Friday, April 13, 2012

The Story Of My Self Employment

I used to be self employed. It was 2006 and I'd just moved to Philadelphia. My job wasn't cutting it and I thought I could do better on my own. I looked in the mirror and cut a fresh mohawk.

I rode down to where I was working, and gave the boss my two weeks notice - but I made it clear that I'd rather be finished right then. He wished me luck and we shook hands. I was filled with the warm optimism and freedom of a guy who just quit a job that he didn't like.

I put an ad in the paper that day. "Bicycles Wanted: Get some garage space back and make a little money. Call Chris." It was a success. Within a few days I was taking calls and trying to get descriptions of bicycles over the phone to see if they might be worth the trip. I checked Craigslist and found a basement storage space for $100 per month. I explained my plan to the person renting the space, and it was clear that he just wanted the money. It was a dirty basement, but it had plenty of space. I cleaned it up a little bit and made a respectable mechanic station.

I was an alcoholic. I had a bad unmedicated case of ADHD. But I could fix bicycles pretty darn well.

I made the rent easily. I could pay my bills with little effort. I didn't run my business very well, and it didn't matter much. I made my own hours, didn't work too much, and I owned the summer. I owned the city and I owned the summer. When I needed a little bit of money, I would cruise up to the shop and fix some bicycles. I took some photos, and the next day I would list them on Craigslist. It was a cinch. I even managed to get a wholesale account for parts and supplies. I got a free business licence online in about 5 minutes and that's all it took.

In a sense I was doing well. In spite of myself I was surviving with a modicum of comfort. I wasn't maximizing profits or making good decisions. I was completely inefficient, and still I was fine. When rent was due, I would get a bag of tall Bud Ice cans and go to the workshop. I would get a 40oz Mickey's and ride to the place where I kept my wrenches.

The basement was dirty. I filled it with bicycles. I screwed hooks into the beams overhead and hung dozens of bicycles. I had milk crates full of spare parts. I was reasonably organized, and if I had a major downfall business-wise, it's that I put too much effort into the bicycles and I was too discerning when choosing what I would work on. I had good products at a good price.

The basement was beat up, and the house above me was rented by the room. It was one step above a squat, and the guy who collected the rent used a fake first name and never gave a last. My basement space had a big hole in one wall and it wasn't possible to tell what was on the other side. It looked like a place to stash skeletons, or maybe a forgotten stop on the Underground Railroad. I pissed in tall empty beer cans and tossed them through to the other side. There are one hundred piss-filled cans of Bud Ice at 4908 Cedar Avenue.

Winter came. I got scared that business would shrivel up, and I became worried that I wouldn't be able to sustain my situation. I got a part time job shoveling horse shit at a stable in Fairmount Park. It was a nice job, actually. One day I got a call at work. The house where I had my workshop had changed hands, and the new guy wanted $400 per month. He also wanted my last name, which I told him was something like Jones. I explained that I wasn't keen on quadrupling my rent, and I managed to talk my way around any final decision. I avoided his calls.

Two months later, a new padlock appeared on the door. That woke me up. I went back and told my girlfriend Shelly what was going on. I brought her along in my pickup truck and we parked out front. I kicked in the door and took out all of my tools first. I took the best bicycles and most of the parts. I left the cans of piss and garbage.

I still don't think I'm very good at taking care of myself. Shelly tolerated me for awhile longer after that. She's my boss at the bicycle shop now. There's a bathroom in this one. And medical benefits.

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