Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I Am Free
Or maybe liberated... Mostly.
Today marks the end of my life as a pool boy.... mostly! I sold most of my accounts to a fellow sole proprietor pool jockey this afternoon. I have for the longest time been bored and exhausted by the line of work I was in. Some background is in order.
I started in the pool business in 1990, taking a part-time job at Leslies Pool Mart in order to pay rent / bills while finishing my last two years of college at Fresno State U. I didn't want to apply for the opening because I figured my class schedule would clash with the work schedule, as both were during day hours. Joel, the rather largish guy working there at the time, almost forced me to fill out an application anyway, insisting the job schedule was indeed flexible enough to accommodate school and work. He was right, but the job required working week-ends. Oh well, I was used to that. The manager was a very cool cat named Cheng. Yes the name is Chinese, but he is the most American person I know. He became a mentor and wonderful friend to this day. He even let me borrow his Vet once to go out on a date with a girl named Charity. I got none. Wonder why! But I digress...
During my senior year Cheng left the old store and opened his own called Swim World. I quit Leslies and helped him open his store. I worked there for six months. When I graduated from college, I left the pool business behind and headed to San Diego... the very next day! I had some money left over from my student loans and decided to hang out at the beach for a while. That is part of the truth. I had transferred from San Diego to Fresno to complete my degree, and wanted to be back there with my family and friends. OK the beach did sing her siren song in my ear. San Diego has a much larger gay community and is considered more gay friendly than Fresno, so I figured SD would be a better place to finish the process of resolving internal conflict and at last come to terms with reality that I'm kinda gay-ish. But the important thing is that I was done with the pool business.
When I ran out of money I went to work at the local Movie-Plex. Nine months later the dead-endedness of the job got to me and I went to work for a pool supply wholesale house called Pool Water Products. Worked there a year then move to LA to try and pursue a film career. Worked at a video processing firm, got bored, took a detour, got distracted by other opportunities that turned out to be a mirage, was humbled and deservedly smacked down by the hand of life, and ended up in San Diego a few months later. I needed a job ASAP, so I looked toward the field where I had the most experience and skill.
Action Spa Repair was the next line of pool / spa related employment. I have always been good with tools and fixing things like cars, and radios, and TV's, and cars (several Fresno State classmates still owe me CD's for auto work performed while in college), so the idea of becoming a spa repairman had strong appeal. It was a good match; I draw great satisfaction from the ability to fix things. I was happy to do the work and learn how to fix yet another type of machine, but the downside was that I usually had to work six days a week. I was getting annoyed that work took up so much time. It seemed all my friends had do much more time to play than I did (hey I was young). Another problem was finances. Randy, my boss, paid well, but the combination of school debts and debts incurred from my stupid mistake mentioned above was dragging me down financially. In early 96, Cheng called me to ask if I would come back to Fresno to manage his new store. This would look good on my resume, and since living in Fresno is much kinder to the wallet, I took the job.
The move to Fresno proved to be a good decision. I managed to get myself out of debt, had more free time to relax, and even -- gasp -- find love! After four years I was sick of working for the man, and decided to strike out on my own. In January of 2000 Frog's Pool Service and Spa Repair was born. The plan was to steer the business toward the more profitable spa repair side of things, and have just a few dozen pools to keep income flowing during periods when spa repair business was slow. Then in a year or two, when I earned all that money from spa repairs, Greg and I would move to San Diego. As it turned out the spa side of the business never really developed into a stable business, so I became a pool jockey. Meanwhile, we took advantage of the low real estate prices here and bought a really really cool house! So much for plans.
I have for the last few years found myself less and less enthusiastic of the realities of running your own business. Sure, you can earn good money, be your own boss, etc, etc. But it sucks watching the money you earn fly right back out of your wallet in order to buy the thing you need to keep the business going. It wasn't so bad when I started six years ago, but then, gas was selling for a buck twenty five or so per gallon. The three dollar plus prices for petrol have eaten into profits, and the price of pool chemicals, chlorine, acid, etc, has almost doubled in the last three years. And I am just burned out on the job. You can make a great deal of money in this line of work, but like any other job, you have to love the work or the challenges it presents to get the most out of it. It was time to move on.
Over the last several years I have been trying to position myself to be able to change careers. In 1998 I went back to college to earn a second degree as a geologist, specializing in seismology. Calculus killed that plan after the first semester. In late 2000 I took some IT networking courses offered by Cisco. The classes were free, but during the summer of 2001 I started missing too much time due to the summertime demands of my pool business. Plus the tech industry was still reeling from the tech bubble bust of 2000, so jobs were still quite scarce. What to do? What to do?
In late 2004, a new plan of attack took shape. Over the last several years I have discovered a love of history, especially the revolutionary period of 1776. I had also been studying economic / market concepts so I can one day be a wise(r) investor. I had flirted with the idea of teaching and the time felt ripe to pursue that goal. So I enrolled in the masters program for education at National University. When I was close to finishing with the core of my classes, I would sell the business, thus freeing my time to pursue a teaching career. As the winter of 2005 came to a close I was poised to sell my business and move into the role as a teacher. And there I stayed... until now!
I finished most of the school requirements in Feb of this year, but have not had the opportunity to move into the classroom, as selling the business turned out to be a lot more of a challenge that I had anticipated. I placed my ads in the local pool supply wholesale distributors in mid February, thinking that the route would sell quickly and I could be free to apply for subbing jobs within a month. I hate it when I'm wrong. I had a buyer lined up in March, but his finances fell through. In April, another buyer wanted to take a look at my route. But as bad luck would have it, a fellow spa repairman passed away during this period, and potential buyer #2 inherited the core of his business and now had no time to take on more responsibilities. During the summer I had a few nibbles here and there, but nothing came of them. Last month I struck gold. Bruce, a local pool man with 22 years experience was trying to expand his pool route, and set to buy pools from another serviceman. At the last minute the other serviceman decided to sell to someone else, and Bruce came across my ads and gave me a call.
This brings us to today. Yesterday, Bruce signed on the dotted line and purchased the bulk of my pool accounts. Teachers in California only get paid once a month, so as of this moment I am at least one month away from an official paycheck. But I am keeping a few pools to provide a bit of extra income during the time it takes to find and start a teaching job. And the funny thing is, that all of a sudden I am getting a few calls for spa repair jobs, so my income this month may not be as low as I expected. Funny how stuff just kinda works itself out. But the bottom line - I am free from the shackles of my old job. I am now free to pursue and start building a new career in teaching.