Posts Tagged work

Long Time No Blog

ImageYes, it has been quite a long time since I posted a new blog item. As I recall, it was back sometime in the spring of this year. The time between then and now has been busy and exhausting in so many ways, as often it is when your life revolves around an island economy based on a summer season. The usual time of slowing down somehow came and went, for better or worse, depending on one’s perspective.

Even before the economy took a turn for the worse, the people with money started tightening their purse strings while summering here on Martha’s Vineyard. The summers of 2006 and 2007 were significantly slower for many businesses than in the heydays of what many refer to as “the Clinton Era” on the island. While many business owners got out while the getting was good, many others “doubled down”, expecting thing to come around in short order; little did they know what was to come.

This past season was the time when many clients I had not seen since the financial crisis started to show up again. Maybe it was a sign of the overall economy slowly recovering or possibly certain individuals just started to feel more comfortable spending a little extra again. For whatever reason, my schedule in the office was as full and as steady as I could endure. I say endure because there are no lunch breaks, days off or any down time to speak of; I have to make hay while the sun shines.

I usually equate my season to running a marathon; it may be long and arduous, but there is a finish line that will be crossed after a set distance. The finish line for most of the seasonal work on the island falls between Labor Day and Columbus Day, depending on the flow of tourist traffic and the business in question. Well, this year the finish line kept moving further down the road. As I write this blog, this is the second full day off since May. All and all, I would say that it was a financially successful season; in other ways it was certainly less so.

After fifteen seasons of chaos, I have begun to wonder how much longer I can sustain the pace. This was the year I truly felt the stress mentally and physically. It should be said that while my line of work tends to be less physically demanding than many of occupations available on the island, as a business owner that had based my personal expenditures such as mortgage, taxes, and insurance on an income of the “better” years of 2004 and 2005 and trying to remain current on all of those financial burdens can wear on one’s body as well as one’s mental state.

So push to the side all personal matters; relationships, health issues, social obligations. There was work that was there for the taking. Never mind the rude people that unceremoniously hung up on my receptionist if I was not available at a moment’s notice, or for late sessions, I had more than I could possibly handle for most of the season. As the season wore on, I found myself not doing any “extra” hours. It felt as if I could not form a free thought other than it was going to end.

Now, after the coaching of Cross Country has ended, the phone in the office has rung with less frequency; the end is nigh. Today I fussed with a car that has not run for six weeks, sifted through a dozen pages of accumulated emails, tried to make it through an hour of physical therapy on my hip, and finally posted a new blog entry. Huzzah!

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On Standby

Living on an island, you have to learn to accept certain aspects of daily life that are just facts. Getting a reservation for your vehicle on the boat going off island, for instance, is not always easy, especially when you wait until the last minute. If you are lucky, standby will be open. Now, standby does not mean you WILL get off the island, it just means there is a CHANCE you will get off the island. The days of “guaranteed standby” are long since gone. If you do get in the standby line, try to be driving a really small car; it will increase your chances of being tucked into an otherwise unusable spot on the freight deck. In any case, if the standby line is long, prepare to spend a while waiting your turn.

Beyond the hassles of the Steamship Authority, it seems there are other aspects unique to island living that are fixtures on Martha’s Vineyard. Ever try to get a return call from a contractor? Yeah, if you do, it is from the boat, leaving the island, not returning for two weeks. Last February I emailed my contractor regarding finishing a punch list, from 2008. He stopped over a week or so later and said, “I should be able to get some guys over here next month…” I bumped into him in December and he said, “I haven’t forgotten about you, we have a job coming up in your neighborhood soon…” When I saw him in January he asked, “Are you going to be around in February…?” Now that it is March, it occurs to me I should have asked him if he meant February of THIS year.

Many times over the past couple of summers, I have had clients ask me if I knew what happened to the smoothie shop across the street, as the door was locked and it was within the shop’s usual hours of operation. I shrugged and said I had not a clue as to what the story was. Perhaps there was some personal emergency once or twice, but half a dozen times in a week, for several weeks “in season” does not bode well for the reputation of the business.

The epidemic of being kept on standby might not be strictly an island curse, but it does seem to be more prevalent here. I might need to call, text, email, and eventually stop by an office or worksite in order to get the attention of certain individuals. Even when there is a verbal agreement, there is no guarantee they will follow through, even when doing so would mean either immediate financial gain or future prospects for financial gain. As a business owner, it is difficult for me to comprehend how that business model could possibly lead to success. If I used a similar practice in my office, I would not have very many clients, let alone a business.

While a few summer visitors sometimes think it quaint that small island shops close on short notice for quirky reasons, to have to deal with such annoyances on a daily basis tends to try one’s patience, if not one’s patronage. When I saw a contractor in the grocery store eighteen months after he was supposed to write up a quote for a landscape project on my property, he apologized and said he could stop by next week. “No need,” I replied, “it was done a year ago.” He stared at me blankly and mentioned needing the work. I needed it, too; so I did it myself. I left him standing there, saying I had a reservation on the next boat. He called after me, complaining he was on standby. “Good luck with that,” I thought to myself.short staff

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The Jenga Schedule

So the season winds down for yet another year on Martha’s Vineyard. The traffic has thinned out; the stores have already begun closing. Islanders start their off season schedules, the one that resembles a life more normal than hectic. During the summer months everyone on island juggles jobs, social and personal affairs, as well as familial commitments while navigating the crowds, the weather, and the little unexpected events that life brings. Often we find ourselves focusing only as far forward as the few hours before us, simply to avoid that fact that our schedules are full of chaos.

Personally, I try to focus on my business schedule during the summer months. I have a few precious weeks to earn what usually amounts to approximately eighty to ninety percent of my annual income. The fact that the majority of my clients often call only a day or so, sometimes a few hours, before they would like to have their appointment does not make my life any easier. While I have been seeing the majority of my seasonal clients for many years, a number of them for more than a decade, they seem incredulous that I cannot accommodate a last minute request in August. While I do my best to fit everyone in, I am unwilling to compromise the work just to make a few dollars more.

The fact that I literally sell time, there are only so many appointments available on any given day. Additionally, the vast majority of my clients schedule their appointment to last an hour. I seldom, if ever, do half hour appointments anymore. When someone wants their appointment to be longer than an hour, I usually end up compromising the schedule for the rest of the day; starting earlier, finishing later, eliminating an open slot for another hour long appointment.

Most islanders have more than one job. I am no different, as I have been coaching two sports at the high school for several years. This adds yet another element of difficulty to an already busy schedule; one sport ends as the summer season begins, one sport begins before the summer season has fully ended. At worst, I work a twelve to fourteen hour day, trying to accommodate the requests and obligations associated with my commitments. Even so, I know of people with longer days; parents that have kids in the mix, business owners that do not have coverage, people working odd hours with several jobs.

When all is said and done, after the tourists have gone home, the businesses have closed, and the island exhales a collective sigh of relief, we can look back and marvel at how we all made it through yet another season. The pages of the appointment books, the reservation books, and receipts will remain as a testament to the schedules that resemble some sort of elaborate puzzle, ready to collapse under the weight of cancellations, non-existent parking spaces, and lines of traffic stuck behind tour buses and mopeds.

Now we that live here year round need only deal with the seasonal boat schedule changes, the weather-induced cancellations, the mechanical difficulties, and the lack of reservations available around the holidays. In comparison, I think I’d rather juggle my in season schedule. At least then I have options.

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End Of An Era

After all of my years working on Martha’s Vineyard, I can count on one hand the number of clients that I can still call my “regulars”, those whom I can anticipate seeing whenever they find their way to the island, since my first season. Today that number decreased by one. Mike Wallace, a Vineyard summer resident for more years than many can remember, died last night. Though the Wallace property was sold last year, it is only now that people will come to the realization that an era has come to and end on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.

I must first say that it is not customary for me to invoke the names of my clients, out of a sense of professionalism. But “Mike”, as he insisted on being called, as opposed to “Mr. Wallace”, had a candid demeanor about him and he was responsible for several generations of his extended family, as well as many of his friends, becoming my clients. Truth be told, I always addressed him as “sir”. While I believe it was also Mike’s way to address many people with whom he spoke, whenever he greeted me with a “good to see you, my friend”, I also believe it was genuine and heartfelt.

While exchanging general pleasantries was usually the extent of our conversation, the usual goings on about town was a topic that often came up. Seasonal residents have an entire winter’s worth of changes to catch up on when they first arrive; new businesses that have opened, old ones that have closed, houses that have sold, etc. For many years Mike would leave my office at the end of my work day and he would say that he had a Sopranos episode to watch with “Bill and Artie”.

Often Mike would walk into the office without an appointment scheduled, asking “would Jason happen to have any time for me today?” I could hear his unmistakable voice in the office every time. I grew up watching “60 Minutes” and he was an American institution. Still, I never had the impression that he had an air of entitlement when dealing with him. It was interesting to watch the reactions of other clients that happened to be in the office when Mike was; they were almost always speechless and star-struck. The rapport Mike and I had was professional, but certainly more familiar than formal.

Of all the “notable” clients I have had over the years, Mike endeared himself to me on more levels than many, if not all, of the other such clients. He had that ability with most people he met, I believe, judging by what I witnessed over the years. I feel that it was his ability to be genuine and frank; no pretense, no hidden agenda. While many clients that I have worked with over the years can barely remember my first name, Mike knew my full name.

One time I was chatting with someone on the sidewalk in front of my office in Vineyard Haven when Mike approached me. He explained that he had left he wallet at the house and needed to pick-up lunch; would I be able to front him some money that he could repay when he came in later that day? Certainly, “how much”, I asked. I ended up fronting him a fin, which he promptly returned later that day, when he came in for a session. The person with whom I had been speaking was left speechless. Priceless.

For the two winters I worked in New York City, commuting back and forth every week, Mike was a client there as well. A chance meeting with his wife Mary on the Upper West Side one day made the city seem more like the Vineyard, if only for a moment. Still, it was always summers on Martha’s Vineyard where the Wallace clan would be able to escape and just relax in true Vineyard style.

Now there seems to be a chapter ending for our little island. The “Possible Dreams Auction” has lost the celebrities that were institutions at the annual summer event. Many of the clients I looked forward to catching up with each season will no longer be returning to Martha’s Vineyard. There have been thousands of clients passing through my office over seasons past; hundreds became regulars for a period of time. A few dozen have remained seasonal clients, returning for ever shorter periods of time as the years pass. In all sincerity, I can say without hesitation, that there will only be one Mike Wallace, and he shall be missed.

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Lather Rinse Repeat

The past few days have been unseasonably warm on Martha’s Vineyard. Track & Field season has begun. All signs point to the beginning of the busy season for my schedule. The mental list of things to do will soon morph into a daily routine that will eventually become a grind sometime in August and continue until the tourists decide it is over. We all have our routines that we follow; morning coffee, time in the gym, reading before bed. Whatever the routine might be, it is always good to consider whether you shape the routine, or the routine shapes you.

Often is the case that we continue to do something a certain way because “that’s just the way it’s done”. The zombie-like movements proceed without much thought or consideration; making coffee, driving to work, folding laundry. Still, why can’t it be done differently for any reason, if not simply to break up the monotony? I admit it, I get so engrossed in the processes of my routine that it can sometimes appear obsessive-compulsive at times, but it works for me; so why would I mess with it?

Among the many sayings that I can think of that would explain why one should always question one’s perspective, I favor “seeing the forest through the trees”. Often it requires us to take a step back from the process in order to see it for what it is; mechanical, uninspired, and tedious. Other times someone outside of the process will bring it to our attention that there seems to be something lacking in our routine; energy, awareness, or passion. Whenever or whatever brings this revelation to light, proper action should be taken, as soon as possible.

The actions taken to revamp one’s routine, whether they are subtle or revolutionary, they should reflect the need and subsequent anticipated reactions to the changes. For personal changes, it might mean just taking a few extra moments to chew your food at mealtime. Professional changes might mean reconsidering your employment situation, but if you are where you want to be, redesigning your business card or website might be enough.

Where all of this is leading should be toward improvement. After all, progress in life is the ultimate goal; professional, personal, or otherwise. So take a minute or two, breathe a little deeper and look around to see where you are, what you are doing, and decide whether a few small adjustments are needed to make things a little more interesting. Life should be more than following the same steps throughout the day, every day.

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The Other Side

Though the winter that is currently concluding has been one of the mildest that I can recallNew Englandever having, the arrival of spring is welcome. The time between mid- February through late March can be some of the leanest and tedious on Martha’s Vineyard. The barren darkness, the empty streets, the closed businesses all seem to call into question one’s decision to remain on island while so many others do not. The time is not unlike some long journey or menial task, trying the patience, if not the sanity of those brave souls that dwell on it all. Still, once it has passed, the experience will be something that you can say builds character, right?

Unfortunately, I cannot say that I managed my time very efficiently over the past 6-8 weeks. Many of the projects I had hoped to complete never even got started. I could blame it on the mild weather that beckoned me to the mild, sunny outdoors or the sporadic business in the office that drew me into working days I had planned to take off, but that would not be the whole truth. No, for some reason I just did not feel like pushing myself to be as motivated as I normally have been. Call it hibernation, melancholy, or just plain laziness I could not get started on anything this winter.

So now the arrival of spring taunts me, as I know I have precious few days that will be my own. Whatever you call it, spring cleaning, turning over a new leaf, or simply using the arrival of the warmer weather as motivation, now is the time to do all that has been put on hold. Looking around to use the energy of the new businesses on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, I should be optimistic for the coming season.

I have never been one to live in the past, so I must believe that the worst of everything is now behind me; I have made it to the other side. Time to slap on some colorful new paint and hope for the best for every business that has made it to the next season. The “Welcome to Cape Cod 2012” sign is up and soon the boat schedule, along with the rates, will be changing for the summer season. I did not shovel snow more than once this winter and I don’t intend on doing it for a good long while.

Every season I see people return from all over, coming to see the island “in season” when they see fit to partake of all we have to offer them in their time of leisure. Many are “snow birds”, leaving for 2-4 months to avoid the “dead of winter”. For all of those individuals that are part-timers onMartha’s Vineyard, you might ask “how was the winter”, but you will only be told that we made it though; we made it to the other side.

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Island Time

What is your time worth? Well I suppose that most of us value our time rather highly. Life usually seems to fly by at such a pace that there never seems to be enough hours in the day. So whether it is time on the clock or family time, few of us would like to have our time taken from us by others; waiting in lines, finding a parking space, driving behind a moped (or two, side by side). The dichotomy of owning a business on Martha’s Vineyard is that there are only so many weeks to make money from tourists that want everything at the same time; dinner reservations, ferry reservations, appointments, rentals. The notion that other vacationers might actually want exactly what they want, when they want it, seldom occurs to them; unbelievable.

When the off season stretches into the doldrums of February and March, many businesses tend to cut back on their hours, if not close out right for a period of time. Still, there are days where every business needs to have posted hours and stick to them, if only to maintain a presence in the community. As a business owner, I understand the concept of regular hours and their importance. What I fail to understand is when people try to schedule outside of those hours, for no real reason other than wanting to do so. From May until late October I have rarely taken a day off since arriving on the island. This past holiday season I had clients calling the office late on Christmas Eve, asking if I were available for an appointment; the message said the office was closed until the 27th.

In the throes of August, the height of the season, I have clients that show up rather tardy for their appointment. The scenarios run the gamut, from apologies to passive aggression; time waits for no one and I run a tight ship. The point being that we all must accept responsibility for our short comings or indiscretions. Clients that call up late to either cancel or reschedule an appointment due to a “conflict” usually understand that they will be held responsible for the missed appointment. A few will try to negotiate; seldom with success.

Years ago I was having dinner with a group of fellow business owners. When cancellations became a topic, one of the proprietors gave an example of how the conversation would go. He simply explained to the responsible party that a reservation at his inn was comparable to a reservation on the ferry, if you show up after your reservation has left the dock, and there is no stand-by, there is no refund; you will be charged. I have used that example and others, as the situation calls for, with little ill will or resentment. Other times, things don’t go so amicably, but it is the give and take of being a business owner.

As the summer season approaches, my fourteenth on Martha’s Vineyard, I tend to turn down the seventh and eighth session of the day; I have come to value a steady pace rather than a mad dash, and my sanity is the better for it. I no longer accept the drama of the client that MUST see me TODAY, even though it is already after 2 PM. They might only be here for a short time in the summer, but I live here year round. This is my home and I value my time here.

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