May 23, 2018
Some of my letters tend to end up like chapters in a memoir, so I apologize in advance for any fluff that might bore you between here and the reason you made my list, but backgrounds are essential to all paintings, so here we go! In 2000, after my freshman year at UT Tyler, my folks gave me the ultimatum, “pay your own rent, or come on home for the summer.” So I accepted a maintenance job for the on-campus apartment complex where I lived. I was so good at masking ketchup and mustard stains whilst huffing Kilz fumes, and cartwheeling condemned box springs down staircases, that management at University Pines hired me on as a Community Assistant (CA) my sophomore year.
The CAs were a small band of student workers who helped run the front office, gave tours to prospective residents and their parents, wrote parking tickets, organized block parties for our assigned buildings, and let locked-out students back into their rooms all in exchange for free rent and 10 hours a week of near-minimum wage. I painted my way through three more summers as a paint crew chief/CA before graduating with a B.S. in Mathematics in 2003.
A B.S. in Mathematics is pretty B.S., or at least lame duck, without a master’s degree, teacher’s certification, or a couple of actuarial exams to supplement it— but I had my fill of school. Networking, along with my student-worker experience helped land my first full-time gig. I don’t know what they were thinking, and I’m sure they ended up wondering, too, but I was hired on as the manager of a fairly new student-housing apartment complex on the campus of Blinn College in Brenham, TX— basically a 2-year prep school for nearby A&M in College Station. With a bump from $8/hour to $25K a year and free rent, I felt relatively high on the hog. I was also a boss, with 10 student workers barely younger than I was, and two assistant managers quite a bit older than me . . . to, you know, boss.
I didn’t have many friends on campus there. The fact that I was a stubborn and inexperienced leader didn’t help. The fact that I was a rigid rule-follower, without much patience for those who weren’t, helped even less. I happened to fill the dirty shoes of a previous manager who hosted beer bashes for her underage student workers the previous year. Her precedent was far from helpful. I was dubbed “The Candle Nazi” after using a large cloth laundry sack to collect every wax cylinder or incense burner I could get my paws on during routine room inspections in the name of fire safety. My car was keyed and soaped. I had to break out of my own apartment once after the door was tied shut with fishing line run from the knob to a nearby handrail.
Then the proverbial bat shit really hit the crazy-fan. I was making the rounds in the complex late one morning when I stumbled upon the remnants of a beer-sloshed party scene on the porch in front of a 4-bedroom unit. I knocked, and a roommate let me in. Through a half-open bedroom door I could see a hairy 30-something year old man-leg sticking out from under the sheets. It was unresponsive to repeated calls for it to remove its torso from the unit in compliance with local creeds regarding co-ed visitation. Just in case he was dead, I stepped in and whisked back the covers.
The grizzly was everything I expected. Snow White, curled up next to him in the buff? A surprise, to say the least. I’m sure that telling her daddy never really crossed her mind in light of the confession that would naturally ensue, but she did tell my boss, the dean of student housing, that her daddy knew some high-voltage lawyers. That put the dean under pressure to kindle enough heat beneath my tail to satisfy the furious young fornicator’s thirst for vengeance.
I didn’t get canned, but was put on probation. The dean made sure the angry princess knew I was one strike from out and swinging at a wild pitch so, of course, the whole complex knew within days. At least half the more than 300 students there probably had their ears perked up and eyes peeled for any slip-up on my part (or chance to fabricate one) that would make them the heroic button-man who put the kibosh on the Candle Nazi. There wasn’t much to work with yet, but I tidied up the resume.
The job posting I found in newspaper classifieds that would put me on the other side of your desk seemed as vague as I was desperate. All I knew was that it was a drafting position and it would be closer to my friends in Tyler. Weeks after applying, I drove to Palestine to take an aptitude test at a staffing company office and still didn’t know the name of the company. After I did well enough to land an interview, it was revealed that I would contend for a position with a division of Nucor Corporation called Vulcraft. Both institutions were foreign to me. On the day of the interview, I distinctly remember you asking me if I knew what a steel joist was. When I said that I didn’t, and you revealed that steel joists were the very product that Vulcraft manufactures, I was pretty sure I would never get an offer.
But you gave me a chance— in truth, that job offer felt like getting airlifted out of a snake pit. That is why I’m writing to say “thank you.” I found my groove at Vulcraft, and it has taken me a lot of places. As you probably remember, less than two years after you opened the door and I joined the Nucor family, I moved to Dallas to join a district sales office team. They needed another hand, and I needed a metro with more marriage material than Grapeland, TX . . . win-win. In 2008 you approached me regarding the Lead role in the Little Rock office after Shumate defected to CMC, and I accepted the challenge. A beautiful Dallasite named Jennifer followed me there shortly after, and we tied the knot. We’re headed for the 10 year mark this October.
I believe you took early retirement out on the bridging line by the time I accepted George’s long-standing invitation to transfer to Vulcraft of New York. I could have gone sooner, but I promised you two years in Little Rock and aimed to keep that promise. Besides, I wanted to go west, not east. I’m not sure how much of the story you know, but I only moved to Upstate because the door was propped open, and a certain gentleman with an interest in keeping me pinned down Rick-rolled my application for transfer to the Upper Left Coast to work for Vulcraft’s little sister, Verco, despite the fulfillment of my two-year commitment.
I didn’t regret the move to Upstate nearly as much as I thought I might. The lesser-known parts of NY are beautiful in the summertime and have a greater redneck population density than Texas. I felt right at home. It was a fun challenge to work on special projects like new MTA offices in Manhattan (the Fulton Street TransitCenter) and to train up a new drafting team in the Boston area office.
When the opportunity to head west rose again in 2012, no one tried to hold me back. In August of that year I made the 4 day drive from Elmira, NY to begin work on the melt shop A-Crew as a chemistry lab tech at Nucor Steel Seattle. Production was a nice change of pace. I’m sure you can relate after your transfer to bridging— in production you get to start fresh every day at shift change rather than live under the perpetual rolling fog of deadlines while grappling with RFIs.
A couple of years of rotating 12-hour shifts turned out to be enough— especially for my wife. We only had every third weekend off at the same time, and that was only if another lab tech wasn’t on vacation. I cross-trained in several disciplines from the roll shop, to refractory, to IT, but we couldn’t find an available opportunity with a schedule and a pay grade that worked for all parties. I reluctantly left Nucor (on good terms, after a month’s notice) to do CAD work for an electrical contractor, drafting as-built BIM models for Seattle high-rises in AutoCAD MEP.
It was a great company, but the worst-managed department I’ve ever experienced. When I got wind of an estimator/project manager spot opening up with Verco, I put my name in the hat. And after just three months of hell, I jumped ship to the tune of a nuclear mic-drop. (I’ll see if I can rustle up the letterbomb that ultimately lead to the drafting department manager’s resignation, and share it when I post this one.) I was grafted right back into the Nucor family at the Verco sales office in Redmond, just across Lake Washington from Seattle . . . which just so happens to be the same office I was gunning for when someone attempted to pin me down in Arkansas years earlier.
In early 2017 I joined the SMG NextGen team as their PMO Technical Analyst. Now I fly from Seattle to Dallas on most Mondays and back home to the PNW most Thursdays, doing QC and process-related support work for the teams that develop and implement new software that will eventually get all of our mills onto the same system.
Since that day in 2004 when you decided to take on a greenhorn who didn’t even know what a steel joist was, I’ve worked in 8 different offices in 5 different states for the company. Thanks again for opening the door to my opportunity of a lifetime 14 years ago. It’s been a heck of a ride!