Forks in the Road
"I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"
When I got out of college, I took a job as a delivery guy for a friend of the family's dental lab. They made dentures and I delivered them to the dentists all around the Metro Atlanta area. During my slower times, I would retreat to the office and and chat with the owner's wife. She was the Office Manager/ Operations Manager. As time went on, I started answering the phones and helped her schedule the pick ups and deliveries, I'd help her with the billing at the end of each month and I helped her figure out the new computer system that she had installed. I wasn't hired to be her assistant, but that's what I basically became. One day she announced that she was going to retire, and that she wanted me to take her place. I stepped into her shoes easily and found that I was pretty good at multi-tasking! I was still doing the deliveries, and also taking care of all of the billing, payroll and schedules. I was allowed to hire a new driver and I was allowed to remodel my office. Over the next few years, I became more hands on with the lab side of the business too. I eventually even learned how to make dentures! The lab techs would often be running late, so I would jump in and help them wherever I could and I eventually learned the talent of matching tooth shades and sizes, repairing broken dentures, etc. I learned a lot.
About 7 years later, a friend of Joel's offered me a part time job-- just 2-4 hours a week of filing at his travel agency. I took it- it was one night a week and it was nice to do something different. A couple of months later, one of the travel agents walked out and left the office short-staffed. Allen offered me a job as a full time travel agent. He offered to send me through school and computer training. It was a hard decision-- stay where I'm comfortable or take a leap. I took the leap!
I took the job at Midtown Travel and soon moved from a one bedroom apartment in Norcross into a 3 story townhouse in the heart of Midtown. Back in those days, the airlines were giving out free tickets to travel agents like they were candy! I got to travel for the first time in my life! And travel I did! I took at least 2 trips each month- I got to see all of the places that I had only dreamed of: Egypt, Amsterdam, Chicago, London, New York, Jamaica, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. I had a whole new life that I could've never imagined sitting behind a desk in the dental lab.
After a couple of years of jet-setting, a headhunter for an international travel agency came to me and offered me a job! I debated on staying where I was, or jumping. I had done so well with my last jump, that I decided to give it another go! I went to work for Rosenbluth International and within a year I was promoted to the head of the training department. This lead to a job teaching orientation to our new hires in the Philadelphia headquarters. I made a few connections there and the next thing I knew, I was traveling around Europe for a couple of years- teaching a new computer system to all of our offices there. I spent weeks in Stockholm, Frankfurt, Switzerland, France, Spain and Italy. I stayed in the nicest hotels, I ate at the nicest restaurants. I lived out of a suitcase and on an expense account Monday through Friday- I returned home every weekend. I was allowed to fly First or Business class for all international flights. And the best part was that I was still an hourly employee! I got paid from the minute I left my house (enroute to the airport) til the minute I returned home. I always had good dreams at the end of the week, knowing that I was now into overtime and I was earning time and half while I slept on a plane.
The days of wine and roses ended with 9/11. People stopped traveling and Rosenbluth's Atlanta office closed. I was offered jobs in other cities, but declined. The most attractive offer came from Fargo, ND. But who wants to live in Fargo? I declined all out of state offers and opted to take a job with Carlson Wagonlit in Buckhead. The new title was "Operations Coordinator" and the pay was about half what I was making at Rosenbluth. I took the job and was happy to see lots of familiar faces from my previous travel agency gigs. It wasn't a bad job, but it was a hostile environment. Lay offs and firings were a weekly occurance. People even hoarded empty cardboard boxes and kep them under their desks, just in case they were asked to leave and had to quickly pack their belongings before being escorted out the door (usually by security). One time I was going to the breakroom and I asked my co-worker if I could get her anything. She asked for a Diet Coke. I was gone less than 5 minutes, and when I came back to her desk it was empty. She and about 20 others were laid off and escorted out that quickly. I was on pins and needles for over a year- then it was announced that Carlson was closing the Atlanta office. It wasn't a good time to be a travel agent in Atlanta.
The next job I got was at Enhancement Services Center in Alpharetta, as a QC Manager. Every time I changed jobs, I added another 30 minutes to my commute, and my salary went down considerably. The job at ESC paid about 1/4 of what I earned at Rosenbluth. I hated my job at ESC- I won't go into the reasons. I worked nights, weekends and holidays. I put 120 miles on my car every day that I worked. Just before my 1 year anniversary at ESC, a friend at the Flying Biscuit Cafe called me and offered me a job as their Operations Manager. I had never worked in a restaurant before- especially a funky little diner in trendy Little 5 Points. If you aren't familiar with L5P- it's basically a spot where the "freaks" congregate- everywhere you see spiked hair, mohawks, full-body tattoos and multiple piercings on every passerby. The average age of employees at the Biscuit was something like 20 years old. I was pushing 40. I was pretty much a preppy guy who was used to working in khakies, a button down shirt and a tie. How would I ever fit in in this environment? I took the job at the Biscuit- mostly becase I hated my ESC job so much. Thank God I did! It's turned out to be the most educational position I could dream of. I was hired to do payroll and bookkeeping, but my job has evolved into so much more. Now I'm in charge of all of the advertising, all of the marketing and retail products that we sale. I'm in charge of publicity and I get to shadow camera crews, celebrities and photographers. I'm in charge of the Catering department and I work with a lot of talented and bright kids that keep me young. I get to wear jeans and a T-shirt to work everyday, set my own hours, and I love my new tattoos! The Biscuit was recently purchased by Raving Brands and they are starting to sell franchises across the USA. I feel like I'm in on the ground floor of something big.
Forks in the road happen for all of us-- sometimes we take the road less traveled, sometimes we stay with what feels comfortable. Sometimes we make the right decisions; sometimes we pass by on opportunities that we can't visualize or comprehend. Sometimes we have no other choice than to move in a different direction and hope for the best.
I wonder what the future would've held for me if Joel never met Allen, if Allen never offered me the part time filing job, or if I had turned it down. What would my life be like now? I might've been a Dental Technician, maybe even a Dentist, who knows? It amazes me how much a split second decision, a chance meeting, changed my life- took me to places I had never imagined being. But those decisons, right or wrong, are what got me here- I think I did OK.