Home » Uncategorized » A Little Life’s Tale

A Little Life’s Tale


Just a quick end-of-year tale here about my end-of-career journey. I mentioned it a little long ago. As it makes sense out of the fundraising drive, I thought I’d say a little more about it today. In short, I drive a school bus for a living. It was not originally my chosen career path but neither did I fall into it by decline. It was a big step down financially, but intentional as a form of semi-retirement. I like it better than I did the last couple of years of my career.

While I majored in English, writing has never been an endeavor that paid well enough to support myself. I did get paid a little by newspapers and magazines, and I actually got paid quite a bit by Putnam to write a book once, and got paid an equal amount by a family to write their family story, which they decided not to publish when their continuing story took a turn they hadn’t planned.

To pay the bills throughout the forty years of my writing vocation, I built a career in property management, writing when I could carve out some time. For many years, I managed a waterfront property in Seattle. Eventually, I said, “I could be doing this in Hawaii.” So, I moved to managing resort oceanfront properties in Hawaii for five years on O’ahu and on the Big Island.

Then I married my highschool sweetheart from many years back and moved to my hometown in the Pacific Northwest to be with her and to spend the last couple of years of my, then, 95-year-old father’s life with him, helping him through the two years of his final passage after my mother passed away.

Once he moved on to the next life, I took a job as general manager of a resort ranch in the mountains, which I thought would be really enjoyable. At $56,000 a year, it was a huge cut in pay from what I had made in Hawaii, but I had grown up on a farm and was looking forward to returning to a rural life in the mountains in what I thought would be my final career post before retirement. As with that family whose story took an unexpected turn, my plan did not go as expected either. And it would have been fun … if not for the people.

The members of that ranch were the most bickering, tightfisted, least-civil mob I’d ever worked with or for in my life. Time and again, people would scowl at me just for smiling and waving at them. (Truly! Even from the first day of my employment before they had a chance to get to know me. One employee who had been there for a decade, who quit in part because of my departure, told me later her long-term health problems cleared up within a week of quitting, so toxic was the environment to her and so relieved was she to be out of it. She was like the slow-boiled frog who had not realized how gradually she was being cooked.)

You’d think people spending time on a resort they owned would be happy, especially those easy-going Canadians. 993 of the 1,000 private resort memberships were Canadian-owned. I can only continue to do my best to hope they were not representative of their country. So, when these people would get all up in each other’s faces or in some employee’s face about the tiniest problem on the resort, my wife would say, “Why don’t they just crack a Kokanee and camp?”

I had worked with a lot of boards over the years, and in Hawaii the board president would hand the meeting over to me, and I’d basically run the whole meeting every time. These were people who owned $3,000,000 resort vacation homes and who had spent their lives as the CEO’s of Fortune-500 companies or doing other things that had obviously paid off well for them.

You would have thought, with all their years of experience as CEOs of major corporate boards, those board members would have been the toughest and least respectful to work with, but not so. They had high expectations, so were tough in that regard, especially with respect to budgeting and accounting where they asked difficult questions. I had to be on my game; but they were completely professional toward me, and I did my best to live up to their expectations, as they placed a lot of trust in me.

The ranch was a different story.

There is an economics lesson in all of this as there must be for anything that appears on this blog

The boards I worked with at the ranch were largely full of bean counters. Their marathon-inspired meetings almost always ran more than eight hours and were always overwrought with vitriolic arguments; whereas, the professionals I had worked with in Hawaii remained civil all the time and always ended within three hours so they could get back on the golf course. (I would never have agreed to even attempt to run the ranch meetings on behalf of the board president as I typically did in Hawaii.)

At the ranch, I constantly battled the board’s jaundiced view of their own staff to get them to significantly increase staff pay because they thought they were already overpaying for what they were getting. The truth was that they were underpaying. They were down in the tenth percentile based on a wage study I did of the whole county for the same kinds of jobs.

Yet, they grumbled all the time about how untrustworthy the staff was. So, I pointed out that the reason they were unhappy with the quality of staffing (a situation they had hired me to solve) was that they were paying at a level that only allowed me (or the former manager) to hire ex-cons and drug addicts and ne’er-do-wells who had never held a job for more than nine months. They were fortunate to have some of the very good staff they had in that otherwise bottom-scraping mix.

The board that hired me had hoped I would cut staffing costs because they didn’t think their ramshackle staff was worth what they were shelling out. I pointed out quite clearly that the only people who would apply at the pay levels they were offering were people whose resumes I would have (truly) thrown straight in the garbage when I was back in Hawaii, but here I had to pick them as winners! The ranch members were getting what they were paying for. In fact, they were really getting better than what they were paying for because there were a handful of really good, very underpaid staff members.

I had to battle against the current for many months, but I eventually got most of the board to see the light; and I eventually managed to get staff salaries up to respectable levels where I could hope to retain good people and find better ones. With a hard-fought win on the budget, I fired staff members who were dishonest (actually had already been doing that, but just couldn’t replace them with anything more honest until a better budget was passed) or who were not performing. I substantially increased the pay of those who were doing their jobs well, which still only brought those employees up to the 50th percentile. I routed out dishonesty wherever I found it; but costs, of course, went up to get to that higher level of performance. You don’t always get what you pay for, but you do alway have to pay for what you get.

The next year, however, an unusual thing happened. Nine out of ten board positions came open that year for a variety of reasons. I told staff we were all in trouble because a power vacuum like that will surely be seized by any unhappy group that has been hiding in the woodwork as soon as they recognize they will not have to share the reins of power with board member’s whose policies they have disagreed with.

Sure enough, a few disgruntled owner/members who apparently didn’t hear as often as they needed to the rationale for increasing staff salaries saw the chance to seize total control and formed a bloc that took over the board in order to rein costs back in. Two years of budget battling were destroyed in one election.

The new board’s first mission at their first meeting was to sidestep me with an early closed session before I got to the meeting in order to fire a staff member who had served in a lead position for twelve years and who was extremely dedicated to his job and honest as the day was long and who was just two years from retirement, never mind that their own documents made hiring and firing my role. When I entered the meeting and found out about it, I countered his firing for three hours with everything I had but lost the battle.

They fired him over personal vendettas. “He cut my extension cord once and didn’t replace it.” “No, he didn’t,” I countered. “I know who cut your extension cord because the person who did it bragged to me that he did it on purpose because your cord was where it wasn’t supposed to be.” (One of the employees I had already fired for dishonesty on several other more important matters.) “No, I know it was the guy we’re firing.” It was all petty stuff like that about a guy who had often loaned them his personal equipment at no cost, gone to the ranch in the middle of the night to take care of a horse in colic or a frozen water pipe, etc. The pettiness was sickening.

The injustice of his firing infuriated me. At the end of the meeting, they demanded I follow up by firing half the remaining staff to streamline costs by replacing them with private contractors. (The old privatization is always better than local government nonsense.) I argued that they would discover that replacing their still somewhat underpaid staff with private contractors would cost them far more down the road and blow their budget completely off the landscape.

In the days following that meeting, I decided I wasn’t going to play their hatchet man and help them through that learning curve. The board let me know that, if I refused to carry out their orders of firing half the staff, they would fire me. I ignored their commands and went about managing as I always had and let them fire me for not joining their Keystone Cops agenda. (It was in my best interest to be fired with a severance package than to just quit.)

The property went seriously downhill for two years after that. Projects that we had slated for a few weeks after that board meeting, which they were irate over because we had not yet started them, didn’t get done for another two years. (We had the material for our workers and the contract for the part of the work that had to be done by a contractor all in place. They had just approved the budget for those projects at the meeting that elected that board, and we were only waiting for the off-season to begin the work so as not to inconvenience members.)

Two years after my self-elected firing, I happened across one of the prior board members and learned that everything I warned them of proved true, particularly my warning that they’d blow their budget off the face of the earth if they tried to contract out most of the work staff was doing. After two years of getting nowhere, they wound up hiring just as many staff back as they had canned and wound up having to pay a lot more to get them. I was glad I hadn’t sullied myself by taking that useless and contentious two-year misadventure with them.

During those years after I was gone, they never could pass a balanced budget. Creating balanced budgets and living up to them was something I had managed throughout each of my thirty-five years in property management (including at the ranch); but you have to budget based on reality not wishes. Something the federal government would do well to learn. These people couldn’t pass a budget because they spent all their time arguing about how they wished the world would work, instead of accepting how it does work.

My career lifestyle change

At the juncture when I moved on, I had to decide whether to get another property management job or make a big change in life’s direction. Feeling burned out as I was after two years of the toxic politics in that last position, I decided to downshift in a major way in order to see if I could make this blog work out financially if I gave it more time.

So, I took another major pay cut and got a job as a school-bus driver because that would leave me a big chunk of time in the middle of each day to focus on my writing and in the summer to develop the farm we had purchased while I was managing the ranch. I had been working on this blog while managing the ranch resort, but only in my spare time. Now I would have four hours a day to dedicate to this task.

In the past few months, I have debated the idea of returning to property management for what woulthe d likely be the last five years of my career (as I will be turning sixty soon) for financial reasons or continuing to try to make something of this blog. I decided that, if the blog can hit that $500 a month, maybe it can eventually grow to something that can replace the school-bus job.

On the other hand, I say to myself, “If I spent that four-hour window in center of each day writing screenplays, I’d have a lot more fun; and maybe in five years I’d actually get one produced and have some good work to come for those retirement years when most of us can now see we will need to continue to work, given the ravages retirement accounts have taken again and again.

Because these are peculiar times of exploding greed we’re moving into, I struggle between retirement years of purely fun writing and a difficult but momentous subject. I write this article now because New Year’s Eve is when I decided to make the decision on which way I would go for the new year based on whether we met my mimimum goal.

The $500 per month is a somewhat arbitrary number but based on the idea that it comes to about $5 per hour, which is half what I made per hour when I was mowing lawns as a kid; so, if I cannot even make half of what I made as a kid forty years ago, I decided I would give it up. If I could hit that benchmark, though, I’d hang on to see if it would improve to something respectable for my time.

Thanks to a donor who added a buck to his former pledge, we hit the halfway point today as I was writing this end-of-year article. (You see, every dollar counts.) And thanks to all the others who got us halfway, too. Based on that encouragement, I’m going to give this effort through January to see if we can attain the other half. If we do, I’ll consider that seed money and keep on to see if it will continue to build to something a little better than half my lawn money over time … because the subject is worth the sacrifice.

[And thanks, subsequent to posting this article, to another reader for taking us a major additional step up the second half of the goal.]

If we do not hit the full $500 by the end of January, I’ll eventually take what I collected for the time put in (fulfill whatever time I owe to those who contributed already) and buy myself a new lawn mower and then talk to people about the economy when I stand in line at the bank with my lawn money! We are, however, already getting close.

For now, it is time to start writing my first article of the year, which will lay out the major headwinds the economy will be facing in 2019. That will be my first subscriber-only article available to those who have contributed at the $5 or more level. It won’t be available here or on ZH or anywhere (for at least a month, maybe for good); but the majority of my articles, thanks to those who are donating at any level, will continue to be available to everyone because the goal is to help as many people as possible in order to beat the establishment.

Thanks to ALL who are trying their best to make it happen, and Happy New Year to Everyone! Even as times become tougher in 2019, true happiness can be found in many places. This topic has never made me unhappy because I truly believe something higher abides over all. My little life (and yours) is part of a much greater story that is the adventure of a lifetime.


Liked it? Take a second to support David Haggith on Patreon!