One Man’s Roofing is Another Man’s…

16 09 2009

Every so often, I have some minor epiphany that makes me understand my dad a little more.

My dad had two main jobs that I can remember while I was growing up. He was either working in the ministry in various capacities (pastor, youth pastor, etc) or he was roofing houses.

Of the two jobs, working in the ministry is what I would say he was passionate about. It’s what he went to school for; it’s the area in which he’s most obviously gifted. But it can be a complicated way to make a living. My dad’s not the kind of guy who lets something that’s broken stay broken just to maintain the status quo. He shakes it up, he fixes it, even if the fixing is going to be a painful process. It’s one of the things I admire most about my dad, but it’s also something that’s not always met with warm, cooperative support. And for that reason, a second source of income was often necessary.

My dad was also skilled in the trade of roofing, as are others in his family. It was often my dad’s fallback for supporting his wife and children. Even today, I’m betting that somewhere in Colorado, my dad is working on a roof somewhere.

He used to take me along when I was a kid. I loved being around my dad, and I loved the idea of working with my dad. But I’m not going to lie, I hated roofing and I still hate it. It’s brutal. I can’t imagine anything worse than a tear-off on a hot day. The fiberglass splinters from the shingles, the smell of sticky tar, the sore muscles from trying to balance on an incline all day. The parts that I enjoyed had nothing to do with roofing — it was talking with my dad, listening to talk radio together, eating lunch together, and the satisfaction of having accomplished something at the end of the day. But the actual work of roofing sucks.

I think that I made a conscious effort to try to do my roofing work without absorbing any of the skill or knowledge associated with it. I decided somewhere along the way that I did NOT want to know how to roof houses, because I didn’t even want it to be an option for me to fall back on roofing when I reached adulthood.

During my sophomore year of high school, my school decided to offer a course called “Internet.” In this course, the teacher and the students learned alongside each other just what exactly this thing called the internet, rapidly growing in popularity, was all about. I got the school library to purchase a few books that would teach me how to build websites. Back then, it was strictly a manual endeavor — websites were built by making graphics in Adobe Photoshop and coding pages manually in Windows Notepad. I built my school’s first website, and we were one of the first schools in the entire state to have a website.

I started putting that knowledge to work shortly after high school. I continued learning and continued building. Several of my jobs have at least involved, if not centered around, web design. I’ve done numerous websites as a contractor, and still continue to do so.

So this week, when I started to take a hard look at the financials for my cafe and realized that it’s not making the money it needs to be making, I realized that I once again need to get proactive about doing something additional to make sure that the bills are paid. My mind, of course, immediately turned toward securing more website work.

And that’s when it hit me: in my determination to avoid becoming a roofer like my dad, I actually did exactly the same thing as my dad.

His roofing is my website development.

Because the funny thing is, web design isn’t something that I love, but it’s something that I know how to do, it’s something that makes decent money, it’s something that I’m good at, and it’s something that I don’t really mind even if I don’t love it. And at the end of the day, my biggest concern is strictly on making sure that I’m bringing in the resources necessary to take care of my wife and children. And building websites is a way for me to do that when my other endeavors aren’t able to.

It got me thinking about my dad and how hard he worked to provide for his family. He made his fair share of mistakes as a father, and I think he’d be the first to tell you that. But I never had a dad who sat around doing nothing while his family went in need of provision.

It all seems like a pretty obvious lesson, but it still felt like a significant realization to me. In a perfect world, I think we’d all be doing something for a living that we enjoyed and that reflected our natural talents and abilities. But in the real world, when you have a family to support, supporting them is really the most important thing.

I get it now — I get why my dad spent so much of his life doing something other than what I always perceived to be his “true calling.” He knew that he had a responsibility and a commitment to his wife and his children, and if roofing houses was the way he best knew how to fulfill that, then that was what he was going to do.

And so it’s with my dad in mind that I set out to start rounding up some more work today.

My family deserves nothing less.





Dirk’s Shitweed

31 08 2009

Some of you who read my blog won’t find this funny at all, and I apologize in advance. I, on the other hand, thought it was hilarious.

Dirk, one of my employees, just came into work after having the whole weekend off. I asked him how his weekend went. “Pretty good,” he said. “I smoked some Shitweed.”

I laughed like I understood so as not to appear ignorant, but then my curiosity got the better of me.

“What’s Shitweed?” I asked.

He answered, “The kind of weed where after you smoke it, you don’t wanna do SHIT.”

Lol.





Barcelona – Please Don’t Go (With Drums)

18 08 2009

I recently fell in love with a song called “Please Don’t Go” by Barcelona. The song is gorgeous and recently gained a good amount of added exposure when it was featured in a YouTube video of the Kuroshio Sea exhibit in Okinawa, the second-largest indoor aquarium in the world.

Even though the song is excellent in its original form, and I highly recommend purchasing the album (as I did), I kept finding myself trying to drum along to the song in my head. I finally decided that I had to record a drum track and then remaster the original with my track added. So I did.

As an introduction to the song, here’s the Kuroshio Sea video so you can hear the original version. (The video is well worth watching in its 5-minute entirety, both for the beautiful song and the beautiful footage. Whale sharks, can you even imagine? What an incredible exhibit. I will visit this someday.)

And then there’s my version with the drum track added. A few quick notes on this version:

  • First, I was aiming for a very ethereal drum track that would complement, rather than detract from, the dreamlike feel of the original version of the song, hence all the washy reverb. I realized there was a chance it would sound a little big-hair with that much reverb, but the cleaner, unprocessed recording just sounded like it was trying to compete with the piano. The verbier one blended into the strings much more nicely.
  • Second, I would like to point out that I am very humbly submitting this version of the song to the blogosphere, realizing full well that the original song was very well crafted without needing any interference on my part. I can just picture the members of Barcelona hearing this version and saying, “Oh man, what on earth did this guy do to our song?”
  • Third, I will be the first to admit that Rhett Sloanlake, the band’s drummer, could have laid down drums for this track much better than I did. I’m no professional; I’m just some guy with a coffeeshop in the middle of nowhere. In the unlikely event that anyone ever notices or hears this version, please know that it is being offered with much respect and out of love for the original song itself. This is the version I heard in my head every time I listened to the original, and thus decided I needed to actualize.

So, without further ado, here it is:

Barcelona – Please Don’t Go (With Drums)

http://tinyurl.com/r5yac6

And finally, here’s a link to the downloadable file of my remastered version with the drum track added. I have a request to make, however. If you intend to download this version, please, PLEASE support the original recording artist by FIRST buying the original track. It can be purchased for just 99 cents on iTunes (http://bit.ly/1zAVu) or ZunePass. Even better, buy the whole album (like I did), which is well worth owning.

Download Link: http://tinyurl.com/r5yac6

If you’re interested in more of my music (trust me, it’s nothing to get excited over), you can find me on MySpace at: http://www.myspace.com/robertedwinmusic

You can find Barcelona on MySpace at: http://www.myspace.com/barcelona
Barcelona’s official website is at: http://www.wearebarcelona.com
Buy the original version of Barcelona’s “Please Don’t Go” on iTunes: http://bit.ly/1zAVu





Manager vs Employee

16 07 2009

I have the best employees in the world. They are each my favorite for different reasons.

One of them is named Kiera. Honestly, you have to see Kiera to understand Kiera, but I’ll do my best to describe.

Her hair is electric pink. She has a few tattoos. She has a nose ring — not the stud in the nostril, but the ring in the middle — three lip studs, and a few other random piercings. Her wardrobe… well, let’s just say you won’t find most of her clothes in a catalog or a department store. One of her accessories is a purse that she sewed out of Capri Sun juice packs.

The very moment Kiera asked for an application, I decided on the spot that I wanted her to come work here. I didn’t tell her that; she filled out the application and interviewed just like anyone else. But, as I had suspected, she has a personality and sense of humor that just… well, it just all belongs here. I knew she would bring a unique piece to this puzzle that no one else would, and I hope we get to enjoy having her here at the cafe for a long time.

She used to waitress at Denny’s. A secret shopper complained about her appearance and she got the boot. I guess some people make negative assumptions about people with piercings, which is ironic because she probably has the best personal hygiene of anyone who works here. And she makes the most beautiful Chef Salad you have ever seen in your life. Plus, as Grandad Turpen observed, the hot pink hair would make it so much easier to see before you took a bite if you ever had a hair in your food (which hasn’t ever happened, so far as I know).

When she interviewed, she offered to tone down her look and take out the piercings during work. I told her just to be herself. If I hired her, it was because I wanted to hire her and not some other version of who I thought she should be. I knew I was running the risk of alienating the occasional customer who might be put off by her appearance, but I also suspected that for every person who might be turned off, there would be ten other people who would come back because they’re fascinated by the interesting-looking person at the coffee shop.

Kiera’s been here about a month now. She’s got most of her job down, with the exception of knowing how to make some of our less-frequently-ordered drinks.

Tonight, Kiera and I had a Manager versus Employee moment. My employees know that if there are no customers waiting and absolutely everything is done on their list, they can read, surf the web, whatever, until there’s something to do. But if someone comes up to the counter and my employees don’t realize it, I throw a small fit.

So tonight, there’s a customer waiting at the counter for maybe the third time while Kiera’s messing around on MySpace. I lean over and say, “Kiera, you know I love having you work here, right?” She nods. And I say, “So go WORK here!” She got it.

Maybe two minutes later, she comes over to where I’m talking to some of our regular customers. She demands, with far too much satisfaction, “Rob, I know you like visiting with the customers, but since you’re my manager, why don’t you come teach me how to make an iced chai!”

I laughed pretty hard. Chalk one up for Kiera.





Cafe as Creative Expression

25 06 2009

So for those of you who don’t already know (and if you’re my friend on Facebook, your not knowing is sort of unthinkable), about a month ago I became the co-owner of the cyber cafe in Gallup where I had gone to work about two months prior.

As I have expressed on numerous occasions, I absolutely love what I am doing. It is one of the most fun, demanding, rewarding, exhausting, and enjoyable things I have ever tackled in my life.

I want to share a major part of the reason I love it so much.

I’ve worked at restaurants before, and while I’ve enjoyed those jobs, too, being the owner of a place like this provides me with something unique and unexpected, something that has been largely missing from my life the past year since our move to Gallup — an opportunity for creative expression.

I love the way that this place becomes, a little bit more every day, an extension of my own personality.

One example: I stopped turning on the fluorescent lights and opted instead for the softer incandescents. It was a little strange at first because, walking in here from the bright outdoors, it seems a little dark at first. But an odd thing happened with the dramatic change in lighting. Customers started to express that this place “had a great feel.” They started to see it as a refuge from the outside world — a place where they could come in and check their email over a latte, or read a book while sipping a smoothie, or eat a sandwich while getting lost in a video game. They hang out for longer periods of time now. They order more food and drinks. This place becomes a highlight of their day, not just another stop within the daily routine. Even some of the older folk who come in for their morning coffee, the ones who told me they didn’t like the lighting change, are showing up more often instead of less.

I stopped tuning into local, commercial-laden radio. Instead, I bought a Zune pass allowing us unlimited music downloads for a flat monthly fee, and now I build a music playlist for each day that’s always different and never plays the same song twice in the same day. Each of my employees has made his or her own contributions to the music collection, and in that way even the background music reflects our unique tastes and personalities. I love that people can come into my cafe and hear familiar songs but also some of my favorite musicians that probably don’t get much airplay in other eating establishments — musicians like Plumb, Chasing Furies, The Appleseed Cast and The Echoing Green. And every day, there is a musical closing-time regimen that requires the playing of two songs: Closing Time by Semisonic and Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. The day can’t end properly until those songs have played.

I banished most of the pre-made food that was on the menu when I first arrived. Sandwiches and salads are now made fresh to order, and I picked how I want them to look when they’re finished. The presentation is gorgeous. Our sandwiches are the kind that people notice when they’re on someone else’s table and say, “Can I order one of those, too?” I’m planning to add grilled panini sandwiches to the menu within the next few weeks.

I expanded our specialty coffee menu with new Signature Lattés featuring unique flavor combinations. You can go to a handful of other places in town and order a vanilla latté or a café mocha, but this is the only place around where you can order a German Chocolate Latté (Ghirardelli chocolate, caramel, and coconut), a Leprechaun Latté (Irish Cream and Vanilla), a Black Forest Latté (Chocolate, Cherry and Vanilla), a Pink Panther Latté (White Chocolate and Raspberry) or a Funky Monkey Latté (Banana and Coconut).

I think that the way I approach this place as a creative extension of myself is why I get frustrated when I’m not able to do everything as quickly as I want to do it. One example: When I arrived, this was a place where everything is served on a styrofoam plate with plastic utensils. I’ve started to purchase a collection of dishes (not ugly restaurant ones, but trendy black ones) but it will still be a bit before we have enough to start utilizing them. (And there’s more important stuff I need to buy first, like a vehicle.) But disposable dishes just don’t fit into my vision for this place, so they’re on their way out.

I love the way that this place is gradually reflecting my vision for what it has the potential of becoming.

Mostly it makes me wish the rest of the people I love most could come out here (or for the ones who do, come out here more often). That’s probably the part that is the hardest. Even in Colorado, it was never often enough that I could get my family out to experience whatever creative outlet in which I was taking part. When you put yourself out there, you hope that the people who matter most in your life will be able to be a part of that. Only a few of those people live out here.

Right now, I’m looking forward to some promised visits this summer. And who knows? Maybe if this place becomes successful enough, I’ll be able to talk some of them into moving out here!





Presidential Panhandling

16 06 2009

I frequently get email messages from President Barack Obama.

That’s not what bothers me, even though I don’t remember asking to be included in his email distribution list. What bothers me is that most of the time he’s writing to ask for money.

The thing is, he and I aren’t even related. It would be one thing if he were, say, a cousin writing me on a semiweekly basis to ask for money. But we don’t know each other personally and I didn’t elect him. He doesn’t come into my cafe and we don’t hang out on the weekends. What’s more, I’m pretty sure he ran a campaign promising lots of extra money for low-income families (mine is one) and also for owners of small businesses (I have one).

So why the hell is he constantly begging me for money?

It started last year when he was asking for campaign money to defeat the nefarious John McCain. Every day or two, either he or David Plouffe, his campaign manager, would ask me for five or ten bucks. The requests were innocuous enough and usually went something like this:

From the very beginning, this campaign has been in your hands. Now more than ever, we’re counting on you to see it through. Watch the video Joe and I recorded and make a donation of $5 or more now. – Barack

As election day grew closer, they would promise an entry into a sweepstakes, of sorts, if I made a donation. An email from Barack’s CFO, Marianne Markowitz, read:

If you give today — any amount — you could be one of 5 first-time donors who will have a front row seat for the big Election Night event in Chicago with Barack. Make a donation of $5 or more right now!

When he won the election, I figured the emails would quit. But it turned out he needed help paying off the credit cards the Dems maxed out to hold their record-spending Democratic National Convention in my hometown of Denver. And when that happened, he didn’t want five or ten bucks. Now he wanted thirty. I got an email from David Plouffe shortly after Election Day that said:

They took out substantial loans to make it happen. The DNC didn’t hold back, and now, neither can we. We’re relying on grassroots supporters like you to come through for this movement once again. We’ll get to work transforming this country. But first, we need to take care of the DNC. Please make a donation of $30 or more today.

It didn’t sit too well with me that the amount for which Mr. Obama and Company were asking had gone up sharply, nor did I like the reason. Why wouldn’t they raise their money ahead of time and spend what they had? Do elections now go to the person who can not only raise the most money, but also borrow the most money?

Shortly before Christmas, they shifted tactics and tried to sell me Obama­™ merchandise to use for Christmas presents. The email read:

It’s been just over a month since Election Day, and we’re getting ready to change America. We can’t do it alone, and we can’t do it in a single day.  But thanks to supporters like you, change is coming. Make a donation of $35 and get a limited edition, full-color calendar featuring photos of President-elect Obama and his family from the campaign trail.

At least this time they were hawking something and not just begging for cash. But the fact that he was selling photos of himself was a little egotistical, and something just sounded funny about the whole idea. What would we say if other world leaders like Ahmedinijad, or Queen Elizabeth, or Kim Jong Il, started little home businesses selling photos of themselves? It just doesn’t seem quite right for the leader of a country. And alarmingly, we seemed to have set a new threshold of $35 per request now.

Well, I thought, surely after the inauguration is over, the president will be able to quit the virtual panhandling and get down to the business of “fixing” all the things he said were wrong with the country. Right?

Right. Well, until May. About a month ago, David Plouffe started hitting me up to donate to the president again. He was back to only asking for five bucks again, but this time they needed to buy some new advertising.

We knew healthcare reform would face fierce opposition — and it’s begun. As we speak, the same people behind the notorious “swiftboat” ads of 2004 are already pumping millions of dollars into deceptive television ads. Their plan is simple: torpedo healthcare reform before it sees the light of day by scaring the public and distorting the President’s approach. Please donate $5 or more by midnight Sunday to fight back against these phony attacks and take our message of reform to the American people.

I didn’t at all like the precedent being set here. Now, each time the public’s opinion needs to be shaped by advertising (or in this case, counter-advertising) we should all step up and throw some more cash into the kitty?

And worst of all, I still don’t see anything improving. I still have friends losing their jobs or unable to find work. I don’t see the stock market rebounding. Prices are still high at the gas pump. My gay friends are still upset that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell hasn’t been repealed. Nothing I can see has been done to provide realistic, better-than-abortion alternatives to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Mostly I see people all across the political spectrum still waiting for something to happen.

How long will we wait?

And all the while, I keep getting begged for money by the man who assured us he would fix everything.

It’s ironic that the same operative word is still in play here — “change.” Before, the Obama Crew were promising change for America. Every commercial had the word “change” three or four times. Now, I go to my email box and find out that they’re no longer promising change FOR America — they’re asking for change FROM America. Literal change — nickels, quarters and dollars. (As Inigo said in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) 

In the same way that people in the Wal-Mart parking lot constantly ask if I can spare some change, the presidential powerhouse has morphed into some horrible sort of executive panhandling franchise. The only differences between them and the people in the Wal-Mart parking lot are 1) They wear nicer clothes, 2) They ask for larger sums of money, and 3) They don’t really need the money.

Today came the straw that broke the camel’s back. This email was addressed from Barack personally. It read:

Last year, millions of Americans came together for a great purpose. Today, spiraling health care costs are pushing our families and businesses to the brink of ruin, while millions of Americans go without the care they desperately need. Fixing this broken system will be enormously difficult. And just like before, I cannot do it without your support. Will you donate whatever you can afford to support the campaign for real health care reform in 2009?

So let me get this straight, Mr. President. I’m already paying, via my tax dollars, a $400,000 annual salary for you to serve as President of the United States. You’ve gone to my elected officials to ask them to approve a budget of over three trillion dollars for you to do that job.

And that’s not enough? In order to execute your office successfully, you now need me to mail in “whatever I can afford?”

With all due respect, Mr. President, just where the hell do you think that money is going to come from? I work over 90 hours a week to try to support a family of six and run a successful business. I have a nonfunctional vehicle in need of about $4,000 in repairs. I would like to eventually be able to move to a house that has more than one bedroom and one bathroom.

So please pardon me if I express a large amount of personal distaste over the way you constantly email me to beg for money.

Say all you want about George W. Bush and his job performance, which I’m willing to concede was horrible at best, but I can’t help thinking that at least he never sent me an email that sounded like a panhandler’s tragic-plight sales pitch.

So please, Barack (as you like to sign your emails, to make me feel like we’re on a first-name, hey-dude-lend-me-some-cash basis), spare me the hype over the historicness of your presidency and get to work bringing about the change you promised instead of just begging for it.





When the Mayor and the Editor are Feuding

15 06 2009

Only in a small town like Gallup does this happen.

Joe, the editor and publisher of one of the two newspapers here in town, has an ongoing feud with Harry, the mayor. It was recently exascerbated when Joe ran a poll in his paper alleging that nearly 60% of people in town are dissatisfied with the mayor’s job performance.

So when Joe showed up at a recent City Council meeting to make a complaint, he got a little more than he bargained for.

First, some quick background. The other newspaper here in town publishes a list of people who haven’t paid their utility bills. This is hilarious to me; I guess it’s supposed to shame people into paying up since their nosy neighbors will know if they haven’t paid their bills. I can’t imagine a real newspaper in a large town doing something so unbelievably tacky, but out here it just doesn’t seem all that unusual.

So Joe, the publisher of the other newspaper, went to the City Council with a complaint about the Skate Park. His argument was that the park is falling into disrepair and that the city should really assume some responsibility to fix it.

Harry, the mayor, who undoubtedly still has that poll (the scientific validity of which is questionable) in the back of his mind, hopped up and said, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Well, Joe, I noticed in the paper the other day that you’re on the list of people who haven’t paid their utility bills, so maybe if you were responsible enough to pay your bills, the city would have enough money to fix up the Skate Park.”

Ouch.

For an extra level of tact and class, I read this story in the other newspaper, which I’m sure was all too excited to have some dirt to report about their competitor. I’m relaying it here primarily because it’s such a classic example of the way that the bigwigs in this town seem to get along with each other.

It makes me glad I just run a little coffee shop.