Friday, February 4, 2011

The Last (or Lost) Two Months

As you've probably noticed, there has been a severe lack of updating on the blog these last two months....why you ask? These last two months, ever since arriving in Casa Grande AZ and the tree lot have been frustrating, eye opening and somewhat surreal for the most part. There were times of hopefulness and goodwill such as the night the last week before Christmas when a couple came into the lot and asked how long we were going to be open. They then gave me a $100 bill and asked that the next four families that came in receive a free Christmas tree. This actually made one 6 foot guy shed tears of happiness.  But for the most part we came in touch with so many people who were unemployed, homeless and drug users or former gang members. We tried to help every single one that we met and unfortunately I have to say that we had less than a 50% success rate. We were screamed at, threatened, stole from ($1600 in one instance), and accused of bitching at people when all we we doing was trying to get them to save money for the journey ahead. We even went so far as to recommend two of the guys as possible workers for Bill's is on the road with us now and one just did not have the common sense and guts to break away from the cycle of gang connections and who knows what else.

Would we work and sell Christmas trees again? Probably not as it was six straight weeks of 24/7 which is way too much for the pay. We arrived the Saturday before Thanksgiving and except for taking Bill to the hospital when he was passing a kidney stone we were not able to leave the grounds together until January 1. This combined with the 12 hours a day that the lot is supposed to be open makes for no down time whatsoever. The company had instituted a new policy this year where the workers pay was taken out of the lot managers earnings so Bill especially ended up doing quite a bit of the physical end.....drilling holes in trees, moving them into the tent, carrying them to have a fresh cut, hauling them out to vehicles and then sometimes having to lift them onto the roofs and tie them down. Although these jobs are proported to be good for retirees I really don't see how anyone older would be able to do that! Granted you could have someone on the clock for the entire 12 hours that the lot is open but with the economy and the lack of sales you would walk out making absolutely nothing except having a free place to stay for that time.

This was the first year that fireworks were legal in Arizona and although we had misgivings about the situation, we finally decided to sell fireworks in the same location as the trees for the week between Christmas and New Year's. This too was a learning experience and there would be no way that we would do this again with the same parameters in place. The company called us "independent contractors" but they micromanaged everything and I mean everything. The told us what time to open, what time to close, how much to charge, how to merchandise the items etc. etc. which by IRS definition makes a person an employee. But of course when something went wrong and we had an employee steal $1600 all of a sudden we were on our own and responsible for the missing cash. They wanted the best of both worlds.

This was the time that the situation started getting a bit ugly. I had been helping out a homeless 17 year old and paying him out of our pocket to help around the lot during Christmas trees. I went and bought him clothes and fed him every day. His dad then wanted some work at the lot during fireworks so I tried to help him too. One day he shows up, strung out on coke or meth or who knows what. He proceeds to get in my face that I wasn't having him work enough! After that things went downhill fast as New Year's Eve he sent in a couple of friends who got in our guys' face and there was an altercation in the lot which had a gun being involved....I called the police a total of 5 times during this episode in life which is probably more than I have in my entire life! Bill was having to fly out to New York State on Sunday, January 2 and I just did not feel comfortable being in Casa Grande any more....we felt like it was just a matter of time until someone did something to our rig or to us so we packed up and left on New Year's Day. We only we going as far as Maricopa in order to finish up paperwork and then return the unsold fireworks to the company after I had driven Bill to the airport in Phoenix. On our way out of town the fireworks company called and accused me of grand theft. Huh? How can I be stealing from you when I am an independent contractor and not an employee? The money was not due into the office until Sunday the 2nd so how could I be stealing if it was not yet that date? The company did end of being fair about everything and reimbursed the majority of the stolen $1600 although I do not appreciate such accusations when I am legally right. 

More on the saga next post........

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