Starting Over…Making the Decision to try for a better life
By Richard A. Fleetwood – May 2001
Well, I did it. I gave up a career of ten years, working for the government, at over $20 an hour, to uproot my family, move across the country, and start all over in a brand new, tough, economically shaky, sometimes deadly, career. Why, you may ask? Why not, I say. Plenty of reasons, much opportunity, and some great lessons learned on the way.
Originally, this story was going to be about changing from a mailman to a truck driver. Now, its about being a well liked mailman who gave up everything to go to help a friend, who winds up homeless and jobless, thousands of miles from family and friends, having expended most of his retirement savings (over $14,000) to try to start a business and make a life for his family in a wonderful place, and going flat broke. Understand, it is a positive story, but does have its low points. But, such is life. We Will Survive. Oh Yeah….We Will.
After many years of working long, hard hours on the mean streets of a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, a good friend of mine I’d known since junior high school, back in Texas, who had dropped by occasionally over the years to visit the family many times, came to me with an offer I could not refuse. He had spent a few years building a small RV park in Wyoming, and was doing great in the spring and summertime, but wasn’t getting much business in the wintertime ( obviously because of the cold weather conditions). He had located a job picking up RV’s and Campers from factories in California and Washington state, and delivering to dealers across country. He felt it would be a profitable business addition to do so when times were slow at his park. The dispatch office was located halfway across the state in Casper, and they would only hire drivers who lived in state. After doing it for one season, he came and visited last spring and asked me if I would be interested in helping him.
Having worked VERY hard at the post office, in all kinds of weather, dealing with lots of nice folks, and lots of bad folks that presented more than one dangerous situation to me while delivering mail, I had worked my way up the seniority list to a very nice route, and had MANY friends in the post office and the town I worked in. I had to think about it really hard for a few weeks.
I had visited him in Wyoming, along with my older son, in June of 1998, for a couple of weeks, and had left my son there to work at the RV park that summer. While there, we had visited Yellowstone park, the Tetons, Sinks Canyon, and more. It was the most wonderous scenery I had ever seen at the time. Also, having lived in the south ( Texas and Alabama ) all my life, I was ready for some cooler weather for a change.
My friend asked me in May of 2000. My wife and I discussed it for weeks, looking at every possible thing, trying to figure out exactly what we would do, what would be affected, how we would move, where we would live, what we had to do before the more, during the move, and after the move, and much more. My 3 children were informed from the beginning of the possible move, and we thought deeply and prayed about it much. Finally, in mid summer, after trying to look at every possible thing that needed to be done, I decided to make the move. It was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made, but one so full of opportunity in so many areas that I would have kicked myself forever if I had not given it a chance. I saw this move as a chance to accomplish several things….
— Help a friend out of a tough situation in a way I considered very honorable and worth the effort, no matter what happened
— Take my family to the beautiful west, seeing incredible sites, breathing clean air, and getting away from the terror we had suffered with numerous tornadoes and hurricanes
— Get to see this nation coast to coast, border to border, in the new job driving cross country, both lifelong dreams
— Give me a whole new view on life, being able to see it and all things new in entirely new perspectives and viewpoints
— Give me aching knees a break from a ten mile march everyday on my mail route
— other various and small reasons, but still all positively supporting the move.
I informed my friend, and his wife, that yes, we would make the change. I started going thru my vast book collections and other things deciding what was going and what I was going to get rid of….and my family also began the process of gleaning the things that would move and the things that would not. Since we were going to move ourselves, we had a very limited budget and amount of things that would go with us. I think we probably got rid of 2/3 of all we had, including furniture, beds, electronics, books, appliances, lawn equipment, and more. I even sold my little Toyota Celica I loved to drive…really cheap.
In mid-August, I gave official notice to the post office I was leaving, and made several trips to the flea market on weekends, and yard sales the last few weeks, and on September 15th, my last day at the post office, got a great going away party at the post office.
I flew out the next morning from Atlanta to Phoenix, then on to Salt Lake City, where my friend picked me up on the way from Wyoming to the L.A. area to pick up our first load of the season. Three weeks later, I would be back home, to begin loading the trailer, and the family, to move west. You can read about the “Move From Hell” on the homepage, and about the next 8 months of my life, on the road, which in another story you’ll find on the homepage, titled “Driving My Life Away”. This past week, the odyssey ended…very badly.
During the months on the road, the 2000 Dodge Ram 1 ton Diesel 4 x 4 Dually pickup truck, used to pull a 44 foot flatbed trailer which we carried the campers and RVs with, suffered a series breakdowns, ALL of them out of warranty (past the 100,000 mile factory warranty, that is). Thousands of dollars in repairs, days (2 to 3 at a time) spent in motels waiting for parts, or repair at dealerships, and even sometimes sitting for a few days (my last backload..Gary, Indiana T/A Truckstop), waiting for a backload after delivering to a dealer on the east coast, to cover fuel back to the west coast…well, it all added up to negative income, and fuel and repairs far outwaying the income I was SUPPOSED to be making.
Also, during the time I was on the road, my family was staying at the park, helping out with things such as bookkeeping (Annie), cleaning walkways and drives (the boys), helping in the office and answering phones (Laurie), and various other duties. Did I mention I had also taken over payments of the truck to help them out, at $1000 a month with payment and insurance? The cashflow problems took over and my friend’s wife’s stress level blew up, and tensions rose and problems increased and lack of communications began to erode all relationships, business and otherwise.
My last month on the road, I even completely redid their website for them, adding many new features such as online reservations, interactive direction finding to their park from anywhere in the U.S., and more…and was never paid. Neither were my wife or kids for their work, understanding cashflow was the reason. We even used part of my retirement to purchase from them a 40 foot flat nose schoolbus, which I was going to convert into an RV, having made a living doing conversions in college and afterwards for a while, paying them the $1200 they had in it, and making payments towards the remaining $800.
My last load was from L.A. to Denver, and the truck broke again, with the fan clutch going out and the charging system going out, for a second time. It was overheating bigtime, all the way from Mojave, up the mountain passes thru Nevada, Utah, the entire state of Wyoming across I-80, and down to Denver. I couldn’t go up I-70 straight to Denver because the extremely high passes (3 over 11,000 feet) and steep grades just weren’t worth attempting with a truck already suffering overheating problems, and a 26,000 pound load, with a 6 cylinder diesel, 24 valve pickup truck. I deviated home to Lander, to get the fan clutch replaced, and got home around 5pm, after calling ahead a couple hours earlier to have Annie find a clutch and pick it up so I could fix it when I got home, and head out the next morning. Unfortunately, no one nearby (mid state Wyoming) had one, so I couldn’t do anything about it. A few hours later, another big blow up occurred, the worst one yet.
My oldest son did something stupid, and it was the last straw for “friend’s wife”. At 10:45pm, we were told to get out of the house in 20 minutes or the police would be called. I begged, pleaded, groveled for understanding and to try to solve yet another disagreement between my family and her, but to no avail. We got some pillows and blankets, and with no place to go, and only a few bucks in my pocket, we slept in the car that night. I have never been so upset in my life at an individual as I was with her. Everything we had was in her house, or stored on the unconverted school bus. The truck, and the load, were still in the park, waiting to be delivered. The next day we got a small motel room in town, and left my family there, and went to get the truck to make the delivery in Denver, and then return to Casper to return the trailer to the company I had been hauling for, and then to Lander, to return the truck to them back at the park.
For the 1st couple of days I was in shock and disbelief…my family and I were now jobless, homeless, and stone broke. The check I was to get that day after getting kicked out was $1000 short, due to funds being kept back after my “friend” made a call and feared I would do something to the load and/or trailer (for God’s sake, I have NEVER destroyed the property of another, and this truly angered me that he would try to cover his own rear by raising unneccessary concern over someone else). I had $500 to my name, and used most of that to pay for a month at the motel. 26 years of friendship evaporated in that instant. A seething anger that has been slow to abate blurred my vision and ability to see clearly what I needed to do immediately, which was try to find a job to feed a family of 5 in a small, 7000 person town/village with no industrial or large companies.
A few days later, we went back to the park, my friend still on the road, the wife staying away from us, like a cat stalking its prey, as we cleaned out the bed room and office of all that we had left that we owned. We stored everything on the school bus, and late that afternoon, my friend arrived home, after delivering his last load of the season. He was home for more than 45 minutes before he came to where we were, and his first words were that MY family was to blame for everything that went wrong, and that MY family had abused his wife. He never mentioned anything about the fact that HIS wife had been verbally and psychologically abusing every member of my family while I was on the road, or all the calls I got that complained from EVERY direction about crap going on in the park with people NOT dealing with problems and things getting progressively worse. In other words…the whole entrepreneurial experience had turned into the most surreal nightmare ANYONE could imagine.
The final nail in the coffin for this friendship was trying to drive the bus off the property to park it at the mini storage place where we had a unit. It took me 5 minutes to get the bus running smoothly, and turned around in a very tiny space. As I started to pull forward, my “friend” stepped in the way, not moving. I stopped 30 feet away, only moving at 2 miles an hour, and killed the engine, and proceeded to truly loose my temper, which I’m not proud of. As I asked him why he would not let me take the bus we had paid THEM for and made several payments to the company THEY had bought it from, THREE sheriff’s cars drove up. Seems his “wife” of a few years, ten years his senior, had decided to take matters into her own hands to maintain her precious control over everything.
The deputies, all 3, got both sides of the story, mine from beginning to end, his for the last few weeks. They understood ALL I had left was on that bus, and they considered the situation a “civil” matter. What made it even worse was that my now former friend was a former military policeman, former sheriffs deputy, and more. He had the upper hand on me. The deputies told me they would not stop me from taking the bus off the property, but since it was not yet licensed, I would be cited for that fact. I was up against the wall, yet again. I had put a padlock and hasp on the bus door a few days before, and told the deputies I would leave the bus there for the time being, until I could get the tags for it. They inspected the lock, noting it was brand new and in good condition, telling me I would have legal action against them if these “friends” tried to do anything with the bus, or its contents.
We then left, going back to the motel. If things could have gotten worse, up to this point, I would have NEVER suspected it would come to this. 2 days later, while out looking for employment, gathering applications, and spending some time at the employment center in town, I went to the Fremont County courthouse and found out the bad, and worse, news about the bus. To get the bus tagged, we had to provide proof of insurance coverage on it. In a couple hours of calling, not one insurance rep was found that would insure a non-converted, non schoolbus, used schoolbus. They would cover one IF it was converted by a certified converter such as local RV dealers, but not me. The RV dealer where the bus was purchased, would NOT convert the contract showing WE were the ones financially responsible for it, even though we had receipts from the “friends” showing payment to THEM for the bus. They had not made any payments for months until we showed up. Our “friends” were being held for the full term and conditions of the sales contract until paid in full, by the dealership.
In other words, we had a bus, but no title, no tags, no insurance, and no way to get it anywhere. We were completely and utterly screwed I felt.
During the last hour or two we were cleaning out the house, loading the stuff on the bus, I found a handwritten document, showing ALL funds we had paid, all funds that we OWED. Paid was over $14,000, including business investments, truck payments, insurance payments, RENT, utilities, and more. Owed amount was over $9,000 more. Owed were funds to cover repairs on THEIR truck now fully in their possession, fuel used in the trucking that had yet to be paid for, and a few other things. NOT covered in the amounts on this one page document, were the website work I did for them ($1000), unpaid labor for my wife for 8 months of work in the park and bookkeeping ($5000), and a couple other minor things.
Well, this brings us up to today, May 4th, 2001. A winter storm is moving in. Heavy snow south of here. Kids doing great in school, including my 18 year old, homeschooled daughter earning her GED diploma while taking 3 non-credit classes at the high school, my youngest excited to be about to start the baseball season, and my other son getting ready for prom this weekend. I heard from the local postmaster that the next town east, Riverton, is about to start hiring some more letter carriers, and I might have a good chance to get reinstated, and with my glowing letter of recommendation from my former postmaster in Alabama, things look a little brighter than last week. I applied yesterday at the local college for the open position of webmaster, but don’t have the required degree, and hope my experience the past several years, including a computer operations manager job before the post office will give me a shot at the job.
During the time I wasn’t out looking for jobs or storing my stuff or helping my kids, I’ve been working on this website. It has helped me to bring myself to a much better place, and to me has been great therapy to sooth my soul, and feel better about letting myself getting into this situation in the first place. This website update brings incredible sources online to all my friends, and the world in general. I hope going thru this will help many other people to avoid getting down and out this bad, ever.
The moral of the story?
Never, ever, ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever work for or go into business for a friend. This is the second, and last, time this will EVER happen to this good old boy.
Wish me luck, and send any prayers you can, and keep looking up….with every down, there is always an upside, and vice-versa. Your friend, now in Wyoming…
Founder – SurvivalRing