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Trading Time for Money

Trading time for money is a central theme in the life of a middle, working class breadwinner.  It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, from the mechanic, to the programmer, from the landscaper to the home health aid, waitress, teacher, police officer, …  Trading your time to someone else in order for them to give you money.  Well, in short, I’m tired of trading time for money.  The amount of time that I have is not without bounds.  Realistically I have about 450,000 hours left in my life, and about 150,000 of them will be unconcience.  This leaves me 300,000 hours.  As of right now, I’m scheduled to spend roughly 100,000 of those hours toiling away for someone else’s benefit.  This fact sickens me.  I work at a publicly traded company and roughly 1/3 of my waking life from this point forward is scheduled to be spent doing things for the benefit of this company, for the benefit of the rich people who make up the majority of the stakeholders in this company.  I am a mule plowing the fields of a fat farmer who watches from his porch.

As with all things in my life I now as the question… Why?

To Be Continued…

Debt

How does a person who is deathly afraid of debt still manage to jump into it?

College

Well in my case it started with school.  Going to college is one of the best things you can do for your career and your life.  But surviving in college can be difficult.  The first and most prevalent difficulty with college is paying for school.   Through scholarships and a lot of help from my grandparents I was able to go to school and only have to pay for about $5000 of it myself.  This put me far far ahead of most people I knew.  Sure there were a few trust fund babies and some athletic and scholastic scholarship students who were set in that regard, but most people were like Vanessa where every semester meant more loans.  Vanessa didn’t have help from anyone and, after 1 year at a private school, 2 years at a community college, and 3 years (including her masters) as a state school, she ended up with $35,000 of student loans–even though she worked 20, and in the summer 40, hours a week.

My college debt was more my fault.  I did have help, and I did have a scholarship, but there was still a matter of living.  Most of the bills that you pay in the “real world” you also pay in college, but in school, at least in my major, you don’t have time to work and pay them.  My first year in school I did ok and only managed to rack up about $1000 in credit card debt, that I then worked off during the summer.  The next year though I started doing a lot of driving home a lot, I accidentally split lemonade in my computer, and I got sick of every meal being at the dining commons.  I don’t remember what the issue was, but in the end I think I ended up taking out a student loan to pay off debt incurred from these things.  Some would say that this is living beyond your means, and truth be told so some extent it is, but what are you supposed to do when you have a computer scient class and you just friend every component in your machine?  I’m not trying to say that all of my debt comes from a glass of lemonade, but when you are a student, and on the track team, pretty much all of your time is taken up.  Add to that the fact that as a Math/Computer science student my books each semester usually added up to about $500.  So I did it, I put everything on a credit card, and I got later got a student loan to pay it off.  I think I did this twice until I got a job that I could work around my schedule.  Once I had that I just started working 30 hours a week when taking classes and 50 hours a week when not taking classes to keep my head above water.  All in all I racked up $20,000 in student loan debt, but it could have been much worst.  Twenty thousand is a very modest sum compared to the majority of recent graduates these days, and I don’t mind it at all.

The Feeling of Landing a Real Job

As a CompSci major at a top 25 school, you kinda feel like your running a race and graduation is a finish line where you get handed a big salary and a cushy job, and that all you have to do is make it there.  When I finally landed that job, it was pretty cushy, and it had what I thought was a big salary.  I was making 3 times what I had ever made in a year.  I threw 5K down onto a 0% card to get vanessa a new car, threw another 5K down on a 0% card to get me a new car, bought a $1300 bed, a $1300 TV, $400 HD DVD player, $300 surround sound system, $400 weight set, $400 elliptical, and I didn’t care about any of it because, I was making more than I could ever imagine.  Let me step back for a second.  Computer Science was always my closet fantasy major.  I was a math major first, and I was going to school to be a teacher.  When I was a freshman I thought that $50,000 was more money than anyone ever needed in a year.  When I decided to switch to CS I though that if I could just handle it I would leave school and be ritch.  Now lets fast forward back to my decision to buy all of those things.  I thought, well I don’t have 5K now, but I have this shiny new 0% credit card with a big spending limit, lets put a downpayment on that so that our financing interest rate won’t attack it.  I’m making so much money, I shouldn’t have any trouble paying it off.  Great plan, if you pay it off.  Well, I was 2 days late on a payment a few weeks ago.. so now I’m paying 9% interest on 7,000 on that card rather than the 0%.  There goes the savings.

Oil and Insurance and Houses, Ohh My!

I was still doing ok at first.  After 2 months with all that debt (on 0%) I was paying things off and everything was going according to plan.  Then there was Christmas and well now that I have a career I shouldn’t skimp… there goes a couple thousand.  Vanessa and I got sick of burning $ renting and not being able to do things to the house cause we were renting, so we bought a house… there goes about $10,000 (down payment, closing, etc.).  Oil bills = holy crap,… there goes a couple thousand.  Excise tax on two new cars = holy crap… there goes a thousand.  Insurance on 2 new cars… there goes a hundred… a month.  Living in framingham, working in watertown/malden + gas and tolls… there goes 500… a month.  The fact that the house was a foreclosure, because that’s all we could afford, so it needed a ton of work… there goes a couple thousand.  Ya see where I’m going here?  When you’re in school, you look at what people make and you’re like $50,000, that’s like $30,000 more than I make, dude you should be drivin a beamer!  Little did I know.

Summary

Well, here I am.  Doing much better than many people, but still very frustrated.  I have a house, a new car, a big TV, and yet all I do is stress about how I pay XXX dollars a month in interest toward the $40,000 I have in debt (not counting the cars or vanessa’s stuff, then we’d be well over 100K).  The moral?  Wait a year people, save up $, and buy things with cash.  Credit is a great convenience, but if you don’t have the cash to back it, when you buy something on credit, you’re paying it’s cost + interest for every month between that day and the day you pay everything off.

Peace, I’m off to find a way to get rid of $20K in debt.

Transit – Responsible

Why is it responsible for me being where I am today?

Well there are 2 reasons.  The first reason is that I learned a lot and did a lot of growing up.  It’s a pretty unique place and while it’s not perfect if you are ambitious transit has the ability to do a lot for you.  In my previous post “Transit – The Good” I summarized this.  The second reason is because transit is where I learned what my calling was.  I interview and didn’t get the MIS assistant position in January of 2005.  I still feel I was the most qualified of all the cantidates, but I didn’t necessarily represent that well enough in the interview, so I’ll give Adam a pass.  But this is not what’s important, what’s imortant is that preparing for this interview did something to me.  It made me realize that working in technology was what I wanted to do.  I had always kinda wanted to do it, I was always good with computers, and I was always good with logic.  But I was a little scared and I was a little unsure if I was really of the caliber of a computer programmer or a system administrator.  The preparation for this interview helped re-awaken my love of computers.  This interview is what inspired me to go back to school and try and get into the CS major.  Then when the job came up again I interviewed, got it, and ran with it.  The 2 years I spent working in MIS are also responsible for me being where I am.  I can honesly say after spending a year at a real software company that the lessons and the growing pains from 2 years there prepared me well for working in the industry writing software.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 3 part 2346 word explanation of what transit has meant to me.  It was a big part of my life for 4 years, and ended up being responsible for so much more than any other single entity (not named Vanessa) in college.  Times wern’t always good, but as a whole transit had a profoundly positive effect on me.

Thank You Umass Tansit Service.

Transit – The Good

Why was it the best decision I ever made?

Well lets start with the obvious… Vanessa.  Yup, that’s right, I met my fiance (only for a few more months) at transit.  I remember driving to work one day to a dispatch shift in the rain.  On my way I saw this training bus coming in the opposite direction. Now the signs on our training busses say “Training” as you would expect, then they change to a secondary sign that says “No Passengers”, and those 2 signs just rotate through the whole time.  This bus had some issues with the sign however and with the left panel of the sign out, and it was raining mind you, the “training–no passengers” sign turns into, yup you guessed it, ”  raining–  assengers”.  So there she was, my future wife coming toward me, in the rain, whilst I was heading in to be her dispatcher, in a bus labeled “raining assengers.”  Gotta love it.  Of course I didn’t really remember her from that day because when she came in from training she just threw her clipboard on the counter and kinda stormed out because her ex boyfriend was kinda stalking her and that was putting her in a bad mood.  But that topic is neither here or there.  <~~ love that!  The real anecdotal story of how I actually met her has to do with the fact that a) the day she met me she thought that I was just a meat head and b) our first conversation went as follows:

Me: Hey, nice you meet you, … filler small talk …

Me: you should come apply to work at transit

Her: yea, I kinda already did, I actually just finished training today

Me: Ohh *smiles, kinda embarasses*

and from there, the rest is history!

Now on to the important, but slightly less so stuff.  I have the kind of personality that if I have a goal to attain, I am going to attain it, and you should probably not get in my way.  I worked my first shift 4 weeks before the end of the semester, and yet managed to work 207 hours earning me a point toward seniority that semester.  Transit has system that was setup for me to succeed.  There are many promotional positions (i. e. many goals for me to attain), plenty of hours for people to work (plenty of opportunity for someone to give of themselves for the good of transit by taking that open shift that goes to 3 am on the tail end of what will end up being a 13 hour day), recognition for the people who do well and sacrific for the team, and (what was best for me) plenty of opportunity for supervisors to see how god of a worker you are.  Whithin 4 months of the day I got my license I was selected, quite out of the ordinary, for dispatcher training.  In my head at the time this was a tremendoud honor because this was the position that only the top 30 (out of about 150 or so) drivers were in at any given time.  Inspired by this I made it my duty to be the best at every aspect of this training, and show everyone at transit just how good I was.  Yes, a little cocky, but as it turns out I was justified in feeling this way.  The skill portion (parkign school) I nailed with flying colors… So much so that I was asked by the person who ran it if I wanted to be one of the leaders of the bus washing crew later that semester.  The dispatching part of the training I was also good at.  On a scale of 1 to 5 for a set of competencies I consistently scored at least 4 and usually 5 on almost every one.  This gave me a sense of pride, and fueled my desire to succeed in any meritocracy.  I finished the training in 3 weeks (faster than anyone at the time could remember someone finishing, and faster than I saw anyone finish in the next 4 years after that), and was the first person in my training class to work an actual RO shift.  I finished so fast in fact that I ended up having 3 people from my training class observe me while I was working actual shifts and they were finishing up their training.  At this point I want to take a break and mention that I am not trying to pat myself on the back.  I was a skilled and competent dispatcher, but was still green, brash, and far too cocky.  But I got a taste of promotion, I got a taste for what it was like to be looked at as someone who exceeds even the other people who were ahead of the curve, and I got a taste for what it was like to push through the crown and take what you deserve.  At this point I was hooked.  I made Uldeder, Trainer, Field Trip Driver and later Coach Driver, Eventually (after an incident I will talk about in a second) I made it to DS which was a position reserved for only the upper eschelon of dispatchers and signified that you were a person whom the staff trusted as one of the top role model dispatchers.  Finally after about 2 years of working at transit I made it to student staff which was the highest position a student could obtain without a bachelors degree and a full time commitment to work at umass.  More on that later.   Another thing I learned at transit was to tame my ego, and not be so cocky.  One day when I was uleading I was irresponsible and forgot where the bus was parked.  As was always the case with me, since I knew I was good and I knew I would never hit anything, when I would take off from a stop in a bus I just gunned it.  This was a tried and true technique that was taught to me when training to ulead, but that is still no excuse.  Another thing I didn’t do was fix my door side mirror, once again because I didn’t need it.  The combination of not fixing the mirror plus me not remembering where I was parked plus tinted windows plus the practice of flooring it whenever I went froma stop equals a ten foot gouge in the side of a bus from dragging it along a column in the garage.  This event may have been the single most important thing to happen to me, as a worker, in my life.  I was stripped of my ulead duties for the next 9 months (ulead was my favorite promotion too), I was no longer looked upon as being untouchable, and TR-100 (the number of the bus) was a black mark that I would catch shit for for the remainder of my time at transit.  In one moment gone was the brashness, gone was the cockyness, and gone was the recklessness.  I spent the next year as a good little worker bee, worked my driving shifts, trained my trainees, did well by my dispatch shifts, but mainly tried to stay out of the spotlight.  It was also at this point where I started to develop some inspiration in life.  Ya see after that semester where I moved up through the ranks at transit, I started to care less and less about school.  The fall of 2004 was the culmination of thislack of caring wher eI went a perfect 5 for 5 failing every class.  Not because I was stupid and not because I couldn’t do it, but because I just didn’t care anymore about school.  I was enjoying my time at transit and, as far as I could tell, this was a pretty good life to live.  Work hard all day, drink hard all night, wakeup, and do it again.  What could be better?  Well as it turns out, that gets old.  I took the spring semester off and thank god I was able to finagle umass into retroactively withdrawing me for the fall semester (mainly since the last class I went to was in September).  That spring semester taught me a lot.  No classes meant that I could utilize all my time to work at transit.  Yup, all of it, 50 hours a week, driving busses, $10/hour, woo hoo (this is sarcasm, but it looses a little bit in print).  This was the time where I realized that working 50 horus a week for $10/hour… well it kinda sucks,  I was bringing home good money relative to any other point in my life, but in the end $1600 a month after busting your ass doesn’t goo too far.  By the end I was burnt out.  I found my inspiration… I was going back to school and, no matter what, I wasn’t going to live my life like that.  I followed that semester with 14 credits@3.7, 18 credits@3.85, 8 summer credits@4.0, 16 credits@4.0, 12 credits@4.0, and could finally say that I had learned something in school besides how to get drunk on $4 and enjoy it.

Transit – The Bad

Why was it the worst?

I was entering my 4th year with 74 credits (16 credits behind) and I was taking a fairly difficult coarse load of 3 upper level Math/CS courses, a course I wanted to do well in because it was taught by the chancellor, and a jokingly easy french class.  I came into the semester determined to succeed because of a terrible spring semester the year before where I managed only a 2.3 and my cume was stuck around 2.6.  The problem is, I didn’t have any direction.  I went to school to be a math teacher, and I was frustrated that I was taking all these calsses that I woudl never use.  High school students will never be taught advanced number theory, yet I had to take it to be able to teach them?  After about a month I started working at transit, and once I got that big fat $300 paycheck, it seemed like a good idea to take that extra shift in-stead of going to class.  What’s one class?  What’s that, they have more opens, and they’ll give me overtime–I’m there!  After a few weeks of training I got my license on October 12th and started driving shifts on October 14th.  Then I had a goal… 180 hours by the end of the semester and I would get a raise next semester, and an all important seniority point.  Fast forward to January, I got my raise (worked 207 hours I think), I managed a 0.9 GPA that semester (A in french even thought I skipped the second test, the final, and hadn’t gone to a class since mid October), and I was well on my way to becoming a transit all-star.  Problem was, I was also on my way to failing out of school.  After that semester my cume dropped to 2.3, and I had no desire to be a math major anymore.  I dropped to a half time student and focused on making transit my home away from home.

Transit – Introduction

I was a bus driver in college.  I started in September of 2003 at the beginning of my 4th year in Amherst and, at the time, the decision to work there was both the best and worst decisions I had ever made and is probably the decision most responsible for me being where I am today.  Transit was the first time I had made over $8/hour and, at 8.80/hour + overtime, it gave me the ability to bring home what was, for a college student, a pretty decent pay check.  I was living off campus and that paycheck was enticing.  In addition I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life; I didn’t have any direction.  Transit was able to give me direction, albeit in the wrong direction at first.  It, along with the people who worked there, was able to be my teacher, mentor, father, priest, savior, entertainment, disciplinarian, and about anything else you can think of all rolled into one.

Over the next few days I’ll explain what I mean by the best, worst, and most responsible.  To give each of these adequate time they’ll ge ttheir own posts and to give me time to write them I’ll spread them over a numebr of days.

And as always thus far: Without this, I wold not be the man I am today.