Monday, May 28, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 7: The Invisible Woman

No one really notices pizza delivery drivers.  There’s no reason to, I suppose.  During my time as a driver, deliveries were a cold affair.  I knocked on a door, a customer answered, and without so much as a “hi there,” handed me money and took the pizza.  Only the occasional customer penetrated my shell of invisibility.    

I remember one in particular.  He lived in a small bungalow shaded by olive trees and a few oaks.  I delivered to his house several times, and his German Shepherd always greeted me at the door.  I think he liked me because I was never afraid of his dog.  I have a Labrador of my own, and I can spot the difference between friendly, excited energy and lethal hostility.  Taz just wanted to be the first one to sniff the garlic and mozzarella.   

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Maybe Jumping into a Volcano Would Help

When I practiced law, I often fantasized about how I would quit my job. I found it comforting to live vicariously through movie characters, particularly when I felt like I was doing a life sentence in the bowels of hell, aka a small-to-midsize firm. Watching this scene from Joe Versus the Volcano helped quite a bit.  In a nutshell, Joe finds out he’s dying from an obscure disease (a “brain cloud”) and realizes he’s wasted his entire life up to that point. His boss ends up on the business end of Joe’s newfound self-awareness.

If you’re having one of those weeks, I highly recommend watching this. It might make you laugh just enough to get you through a hard time at work. It might even motivate you to polish off your resume and see what else is out there. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 6: F*&# You, Dave Ramsey!

I remember a particularly bleak moment during my pizza delivery career.  It was a Friday night, and I was already exhausted from working night and day all week.  It was pouring rain, it was dark out, and I had no umbrella.  I was to deliver a large pie to a sketchy-looking apartment complex.  When I got there, my heart sank.  There were no visible numbers on any of the buildings and no lighting to speak of. 

One thing that enrages me about the area where we live?  People around here have entitlement issues.  So much so that in the ultra-ritzy areas, there are many homes that are not even numbered and they’re surrounded by fences and moats and gargantuan trees.  Yet, people call up and order takeout with no special instructions as to how that takeout is supposed to appear at their doorstep. 

The flip-side of the entitlement coin is that the rich slumlords who own the apartment complexes don’t believe that their hard-earnedmoney should have to go towards maintaining their properties.  So whenever I had to take an order to someone’s apartment, I knew to expect the unexpected.  No numbers on any of the buildings?  Maybe.  No lighting, and tons of cracks in the sidewalks?  Definitely.  Rickety staircases that threatened to collapse at any moment?  Check. 

And to top it off, even the people who live in these holes have an entitlement attitude.  Their “apartment” might actually be an underground hovel beneath a Jiffy Lube, and yet, they will call in an order and just say, “Yeah, I live at 123 Main Street.”  No clarification whatsoever about how to get their pizza from my car to their front door, which might require me to negotiate the city’s sewer system.

So anyway, there I am, at a run-down, never-ending apartment complex.  Soaking wet, hungry, and cranky, I could not find apartment 9A.  There was an 8, a 9, and a 10, but no 9A.  

I remember standing near the entrance holding a heavy thermal bag and thinking, “Fuck you, Dave Ramsey.  Why the hell did I take a job delivering pizza just cause some radio personality told me debt is bad?   Everyone I know has some kind of debt and none of them are working on a Friday night.”  

Finally, I called the customer and he came outside to meet me.  At that point, I had my suspicions that there was no apartment 9A, and I was either being set up for a mugging or some homeless person used the address to get delivery service.

It turned out neither was the case.  Apartment 9A was in the only place I hadn’t looked, next to the janitor’s closet underneath the stairs.  That’s the other thing I hate about the area where I live – if the houses and apartments are actually numbered, the numbering might not make sense.  Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of numbering to begin with, but I digress.

After I mentally told off Dave Ramsey and completed my delivery, I realized that I hadn’t taken the pizza job because someone on the radio told me to.  I had done it as a test to see if debt had broken my spirit.  The thing about me is that I’m a fighter.  And when I feel beaten down by life, my response is to fight back.  I can’t fight from behind a desk.  I can’t fight using a graduated repayment plan.  I fight physically.  If pizza delivery is anything, it is physical.  There’s lifting, carrying, navigating, running, climbing, and self-defense.  As long as I was doing all of these things, I knew I had lived to fight another day.  Each delivery meant I was closer to paying off my student loans.

The other thing I loved about pizza delivery was that it was a way of taking what I felt was mine.  No one could tell me I wasn’t qualified for the job, and getting it meant instant cash.  I didn’t have to wait around for some reject in human resources to give me a phone screening.  I didn't have to write a disingenuous cover letter.  I just walked in, asked for a job, and got one.  I would pay off my debt on my timeline, not anyone else’s.

So although there were moments when I wanted to strangle Dave Ramsey and give up on the idea of debt freedom, most of the time I simply felt alive.  Law school debt hadn’t beaten me.  I now know where I fall on the toughness scale, ranging from J. Wellington Wimpy to Jake La Motta.  

And if anyone has any doubts, all I have to say is, “Did you fuck my wife?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Any Given Sunday

I just tallied up the total extra income I earned last month from my second job.  A little over $800.  It’s not quite as much as I made delivering pizzas, but it will do.  The nature of my current moonlighting gig is much different than my pizzeria job.  With this new gig, I can mostly work from home and I charge a much higher hourly rate than I earned delivering pizzas.  But I work fewer hours, and I do not have a steady stream of work, so I have to deal more with monthly income fluctuations.  Since I work full-time during the week, I tend to complete the projects for my second job at night and on weekends.

In some ways, it’s harder than delivering pizzas. 

When I delivered pizza, I had a definite schedule, and therefore, I did not need to give myself a pep talk or find the motivation to do my work.  I simply went to work.  Now, I have the option to procrastinate on projects since I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder.  My only responsibility is to get things done by their due dates.  How and when I accomplish this is entirely up to me. 

Now I am sitting here with two projects hanging over my head.  Both are due tomorrow and it will likely take about four hours total to complete them.  If I start now, I can be done while there is still daylight.  But finding the motivation to work on Sunday is kind of like watching PBS NewsHour.  I know it will make me a better person in the end, but I can think of a million better things I’d rather be doing.  

Music tends to motivate me, so what I’ve done is compile a playlist of songs about work.  Some of them (ok, most) have pretty bleak lyrics, but they’re still motivating because they’re catchy, honest, and written about people who probably have it a helluva lot worse than I do.  Here they are, enjoy!

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap by AC/DC (ok this one’s about a different sort of work, but I still like it)


Friday, May 18, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 5: One Drove Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

I previously mentioned that my marriage suffered from neglect during my days as a pizza delivery driver.  We suffered in other ways as well, from one complicating factor: my husband and I only own one car.

When we moved across the country about a year and a half ago, my husband and I decided to sell his car so we would have one less expense to worry about.  We owned a home, so we were going to have to make the mortgage payment on our old place and the rent payment on our new place, so we cut back on as many non-essentials as possible.

A few months after we moved, our home sold and we no longer had the mortgage payment to worry about.  But we decided to hold off on buying a second vehicle for a few reasons.  For starters, we wanted to make extra debt payments (although we had not yet adopted a strategic plan for doing this); we carpooled to work since my office was only a few blocks from his; and gas prices in our area are always high (about $4.50 right now).  So we figured we’d save a little money by sticking with one car as long as we could stand it.  Plus, my husband’s job pays for a free monthly train pass, and we live near a station, so if push comes to shove, he can always take public transportation for free.

When I took the pizza job, we had to get creative to remain a one-car couple.  We decided to still commute together in the morning, and then my husband would take the train home on the nights I had to deliver.  It sounded simple.  

It sure sounded simple.

But then, about a month after I started my moonlighting gig, my husband’s company moved five miles further north.  This meant we could no longer commute easily in the mornings.  Our area is densely populated and traffic is a nightmare, so an extra five miles in the morning would have added an hour onto our morning commute.  Neither one of us wanted that, so my husband found a company shuttle that would take him from our old work neighborhood to his new location.  This meant we had to get to work about a half an hour earlier, so he could still make it to work on time with the extra leg of his commute.  Most days it was doable, but there were a few occasions when he missed the shuttle and I had to lug him all the way to his job and get to my job later.  In a word, it sucked.

Also, as the evening wears on, the trains around here run at longer intervals.  So if he could not catch the 6pm train because he got stuck in a meeting, he would have to wait around another hour to make the next one.  And then he would have to hop on a light rail to our apartment, which was another 15 minutes.

Oh, and did I mention that I took the pizza job just as the rainy season was beginning?  So not only did my husband get stuck on public transportation many evenings, he had to walk from station to station soaking wet.  

Rainy nights also meant more pizza orders, which meant I would get home later than anticipated.  Oftentimes, I would come home to discover that my husband had not eaten anything since lunch because we were out of groceries, and he did not have a car to drive to the grocery store.  

On these nights, rather than waste another half an hour running to the grocery store and back, we would eat a ten-minute dinner using common household staples: scrambled eggs and toast, soup with grilled cheese, or oatmeal (maybe some protein powder sprinkled in it if we had any left).

Being a one-car couple also put a damper on both of our weekends.  I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights delivering pizza, while my husband stayed at home with no car.  Most weekends, he would do housework and make a late dinner for both of us.  (The pizzeria closed at 10pm Sunday through Thursday, and 11pm on Saturdays and Sundays, so sometimes we ate dinner as late as 11:30pm.)

But even though it is extremely inconvenient at times, my husband and I have sort of fallen in love with only having one car.  Life is just simpler and more peaceful with fewer possessions to worry about.  And we figure that since we got through my pizza delivery gig with only one car, we can pretty much get through anything.  We are more efficient with our time now (i.e. we go to the grocery store every week or two rather than every other day) and we spend very little on transportation costs.  Our insurance premium is $150 per month and gas is less than $200 (since I stopped delivering pizza).  Because we no longer have a car payment, the only other costs we incur are oil changes and periodic maintenance.  

Some people think we’re crazy.  Mostly friends who always complain about being broke, but drive high-end cars with high-end payments.  When I told my family that we only drive one car, I think they all got the impression that we’re destitute.  Or cheap.  But many of them have declared bankruptcy, and not one of them has any sort of retirement plan, so what do I care what they think?

What my husband and I have learned from paying off debt is that it doesn’t happen by accident.  It will not happen without a plan.  It is a marathon, not a race, and sometimes we will have to get radical in order to stay on course.  If we sail past the finish line driving one car, that’s OK.  We want to finish together anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lawyers and Anxiety

I was talking with a lawyer friend of mine the other night who wanted some dating advice from me.  A woman on a dating site had messaged him asking my friend to tell her more about himself.  He called me in a panic.

“So tell her about yourself.  What’s the big deal?”

“Well, everything there is to know about me is in my profile.”

“Come on, I’ve seen your profile.  All it says is that you’re a lawyer and you like to watch sports.”

“Yeah, I know, what else is there to tell?”

“Well, what do you think about all day?  What new things do you want to try?  What do you think the meaning of life is?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it.”

“Haven’t you ever read a book that’s completely out of the realm of what you would normally read?  Or listened to some world radio station at random just to see if you like it?”

“Why would I do that?”

I didn’t know how to respond.  On the one hand, I understood where he was coming from because I used to be him.  When I practiced law, I stopped reading books for pleasure altogether.  And as for music, the only kind I liked to listen to was anything that could put me to sleep at night the fastest.  (I had a hard time sleeping back then.) 

And on the other hand, I knew he needed a kick in the ass.  His lack of engagement with his own life is a classic sign of lawyer malaise/burnout.  So I told him I was going to send him an assignment.  I would send him a list of activities he could perform that might bring him enjoyment and teach him a little bit about himself. 

As I wrote the list, I started thinking more about my previous life as an attorney.  The tone in my friend’s voice revealed some universal truths about being a lawyer.  Lawyers are anxious about virtually every transaction that occurs in their lives (hence, my friend’s panic about the woman who messaged him) and lawyers tend to not cultivate their own personalities and lives since they are often so busy sorting out messes others have made with theirs.  This lack of engagement with one’s own life inevitably leads to more anxiety.  I’ll give you some examples from my own experience. 

When I practiced law, I remember procrastinating all the time.  I would put off writing a brief until the last minute because most of the time, the assignment was just so achingly boring that I had a hard time accepting the fact that I actually had to complete it.  A heavy cloud of deadlines constantly loomed over my head as a result, and a large knot took up residence in my stomach.  

I also had a hard time making decisions.  I would get a settlement offer from a prosecutor or from opposing counsel in a civil case, and my mind would run through every possible scenario for how things could turn out based on how I advised my client to proceed.  It paralyzed me because I could not stop running through these scenarios, even after my client made a decision and the matter was settled.  Settlement only provided more scenarios that involved claims of malpractice or regrets about not pushing the client’s luck at trial and possibly getting a better result.

Since I operated inside of an anxiety-ridden world at work, these same anxieties spilled over into my personal life, specifically finances.  I would pay my bills on time, but I had no plan for saving, for paying off my husband’s and my enormous student loan debt, or for saving up an emergency fund that would cover a few months of expenses in the event of an emergency. If I got a bonus at work or we ended up with more money than expected at the end of the month, we used the windfall to pay off our credit card balance, or some other expense would pop up seemingly out of nowhere.    

I got so used to consoling myself with new clothes, magazines, dinners out, even a new car.  I rationalized this behavior with the belief that if I could not enjoy what I did for most of my days, I would at least look good and be well entertained after hours.  I never wanted to budget because the thought of taking stock of my debt would only accentuate the fact that there was no way out of practicing law for the foreseeable future.  Not with student loan payments, car payments, and credit card payments to think about.

And then an amazing thing happened after I quit law.  Not right away, but soon afterward, I found myself feeling a bit more hopeful about my future.  At the end of the workday, I had time to think about what I wanted out of life and to make a plan for how to get there.  In my lawyering days, all I thought about after work was heading for the wine bottle when I walked in the door, or dreading the next morning when I would have to wake up and repeat the same miserable day over and over again.

I wonder to this day if there is a way I could have happily practiced law.  I don’t think there is.  I think if I had continued on the path I was going down, I would have become more and more disengaged with my own existence.  Maybe to the point where I would panic when someone asked me about myself because, like my friend who was emailed by a potential date the other night, I had nothing to say. 

These days, I still suffer from anxiety, but of a different variety.  Now I have many goals I would like to achieve and not enough time to reach them all.  Most of them have nothing to do with work.  I am reading again and enjoying music.  I don’t waste money anymore trying to console myself with material goods that are temporary and can never fill an emotional void.  I am finally dealing with my law school debt, a debt that will soon be a distant memory.  And I am confident that if someone asks me to talk about my life, I will actually have something to say.

Are you an anxiety-ridden attorney?  Do you find yourself disengaged with your life or do you think it's possible to find a good work-life balance while practicing law?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 4: Stereotypes and Tipping

I’m no stranger to the service industry.  In fact, when I decided to get a second job, I knew the only way I would make good money at a night job would be to earn tips.  I knew this because after I graduated high school, I worked various day jobs while going to college, but I always supplemented my income by waitressing at night.  If I made $10 per hour during the day, I knew at night, I could make $15 or more waiting tables. When I decided it was time to get my hustle on again, I thought of pizza delivery because I could earn tips without the inevitable back pain, leg pain, and side work that go with serving gigs.

But there’s an ugly side to working in an industry where workers rely on tips.  I’m talking about stereotyping people based on how some service industry workers believe certain groups of people tip or don’t tip.

I don’t just mean racial stereotyping, although that certainly occurs.  There are all sorts of stereotypes out there about tipping.  Here are just a few that I’ve heard throughout my years in the service industry:

1.   Smokers tip better than non-smokers.
2.   Men tip better than women.
3.   Drinkers tip better than non-drinkers.
4.   Old people tip in change, if at all.
5.   If an attractive woman waits on a (hetero) couple and the female half of the couple grabs the check, that server is not going to be tipped well.
6.   If a customer requests to speak with a server’s manager to tell him or her about what a great job the server is doing, that server is going to get stiffed. (This one is actually true.)
7.   If someone asks a server for a special favor and promises a big tip in the end, that server is going to get stiffed. (This one is true, too.)
8.   Women servers should remove their wedding rings, so men will tip better.
9.   African-Americans don’t tip.
10. Indian people don’t tip.
11. Chinese people don’t tip.
12. Military people don’t tip.
13. Teenagers don’t tip.

In my experience, with the exception of 6 and 7 (I’m still bitter about these, over ten years later), these stereotypes are just that – stereotypes.  They’re not actually true, and the times that they seem true are few and far between.  But they remain nonetheless.  I think it’s because people prefer a predictable world.  It makes us feel safer somehow.  When you wait on a hundred AARP members who tip 20%, and then one leaves you a quarter, you think, “I knew it!  Old people are so cheap.”  It makes you feel armed for what lies ahead.  The next elderly person you wait on can’t possibly hurt you because you know who they are.

I wish I could say I never succumb to the temptation of stereotyping, but during my stint as a pizza delivery driver, I had a couple of bad nights.  Normally, I tried to be above it.  Like when Lou, my favorite driver (the Thai man who spoke kitchen Spanish) tried to engage me in a lesson on the realities of our industry.

Lou:  “Oh no, look at you next ticket.”
Me:  “What are you talking about?”
Lou:  “Look at the name.  Gupta.”  [Eye roll]
Me:  “Oh, come on, Lou, you don’t actually believe that stuff, do you?”
Lou:  “It true!  Not my fault!”
Me:  “Well, sure, if you go around acting negative like that, no one’s going to want to tip you.”
Lou:  “Oh, that what you think?  Eh, maybe.”

Later that night, Lou asked me how that delivery went.  “Fine,” I said.  “He gave me five bucks.”  I thought this would make him see the light a bit, but instead, he replied, “Oh, you got lucky then. That good tip for Indian.”  Sigh.

But like I said, I did have a couple of bad nights.

I remember a certain weekend during which I seemed to encounter just about every bad stereotype known in the industry.  On Friday night, I went to one guy’s house.  He appeared to be in his late fifties or early sixties, and he seemed friendly enough.  Then his wife came to the door and grabbed the credit card slip.  She crossed a dark line through the area marked “gratuity” and shut the door quickly without handing me a dime.

Later on I stopped by another house and was greeted by a developmentally disabled boy, probably about thirteen.  He told me his mom was not home, so I handed him the credit card slip to fill out (his mom had apparently called the order in from her office since she had to work late).  He could barely write his name at the bottom of it, and he was too young to know how to tip, so I got zilch on that delivery as well.

On Saturday night, I went to an apartment where a bunch of late twenty-something’s were having a party.   An African-American guy asked me how much the pizzas were for and paid me in cash, rounding up to the next dollar.  This left me with a few pennies.  Fuck, I thought.  With gas and depreciation, I am officially paying to deliver pizzas, rather than the other way around.

I remember getting teary-eyed while driving from house to house that weekend.  Why were people so shitty?  Why were old married women such bitter, hateful creatures?  Why did it have to be the black guy who ordered the pizzas at that party?  What kind of a mother leaves a disabled teenager at home to take care of the check?  She could have called in the tip when she ordered!  Probably some single mom, always looking for a handout.

It’s amazing how years of liberal education and political idealism can be abandoned because of a few bad tippers.

But that Sunday night, things changed.

I struggled on my first delivery.  I could not find my customer’s house for lack of streetlights, and when I finally did find it, the gate did not work.  I had to park at the bottom of a seemingly endless driveway and walk uphill to the door.  An elderly man greeted me.  He asked me if I would come inside and set the pizzas on the counter.

Sure, I thought.  And I’m sure you’ll give me a nice shiny quarter for my trouble.

When I walked inside, I saw a gray-haired woman seated on a couch.  “Hello, there!”  She sang.  “Thanks for bringing these inside.”  I set down two boxes – a pizza and an order of breadsticks – and handed over the credit card slip.  The man appeared to do some calculations, then added twenty percent to the bill.

I practically skipped back to my car.

The next couple of deliveries went smoothly, and everyone seemed to be tipping me generously.  It occurred to me that perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something.  Like, not to become an asshole over a couple of lousy tips.

Later in the evening, I walked up to a modest home and rang the doorbell.  There were the usual sounds – a dog barking, some feet shuffling down a hallway.  Then the door opened and I was greeted by a young boy who appeared to have Down’s Syndrome.  He was proudly holding up a ten-dollar bill.  “This is for you!” he cried.

A dark-haired woman in her mid-forties stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders.  “He was so excited for you to get here so he could give you the tip.”

When I got back to my car, I drove a few blocks and then parked on a dark, quiet street in the neighborhood.  After turning off the engine, I sat there for a few minutes in complete silence.  I pulled the folded ten-dollar bill out of my pocket and stared at it for a long time.  The universe was indeed trying to tell me something.  Listen, I told myself.  Just listen.  

On my last delivery, I drove to the far end of a never-ending, cookie-cutter, behemoth of an apartment complex.  I could not find close parking, but it did not matter since the customer had only ordered a medium pizza (not too heavy to carry) which came to about $19.  After walking about one block, I rang the bell and an African-American woman opened the door.  I smiled and handed her the pizza.  After looking at the bill, she fished a twenty and a five from her purse and handed them to me.

“Keep the change,” she said.

“Oh, thank you so much.  That’s very nice of you,” I said.

“Sure,” she replied.  “You work hard.”

From that point forward, I felt a sea change from within.  I decided not to let a couple of bad days turn me into an unrecognizable version of my former self.  I decided that no matter how bad things got, I would choose to be happy, not bitter.  I would work hard and sometimes that would have to be my only reward.  And I reminded myself that bad tippers are everywhere, as are good tippers.  As Lou and I discussed one evening at the pizzeria:

Me:  “You know, I’ve noticed that if I get stiffed by one customer, the next one always gives me a really good tip.”

Lou:  “Yes, that how it happen.  Universe always balance things out in the end.”

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 3: Just the Facts

For those of you considering taking on a second job to eliminate debt faster, read on for some of my experiences with moonlighting.  

We’ll start with the positive.

1.  The money was terrific.  The area I delivered in happened to be quite wealthy, and the pizza was obscenely overpriced, so on average, I earned between $21-25 per hour.  My base pay was $8.50 per hour, plus $1.50 per delivery.  I would make about two deliveries per hour, and the minimum tip was usually $5.  If I had a big order, it was not unusual to earn $15.   My shifts were usually about three hours – longer if I had to close – so I ended up bringing home over $300 per week. 

2.  I had a lot of time to think.  Pizza delivery involved being in my car 80% of the time, so I had time to listen to podcasts and think about life, and where I want to be in five years.  I stuck mostly to financial podcasts (Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, and Clark Howard), but I mixed in some podcasts by Alan Watts, one of my favorite philosophers.  I thought a lot about Buddhism actually, a religion I’ve always gravitated toward.  I am fascinated by the four noble truths, and I constantly strive to rid myself of unhealthy attachments.  I’m working on staying in that mindset.    

3.  I lost weight.  I would often forget to bring a snack to eat in between my day job and the pizza job, and then by the time I got home, I just wanted to eat dinner and go to bed, so I never really ate dessert.  Over the course of the 5-6 months I delivered, I lost about 5 pounds, which was a lot for me.

4.  I learned to be more efficient at my day job.  I had to be at the pizzeria on time for every shift, so I could never leave my day job later than 5:30.  This meant I had to finish all of my work in time to fly out the door in time to make my shift.  I found myself surfing the internet a lot less and finishing projects earlier than scheduled. 

5.  I was spending less money than ever before.  Because I worked so many hours during the week, I never had time to pick up takeout for dinner or to go shopping at all.  On the weekends, when I was home during the day, my husband and I had to catch up on household chores and we would have to get in some long workouts together since I didn’t have much time to workout during the week. 

6.  On average, during my pizza delivery career, our debt snowball payments were about $5,000 per month.  This sounds great, but I feel sick every time I think about how much money we could have socked away if we were not paying off debt with all of it.

And, the negative…..

1.  My self-esteem took a big plunge. 
To be clear, I did not feel bad about myself for delivering pizza.  I felt bad about myself for sometimes enjoying it.  On more than one occasion, I caught myself laughing with one of the drivers about a particularly horrid customer (the guy with the bulging left eye who always smelled like cat pee) or humming while I swept the floor of the driver’s area before closing, and I would think there was something very wrong with me.  Was I in some sort of arrested development, unable to move on from the pure adolescent joy of goofing off at work and feeling pride in an honest night’s work?

In the end, I realized the answer to this question was no, I did not suffer from arrested development.  After I quit, I did not miss delivering pizzas at all.  Those nights when I enjoyed my work, I was simply living the way I always should – with the knowledge that it is possible to be happy, regardless of circumstance. 

2.  My marriage suffered from neglect.  I like to think of myself as a superwoman sometimes, but in reality, one simply can’t be in a million places at once.  Because of my hectic work schedule, my husband ended up doing all of the housework.  I felt guilty about this because normally, we each contribute as much as possible, which means I vacuum and clean the kitchen and bathroom, while he cooks and does the laundry.  I know it was really hard on him to work so many hours at work, and then come home and pick up the slack for me.  I don’t think I appreciated him as much as I could have for how well he kept the house without any help from me. 

As for our sex life?  My god, is that all you ever think about?

3.  I felt alone.  I didn’t tell a lot of people about my moonlighting gig.  The few people I did tell weren’t very supportive.  I think they were worried about me working too much, but I could have used more encouragement.

4.  I was exhausted.  Sometimes I could not find parking near my customer’s house or apartment, so I had to walk a few blocks to get to my destination.  On those occasions, I would have to remind myself how much bad karma I would reap if I simply left the pizza on the side of the road (so I would not be considered a thief), drove home, and went to bed.  A couple of times, I almost fell asleep while driving, which is extremely dangerous.

All in all, I ended up making a nice chunk of change, and I saved a lot of money from not having any time to shop or eat out.  But pizza delivery is not for the faint of heart.  It stripped me of my ego, my energy, and camaraderie with my fellow man.

In a lot of ways, it was like practicing law.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 2: What I Wouldn't Give for a Flux Capacitor

My first week as a pizza delivery driver, all I could think about was what I would do if I were ever invited into Doc Brown’s DeLorean.  I guess the first thing I would do is pay a visit to my twenty-six year-old self and beat the shit out of me with my LSAT study guide.  And then I’d rip up my Grad Plus Loan application. 

But according to the most senior driver at the pizzeria, I was supremely lucky. 

Drivers at Papa John’s have to make pizzas and wash dishes in between deliveries, "Reed" informed me.   At the local mom-and-pop pizzeria we worked for, on the other hand, drivers basically just sat around during slow periods.

“Reed” had worked at Papa John’s for a number of years, and held a bit of a grudge from what I gathered.  Maybe his bitterness stemmed from the time he had to wait for a seventy-five year-old naked woman (with some hygiene deficiencies) to sign her credit card slip before he could escape to the welcoming bosom of his rusted-out, Clinton-era Corolla.  Or maybe it started the afternoon he had to watch the first-in delivery driver scamper away with four separate deliveries while Reed stared dejectedly at the blank order screen in the kitchen’s expediting area.  A blank screen is the bane of every driver’s existence.  A blank screen equals no pending orders equals no hope.

“There’s not even an industry term for taking four deliveries at one time.  I guess you’d have to say he took two doubles.” 

“Doubles” are a driver’s dream.  You get to take two orders out at once, which saves on time and gas.  And you get double the tips.  “Triples” are better, but a triple is the unicorn of the pizza delivery business.  No one’s ever really witnessed one, and only the youngest, least experienced drivers believe in its existence. 

Reed swept me under his wing immediately.  I liked to think it was because he saw me as Eliza Doolittle with a thermal delivery bag, someone he could mold into a street-savvy driver who knew all the shortcuts and speed traps.  In reality, I think he was simply relieved I spoke English.  He’d been waiting to unload some Papa John’s angst for a while, I could tell.

I would be lying if I said I feigned interest in his Papa John’s saga because there was no feigning on my part.  My brow involuntarily furrowed as he described the scores of no-tipping customers he had encountered.  The mobile home parks with no marked addresses as far as the eye could see.  The Super Bowl Sunday when two of the cooks called in sick and he got stuck manning the oven rather than raking in tips on the biggest pizza day of the year.

I got lucky, Reed told me.

I wished I felt that way, but that first week of moonlighting as a pizza delivery driver, I felt anything but.  I had been hired in the span of about twelve minutes, nine of which were comprised of me filling out a single-sided, one-page employment application.  Had I been convicted of a felony?  Did I have any violations on my driving record?  When was I available to work?  No, no, and any night after 5:30p.m.  Once they saw my clean driving record, I was in.

I didn’t really have any time to consider what I was getting myself into.  I accepted the job immediately and was to start only a few short days later.  I could wear whatever I wanted, aside from a company-provided polo shirt.  I also received a hat, which was optional.  Before my first shift, I changed into my uniform in the restaurant bathroom.  I took one glimpse of myself in the mirror and decided the hat had to go.  The hat I could not bear.

I kept my head down while walking through the main area of the restaurant, just in case I ran into any colleagues.  I wasn’t ready for that kind of radical honesty just yet.  I should’ve opted to keep my head down while on deliveries as well.  The first time I was met with a sympathetic look at a customer’s door, I was mortified.  I had really sunk to a new low.  “I guess everyone needs a job,” the bleached-blonde forty-something woman condescended.  A peek over her shoulder into her living room revealed a serious hoarding addiction, and yet, she felt sorry for me

But after I got over the initial shame, I started to have a little fun with it.  My favorite driver, “Lou,” was a Thai man who spoke kitchen Spanish.  “Estoy cerrando!” he would declare to the cooks in faux exasperation.  “Y tu tambien?” 

We called each other “partners” since we were scheduled to close together on Mondays, and then eventually on Saturdays.  “Hey, path-nah!”he would greet me on those evenings.  While we waited for the order screen to light up, he provided me with remedial Spanish lessons, while I regaled him with descriptions of what I would feast on when I got home. He loved to hear what my husband would be cooking for me on those nights, since he was divorced and mostly ate at the pizzeria.  Employees got free meals anytime.

Lou took care of me, while Reed taught me to look out for numero uno

Lou:  “No steal tip.  Whatever credit card slip say, I put in computer, even if zero.  You no want that stress on your conscience.”

Reed: “You know, if you get an order over a hundred dollars, and they tip you in cash, you can just tell the managers you got stiffed, and the restaurant’ll pay you ten percent.”

The one mandate on which they both agreed?  Avoid complaints at all costs.  Any driver who received a complaint about his or her driving was automatically suspended for three shifts while the restaurant investigated. 

That, incidentally, is what pizza delivery has in common with the practice of law.  One can be incompetent as hell, but can continue to practice as long as he or she flies under the radar.  If the Bar gets wind of any shenanigans, one’s career can be toast.

My time travel fantasy did not disappear overnight, but it gradually faded from an all-consuming obsession into a tolerable foggy notion in the back of my mind.  I tried not to feed it too much, but I did develop a ritual I would perform at the beginning of each shift.  As I drove away from the pizzeria with my first delivery each evening, I would listen to Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love.” 

What can I say?  It helped.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Pizza Diaries, Part 1: The Things We Do for Love

I didn’t have much of a family growing up.  That’s not to say that I did not have parents, or a decent number of siblings.  What I mean is that I never felt a real sense of family.

My mother grew up outside the United States, in a poverty-ridden locale.  She was functionally illiterate when she came to the United States, which limited her employment prospects.  In fact, the only jobs she ever had while I knew her involved cleaning up after people or animals.  I suppose this contributed quite a bit to her rage issues, although I have not quite gotten to the point where I have forgiven her for being emotionally and physically abusive to me.  I suppose that does not matter much these days, since she died this past November.  It had been a number of years since I had seen her, but it still hurts.  It’s funny, she never cared much for people, but she really liked animals.  So now every time I cuddle with my dog or watch one of my cats sitting near an open window pane, soaking in a warm afternoon breeze, I think of her.

I was never close with my dad.  Before I was born, he worked in the finance industry.  Sometime just before or after I was born, he was prosecuted for securities fraud, and he spent some time in jail.  After his release, he found work as a bartender, which meant he spent most nights away from home.  Eventually, he owned his own small business, although not successfully.  He has declared bankruptcy more than once but still insists that someday he’s really going to get his business off the ground.  Growing up, he watched my mother abuse us, but always told us afterward that she did it because she loved us and wanted what was best for us.  I never felt close to him.  Growing up, I remember thinking that living with him was like living with a distant uncle. 

Most of my high school friends dreamt of going to prestigious universities and partying hard until it was time to declare a major.  Many of them had financially supportive parents who insisted that their children “focus on studying” (read: play beer pong and sleep around) instead of working during their college years.  This was not the case with my parents.  In fact, at the ripe old age of fourteen – the legal working age in my state – I got my first job in a restaurant, refilling the salad bar.  I paid for my own school enrollment fees (even though I went to a public high school, we still had to pay $70 to register at the beginning of the year), class pictures, and yearbooks.  I knew the writing was on the wall.  If I wanted out, I was going to have to find a way to do it myself.  Hence, the only goal I had in high school was figuring out how to move out of my parents’ house as soon as it was legally and financially possible.

Shortly after graduating high school, I moved out and officially began my adulthood.  My immediate observations about my new life were: 1) I enjoyed the stability of living on my own; and 2) I really wished I had a family.  But since I knew the family I had was completely dysfunctional and violent, I made a promise to myself that one day, when I got married and had children of my own (if I decided to go the kids route), I would try to create the most perfect family life imaginable.  A pretty tall order for someone who once had to barricade herself and her little sister in a bedroom while their mother threatened to kill their father with the loaded pistol their father had insisted on keeping in the house “for protection.”

A few failed relationships later, I met my husband.  This was about a year and a half before I enrolled in law school.  It was a couple months before my twenty-sixth birthday, and I felt a bit older and wiser when it came to relationships.  However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of panic and dread when my then-boyfriend began talking about marriage. 

I struggled for the first few years of our relationship, and even after we got engaged, I broke it off at one point.  I felt like I could never make a marriage work since I had never witnessed a healthy one growing up.

During the summer before my last year of law school, I completed an internship that required me to live away from my husband (my then-boyfriend/ex-fiance) for three months.  I missed him every day, not only because he was my best friend, but also because my internship was further solidifying the gut feeling I had that law was not for me.  It was a pretty lonely summer. 

A few things you should know about my husband.  He is the funniest person I have ever met.  He is the best friend anyone could ever have.  He gives love unconditionally.  He truly wants me to be happy, even when I am content to pout and dwell on my past mistakes.  And he calls his parents every Sunday.  What more could a girl ask for?

All this is to say that I would do anything for him.  Which is why, when we finally set a wedding date and I realized I was bringing a mountain of student loan debt into our marriage, I kind of lost myself in a sea of panic and shame.  His love and support had meant the world to me, and all I had to give in return was a graduated repayment plan. 

After I quit my attorney position and we moved thousands of miles away for his new job, I still felt guilty.  He made great money and yet, we could never quite save anything because we had so many payments to make each month.  My private student loan, my federal student loan, his (comparatively small) student loan, and our car payment.  If we were ever going to achieve Leave It to Beaver euphoria, the loan payments had to go.

So I started surfing the web for personal finance books and articles, and came across this story about a couple who erased $70,000 in debt in one year.

The author happened to mention Dave Ramsey in her interview, which made me seek out his books and podcasts.  I didn’t actually purchase any of these items at first.  I’m a natural skeptic, so I didn’t want to pour money into financial products that promised dramatic results using little effort.  So I went to the library to check out his books, and I downloaded free one-hour podcasts from iTunes. 

At around that time, I found out that one of my sisters was in huge financial trouble.  She and her husband were in debt to the IRS to the tune of $50K +, and she was having an affair.  To top it off, she had acquired a shopping addiction that only made their financial outlook worse.  She had decided to move out of their house and back to our hometown (about a thousand miles away) so she could get her old job back and try to get out of debt.  In reality, she was moving back home in order to be closer to the man with whom she was having an affair.  Hearing all of this made me appreciate my husband more, and I reaffirmed my commitment to never go down the same destructive paths my family had chosen.

Now, I know my fixation on achieving marital and familial bliss is neurotic and unreasonable.  But I think it’s better to work toward that than to slide into debt, affairs, and empty consumerism.  Don’t worry, I’m in therapy.  I know there’s a happy medium; I just have to internalize that fact in my head and my heart.   

I got my husband on board with a new get-out-of-debt plan, a bit reluctantly, and we began making real progress almost immediately.  After only five months, our car loan was gone.  At that point, I started considering getting a second job.  At first, my husband was against it because it would take away from what I really wanted to do: write.  But I insisted it would only be temporary and we would be debt-free that much sooner, so then I could follow my writing dream without guilt.

I took the pizza job the last week of October last year, and started the first week of November.  I did it out of love for my family.  A family that included my husband, our dog, our cats, our siblings and our parents.  I did it to show that I will do whatever it takes to make sure my husband and I have the best financial future possible.  I also did it to change my family tree, so maybe someday I can finance my nieces’ and nephew’s college educations the way my siblings will not be able to. 

A couple weeks after I started delivering pizza at night, my mother died.  I found out in the morning before work.  I did not call in sick, though.  I went to my day job, and that night, I put the magnetic topper on my car and made about eight deliveries during my shift.  While I drove to expensive mansion after expensive mansion that evening, I listened to a song called “Still Loving You” by Stephen Allen Davis – over and over again – thought about my mother, and cried.  I kept my head down when I handed out pizzas to my customers so they could not see my red swollen eyes. 

When I got home that night, I crawled into bed with my husband and cried myself to sleep.  The only thoughts going through my head were:  1) I missed my mom; and 2) Even on a day when I felt like the world had ended, I had done what I could to take care of my family. 

So that’s how my pizza delivery career began.  With an ending. 

The Start of My Blue Period

I took a long break from posting on my blog for one simple reason: I had no time.

A little background.  For about the past year, my husband and I have been paying off every debt we have, following Dave Ramsey’s seven baby steps.  We only had two types of debt, our car and our student loans.  Our car note was about $18,000 and our student loans, combined, were over $100K.  So we got cracking on our car note first, since that was our smallest debt.  A year later, we are down to my federal student loan, which means we’ll be living pretty lean for about one more year.  How have we been able to make such dramatic progress in only one year?  Work, work, work.

My husband works a salaried position (meaning he works a lot more than 40 hours per week), and he travels a lot for work, so there was no practical way for him to get a second job.  I therefore took it upon myself to find creative ways to generate more income.

My first moonlighting job was working for an attorney, proofreading briefs and filing them.  The work wasn’t so bad, but the hours were too sporadic for my taste.  I would work ten hours for her one week, then have a month off.  I needed something steadier.  So I turned to Dave Ramsey’s radio program for inspiration and found myself taking the ultimate “gazelle intense” job: pizza delivery woman.  My husband was not crazy about the idea, but since we live in a pretty safe area, he did not stand in my way.  I promised him I would only work three nights a week, and that once he saw how much progress we made, he would agree it was a good decision for me to take on another job.

My experience with pizza delivery turned out much differently than I originally envisioned it.  Stay tuned for more posts about my experiences as a delivery driver, as I cannot possibly fit it all into one post. 

As a side note: I sometimes reference Dave Ramsey in my blog, and I feel I need to clarify something about his influence on me.  Anyone who googles Dave Ramsey or already knows a bit about him, knows that he is an evangelical Christian.  His message of living debt-free and building wealth is peppered with biblical references.  Although my husband and I do not share his religious point of view, we have benefitted a great deal from following his financial advice.  If you’re looking for a get-out-of-debt plan, check him out, even if you’re not religious.  He’s kind of like Suze Orman, but even more conservative (i.e. he does not advise taking on any kind of debt, save for a fifteen-year fixed-rate mortgage, while Suze says it’s ok to take on car debt provided you pay it off within three years).  Like I told one of my friends who asked to borrow my copy of The Total Money Makeover, if you’re not religious, just insert the name “Shakespeare” every time you see a reference to “God” or “Jesus.”

I hope you enjoy my pizza diaries! 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Hollow Victory

As you can see from the pic posted here, I have fully repaid one of my student loans.  This particular loan came directly from my school, which is why I cut out references to my alma mater's name.  That leaves me with one other loan that I am currently repaying, and then I am done.  I have about one more year, give or take, of Spartan living before I am debt-free, and I can close the dark chapter of my life known as Law School.  When I received this payoff notice, at first I felt a sense of pride and hope.  Soon I would actually be able to save some of the money I earn and build wealth for my future.

But after I read and re-read the second sentence, pride and hope were replaced with frustration and sadness.  Because I repaid my loan, some other poor schmuck now has the ability to take out crippling student loan debt.  And my school's low default rate remains intact, resulting in further federal student loan funding.

I suppose some might believe that since I repaid my loan, as so many fellow alumni of my school have, then I must have benefited from higher education.  After all, how could I earn enough to repay my loan in under five years if my employment prospects had not brightened as a result of my degrees?

Having the benefit of hindsight, I can honestly say now that I did benefit somewhat from my earning my bachelor's degree.  The positions I've held since graduating have all required a four-year degree (save for some moonlighting jobs I have taken in order to repay my loans at a faster rate), and almost everyone has one nowadays, so it's hard to compete in the marketplace without one.  BUT.  I should not have taken out student loan debt to earn it.  Although I worked almost full-time during my undergraduate years, I realize now that I could have cash-flowed my BA had I worked and saved for a couple more years before enrolling.  It might have taken me longer to get through my program, but probably not as many more months or years as it has taken me to pay off half of my loans.  And, I would not have had to pay interest.

As far as my law degree is concerned, I can honestly say now that I did not benefit from earning my JD.  The positions I've held since graduating (aside from any associate/law school intern positions) have been obtained by omitting or downplaying my law degree on resumes and applications.  I do not list my JD on my resume (a resume is, after all, just a marketing tool), and when I fill out applications, I only list my JD if I am asked to list all of my higher education degrees.  The fact of the matter is simply that employers do not want to employ lawyers or JD's in non-lawyer positions.  Unless that lawyer or JD is going to run a fortune 500 company or teach law.  Last time I checked, I think all of those positions have been filled.

I am not sure what else to say about law school to those considering it, except: Don't go.  Please.  You will absolutely regret it.  I do not know any happy lawyers, or any recent graduates who are happy that they decided to attend.  I cannot put it any simpler.  It will leave you in a financial hole that will take years, if not decades, to crawl out of.  And the legal market is saturated.  What else can be said?

I hope this post will give some of my fellow JD's and recovering lawyers some hope for their financial futures.  I am not debt-free yet, but I know I will be soon.  At that point, I will be able to say that law school took [X number of] years from me, rather than my entire life.