Living as a Gypsy

I applied for a job with an “adventure company” and found myself in a hotel conference hall with several other applicants.  Joe, the manager, was our interviewer and began the demonstration with a motivational pep talk that rivaled speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr.

This “adventure company” called themselves JLM Promotions and were recruiting people who could easily strike up conversations, wanted the freedom to travel, sought adventure, and were comfortable taking risks.

If the truth in advertising rule applied to recruitment, the demonstrations and ad would loosely translate to: “fly-by-night company seeks people willing to cold call, live out of their vehicles, travel to Mississippi and Arkansas, and potentially get arrested for soliciting.”

In my youth, however, Joe the Manger’s motivational approach had me leaping out of my chair with excitement as he offered me the position of new recruit.  I was instructed to report to in the following morning at 7 a.m.

I met Joe and six other sales people at the hotel breakfast bar. They were mapping out “territories” and talking about their adventures from the previous day.  Joe introduced me to the crew and assigned me to train with Tim.

Tim wore a cowboy hat, jeans with cowboy boots and a rodeo-style shirt with snaps.  He left the top three snaps undone, exposing too much chest hair, particularly for digesting scrambled eggs and toast. He spoke slowly, drew out his vowels and pretended to be from the south.  When Joe introduced us, Tim leaned in, tipped his hat and called me, “ma’am” with an exaggerated southern drawl.

He held his cigarette in between his forefinger and thumb and blew his smoke out of the corner of his mouth.  He bragged that he was the best salesman with the adventure company and told me how much money he made.  When his breakfast check arrived, he handed it to me, winked, and said, “ya’ll take care of that for me, won’tcha ya hon?”

Startled, I looked him in the eye and said “cowboy, did you just call me hon and ask me to pay for your breakfast? He smiled and said, “Thanks darling, you’re a peach.” He sauntered away while I wondered why somebody so rich and supposedly talented needed to be so arrogant.

I paid the breakfast bills and walked out to the parking lot where his blue sports car was parked.  His hatchback was filled with boxes of the bakeware and his Iowa plates confirmed his phony southern accent. He told me to, “hop in and hang on for the ride of my life.”  From the passengers seat I listened to him brag about his charm and uncanny ability to sell his “goods” in less time than the other guys.  He promised we would have plenty of time to soak up the sun.  I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of spending time with Tim soaking up the sun, but thought it best not to burst his enormous ego bubble. On the way to his “territory” he practiced his pitch and told me how the business worked.

The idea was to stop at random businesses and give them the line about an overstocked product and the good deals the company was offering to avoid the cost of shipping the product back to the warehouse.

His pitch went something like this: “Howdy darling.  We had a show down the road and this here bakeware was left over.  Instead of taking the time and expense to ship it back, we’re ‘letting it go’ for only $38 bucks a set. He would only talk to women and feed them garbage lines about their fantastic cooking.  He would flirt and flaunt and I couldn’t believe this guy thought he was smooth. He would finally reach the point in the talk where he asked, “how many would you like, ma’am?” I wondered to myself if this really worked.

At noon, he had smoked his way through a pack of cigarettes, but hadn’t sold a single set of the over-stocked bakeware from the show down the road. He blamed the town for the lack of sales luck, so we left his original territory and drove an hour to shake it up.  We found ourselves in a smaller town where Tim told me it would be easier to sell “less worldly and less educated” folks.

By nightfall he still hadn’t sold a thing. Agitated by the cigarette smoke, his phony southern accent that disappeared when he smoked, and the constant yammer and bragging, I asked him if I could try my hand at sales.  He mocked me, but pulled into a gas station and handed me the glossy pitch sheet.

I approached the man behind the counter and had a brief conversation about the gas station business. I modified Tim’s pitch and showed him the glossy sheet.   I told him about Tim and the dilemma I had found myself in.   When I went out to the sports car to grab a sample box, Tim was smoking a cigarette and seemed annoyed that I had gotten my foot in the door. I took the box inside, showed the guy the goods and negotiated a price for the bulk.

I went back to the car and unloaded the boxes.  Tim refused to help carry boxes, which only strengthened my case with the buyer. When I had delivered the last set, I asked my new friend if he could throw in a soda and a candy bar because my boss in the sports car was too cheap to buy me lunch or help me carry the boxes.

He glanced at Tim and encouraged me to take whatever I needed.  I returned to the sports car with a Kit Kat and diet mountain dew and handed Tim the check for the goods.  He asked if I had gotten him anything and I said, “yep, I paid for your breakfast and sold all your goods. Take me back to my car.”

When we pulled into the parking lot at the hotel, Tim thought it best we leave the details of the day to him and keep the secrets of the day between us. At breakfast the next morning I listened as Tim described the “guppy” who bought all the goods, giving no credit to the gal who made the sale.  When the other salesmen asked how I liked the gig, I told them I thought I could handle it.

When the waitress delivered the breakfast checks, I pushed mine across the table to Tim and said, “you’ll take care of that for me, won’tcha hon?” I winked and walked out to my car.

I was a member of the “adventure crew” for more than a year and look back fondly on what I learned through my travels.

I’ve learned the United States is beautiful and diverse and affords Americans the luxury of prosperity and freedom half the world may never know.  I’ve learned that people can spot a phony and relate to the authentic.

I’ve learned that the pursuit of money should be secondary to the pursuit of purpose and that life is too short to avoid taking risks and looking for adventure.

Recently, I’ve learned that operating from a place of arrogance or fear is never powerful, but acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude are powerful perspectives.

One thought on “Living as a Gypsy

  1. That was a great story, it mirrors one I had in my early 20′s selling accident insurance, the chain smoking sales manager insisted on going to a farmhouse I told him was vacant, he didn’t listen and we got stuck in the driveway out in rural ND. I only lasted a month.

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