Fast cars, pretty girls, and enormous piles of cash

In my quest to expand my readership, I've been doing some market research. And by that, I mean I've been listening in on conversations between other guys in the dorm.

As any advertiser will tell you, young males are the most important demographic to appeal to, and judging by my extensive research, their attention can be attracted by three things: Fast cars, pretty girls, and enormous piles of cash. So I've decided that my next few entries will be a three-part series of true stories, and each story will prominently feature one of those things. Here's one teaser from each story: the cash was mine, the girl was tipsy, and the car tops out at about 170mph.

Interested? Good. Bookmark me. ;-)


All about the benjamins

Oh no!

For a few fleeting moments, I stared at the sidewalk, wishing my day was just a bad dream and idly wondering if I might wake up. Then I snapped back to reality: there was $10,000 in cash, coins, and checks fluttering around the parking lot, and if I didn't corner it all and get it safely tucked back into my backpack, I was going to be in big trouble.

True story.

If I ended this post now, I'm sure you could imagine all sorts of cool and unusual reasons I'd have $10,000 in my backpack, and all sorts of ways it could have escaped into the breeze and started dancing around the parking lot. Nonetheless, the truth should be told, so here goes.

One summer not too long ago, I participated in a literature evangelism program (a magabook program, to be exact). If you've met me, you can probably guess that I'm a reaaaaaly lousy salesman; magabooking was one of the most challenging things I've ever done. As you may have discovered, though, God is most visible when you're way in over your head. When it's blindingly obvious that you can't meet the demands of your day in your own strength, living without God is not a temptation. Thus, that summer was one of the high points of my spiritual life.

Back to the backstory. I was a part of a group of about 25 students working together in a single literature evangelism program. We'd go out and work 5 days a week, and between the lot of us, we'd bring back somewhere around $2,000 in cash, checks, and coins every night. The coins were rolled, the cash was counted, and it was all carefully sealed into zippered money bags, to be deposited at a local bank the next morning.

Or at least, that's the way it was supposed to be. And for the most part, that's the way it was, until one week, we packed our bags and moved several hours away from our base church to canvass a different part of the state. A problem arose: there were no branches of our preferred bank near our new location. Unwilling to drive several hours to make daily deposits, the leaders decided to let the deposits accumulate all week and deposit them the next weekend when we went back to our base church.

Here, a second problem manifested itself: we only had one zippered bank bag, and it could only hold about $2,000. Fortunately, we were reasonably resourceful, so we replaced the bank bag with a ziploc baggie. All seemed well, and the week went smoothly. Then came Friday.

As one of the group's accountants, I was assigned the task of driving to the bank and depositing the week's earnings. So I tossed the $10,000 ziploc baggie in my backpack, tossed my backpack in my trunk, started the car, and promptly slammed the transmission into first gear without putting in the clutch. Lurch, grind, sputter.


Dead silence. I tentatively wiggled the shifter. It seemed to be able to move, but it was pretty stiff going into first gear.

Great. I just screwwed up the transmission on Dad's car. That's going to be one seriously expensive repair bill. (The VW dealership said the transmission would have to be replaced, but we never replaced it -- it's still working, and still stiff going into first.)

Since the car seemed to be working more-or-less okay, I went ahead and drove to the bank, parking directly in front of the front doors.

My, it's windy out here today.

I walked around to the trunk and grabbed my backpack. For some odd reason, I decided to remove the baggie and leave the backpack in the car, so I grabbed the baggie and started to pull it out of the backpack.

Hmm... this doesn't look like the top. The money must have shifted. I didn't think I was driving that fast...

Each day, we'd have somewhere around $10 in quarters, plus a few dollars of other assorted change. As I pulled the baggie out of the backpack, roughly $75 in rolled coins settled comfortably onto the ziploc seal.

The sound of an opening ziploc bag is very hard to describe, especially when it's followed by the sound of a large pile of cash hitting the pavement. Suffice it to say it was the sound of my day getting much, much worse.

I started frantically scopping cash off the ground and tossing it haphazardly in the trunk. Unfortunately, the wind was hard at work thwarting my plans. A few twenties had already escaped and were making a run for the other end of the parking lot. I never stopped to look inside the bank, but I'd imagine the tellers were amused at the spectacle outside their front door.

God, I could really use some help right about now...

The wind subsided long enough for me to recapture all the cash I could see out in the parking lot. I had no idea if it was all there, but I scooped it back into the ziploc bag and gingerly carried it inside, dropping it on the counter with a loud clunk. "I'd like to make a deposit."

The teller lady's eyes grew wide. Apparently, 18 year-olds don't often make $10,000 deposits. "Son, you must have one hell of a lemonade stand."

She counted the cash up, and much to my relief, it was all there.


First impressions

"I am but mad north-north-west:  when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw."  ~Shakespeare

Apparently, I am the master of lousy first impressions. I can't count the number of times I've been told "you know, Tyler, when I first met you, you seemed a little [snooty/hoity-toity/odd/neurotic]." Is that an insult, or just an underhanded complement?

Parkinson's law

Parkinson's law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

Heh. If I say "the sky is blue", will they call that Tyler's law? ;-)

(In all fairness, Parkinson did back up his claims with a fair amount of evidence. I wonder if he finished his research on schedule, or if the project dragged out longer than expected.)


Business 1.0

My sister and I started a web design company when we were 16 and 15 years old, respectively. Our entrepreneurial instincts, however, began manifesting themselves quite a bit earlier.

The setting was our semi-rural home in Calhoun, Georgia. Three bedrooms, three acres, three miles from Dad's office. (A wonderful house. But I digress.) Jamie had become dissatisfied with the paltry income she could make by doing chores around the house, so she decided to explore other business opportunities.

Unfortunately, there aren't many income-producing opportunities available for eleven year-old girls. The traditional childhood business, the lemonade stand, was an impossibility because we lived in a fairly rural area. So she did what any eleven year-old child would do: she complained to Dad.

Dad has never passed up an opportunity to teach us financial skills -- on one occasion when I had $40 burning a hole in my pocket, he issued me a one-year $40 note at 17% interest, just to teach me something about bonds. When Jamie complained about her lack of income, he suggested that she start a car-cleaning business.

So she did.

One of the important aspects of starting a new business is developing a corporate identity. Jamie, a shrewd corporate branding strategist even at the young age of eleven, carefully cultivated a corporate image that can be best described as "cute", with elements of "fuzzy-wuzzy" thrown in for good measure. She named her fledgeling business "Teddy's Car Cleaners"; Teddy was one of her stuffed bears. She commandeered the whiteboard near the back door of our house, so all visitors to the house would see that Teddy's Car Cleaners could make their car beary clean (inside and out) for $5 (vans $7), no checks please.

The cutesy corporate branding paid off. Business started to come in -- first as a trickle, then with increasing volume. Of course, Mom and Dad were the first customers, but in short order, a few of their friends became regular customers as well.

Invariably, successful businesses attract competition. In this case, the upstart was Benjamin's Car Cleaners (named after my stuffed bunny. Creative, huh?). In business, competition leads to price wars, and this market was no exception. Benjamin's Car Cleaners started out with an aggressive $4 for inside and outside car cleaning, and a mere $6 for vans.

Of course, there are other ways to compete in business besides by having the lowest prices or the best service. One alternate method is to hire all the key people away from competing firms, depriving them of their talent and manpower. Ever the shrewd CEO, Jamie decided on this strategy. She offered me a job, promising to pay me $5 for every car I washed. I took the job, and she once again had a stranglehold on the market. Teddy's Car Cleaners became a two-person operation; business continued to grow, and the future looked all bright and rosy.

Unfortunately, it was about this time that Jamie got old enough to start doing babysitting jobs. She quickly lost interest in car cleaning, and Teddy's Car Cleaners languished.

Since Teddy's was my sole source of income, I wasn't about to let the management run the business into the ground, but I didn't have very many options to remedy the problem. The board of directors consisted of Jamie and Dad, since I was a mere employee with no equity position in the company. Faced with this dilemma, I chose a bold plan of action, full of intrigue and boardroom drama: I staged an employee buyout, for a grand total of $9. The old CEO, enthralled with her new babysitting jobs, was more than happy to cash out of the business, and I was thrilled to be able to rescue Teddy's from the brink of dissolution.

Of course, shortly after the buyout, the new management also lost interest in the company, and Teddy closed his doors for good. Nonetheless, before its demise, the company turned a sizeable profit, and while the final CEO may not have lived out his days sipping celebratory martinis on Hawaiian beaches, he certainly spent a few minutes sipping celebratory lemonade in the back yard.

Ditty BOP!

Last night, I went to see Nickel Creek in Nashville with Steven et al. This is the third time I've heard about a Nickel Creek concert nearby, and the first time I've been able to scare up some friends who are crazy enough to drive out to Nashville for the show.

Was it ever worth it.

They put on a GREAT show. Go see it if you have the chance. I'm tempted to try to see it again in November.

And the opening act was amazing. They're called the "ditty bops", and they're gloriously eclectic. They'd convinced me to buy a cd by the time they'd played two songs of their set.


Finding myself

Ooo, fun. I was mentioned on Rika's blog! Lookie here:

... white, rich, spoiled, sheltered homeschool kids ...


Testing, 1, 2... is this thing turned on?

Some people enjoy school. Primarily, I think, because of the social aspects. Possibly also because of all the extracurricular opportunities, and maybe even because of the stuff you learn in class.

I'm not too fond of any of that. Don't get me wrong -- it's all ok, but it's not what I really enjoy about school. To me, the best part of school is tests.

Yes, tests. Especially the scantron variety.

I've enjoyed test-taking for as long as I can remember. I got a big kick out of the PSAT, SAT, and ACT in highschool, and did fairly well on them, too.

It's a shame there isn't much of a job market for professional exam-takers.


Follow the money

Love looks forward, hate looks back, anxiety has eyes all over its head. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook

SAU is a little stingy with scholarship money. Take their National Merit scholarship, for example:

  • It's only good for 100% tuition for one year. After that, it's 50% for the next 3 years.

  • You have to maintain a 3.8 gpa to keep it.

At the last university I attended, maintaining a 3.8 gpa would have been a walk in the park; there, an A- counts as a 4.0 on your gpa. Unfortunately, at Southern, an A- counts as a 3.7, so I have to maintain a >A- gpa to retain even a 50% scholarship.

Andrews, in contrast, offers a full 100% tuition scholarship for all four years, and you only have to maintain a 3.25 gpa. (As I understand it, this is pretty much the norm among other colleges -- Southern's policy is rather unusual)

And they have a real winter, too!

And now for something completely unrelated. Go listen to the following songs:

Solitaire - Suzanne Vega
All In All - Lifehouse
Mrs. Robinson - Jake Shimabukuro
Better After All - Jonatha Brooke
Somebody More Like You - Nickel Creek


The rise and fall of Stubby

Most of my childhood was spent in a little house in Calhoun, Georgia, on three and a half acres of wooded property. It doesn't seem so big anymore, but when you're knee high to a grasshopper, three and a half acres of pine trees and poison ivy is a wild frontier waiting to be explored.

There was some disagreement, however, on exactly what should be done with this vast wilderness. In the spirit of great American leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, I thought it should be used to build forts and have water balloon fights, and play cowboys and indians. Jamie, however, was of the opinion that our frontier should be settled. She wanted to clear out the underbrush in a suitably flat section of the woods and build a town. Since Jamie was older and taller, we did things her way. Thus, the frontier town of Stubby* came into existence.

As civilization marched on, it dragged me along with it. I have to admit, Stubby was a fairly sophisticated town. It had a reasonable approximation of an economy (with "real" play money), but despite my best efforts, my plan to corner the real estate market and tear the town down never seemed to succeed. It had a population of anywhere from three to ten citizens, depending on how many friends came over to play that day. It even had a fast food joint, a bank, and a church, with real church services (and one rather memorable double wedding, but that's a whole nother pile of blackmail material we won't go into here).

One of the hallmarks of civilization is gossip; no town is complete without at least one newspaper, so Jamie wrote the first issue of "Stubby News" in pencil, on a couple of sheets of notebook paper. Dad took issue no. 1 to his office and made about ten copies, and the rest is history (or absurdity, depending on your point of view).

Remarkably, Stubby survived for quite a few years. At one point, I was even appointed mayor, but I soon learned that was merely a figurehead position, and it didn't afford any real power. (At that point, Jamie was still taller than me.) But as we grew older, Stubby fell into disrepair, and eventually it was abandoned entirely. Stubby News, however, lived on; it acquired a new name ("Character Contemplations") and continued printing news, games, jokes, surveys, and short pieces authored by its readership.

This was about 1996 or 1997, and the internet was gathering steam. "E-zines" were the cool new thing back then, and somehow, Jamie and I decided it would be fun to turn Character Contemplations (or CC mag) into an ezine. So we sketched, argued, slept, argued, coded, argued, re-coded, and argued 'til we somehow managed to cobble together a template that looked halfway decent in Internet Explorer.** We ponied up the $100 required to register cc-mag.com and opened up our ezine.

Alas, cc-mag.com didn't survive very long. A few issues after launch, we decided we had neither the time nor the inclination to continue publishing. Thus, the saga of Stubby came to an official end.

Somewhere in an old dusty closet belonging to the parents of some of Stubby's citizens, there's a stack of issues of Stubby News. Buried at the bottom of the stack, there's an issue from some time in '93 or '94, in which the front page story is a double wedding among Stubby's citizens. Beneath that, there are probably a few pictures of the event. And I'm sure it's all packed neatly into a plain manilla envelope labeled "leverage".

* Stubby was the name of one of our friends' neighbors' horses. Go figure.

** That site was written using css, with absolute positioning for every element. Yes, every element. I was young and foolish (err... younger and more foolish).


The fake job

Burgerflipping. Lawnmowing. Grocerybagging. Those are "real jobs". I've always looked on them with a mixture of envy and curiosity, because I've never had one.

When I was 15 years old, my sister (who was then 16) and I started a business designing and building web sites. I can't for the life of me recall why we did it. Maybe it was visions of dollar signs dancing in our heads, or the idea that "this will be a great learning experience", or a fit of temporary insanity. I don't know. But at any rate, we decided to go into business together. I've always been a techie, and Jamie's always been a great visual designer, so we figured we'd be a great team.

Alas! We were two teenagers with no experience and no references. So how do you drum up business in a situation like that? By ambushing it, of course. We started searching for web sites of local businesses, and making a list of ones that looked really bad. We finally picked out one particularly hideous one (for a local real estate agency), and set to work on giving it a makeover. After innumerable hours of designing, fiddling, grumbling, arguing, and starting over, we produced a mock up that was... well, at least it was a small improvement over the old site. ;-)

Armed with our mildly improved mockup, we paid a visit to the real estate agent. We explained that we'd stumbled across his website, and noticed it could use some improvement, and offered to fix it and give him our super duper new look for $250.

He bought it. I was amazed!

When all was said and done, I think we made about $2 an hour on that first project. But we had landed a client on our very first attempt, and we were thrilled.

Over the next four years, we worked with dozens more clients. The work was stressful (there were many occasions where I wanted to pull my hair out -- or Jamie's), but our little joint venture opened up all sorts of doors for both of us, and it gave me a chance to see what an awesome sister I have. We stopped officially working together last summer because of time constraints, but Jamie still occasionally does some design work or consulting, and I do contract web programming and system administration work for several other web design firms scattered around the United States.

Last week, though, she got a "real job", working in the writing center at Kennesaw State University. I'm curiously envious.