Thursday, October 27, 2005

Throwing down with Tim Challies

Tim Challies is one of the preeminent GodBloggers on the planet. He's very well read and a good communicator. I think he's Canadian, which means he holds a God-given right to hold a grudge against Americans for ruining the sport of hockey.

However, Tim has entered into my arena of mundane humor, and I don't want anyone to think I'm going to surrender my monopoly on this blogging niche without a fight.

Tim tells a story about his aggravation with "convenience" stores, paying extra attention to his difficulty to communicate with the new East Indian ownership.

This, of course, is pre-approved comedy because it's one of the longest running gags on television.

Way to take a chance there, Tim.

A couple of things bothered me about this story. Back in 1988 I was one of those annoying, aimless teenage clerks Tim stereotypes. I never had any tattoos. Sure, I may have had a Cracker Jacks rub-on or two, but no permanently inked names of ex-girlfriends or special forces references.

My store was not owned by an East Indian. The franchisee was a guy named Bill, a 54-year-old lottery winner (old-fashioned lottery -- married into money) with an unhealthy obsession with baseball cards and bad stock market picks.

Bill's brother Albert was a sycophant who gambled all his money away in an attempt to impress a Vegas show girl, so Bill hired Albert to "manage" one of his three 7-11's. I worked for Albert and filled in occasionally at Bill's store.

I was a newly minted high school dropout in 1988, which meant I had vast career opportunities: I could work at the secular 7-11 or the Mormon-owned Quick Stop. I could never work at Circle K, which preferred to hire recent parolees and the almost homeless. I received an extra quarter per hour for working the graveyard shift -- their idea of hazard pay, I guess -- so I quickly jumped on the opportunity.

In that era, $6.25 an hour for a full-time job was quite literally enough to buy a small house or a large condo with a reasonable down payment and a little discipline. In Arizona these units were going for between $40K and $80K. Now they're selling for $150K to $200K, but I don't wish to air all of my bitterness here.

I also could've taken some of that money for a health insurance policy, at about $25 a month. Or perhaps I could have had saved up my money and a moved to LA, where I might have actually become a gainfully employed musician. I was a somewhat successful working drummer in Phoenix, which meant I lost less then $5,000 a year in gear and travel expenses.

Instead, I did what any right-minded 19-year-old high school dropout convenience store clerk does: I bought a Trans-Am. 1982, like Knight Rider. Black. 5-speed. With T-tops.

It wasn't so much the $198 monthly payment that would do me in. It was the $190 monthly insurance that would hurt. And then it would be the never-ending need for new tranny mounts, power steering unit, air conditioning unit, forced-injection unit, rebuilt transmission, new interior, new steering column, new T-tops to replace stolen ones, new stereo, new T-tops to replace stolen ones, new stereo, new T-tops to replace stolen ones, new stereo, new T-tops to replace stolen ones, new stereo ...

I think you get the picture. As you can imagine, my parents were so proud.

I lived at home, about a 1/2-mile from where I worked for nearly 18 mos. A bike would've been the healthy choice for a man entering an early adult phase of poor diets and excess weight. It also might have put $10,000 in my pocket for something -- anything -- that could have made my life better. Hair plugs for my protruding forehead would have been a better choice. Tacky, but still a less offensive outlay of my limited income.

Eventually I got tired of working to maintain the car. I had lived the "dream," and was ready for the "good life."

To use a driving metaphor, this is what you might call an "over correction."

Towards the end of my stay at 7-11, I began to have deep philosophical questions about life and the way I was living it. I began to consume that font of spiritual enrichment, talk radio. I began to read books. You know, the good kind -- Christian conspiracy theories.

In a related story and event, I came into a new understanding of God and His purpose for my life. I cut my hair and joined the Republican Party. I finally quit my job at the "convenience" store and joined my father in a truly Christian career, real estate. I sold off my remaining drum gear to help pay off a speeding ticket.

At age 20 I cut off that last vestige of teenage rebellion. I traded in my Trans-Am -- almost quite literally had to push it into the dealership's parking lot because of a failing carburetor. My uncle, a car salesmen, helped me into a new "adult" car, a brand new 1990 Ford Tempo.

Some might suggest this was really my transformation into becoming a square, but it's really not. It was just another phase that I would eventually ditch, as well.

When I think about this era of my life, I recall being most content at 2 a.m. sitting on the side of the building at this 7-11 talking to the paper delivery people. It led me to an introduction to a Christian lay minister who would become the catalyst for my spiritual renewal. We would spend hours each morning talking about the Bible and our faith as he folded papers for his paper route. It was like a daily interactive sermon. This led to the both of us leading his two paper-route companions to Christ. I don't think I've ever had this kind of intense and fulfilling fellowship since then.

Change was abundant after that. I went back and completed the requirements for my high school diploma. I went to college and discovered a love for writing. I found a career in journalism. I became a lay leader in my church.

God has blessed me, and it all began with a brief diversion as a 7-11 clerk. The evidence suggests it was His diversion, whether I, my parents, or the rest of the world approved of it at the time.

Now that was convenient.

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