Friday, December 12, 2008


jack-knifed truckJack-knifed tractor/trailer rig
Montana Interstate 90, Mile 6
Taken 11/22/08

Runaway! I'm a goin' down down down...
Runaway! dangerous curves all around...
If I'll get out of this truck alive
Well there's one thing for sure
I ain't a gonna drive this big ole truck no more!

--Red Simpson, "Runaway Truck"

It has now been well over a month since I last posted my writing to this site. There are many reasons (or excuses) for this, but let’s turn to the always popular “writer’s block.” Of course there are just as many ways to be blocked as there are reasons/excuses. So let’s, for the time being, look at some of the blocks I’ve been facing.

The first has to do with the housing market in California. When I put Mother’s house on the market ten months ago, I expected it to sell in short order. I would then take the money gained from the sale, pay off my debt, and build my retirement home/guest ranch on the land I own in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. For some reason unknown to me, the real estate market dried up in California. In the seven months I had the house listed, I got one serious offer. I made a counter-offer which the buyer accepted, and sat back to wait for the sale to close. One of the provisions I had placed in my counter-offer was that the sale was to close ASAP and no later than 30 days after signing the agreement. Thirty days came and went, and the sale did not close. In an effort to move things along, Kevin and I drove to California where we met with the title company personnel, the realtor, and where we rented a large U-Haul truck to move the furnishings out of the house, giving the new buyer immediate access to the house when the sale finally closed. Of course, renting the truck and paying for the gas to drive it back to Missoula added to our indebtedness, but with the sale imminent, this would not be a problem. Six weeks after we signed the buy-sell agreement, the buyer backed out. That was also the only legitimate offer I was given on the house. Blocked!

Saved by the guard rail
Taken 11/22/08

Seven months after listing the house for sale, I removed it from the market. It was becoming obvious that there was little to no movement in real estate sales in Del Norte County, and why should my situation be any different. At this point, I contracted with a property management firm in Crescent City to find a renter and manage the property in my absence. I was concerned about the house sitting empty and also with the on-going expenses I was incurring (taxes, water and electricity) while the house was neither giving me shelter nor providing any income. The property management firm told me repeatedly that people were viewing the house, but no one wanted to rent it. When I asked “why?” the response was “the house is too old.” Now something is terribly wrong when a lovely 1950s ranch style house in good shape with a large, fenced, landscaped yard is “too old” for people to rent. The only option, other than updating the bathroom and making substantial renovations, was to drop the monthly rent. Once I lowered that from $1,100 to $900 a month, the place rented quickly.

I have to admit that I was of two minds about selling the place—a fact that undoubtedly contributed to the lack of interest amongst prospective buyers. I like the large yard. I love the four producing apple trees. I like the fact that the house is three miles from the nearest beach and less than ten miles from the redwood forests. All in all, the house would be a lovely retirement home for Kevin and me. My hope now is that I can keep the house rented until either the sale market improves or Kevin and I are able to retire there. Mind you, I’ve received only one full-month rental check to date, and those funds were spoken for before they ever appeared in my bank account—Del Norte County Taxes, Suburban Propane’s tank rental, water and power bills, etc. In the future, however, the rental income should be a major help with our finances.

Torn up by the guard rail
(Haz Mat was called as gas tank was destroyed)
Taken 11/22/08

Then there’s the job market. Missoula, indeed Montana as a whole, is not a place where jobs are abundant. Kevin and I have both been looking for work since we returned to Missoula in May. Most of the applications I’ve turned in have brought “thanks but no thanks” letters in return. That is if they got any response at all. I’m amazed, and a bit dismayed, at the number of employers who put out job announcements, but don’t have the decency to reply to applicants.

There was one job announcement that really caught my eye, with the position closing in mid-September. The job was a clerical position with a brand-new program at The University of Montana. One of the few initiatives I admire to come out of the Bush Administration is an effort to train our military personnel in the language and culture of the various areas critical to national security. Accordingly, this program is called the Defense Critical Language and Culture program. At The University of Montana, the program is administered by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and currently the program offers language classes in Chinese and Arabic. With my own interest in language and literature, this program immediately appealed to me, and I made sure my application was in by the deadline. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Mind you, I didn’t just sit around wishin’ and hopin’, I kept putting out job applications and kept getting back those “thanks but no thanks” letters, if I got anything back at all. Blocked!

Backing West on the East-bound side
(Kevin is in the center in the gray)
Taken 11/22/08

Finally, at Kevin’s suggestion, I applied at Directv for a position in customer service. This is work that I did at Essen Communications for five years. Directv has a call center here in Missoula where they employ some 1600 people. I jumped through the various hoops that the company has in place, was interviewed, and offered a position. In fact, at the time I was interviewed by Directv, I had two other interviews as well, including one for the UM program I wanted so badly. My experience with UM hiring is such that I felt I could not count on the job coming through, so when Directv told me to come to work on November 10th, I went.

Those folks hired by Directv go through a six-week long training program where they are trained in the corporate philosophy as well as the mechanics of satellite television. The training is well thought out and executed, and as it turned out, one of the two trainers was a fellow I have known for several years (and a reader of this blog). I became increasingly uncomfortable sitting through the paid training knowing that should the University offer me a position, I would take it. I was preparing myself to be the best customer service rep I could be, but in my heart I knew it would be just a job. Should the University position come through, I’d be back doing something near and dear to my heart—working much more closely to my own vocation. And still I waited. I was working at last, and drawing a paycheck, but I still felt blocked!

Meanwhile, nothing was working for Kevin either. He had been hired as a driver for a construction company up in Seeley Lake, about 60 miles from home, but the stress of driving heavy equipment on narrow mountain roads caused his Crohn’s Disease to flare up, and he had to let the job go. He continued working toward getting his phone business up and running, but even that seemed somehow blocked.

And all the while we watched the national economy collapse. Cold comfort when you can see your home being taken away from you, but at least it wasn’t just us.

But when you find your way blocked, either remove the obstacle or turn around. There has to be some way to move on. And that we have done. As of December 1st, I am a full-time employee of The University of Montana, working with wonderful people in the Defense Critical Language and Culture Program. The house in California has been rented and the first full month rent check is in my bank account. The income streams still are not enough to cover all the monthly expenses, so Kevin and I are finding ways to economize. I feel it’s only a matter of time till his business is profitable, and when that happens, we should be able to breathe again.

I’m back singing with the Missoula Gay Men’s Chorus, and we just had a wonderful Christmas Concert that sold out and left our audience happy—or at least so they told us. The cold weather is only now showing up in Missoula where we still have no snow on the ground and day time highs are in the mid forties. But all that’s supposed to change tonight. The forecast calls for three to five inches of snow with blizzard like conditions by morning and wind chill temperatures of 20 to 30 below zero. The highs forecast for next week are in the single digits and the lows are as low as 15 to 20 below without taking the wind into account.

The pictures accompanying this post are from a trip that Kevin and I tried to take to Coeur d’Alene Idaho toward the end of November. We got up bright and early Saturday morning as we needed to be in Coeur d’Alene by 9:30 and it’s a three-hour drive under good conditions. We hit snow and ice about seventy-five miles west of Missoula, and at one hundred miles west we found ourselves quite literally blocked. The tractor-trailer rig pictured here was being driven by a Russian immigrant living in Seattle and not used to winter mountain driving. Hitting a patch of ice, he braked the cab, but his trailer continued sliding forward, dragging the tractor backwards over the guard rail. Actually, the guard rail was what saved the driver, for his rig hung up on it and did not fall off the slope on the side of the highway.

We were one of the first vehicles to come upon the jack-knifed truck, and Kevin’s police training came in handy. In this canyon, five miles from the Montana/Idaho state line on Interstate 90, no cell phone service was available. Kevin checked on the tractor and driver, then got on his ham radio to summon help. The repeaters back into Montana were not in range, so our call went out to a ham operator in Spokane, Washington. Kevin asked him to call the Washington State Patrol and tell them that there was a problem in Montana. They would patch the call through to the Montana Highway Patrol who would eventually arrive on the scene (one and a half hours later). Because the jack-knifed rig was completely blocking both west-bound lanes of the highway, traffic backed up for several miles. Fortunately, no one was injured in this incident, but the Highway Patrol Woman could not stay with us as an injury accident had occurred just ten miles back from us and she needed to deal with that situation. All told, we sat on the highway for three hours before the wrecking crew was able to clear one lane. One of the snow plows had to back up the east-bound lanes to get beyond our accident so as to plow the snow off the west bound lanes so that traffic could move forward.

Traffic is beginning to back up
(6 miles of backed up traffic before MHP closed the highway)
Taken 11/22/08

We missed our meeting, of course, and as soon as we were able to move on, we took the next exit and returned to Missoula. West bound traffic was blocked for six miles, and would have been hung up even further along had not the Highway Patrol closed the Interstate at the last off-ramp before the accident. We were lucky. As I said, no one was injured in the incident. We missed a meeting, but other people waiting in line were trying to attend games in Spokane, or catch planes out of Spokane, and they made it to neither. What can I say, they were blocked!

1 comment:

hotproof said...

Bryan, I'm a firm believer in that saying "when one door closes, another one opens up." While I read & understand you encountered many blocks, you also documented that you got hired with a job you really wanted (congrats!) and you are renting the house. It took more time than you wanted, but it eventually happened.
I wish you & Kevin all the best. And what I do know about you from your emails & postings, you are very talented & resourceful. Here's to a truly HAPPY new year2009 for everyone.