Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Life - A New Start

Innocuous Start

A few weeks ago I met a friend who was getting some 35% good snows replaced on his car. He found that with a front wheel drive car the snow tires last about three seasons. With his new rear wheel drive car it seems that two seasons was the limit.

But with some meat left in the treads he offered the tires to me for my new-to-me car (I'll call it the Sentra because that's what it is). The tire size was a touch off (I think 1.8%) and I thought it'd be worth the drive to get the tires. Plus we could catch up a bit.

Picture of the Sentra from the listing where I saw it.

We hung out at the tire place, mainly discussing my Sentra and some of the things I have to take care of with the car right away.

You know, like passing emissions.

And getting snow tires for it.

Ended up that the set of tires had three decent tires and one poor one. This presented a problem as those tires were no longer sold so I couldn't get a replacement tire. Even if I could I didn't want to replace just one tire.

The problem with any tires but snows in particular is when you mix different wear/life tires. Even with all seasons different wear tires aren't ideal, but with snows it's worse. Studless snows have super effective snow/ice rubber compound for about the first half of the tread. The second half is not as grippy. With unevenly worn snows at some point I'd be dealing with one tire (the newest one) having a ton of grip because it still had some of the super grippy snow rubber left. The other three tires would be down to "regular" rubber and not grip as well. That's not great when you consider three sliding tires and one gripping one. The gripping tire would act like a pivot around which the car would spin, like if I was on some ice or some snow.

Spinning is bad.

So although my good friend meant well, I went and bought four new snow tires for the Sentra.

I ended up back at the tire place to have the snows mounted on the gray rims in the picture above. I'd have the place remove the summer tires from those rims and put them on some other set of rims, to be decided still.

And while I was at the tire place my life pretty much changed.

That sounds dramatic, right? Well it is, and it's supposed to be.


The tech doing my tires, Greg, was extremely diligent with his work. He avoided scratching the pristine rims by manually leveraging the beads off the rim. He didn't use the tire machine, he used some big bar and literally pushed the bead off the rim. This was old school hard work.

It took some time but the end result is that the rims remained untouched during that trip.

He inflated the tires to the proper pressure and even torqued the lug nuts properly. He gave me a choice of gray or black valve covers, pointing out that the chrome metal ones that I drove in with would rust/freeze in place over the winter.

He asked if he could take a picture of the engine.

It reminded me of the guys at my shop. Super diligent. Super proud of their work. Happy to help a customer. Going above and beyond.


While Greg was doing this other techs would walk by to get this or that or check out the car. I immediately realized that there was good camaraderie at this shop. The techs were happy, they got along, they joked with one another, it was really pleasant. I thought it must be a great place to work, in a friendly environment, no visible tension, no snapping at one another.

Again, it reminded me of my shop. The techs meshed well and it made for a really good environment. You get happy techs proud of their work and you can't help but have solid work happening in the shop.

Team Leader

When I was inside the waiting area I poked around and looked at tires and such. The whole time I could hear the manager Bryan, at the counter, talking to various customers. He had a soothing voice, very calm, very level. He would be great at poker because he never seemed upset or agitated. Yet when he had a free moment he'd talk with his counterpart (the other service consultant, if you will) and his face would brighten with a huge grin. He, too, seemed very happy.

I heard him work through a number of different scenarios. It was like listening in on a "how to be a tire place manager" video production. He gently deflected any aggressiveness, empathized with his customers, and kept the place calm and peaceful and nice.

l can't say that it reminded me of my shop because I was the boss of my shop and I thought this guy was a thousand times better than me. But I do think that his demeanor, his personality, absolutely helped create the atmosphere in the shop.

The Shop, The Shop, The Shop

I kept thinking of the shop, meaning my old bike shop. I was inexperienced, a bit overwhelmed, and made some very basic business errors.

But what made it bearable was that it was a great place to work. The people there (that I picked) all got along. We were all proud of our work. Even now I know that most of the guys are still fiercely proud of the work they did at the shop. They still have some of the same equipment, they still work on their own bikes. They carry the shop within themselves, even now.

I realized that I wanted to work in such an environment again. A small business kind of place, with a smaller staff, interaction with everyone all the time, and a well picked, "elite team" of people.

In fact, I'd even like working in a tire place. Tires to my cars are sort of like wheels for my bike. As you probably have figured out I'm always thinking of the next set of wheels I want for my bike, or the ideal quiver of wheels. I'm still working on my ideal set of clincher wheels. Incredibly, because I never thought this would ever be the case, I'm happy with my quiver of tubular/race wheels.

Likewise I'm always thinking of what tires I want to put on whatever car next. With car tires it's a bit different because car tires vary so greatly. I'm a big fan of the +0 tire thing, where you go with a bit wider tire on the same rim. On the 350Z I went from a 245/45-18 rear tire to a 315/35-18 size. Same circumference, same rim diameter (so same sidewall height), but a massive 70mm wider contact patch.

With the Sentra the car is badly under-tired, meaning the tires are too narrow. It runs a 215/45-17 tire, which was probably fine for the stock set up, but now, with about the same horsepower as the Z, the 215s are a bit narrow. My thought is to go with a 235/40-17. Same circumference (almost negligible difference) but closer to the 245 width the stock Z had. Braking should improve significantly, traction under acceleration as well, and cornering of course.

So when the summer tires on it wear out, will be an excellent canvas for summer tire experimentation. I have no idea what I'll put on at this point. Summer tires, yes, high performance, yes, but what tire?

Well, here's a hint. Today, tonight, I narrowed down my choices substantially.

Small Business Reality

The reality is that from an employee point of view, smaller businesses have a huge disadvantage compared to larger businesses. Smaller businesses usually don't offer good benefits, they don't have very good retirement plans if they have one at all, and they are usually pretty solidly capped in terms of promotion and growth.

Larger companies usually offer more comprehensive benefits, some kind of 401k plan, and, hopefully, room to grow. But they're large businesses. I didn't want to feel lost, like a cog in the machine.

Small Business Feel in a Large Business

What if I could find a similar kind of atmosphere in a larger company?

Well, to be honest, I'd want to work for them.

I'd been poking around looking for a job since November, after the scramble that we went through after my dad passed. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but I wanted the job to be everything. I wanted to be customer facing. I like helping people and I don't mind the "customer service challenges" that one sees when dealing with the public. I didn't want to deal with IT stuff, meaning like IT support.

I wanted to have room to grow, with some solid career path ahead of me. My mom told me in college that I didn't have to decide what I wanted to do at that moment. I could get a job at 21, work at it for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 41. I could switch careers, work in another career for 20 years, retire, and I'd only be 61. Back then it felt like I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to do.

That was then. This is now.

The problem is that I've used up one career worth of time and I'm halfway through that second career's worth of time. I'm running out of "career time".

As an aside I also wanted to get solid benefits. With the Missus a small business partner, we can't lean on a large employer to subsidize our health care costs. We are paying an enormous amount of money for health insurance. It's enough that it's a matter of concern for us. If I could work for a larger company that offered decent benefits, it would be huge. It would be so huge that I'd consider doing non-customer-facing remote IT support buried in a cubicle for some enormous corporation because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Really, though, I didn't want it to come to that.

After I got the snows mounted on the Sentra I revisited one of the many positions I bookmarked.

"Retail Store Management Trainee"
(If you Google it you'll see it repeated over and over for Bridgestone for Firestone Auto Care locations.)

I thought about it and then, after a bit of pushing myself over the cusp, I applied. It was the first job I applied for since my dad passed, which I didn't realize until I applied. It was also the only job application I submitted.

The next morning I was asked to schedule a phone interview, which I did the following afternoon. The evening of the phone interview I was asked to come in for a face to face interview the following day. I met the area manager, who, of course, asked me why I wanted to work there.

I told him the story about getting the tires installed on the Sentra, how I wanted to be part of a team like that, how eventually I wanted to build a team like that. I wasn't delusional - I knew it might be 5 or 10 years to do that, but that's okay, I was good with that timeline.

The area manager asked me where I had the tires installed. Naturally he knew the place, it is a good shop. Then he surprised me. He knew Bryan personally because, get this, Bryan started at Bridgestone. So did Greg, which I knew because Greg told me with pride that he used to work for Bridgestone/Firestone. With that comment Greg actually got me to consider Bridgestone.

Bridgestone is a huge company so they have solid benefits. The area manager knew that was a selling point for anyone applying with him, and he had all the plan info right there for me to review.

I decided I liked the way everything was going and I accepted the position. I had to pass a background check, a physical, and a drug test. I got word just a few hours ago that I'd cleared the last of those hurdles.

So it's official.

And I'm psyched.


F16F22 said...

Hi Aki, great news! It wasn't clear to me, are you going to be working at the shop where you got the tires?

Aki said...

No, I won't be working at the same place. However they both worked for the guy I'm going to work for. I know I'm venturing into a bit of uncertainty but my goal/thought is to, at some point, recreate that kind of feel where I work. It seems possible with the set up that is in place.

Of course I'm like the pro cyclist talking to the team director. The director will promise the world to get the cyclist to sign up. "Of course we'll get invited to the Tour! We're about to sign a top ProTour guy! He's a friend of one of the sponsors and wants to bring this team to the top! Heck, yeah, you'll be on the Tour team. I see you infiltrating breaks and getting us a ton of TV time. What do you say? I know it's just $200/month but with prize money and stuff you'll do a lot better." And then in the end it's all smoke and mirrors.

But I had a good gut feeling on this so I took a chance.