“Tommy, how does a guy like you get to be a guy like you?” Norm took a long drink of beer and waited for the answer.
Six of us were standing in the kitchen of an air-conditioned multimillion dollar South Florida condominium apartment. It was my first time at the legendary afternoon beer fest and I prayed that it wouldn’t be the last.
Tommy took a calculated sip of his beer, swallowed it, and smiled wide. “You know the old maxim of Real Estate, ‘Location, Location, Location’? Well I also strongly adhere to the corollary, ‘Buy low and sell high’.”
Everyone laughed. Why not?
I was twenty years old and in the summer of 1969 I was part of a hard-working, hard-drinking crew of electricians. We were wiring a Community Center on the grounds of a large apartment complex that Tommy owned just a block away from the beach in Hallendale, Florida.
The times were changing. Through the magic of live television we watched men land on the Moon and return to Earth. A nation-wide building boom was in full swing and so was a war in Southeast Asia. A young man could sweat bullets in the sub-tropical heat of Florida or dodge real bullets thousands of miles away in the tropical jungles of Vietnam.
How does a guy like you get to be a guy like you? Norm’s question haunted me. I was young enough to realize that I had my entire life ahead of me and I was old enough to know that I had a long way to go.
Who does a guy like me get to be? At the time, I got to where I was by happenstance and circumstance. My plans were to go to school and become an Architect. Life had other plans in store for me.
I was a curious kid. As an only child, home alone after school, both parents working—and nobody allowed in the house—I had to find answers for myself or wait for my parents to come home.
As a way of passing the time while my parents were at work I started looking through textbooks that my father had leftover from studying Mechanical Engineering.
The engineering concepts in the books were way above my head, but I was fascinated by the diagrams. Pen and ink drawings of gears, lever arms, cut-views of engines and electric motors were works of art to me. The item itself was fascinating, but the illustrative rendering of it engrossed me.
I was probably eight years old when my dad got out his K&E (Keuffel & Esser) drafting set, triangles, T-square and drawing board, and proceeded to show me how to make a mechanical drawing. At last I had a language that made sense—Geometry.
Long summer days were spent at the drawing board learning the line values of various degrees of pencil lead, and how to avoid smearing the graphite in one section while working to complete the finished piece.
Visualization was a concept that came easily to me. Top view, front, and right-side elevation were the basics of Orthographic Projection. If you had any two of those views it was possible to figure out the missing view.
I spent hours honing my skills at visualization and drawing block figures of every type in the years leading up to my first Mechanical Drawing class. Five years of Mechanical & Architectural Drawing classes in junior and senior high school gave me a running start for a college degree in Architecture.
“What made you decide to become an electrician?” My prospective employer sat across the table from me waiting for an answer.
“I’d flunked out of college, got married, had a child on the way and needed a job. One that paid well and had a future.” After two years in college my dream of becoming an Architect was just that—a dream.
“Tommy, how does a guy like you get to be a guy like you? I haven’t thought about that question—or the afternoon beer fest—for many years until recently when I went on a job interview—my second one, ever—for a part-time position stocking shelves in a hardware store. It turns out that 46 years as a skilled tradesman is recognized as something of value in the marketplace.
The boss wrinkled his forehead, the corner of his mouth slightly askew. “Why do you want to work on the stocking crew? Why not on the floor as a Sales Associate?”
I chuckled. “I have spent my entire life in the building trades. I haven’t had any other job. I know absolutely nothing about Retail Sales and figured that the best way to learn is to start on the bottom. Find out what products are in the store and where they are located.”
My future boss laughed. “I would start you out stocking shelves even if you wanted to be on the sales floor. Like you said, the first thing that you need to learn is what we carry and where it is in the store.”
Who does a guy like me get to be? These days I work four days a week from 5 am to 9:30 am. A name tag hangs from my neck on a green lanyard and I have my own green company polo shirt, a radio ear-piece, and a box-cutter. We have 80 stores here in California and Oregon, and last week the first store opened in Florida. Here’s the kicker, this new store is less than 2 miles from where we used to live.
Who are you? Turn on your TV to the Cadaver Channel anytime of the day or night and you are apt to hear a hit tune by The Who which has been adapted as a theme song for a popular crime drama series.
Who am I? I am the embodiment of all of the events and experiences, good and bad, that I have had to date. I carry a body of knowledge and set of skills that took a lifetime to perfect. I may not have all of the answers in this life, but I will help you find the one to your question so that we can both add to our collective wisdom.