Almost eight years ago, I took a weekend gig as music director for a church band in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The rhythm guitarist was a young fellow who had graduated from high school the year before and was drifting unsteadily between minimum-wage jobs in the burned-out old manufacturing town thirty miles northwest of the church. We became fast friends and even after I left the church he would occasionally make the long drive down to play some music and discuss his personal struggles: dying grandparents, lack of health care, general loneliness. The biggest problem he had was that he didn’t know where his life was going. Every time he’d catch on at a factory job, the shift would close or the plant would move. He was in line for a gig at Honda but they had a two year waiting period just to get temp contractor work on the line. In 2012 he enlisted in the Army but that, too, had an eighteen-month waiting period; the economy was so bad here that they had more Ohio kids willing to lose their legs to an IED than they could accommodate in Basic Training.
At the time, I remember telling him something that Randal says in Clerks 2: “Sooner or later, I’ll do something with myself and make my mark. But until then, whatever I do is not a waste of time, it’s all building toward something.” He didn’t really believe me, and I can’t blame him. Eventually, the Army made room for him — but he hated the Army. So when his grandfather died he took compassionate discharge and came home to work at a plastic fork factory. In 2016, his number came up at Honda, and I figured he would finish his life the way a lot of people from that area do: by working for 25 years on the line then buying a $50,000 home in rural Ohio in which to die.
Turns out I was wrong. One of the friends he’d made at the fork factory had a relative who wanted to expand his 18-wheeler roadside service business. So my pal quit his job and bought a 1993-vintage FedEx truck filled with secondhand service tools. That was in November. Now he has an 1800-square-foot shop and two employees, with a third starting next week. He pays himself $15 an hour and puts the rest into the business or into buying property. During the polar vortex they were making between $5k and $7k a day on service calls. He bought his grandfather’s home from the bank and is remodeling it. He also has a Fifties-era Chevy truck that is putting 410 horsepower down at the rear wheels. Most importantly, he’s in the process of signing a service contract with the largest intra-state carrier to use Route 70 in Ohio. (Many of the big companies just run the turnpike up north.)
He thinks he can sustain a $3k daily billing rate. Which means that my plastic-fork-factory friend now has a million-dollar business, well before turning thirty. The contacts he made, the random mechanical tasks he learned when he was bored, the time he spent noodling around on an Eclipse or a ’68 Chevy or his own Saturn SL2: it was all building toward something. All that’s left is to work hard and do the best he can. I believe he will be successful beyond his wildest dreams.
Which reminds me. I have a new job.
Last Monday, I left McGraw-Hill, where I’d been administering their ConnectED elementary-school education product, and started working with Hagerty on the media side of things. I’m not writing for their magazine; this gig is more of a tech-and-planning deal. It would be an understatement to say that I’m thrilled about the opportunity. The “Avoidable Contact” column may reappear in the next few weeks at the Hagerty site, depending on my available time and commitments. This job should give me a chance to handle a variety of technical details while at the same time ensuring that we bring you first-rate online content. It’s the kind of job you could only really do if you’d spent twenty years writing and twenty years doing detailed technical project work at all levels from code monkey to technical management. I never thought that I would end up doing both things at the same time. I thought that I’d have to quit one half of my career to focus on the other one. I was wrong. Turns out that all the odd jobs and crazy contracts I took were also building toward something. It just wasn’t obvious at the time.
This site will continue as before and we will continue to feature great work by a variety of contributors. However, my freelance gigs are now all effectively terminated as of now. I have a few things in process and I’ll tell you about them when they publish. Thank you for reading this site, for commenting, and for being a part of the extended Riverside Green family. I would like to think that we, as a whole, are building toward something as well.
My final column for Road&Track is called So Long, And Thanks For All The Emails.