the internets, whereas my former bosses are not and would totally sue me.

These responses and the meetings also regularly cast aside normal working folk. I was jealous of every single office worker I ever pitched to, because they had a real job. The "company" preached that these people had a JOB, Just Over Broke, and they were slaves to their four walls. We had the whole world to experience on a daily basis, even if that "whole world" was just the next office or store or restaurant on Lincoln Avenue that also wouldn't be buying fake art from me.

The original want ad promised travel, and it did deliver. One week, the whole operation went on the road to exotic Bloomington, Illinois. I was back in Kansas for the first part of the week, so I originally opted out of the trip. I even went out on my own to look for sales.

It came to my attention that I had an ancient bank account in Rock Island, Illinois with $104 in it, and it would be closing and I would lose the money, and I had to collect the money in person. Destitute bastard that I was, I drove 3 hours to Rock Island to collect my cash. Bloomington was now a shorter drive than home, so I joined the work road trip. I shared a room in the Bloomington Motel 6 (as nice as it sounds!) with a fellow peon, and was told my portion of the room would be taken out of my future profits, should they happen. These trips were supposed to be awesome and fun and rock and roll, according to all the hype I'd heard at last weeks meeting. I helped people move art from one hotel room to another. Then, nobody was doing anything. My roommate went to sleep. I went to the liquor store next to the hotel and purchased two 40s, which I proceeded to drink in the hotel parking lot alone. Rock!

Everyone went to breakfast the next day, and I hated it. Spending eight bucks at the Cracker Barrel for breakfast felt obscene, but I couldn't get out of it, it was "team building." Of course, at real team building exercises at real companies, the boss pays for breakfast. My portion of the hotel the night before was $18. On the road, I would have to buy my own lunch rather than eating ramen in my apartment. Add in gas, and $45 of my $104 windfall was gone, and I had maybe 11 bucks in my bank account.

For most of the day, I did horribly in Bloomington, just like in Chicago. At the end of the day, I finally hit a pretty big score at a truck stop restaurant. Lots of the staff, fry cooks, busboys, and other people I was jealous of bought several prints. I went to the hotel to cash out. After room and breakfast, I still got $68. Huzzah! The staff was staying in Bloomington another day. I knew to cash out while I was hot. Rather than paying another 18 bucks for a room, I went home. Why drink 40s alone in a parking lot when I could do it indoors in my shitty apartment while watching TV?

Getting Out

I pretty much hated every second of life working this job. I hated the meetings, I hated the commute, I hated the selling, I hated the lies, and I hated the fact that I made such little money that saving up for rent was pointless - I generally spend half my earnings at the bar.

One day, like any other, I got up early, I fought traffic, I went to the stupid meeting, I fought traffic, and I started hitting up businesses on Lincoln Avenue. Then, I got the call. A phone slinging job in Evanston that I'd applied to and interviewed at months ago wanted to hire me, and wanted me to start work the next day. They paid an actual salary, so I would make a wage every day. They were in Evanston, so I could take the El to work and skip traffic. They were a JOB, but unlike my current "career," I would move from destitute to legit middle class wages in a few months.

The call came at around 9:30. In one of the great moments of my life, I immediately stopped hustlin' Lincoln Av. I drove home, and got there in time for The Price is Right. After that, I took a nap. I read some, and played some Nintendo. I went back to the "office" at 6 and unloaded all of the art from my car. I was impervious to their hard sell as I did it. I was another statistic, another turnover. I suppose I owe them something on the positivity tip, since that was their thing. Basically every single day since I quit that didn't involve a death in the family or a break up has been better than any of the 16 days that I sold art out of my car.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fire it up!

I've had a lot of bad jobs. I've slung phones. I've (poorly) advised people on how to fill out their student loan applications. I've called alumni to beg for money for a university that I only attended during freshman year. I had a job that I rather liked as a cameraman for a TV station, but it required me to wake up at 4:18 a.m., and after tolls and gas for a daily 68 mile round trip, it actually cost me money. I've sold fireworks for 14 hours a day in a non-air conditioned shipping container in July, although I dug that job too. I've worked for the dreaded McD. Still, if I'm asked my worst job, the unequivocal answer requires less than .00001 seconds of thought.

See, for 16 days (not counting weekends, holidays, or days that I was out of town), I sold art out of my car. I've already made it sound far better than it was. Already, I'm sure you imagine that I painted something, or that people that I knew put together a sculpture, and that I was parked next to some public square and selling art to passers-by that may have been a self-selecting bunch that may care about the arts. Real life at this job was far less romantic. I sold Monet and Van Gogh and Dali prints to businesses door to door. Door to door.

Essentially, I would walk into a place of business, be it a law firm or a KFC, and I would bring a couple prints with me. I would present the "company's" scripted lies (Hey, I'm with a design company, and we were just decorating an office across the street. We have a couple paintings left over and we're selling them for 80% off. Would you be interested in checking out a couple?) Generally, it was my job to get kicked out of places. Hey, why not? I'm good at getting kicked out of places.

The want ad

Maybe this would be a good time to talk about the "company," and why I use the term "company." When I first moved to Chicago, I was flat broke. Flat broke. I applied for every job in the paper. Some of these jobs were "marketing" opportunities, which my major was somewhat related to. I responded to ads that said things like "Account Executive needed! Work in a rock and roll atmosphere. $600-$1000 a week to start. Advancement opportunities. Only apply if you love to travel." Of course this sounded good, as it would to pretty much anybody, and I was in my early 20s so I didn't know any better.

The Interview Process

The economy sucks now, but it wasn't super awesome then either, at least not compared to what I grew up with in the Clinton years. I never heard back from most of the jobs that I applied to, but I heard back from these sorts of ads. I would get a call a day after applying, and the secretary would ask me to come in the next day for an interview. I was broke, so I would, even though I still knew nothing about the job. At the interview the next day (always in the suburbs), I would be greeted by the super foxy secretary and asked to fill out an application. I would go to the interview, always a really charming dude in a suit talking about magical opportunity, but very little about the job itself. Again, I was young, so I was kinda too dumb to ask about job specifics. I would invariably be asked back to a second interview, which was always the next day.

At the second interview at the first company of this sort that I interviewed at, I realized the game. I was partnered with a sales rep, and was told it was a whole day interview. He drove us to Lake in the Hills or some far flung suburb like that, and then we went door to door selling coupons for office supplies to businesses. At lunch (I paid for mine) I was told how I could become a manager in 6 weeks and be making six figures within a year. I stuck around for the whole "interview," largely because I didn't have a car with me and din't have enough money in my bank account to cover the $70 taxi ride back to my car from Lake in the Hills. After watching this cold calling all day, I decided this wasn't for me. Once we got back to the office, I pretty much skipped out and drove home.

Trouble is, I was still broke, and I still wasn't getting calls from legit companies. A couple days later, I went to a similar first interview. I agreed to a second interview, knowing that I would be selling for free, but I asked the guy if I could drive my own car and follow from place to place. No dice. This company was selling spa treatment coupons to women in malls, and everyone who worked there was stunningly good looking and well dressed. I'd just spent 4 months driving across America and camping in Montana and drinking in Mexico. I had nothing in common with these people. Fortunately, the "second interviewer's" territory was Orland Square Mall, in the south burbs. I sorta knew the area, and more importantly, I knew how to figure out the bus system there. After watching this dude hustle mall customers and fail for an hour or so, I ducked out for a smoke. I took the chance away from the "rep" to catch a suburban bus back into town and then the El back to my car.

I went to another interview with Vector Marketing. They were in the same north Chicago building as the 50th ward alderman's office. I hoped that Vector had something to do with the Chicago Democrats, but sadly they were focused on selling knives door to door. We had a group interview, and I got up and left in the middle of the presentation. I felt like a rock star walking out.

You would have thought I'd have learned my lesson, but I still needed to pay my rent and had no source of income. I went to yet another interview with a shady company because they called. I didn't even pay attention to the spiel at the first interview. I knew what the second interview would be, cold sales all day, but I didn't care, I came back for it anyway. I had nothing else to do the next day anyway.

It seemed like the universe wanted me to work at a shady door-to-door sales company. This last interview, selling art, seemed like the least obnoxious of the groups I had come across. I decided to throw in my lot with whatever this company was called. They changed their name often enough that it didn't really matter.

The Work Day

Being on time and meetings were of the utmost importance with these people, so there was a morning meeting at 8 a.m. every day. The "office," (an unmarked warehouse space with a couple offices) was in a business park exactly 11 miles north of my apartment, but nowhere near the El so I had to drive to the meeting. Because of traffic, it took at least an hour to cover those 11 miles, so I left home before 7. At the office, we would load our cars with art and have a meeting, which I will discuss at length shortly. At 8:30, we were free to go to our territories. I had no interest in going to Lake in the Hills or some far-flung burb, so I was assigned a territory in the city. My turf would be Lincoln Avenue, from the Chicago line all the way to the road's terminus down in Lincoln Park. Thus, at 8:30, I left the "office" and drove back into town, still during rush hour. It would take another 45 minutes to get the the far northern parts of the city.

We kept our unsold pieces in our cars at all times, in case we wanted to sell after hours or on the weekend. My car was filled to the brim with framed prints. Since I didn't sell much, I didn't have much need to reload. As the meetings were totally ridiculous but required, I basically left my house at 6:45 and got to my territory to start selling at 9:15. Two and a half hours killed to get to an area that was a 15 minute drive from my house.

One of the tenets of the company was the "5 at 5." We were officially done at 5 p.m., but we were expected to hit up 5 more businesses after 5 struck, then to return to the office (again, at rush hour). As I plied Lincoln Avenue from north to south each day (covering about a mile a day, there are A LOT of businesses on Lincoln), I would always finish the day a mile closer to home than I started, but then had to return to the office in a northern burb.

Why go back to the office? To cash out, of course. If I made any sales (it wasn't a daily occurrence), then I had to got back to the office to give my money to the boss and get my paltry cut. Even if I didn't make sales, I had to go back for a "rap session." I would get back to the office at around 6 (I learned that showing up before that was bad, I obviously wasn't committing to the "5 at 5."). By the time I got back home, it would be close to 7, because again, rush hour. four times a day. I was away from home over 12 hours a day, and 4 of those hours were to make pointless trips to the office.

The System

My job, and the other jobs that I interviewed for selling office supplies or spa coupons or knives were all multi-level-marketing schemes, which are legally not pyramid schemes but employ some similar practices. Only the absolute most gifted salesmen in the world could actually make a living making cold calls with no leads and no customer qualification. The way to make money in the short run and to keep the bosses happy and rich is to use warm leads, i.e., selling useless shit to friends and family. Since I'm not one to bug my peeps about products they don't need nor want, I was a dead end.

The way to make money in the long run is to recruit friends, family, or suckers into the fold of the company and make a commission off their sales to their warm leads. Recruit a few people to the fold, and you move from an "associate" to a "trainer." See, the guy who gave me my "second interview" was actually "training" me, thus he would get a piece of anything I sold. If you are a trainer, you rotate who trains what new meat, and get a percentage of anyone that sticks around. Train enough people that stick, and you become an "assistant manager." Assistants, of course, get a vig off of every trainer under them and every peon under them. Assistants take n00bs on their second training, two weeks after the n00b starts. Of course, the assistant gets 100% of that day's sales take, just like the trainer did on the "second interview," only now the n00b is a little more likely to make them money.

From assistant, one can become a branch manager, who runs the office. He's the cat that ran the bullshit meetings and spent most of the day hanging out in the office, although he still went out and sold too. That was always one of my questions early - why is a guy who claims to make 6 figures managing an office out doing the same bullshit that I did? It couldn't have been for fun, nobody could enjoy cold call outside sales. Of course, the manager made cuts off of everyone in the office. Above him was the regional manager, and now we get to people that have actually been entrenched in the company for awhile, people that have the top of the, um, triangle on speed dial. The regional manager that I dealt with ran an older Chicagoland branch, and a Google search shows that she is still with the company. She really doesn't go out in the field, and she really does stay at the office and rake in cash. The people above her in Seattle or Atlanta or Cleveland (the location of the main office was kind of a moving target) do likewise.

I'm sure you get the pattern. So yeah, there's good money to be made, the peon just has to wait for people in the regional management level or above to be promoted, or to quit, or to get fired, or to die. Thing is, they never do. They hang around forever like an unwanted party guest. If I were to look up the middle and upper management of Sprint, I'm sure it would be vastly different now than it was when I left. Recently, I've done some research on my old art sales "company," and the middle and upper management are the exact same people it was nearly a decade ago when I was there. Like any self-respecting gang, the street level has constant turnover, but the king stay the king. Best way to make money at a pyra.. er, MLM - be early to the party.