Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Working Through My Mid-Life Crisis

In the spring of 2003, I was a salesman logging hours on end in a truck listening to the radio. When I heard an ad for a bike expo coming up at State Fair Park, my weekend plans were made. That bike expo was something of a milestone event in my life. I was given the OK to buy a new bike, it was this next bike that forever cemented my alliance with the Gary Fisher brand. Over the last eight years, I've been at this bike show numerous times. Spreading the enthusiasm and love of cycling to friends by helping them pick out new bikes. Last year a sales person suggested that with my knowledge and excitement, I should come down and [temp] work the show. When I was let go from my job (fulfilling the prophesy laid out in a previous blog), the opportunity to work the expo became available. I printed an application off their web-site and drove it down to Milwaukee. A few days later I received all the information and forms associated with being an employee. The schedule would be: a day of setting up, three and a half days of sale expo, and a half day to tear it all down. Wow, I was going to the show. I studied up on my bikes. Spending hours on-line pouring over models, components, and accessories. When the day came I showed up at the expo hall and spent the next six hour as part of a bucket brigade that unloaded over 1,000 bikes off of more semi trailers than I can remember. The bikes were then set up in rows so packed together that bumping one bike the wrong way would have knocked a row of 50 bikes down. Aisles for the customers were maybe six feet wide. It was a sight to behold. Hundreds and hundreds of road, mountain, dual-sport, cruisers, Hy-bred, triathlon, and kids bikes all lined the hall waiting for the doors to open the following afternoon. The first day, the sale didn't start until 4:00pm. I arrived at noon to help put the final detailed touches on my area of responsibility. My name badge said 'Jim [and under that] Mountain Bikes.' I would be planted in the section representing a sport that I've tried to align myself with for years. I don't know any cyclists that I don't look up to. Riders are riders, but mountain bikers are the coolest. And those are who I wanted to be hanging out with. A little before 4:00, the PR guru spoke up with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader and told us to, "Have a good expo, work hard, and have fun!" With that, the door opened and I became 25 again.

I really never aspired to work in a bike shop. However, now that my career has hit a wall (and hit it hard), I long for a job where I could get paid to do something I love. To spend the day talking about the bikes I ride and the places I like to go to ride them would be so refreshing compared to the career I've struggled with of late to even identify with. The day's first customers were in the door, and some of them were making their way to my section. I remembered what some expo vets had said at dinner the night after set-up, "Opening day is the easiest, because those are the people who know just what they want. They're coming in not to shop, but to buy." It was quite a confidence booster to sell two bikes right off the bat, including the newer version of the model I ride. My feet were firmly beneath me and my confidence soared.

In retrospect, the expo represented everything I felt a mid-life crisis should encompass. It was four days of hanging out with people (staff) much younger and more hip than myself. I knew it was really an unhealthy choice to have a Kopp's burger at 9:00 at night, but I did it anyway (I even added bacon). And I even tried to let go of everything else in my life at the moment that usually churned my guts into a daily caustic mess for the hours I spent at the expo.

Over the course of the next four days, I would end up selling more than forty bikes (mostly Gary Fishers). It turned out I was pretty good at this game. The training manual had been right; 'enthusiasm is infectious.' It was harder than I had worked in some time, but a thousand times more rewarding.

I returned to my life with a mildly melancholy feeling. I had been offered a dream job with a fantastic company. But I'm a 43 year-old family man, so I need a career not just a job. I'm eternally grateful to Wheel & Sprocket for hiring me and to my family for taking care of everything at home so I could go off to Milwaukee every day to be at the show. Maybe the fact that it only lasted a few short days made it better for my soul. A short, but sweet moment in a world I can appreciate more because I'm not in it all the time. I love going to cycling events to feel the energy of that community, but to a lot of the people at those events -- its hard work day in and day out. Hopefully next year my schedule will again allow me to indulge my soul in four days of spreading the gospel that is bicycling.