Chatty just wrote an article, ending with the question, “What lessons from work and day jobs have given you good lessons for later career changes?” I was all set to answer as a comment on CH, but quickly realized I needed more room. I normally don’t write long posts, but would appreciate it if you stayed until the end. This ended up being kind of personal for me.
I am, today, right where I should be. All the choices I’ve made, and all the choices I could have made, have brought me to this place. And this is how I got here…
Straight out of high school and into a valet parking job – is not always a good career choice. Sure, I got to drive all sorts of hot cars, and get all kinds of hot tips, but the hotel/casino industry can be a real bitch of a succubus.
“I’ll work for a year, then go to our community college for two.”
Two years later, I’m still parking cars for that damn casino (with only two classes under my belt). If you’ve ever been to Reno, NV, you may have seen the now defunct Fitzgerald’s Hotel/Casino. It sits right next to train tracks, has the SLOWEST elevators, and has a garage across the street (where we valets parked our customers’ cars). That was okay, until some downtown event closed the street, making it take up to an hour sometimes to get people their cars. On the plus side, the money I made parking cars was good for someone right out of high school – $6 bucks an hour, plus $30-$40 a day in tips.
So I tried to go to school again, and quickly dropped out of one of my classes (some ungodly macro/micro-economics class). The instructor did not know how to explain anything, even after we ALL asked him to try a different approach. What made it worse was that he thought he was a great comedian, and always paused after a joke – waiting for us to laugh. Let’s just say there was plenty of awkward.
Stupid class. I’m going back to making tips.
So I head over to the huge and lush Reno Hilton, formerly Bally’s, formerly-formerly the MGM, and now the Grand Sierra, soon to be Humperdink’s Can’t-Make-A-Buck Hotel. As a bellhop, I made minimum wage, but pulled in $90-$100 dollars almost every day. As one who helps people with their luggage, I got to meet Scott Glenn, Jennifer Tilly, and even Tommy Chong (no Cheech, though). Unfortunately, I had to work part time, couldn’t drive the limo, and if I wanted to work full time, I’d have to work graveyard, and I ain’t workin’ graveyard.
So I went back to school… I dropped out so fast I couldn’t even tell you what classes I took.
From there, I went to work at the Flamingo Hilton, right next door to the Fitzgeralds. It was cool because they had an underground garage for valet parking… an underground garage with no cameras… LESSON TO ALL OF YOU WHO VALET PARK YOUR CARS: If you go somewhere and have your car valet parked, make sure they don’t take it underground.
- The day before my first day working there, a valet took a Mitsubishi 3000GT into the garage and got it going so fast that he didn’t have room to stop. He totaled the car, but somehow moved it into a parking spot. Left the keys in it and never said a word. Yup.
- All but the pintos and ford escorts routinely went 50mph+ in that garage.
- If you pissed off the valet, he might drive your car to its parking spot in 5th gear, the entire way.
- If you pissed off the valet, he might e-brake your car into the parking spot after going 50mph+.
- If you pissed off the valet, he might not use the brake at all, opting instead to throw it in park. That’s a gnarrrrrrrly sound.
- Gum…? Gone. Weed…? Gone. Money…? Half of it gone. Six-pack of beer…? Now it’s a 5-pack. Dent in the door…? Wasn’t me.
Yeah, so I didn’t do any of those things to your car, I only watched it happen, mostly. But I had to get out of there, and was looking for a way out. I was just so done with the downtown scene. So when my supervisor, in front of many customers, started a fight by headbutting me, I felt it was time. He got fired, and I got suspended. When I came back three days later, I walked off the job. On the plus side, I was making $50-$70 a day in tips, so I was able to buy my first dirt bike – a Honda XR650L. Man that bike was big. We got into many fights, and it usually won.
Unfortunately, I was now out of work, so I had no cheddar to pay for those hospital bills – for me and the bike. Hospital, rent, food, credit cards, food, bills, movies, and food needed to be paid for. I had no career, no job, no degree, and no money. Why didn’t I stay at home with my folks, and just go to school? Now, to live I need an easy job that doesn’t require experience, and one that pays well. Well, tips pay well.
So I go to work at the Peppermill Hotel/Casino, by far the job with the best memories. This place was cool and classy – but I had to work graveyard. – sigh -
It was nice because almost every day I would come to work (working by myself as the only bellhop/limo driver on graveyard) and be told to pick up one or more customers in the limo, and limo customers usually tip very well. I’d have money given to me like it was candy, had it shoved down my pants (by ladies, mind you), and even made $1,000 in a single night for driving some hot-shot gambler around for my entire shift. It’s kind of a weird feeling when some guy hands you a tall stack of bills totaling $135,000, and says, “Let’s go back to the hotel, I owe them $75,000.”
I certainly have plenty of stories from that place, the Peppermill. I’ve never been to so many strip clubs on the company dime, seen so many strange things in hotel rooms, and made as much money as I did while working there. Also, never before had three coworkers vied for my attention at the same time – must have been the suit, or because I was the new guy, or because I was finally making the cheddar. I eventually took one of those three little ladies as my wife – so yeah, that place was good.
However, it was a hotel/casino, and I was making tips. That’s not a career. Not for me, anyway. It was at this point that I started to get that what-are-you-going-to-do-with-your-life thorn. And mind you, I was still working graveyard… right up until I got fired for extending my lunch by two hours while I slept in the manager’s office. Stupid surveillance – no more tips.
I know, I know. Hang in there, I do have a point.
From there I go to Boomtown, a not-so-nice alternative to the Peppermill. Parking cars and delivering luggage… it was the same old thing, but this time for more stingy customers. They demoted our Valet Supervisor so I could take his position (poor bastard), and now I was making enough money to pay a mortgage. I had a bigger paycheck, still made tips, drove buses for golf groups, and even occasionally drove the limo.
So, even though I was a supervisor, I was still making really good tips. And thus began the final, gradual slide into my breaking point. During my seven years there, this job put me in a rut, made me depressed, and hurt my marriage. I was so unsatisfied in it. Half the time, I was sitting in my office just trying to get away. The other half of the time I was becoming friends with an attractive employee. She was completely different from me, and yet her attention was a convenient fix. I’ve never cheated on my wife, though with this dangerous person, I almost could have. It was dark times.
At some point, I realized that I was just looking for something to happen – something to change in my life. I felt directionless, and I felt like a loser. I felt like a loser for a long time. My wife loved me. I don’t know why, but she did. And though I’ve definitely appreciated her love, I sure as hell didn’t show it.
When my son was born – that was the start. That was the start of something changing. It felt good to have him grab my finger, and to fall asleep next to me on the couch, or in my arms. This was my boy. He was to be my buddy, my best buddy.
Some days I felt good, and wanted to do things that made me feel good. So, in that little Valet supervisor closet office, I watched all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1. God it felt so good watching that. I watched all 10 seasons, twice. That show simply gave me so much. Sure, it was an outlet for me to get away, but from that I just started getting inspired. It was the genre, the fun, the danger, the sci-fi, and the characters.
During this time, and for many months after, Boomtown started paying me to work on my RPG (we all have one, right?). Ok, so they didn’t realize they were paying me to do that, but whatever. I easily put hundreds of hours into that RPG, Nighthaven – a modern day Underworld-meets-Buffy-meets-Blade kind of game. I’ve gone through three editions, and even had it printed in full book form. Tips be damned. I had given up many tip-earning duties in favor of working on my RPG, or for our Friday night game. Tips be damned. I was enjoying myself, really. It felt good to work on that stuff, to write, to plot, to devise, and to invent. Writing that game was an outlet, a creative outlet. It let me be myself, exploring my creative energy, and I really took to the challenge.
Also, because of some fancy luck, I was able to drop over $20,000 on jaw surgery and braces, something I’ve wanted to do for almost two decades, but wasn’t able to. Best money spent e-v-e-r. My smile (or lack thereof) has always held me back. I’m completely serious when I say that in the first year of wearing braces, I smiled more in that year than in my entire adult life. One stressful part of my life, gone!
Being in a better mood, I began wondering about where I was going to be in five years. I knew that I didn’t want to work at Boomtown, or any hotel or casino, anymore. I didn’t care how many tips I made, I didn’t want to do it. For me, I’ve grown to find absolutely no satisfaction in that industry – there were simply too many negative things about working in a casino (most of which I haven’t mentioned) that made me realize I needed to do something different. Of course, my wife standing behind me nudging me forward was a good help, too.
But, I had no degree, only a handful of credits, and no experience outside of the hotel industry. There was nothing “I wanted to be.” So, after getting the drive to improve myself, I started to feel helpless again.
Stupid tips – you did this to me. I fell into your trap, and admit I’ve done little to escape. I should never have embraced you.
That’s when my gaming buddy said he was applying for the Sheriff’s Office. He mentioned a few things about it, then I prodded him for more information, and then I applied. We went through the police academy together, graduated, and went to work in the jail as deputies. I found out something crucial in both my training and working the job – two things: (1) I found more confidence in myself than I’d ever had before, and (2) I knew that I couldn’t do the job. After only three months as a deputy, I stepped down. I know, right? Only three months? Let me tell you – those were the three hardest months of my life. Being a cop is simply not in my nature. Sure, I could fake it, but that would ruin me unlike anything else, and put other deputies in harm’s way. I don’t know what else to say, other than I simply couldn’t do that job. On the plus side, I found out that I’m really good with a pistol.
Not wanting to waste all that money spent on my background check and training, the Sheriff’s Office was kind enough to offer me a civilian position. I still work with the deputies and oversee inmates, but it is sooooo much less stress. It’s great. I have a good-paying job, a career if I want, and definite retirement. I absolutely do not think about not having a future, because I can easily see myself at the Sheriff’s Office for quite some time. I’m happy here, and I have been for over four years. This helps me live a low-stress lifestyle, where I continue to write about gaming (whether I’m working on my RPG, or putting up posts on this silly little website).
I leave work at work, and come home to a family. I’ve had a few jobs over these past 18 years, and it wasn’t until I really started letting go of those paycheck worries that I began to let loose and write. I have to be happy, we all do. Only then can we ever really enjoy. I enjoy my being creative, but I can’t be creative if I’m worrying about my family’s future. For me, low stress is the key. I found a way to get that creative energy out, which is a big avenue toward my feeling happy, content, and challenged. My job makes me feel content, my writing makes me feel satisfied, my wife makes me feel loved, and my boy makes me feel infinite, indescribable emotions.
I sometimes think that I should never have taken all those jobs making tips. That kind of money, with no real college education or worthwhile experience, can be a horrible trap – if you’re not careful. I was not careful, and I fell into the trap. It was a quick fix at the time, but then came back to bite me in the ass. It took a long time, but I tamed that beast, and am right where I need to be. I love myself, my family, and my job – but I’ve learned that letting loose my creative side is an absolute fundamental necessity – necessary for everything else to work. I know what makes me happy, and what it took to get here.
And if I had to, I’d do it all over again, because my path, traps and all, have finally brought me home.
Thank you Saren, for being my rock. And thank you Nathan, for being my absolute best buddy, ever.
Thank you for reading.