Monday, October 18, 2010

Happie is Very Unhappy. But Still Happy, Nonetheless.

My damned assistant stole my client base, decimating my animal care service within the span of a few short emails. Premier Pet Care, which saved my butt when I walked away from the corporate world and into the realm of starving artist back in 2001.

Little did I know, at the start, that when I started climbing(in 2004), having a dog walking service would be the perfect type of business for someone who needed time away from being physically present on the job. But it sure was! When I began climbing, I was still doing all the animal care myself, and working up to 30 days at a time with no full days off. I was tired.

My first climbing was in the gym, and I could fit it around my work schedule, but once I got out into the real world – the Gunks, Seneca Rocks, and Joshua Tree that first year – it really sucked to have ONE cat-sitting job on a Saturday..... Not because it would make it so I couldn't GO to the Gunks, a 90 minute drive away, but because it meant I had to do the cat sit job at about 5:30am, in order to make the 7am bus which would take me to New Paltz where a partner would pick me up!

An assistant was needed - desperately. And thus the search began.

I had good luck with nearly all the people I worked with over the years. The first one got fired because of climbing. It was the summer of 2004, and the Republican National Convention was being held in New York City. The town, nearly 100% NOT Republican, seemed to be just a few steps away from being under Marshall Law. Protests were rampant, police were everywhere, and the tinge of riot soured the fetid August air. It was Friday evening and the next day I had one client's dog to walk, two sessions early afternoon and also at 5pm. I thought I could hack the strain the convention was drawing to the city, but the Gunks were calling me stronger; if I had to be hanging by a thread, what better place that upstate, on a dynamic rope?! I called my assistant and asked her to take the sessions. She begrudgingly agreed to do it and the next morning, away I went. I had a great day of climbing.

But when I got home, I had a phone message. The client had gotten home early, and found their dog had not been walked for the early afternoon session. Not only that, but moments after they had arrive, at about 4pm, my assistant DID arrive, obviously intending to do only one walk and thinking no one would be the wiser(save the poor dog who could not tell anyone; god bless our loyal companions who bear the brunt of human selfishness so stoically).

Furious with my assistant, though I knew I had pushed her into accepting the work when she really hadn't wanted it, I simply had no choice but to let her go. Had that been the only transgression, I would likely have (obviously) taken her off that client, and continued to work with her. I generally had systems in place which protected against such occurrences, and other clients where there would simply be no opportunity for such misconduct, but she had made a few other errors which pointed to the fact she was not an upholder of the highest ethical standards. In animal care, this is a key requirement; she had to go.

I learned from the experience, and though I had a few other instances over the years where I needed to reprimand people, I have only had to fire one other person in the eight years I have run Premier Pet Care.

So, it came as a bit of a shock the other day when my current assistant emailed me stating that he was giving two weeks notice, and that he had offered my clients the opportunity to work with him directly.

You see – because I have been living upstate since May 1st, his two weeks notice actually meant that he was firing ME, and taking over my business.

The plot is a bit more complex, of course. Had I been able to whip down to the city and tell my clients I would handle the sessions, every single one of them, I am sure, would have stuck with me. Over the years I have been through many assistants, and was the one constant. Whenever an assistant moved on, I was there to pick up the work, and no dog ever missed a single session due to the handler leaving my employment.

But I couldn't just go down and save the sinking ship. Firstly, my apartment is being sublet, with the tenant in residence until mid November; I would have had nowhere to live.

Secondly.... I had to choose between saving the business and continuing on with the next chapter of my life which I had been preparing for. I actually hadn't intended to return, but to travel the southwest for winter, and had offered my assistant the opportunity to buy out my business.

In fact, his 2 weeks notice/offer to my clients occurred just 3 days after I sent him the business proposal. He'd asked to take the weekend to look it over, and on Monday evening at 9:30, he sent me an email rejecting the offer, tending his resignation, and saying he intended to let the clients chose whether to work directly with him or not.

Since he knew I live in a home with no electricity or cel service, and that I have no car, the chances of me reading that email before he sent notice to clients(which he did the next morning at 9am) was next to nil. And so, it was an easy coup.

When I found out what had happened, I began calling the clients, and explained, in truth, where this decision of my assistant had originated. He saw an opportunity, but instead of being ethical and paying a stipend for the transfer of the business, he decided he could simply take it for himself. My customers all expressed sorrow at their decisions to work with him, and best wishes for me in the future, but they really had no choice. Perhaps, for all I know, they even view me as the one in the wrong.

And all this is what makes me very unhappy.

On the other hand, the job of having to tell my clients I would not be returning, which is something I knew I would not enjoy doing, has been taken care of rather swiftly, and now I can focus my energies on getting myself ready for the winter portion of this year.

I've taken road trips before, and I've lived a simplified lifestyle for the last five months, but living a simplified lifestyle on a five-month road trip will be a totally new experience for me. My budget is meager, and to lose the income generated with the animal care business is not an insubstantial portion of the whole. But I will get by without it. No doubt others have done so with less than I will have.

I've saved up a small sum to buy a vehicle, and am now looking at cargo vans. I had wanted a camper, with it's homey organization, but after speaking with someone who lives in a Toyota Minihome every winter, I realized it would not be a good choice, no matter how much I wanted my own Home, Sweet Mobile Home.

Once I get the van, I will need to add some basic modifications – a platform bed with storage beneath at the minimum. Insulation, sound baffles, privacy curtain between cab and back and storage space along one sidewall are desirable, but if I end up with them will depend on my ability to find someone who can do the work with the amount of money I will have to pay for it.

I expect to have the van bought by the end of October, and the modifications done in two weeks, making my departure from the northeast some time in mid November – the tail end of our climbing season here at the Gunks, and the beginning of cold weather which would make cabin living uncomfortable.

I'll travel cross-country, stopping to visit my family in Michigan and Wisconsin, perhaps around the Thanksgiving holiday of possible. Then, I'll head west, veering southward along the way. I haven't looked at routes yet, nor asked opinions, though I assume I should get southward as quickly as possible to avoid the colder temperatures further north.

Joshua Tree, California is my destination, and where I expect to consider as my base. I know some people there, am fairly familiar with the ways of nomadic living in the area, and since it is a winter destination for climbers, am looking forward to meeting plenty of people as they travel to the place for their own weekend trips, vacations and dirtbag days. Other places I want to visit/climb will be Red Rocks, Hueco Tanks and crags in New Mexico and Arizona. Come mid March, I expect to begin making my way eastward, with the hopes I will have my little cabin here in the woods again.

This all makes me happy!

I expect to post updates as things go, so keep in touch and see what happens!

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Happie Needs a Mobile Home!

For a couple years now I have been wanting to head west for the winter months, and each time I chickened out. In 2009 I was just about ready to do it, and then I got offered the chance to live at the cabin instead. It came unexpectedly, and I jumped at the chance. But I just wasn't prepared to leave my clients for three months and THEN tell them I was going away for another six.

But things went well, and now here I am again. Even moving into the cabin on May 1st this year, I knew I would have real difficulty going back to civilization (If one can call NYC such a thing...).

And so - I'm not. I have scrimped and saved, but also lost some income opportunities I had been counting on. IS tight. I mean, I have enough to live on and all, but here I am, starting to look at a vehicle and - gulp - my budget is pretty skimpy. The fear of buying a junker and getting stranded in Kansas, waiting to save enough for whatever has gone wrong.... I'd rather hedge my bets beforehand.

And that's where you come in! Now, I'm not begging, nor trying to get over on society(well...maybe that). Feel free to click right away from this page and never look back! But I am NOT too proud to ask for help! And that is eaxactly what I am asking for:

If you would like to help me by donating a dollar or two, or whatever amount, towards the purchase of a pickup truck/camper, I would be very grateful. If you need no further information - here is the donate button:

If you DO desire more info, here it is! The button goes to my PayPal account, and is a safe, secure way to donate.

As for what I am looking for - I would like to get a small pickup(wishing to find a Toyota 4wd, 5 speed with a 3/4 ton capacity) and a small slide-in camper. Nothing especially luxurious, though I do want to have a propane fridge and a sleeping place atop the truck cab. No leaks in the windows would be a good thing, too....

Not that I expect to be bombarded with huge donations from the world all over, just in case that does happen.... I would cap the amount at $5,000. Anything above that amount will be donated, in equal shares, to the Mohonk Preserve, The Access Fund, and the Yosemite Climbers Association. I will also remove the Donate Buttons from this post in mid November, which is when I will hit the road.

Now - maybe you don't want to give something for nothing. That's understandable. Maybe you might like to pick up a t-shirt or some other item from my ClimbAddict shop, or maybe you could use some pretty hair accessories, from my Talisman Studios shop, or other t-shirt shop Outrageous Tees. I've been working hard with these venues to make an income, and hope you might be interested in taking a look.

I'll also be adding a new design at ClimbAddict in the next few days - "Sendit University," which will have a section set up as a "scholarship" page, where a portion of the retail price goes toward sponsoring my poor butt on the quest to live a bit off the beaten path. That should be ready by the weekend, so long as I am not rained in at the cabin and unable to get to an internet connection to work on the thing.

So.....feel free to donate. Or not. Or even donate in the form of a caustic remark in response to this post! I enjoy another person's diatribe as much as anyone, and unless I find it just too assinine, I'll likely post it. If you think I m find your remark rather unsettling, you would be right in assuming I will elect to delete it rather than publish it. If that's the case, why not create your own blog and post away. Let me know, and I'll try to pop over and make some nasty remarks that YOU can decide whether to post or not!

So - Here's the Donate Button again. Thanks for taking the time to read my request!

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