Friday, August 29, 2008

Katrina: Three Years Later

Today (Aug. 29) marks the third anniversary of hurricane Katrina making landfall. It seems like an eternity ago, but when I stop and really think about it, the memories flood my senses like I was just there yesterday. The 4 inches of mud everywhere in the yard. The dead-brown look everything that was once green had after sucking up so much saltwater. The smell of rancid meat and sewage and diesel fuel and dreams...sitting, rotting on the floor.
The first floor of my house looking like
war-torn Kosovo. The sweat dripping as I try to sleep on a sleeping bag on the hard floor with no breeze. The thrill of a hot meal, the first in 4 days; chicken and rice from a Red Cross van. The smile that came from a bucket of cleaning supplies packed by FUMC in Montgomery. Two months with no power. Six weeks with no water. Line after huge line waiting to fill out FEMA paperwork only for them to scoff at you as if you had just floated up on a raft from Cuba, and tell you losing nearly everything you own plus nearly 8 feet of water in your house, was only worth $5000. If only my address had ended with LA instead of AL... the switch of two tiny letters would make all the difference. In new orleans, they were getting $2000 debit cards and promises of brand new houses to replace their crack shacks, never ending aid and publicity and sympathy for their loss that, because their address contained an LA and not an AL, was somehow, more significant than mine.

Three years later, some things have returned to how they were. Sheetrock has been replaced, new furniture bought, and debris piles have faded, but the sting is still there. The pang of loss that still creeps up even though you have moved on. The careless recollection of knowing you have something stowed away in a closet somewhere at home, and then remembering that you don't. The emptiness of vacant lots where your friends once lived and business once stood. But the thing that probably stings the most, is knowing that even though we have all been through so much, if it happened again today, nothing has changed. Bureaucracy would still slow relief to a trickle, preference would be given to a special few, and the media would once again forsake you for a crackhead in new orleans.

Some may disagree with me, but this is how I feel. This was my experience. And this is why I have no sympathy for those who play the sympathy card. Everyone is dealt a bad hand from time to time, but there comes a point when we have to move on. I have moved on. I have rebuilt my life not with the help of Uncle Sam, who has been too busy dumping truckloads of money, and effort, and resources into new orleans to help the likes of me; but with the help of those who love me. Those that stood by me and sustained me and built me back up.

And for them, I am truly thankful.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quarter-Life Crisis: My Year in Review (May07-May08)

A very wise man once said:

"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar, and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. Ironically, there is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power. We are only truly secure when we are feeling alive."

This past year has probably been the most trying year of my life. I had spent the entirety of my life planning for what would happen when I finally graduated college. Those plans, however, did not turn out as I had so ingeniously imagined and prepared for them.

When I was about to graduate from Huntingdon, I was at the top of my game. I had accomplished nearly everything I had set out to accomplish. I was a big fish in a little pond. I was happy with who I was, happy with where I was, and happy with where I was going... Or at least, where I thought I was going.

I had applied and been accepted (april 07) to the University of Florida for a master's in International Business program. Since I had been accepted, I ended my job search and even turned down a job with Alabama Power (oh if I had only known...). Everything seemed to be in order until the week before orientation at UF. Let's back up a little... Over a year before I would have started at UF, I switched my residency to my grandmother's house in FL so I could be eligible for in-state tuition. I did the whole bit: driver's license, voter registration, filed taxes, bank accounts, etc. etc... all in FL.

Six days before orientation, I was informed that my application for residency had been denied because I did not make, "significant economic contributions to the state of Florida." I'm still not quite sure what type of 'significant economic impact' they wanted me to make with the $7k I made that year. This may not sound like much, but it basically meant my tuition went up $20,000 overnight. Needless to say, I couldn't swing it.

In a matter of minutes, my life went from carefully thought out, prayed about, planned out, to what now...

I had stopped looking for jobs because I was going to Florida. I had turned down a job at the power company. I was starting over from scratch. I had no idea where to even start. My first step?? I spent three days in Panama City at the beach sulking and feeling sorry for myself wondering why this was happening to me. I had spent so much time planning and praying and preparing for that one goal. I could not understand why God did not let it happen.

After my three-day poutfest, and after coming up with the brilliant idea to start Bayou Biofuels and make biodiesel out of used vegetable oil and later out of Algae oil with my buddy James, I decided that it was time to look for a job again.

I looked everywhere for a job. In the newspaper, on the internet, through my contacts. Nothing seemed to work. The places I did want to work weren't hiring. And most of the jobs I applied for, I never heard anything back. The thing that surprised me most about my job search was this: the complete lack of urgency in the hiring process. Some of these jobs needed to be filled quickly. Were any of them? um... no. One particular company still had not hired after three months of vacancy. It's like they did not even care that they needed someone to fill the job, or that I was there, and qualified, and eager to start.

The whole time I was looking for a "real" job, I was working at my always there job: the police department. I started dispatching at the Dauphin Island Police Department afternoons and weekends in high school and apparently they still like me because I still work there. Six years in November. It has been the greatest job. The pay's not great, the hours long, and the company can sometimes be less than desirable, but they always ask me to work. Summers, holidays, random weekends all through college, I worked at the police department. And once again it proved to be a lifeline during my Quarter-Life Crisis...

Yes, that's what I've dubbed my experience over the past year. A quarter-life crisis. I guess the best way to describe it is knowing that you are fully prepared for the so-called 'real world' , but somehow it doesn't seem to want you.

I knew that I should be working at a great job, working my way up the corporate ladder, buying a new car, putting a down payment on a house, finding the girl I would marry. I had prepared the way to do all of these things, dreamed about them, prayed about them, worked hard for them. And yet, none of them seemed within reach anymore. It felt like, all of a sudden, I wasn't as good as I thought I was, not as smart as I thought I was, and definitely not as charming. Charm got me nowhere in a job market that didn't want me...

This went on for months. Nothing happened. I had never worked at the PD for more than a few weeks at a time before I'd leave again, and it was slowly and painfully sucking the life out of me.

Then one day I saw an ad that caught my eye. "Sales and Marketing Rep. for Milo's Tea Co." Now if you know me at all, you know that Milo's is my drink. Most people bring a 12-pack to a party; I show up with a gallon of Milo's. It's by far the best store-bought tea on the market.

Long story short, I did an internship for the company that does the print work for Milo's, so I called my friend Cindy to see if they still had contact with them. **Also realize that I still planned on going back to school at UF in July 08. This presented a problem all in itself. Come to find out, Milo's had some sudden staff changes and had not had a rep in Mobile for a few weeks and needed someone pretty quick.

Cindy put in a good word for me(thanks again!) with Milo's and put me into contact with Mitch Wolfe who is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Milo's. After hours of phone calls, a trip up to Birmingham for an interview, and Mitch taking a chance on me, I got the job!

The time that I spent as a Sales and Marketing Rep for Milo's is probably one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was the first opportunity I had to actually put into practice what I had learned in school, and more importantly, what I had learned in life. I went from no 'real' job to being the sole rep from New Orleans to Panama City. I was a little intimidated at first, but Mr. Noel Barnes trained me my first week and I don't think it could have been done by anyone better. Even though he's in his 70s, he still made me look like I was stuck in first gear. Mitch also helped me the WHOLE way through. If I had a dollar for every minute I have spent on the phone with that man, I could buy the Yankees. Milo's knew that I was leaving at the end of June and hired my replacement shortly before I left. Even though I only worked there for a few months, I learned a tremendous amount there. I will always be grateful for those who helped me get there!

During my time at Milo's I also found out about this program called Academic Common Market. Basically, its a consortium of 11 states in the Southeast that have agreed to grant in-state tuition benefits to students from other states under certain circumstances. Because no school in Alabama offers a masters degree in International Business, I could do the program at UF for the in-state tuition rate. It's not everyday you get to clip a $20,000 coupon! Thanks to Mr. Clarence Mohr at the Alabama Department of Higher Education, my application was processed and approved. Now I was back on track to Florida.

Everything was ready for me to go to Florida. The program I'm doing is a masters in International business. It's a one-year program and half in Gainesville and half abroad. I'll tell you more about it in later postings.

Sorry again for writing a book, but it was a whole year's worth of catch-up!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jumping on the Bandwagon...

So I've decided to join the masses and start a blog. Somehow I don't see myself being mentioned on CNN or Fox anytime soon for having posted profound insights into the world of politics and economic policy...

But, I do hope that this will be easier than trying to send mass emails to hundreds of people and keep up with whose email address has changed, dealing with those who want to know what I'm doing but don't want to read a two page email, and worrying if anyone even gets the actual emails or if they go to straight to the spam folder.

I don't know how often I'll post, but I'll try to get to it often enough to keep you up on what's going down. Let me know if there's anything you want to know.

I think you can subscribe to the blog too... not exactly sure how, but you can.

Sunday, August 17, 2008