In 1998, I was working for Circuit City as an Appliance Sales Person and I must admit I was very good at it. Sales always seemed easy to me, ever since I was a kid. I was always selling something, everything from flower seeds to greeting cards, so it seemed a natural transition from teaching to sales, since both base success on how much the client knows about the product.
I was the top salesperson in my store and was usually in the top ten in my district. All seemed to be going well until September of 1998. That was the month my District Manager finally convinced me to train to be a sales manager. Worst mistake I ever made!
I had worked at Circuit City since 1995 and had thirteen sales managers. Most only lasted a maximum of two months, because retail sales managers get all the blame and none of the credit. I vowed I would never let it happen to me. Unfortunately, the district manager (whose name was Rottweiler) was as persistent as his name.
I began to train at my store and it wasn’t that bad. I learned the systems quickly and the other salespeople seem to respect me since I came from there ranks. Then, in November, I was sent to Circuit City Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. I would be out there for two weeks. The training was held Monday through Saturday, with Sunday off. I would attend training with 149 other top salespeople from around the country. What I didn’t realize, until I got there, that at the ripe old age of 33, I was the oldest candidate there. It seemed I was also one of the few who were married and had kids.
During the week, the others would go out to the bars after training and stayed until closing time. My roommate would invite me often, every time I would offer a polite but firm NO. I only said YES once, which I regret to this day.
The occasion was a Saturday night. We had just made it through the first week and a bunch of them were going out for supper. Over supper, somebody commented that we should go to Washington DC on our day off tomorrow. This perked my ears up since I had always wanted to go. I was actually there when I was seven and didn’t remember much. One of the ladies had driven up from somewhere in Georgia in a van and offered to drive.
We made plans to leave our hotel at 7 the next morning. When dinner was over half our group went back to the hotel and the rest stayed at the bar. I went back to the room, watched some TV, I set the alarm for six a.m. and went to bed.
My roommate came in at 3 AM and woke me up. They had decided instead of going to sleep for a couple of hours, they would just leave now. They woke up the driver, who had not gone out with them (Thank God!) and convinced her of the brilliance of their thinking.
When we got to the van, I crawled in the back and went back to sleep. I awoke an hour later to a very quiet van since everyone was asleep/ passed out except the driver. I decided I should then stay awake and keep the driver company. We had fun singing along to the radio and she commented to me several times about my knowledge of current popular music, especially for an old dude.
We rolled into DC at about 5 AM and, of course, nothing was opened. We had to wait about 45 minutes until McDonald’s opened, so we amused ourselves by drifting off to sleep. The others slept, but I did not feel comfortable closing my eyes when people were walking around (and looking in) our van. Now, remember, this was pre-smartphone days, so no internet or phone to pass the time. I had brought my book, as I was always in the habit, but there wasn’t enough light to read.
I remember watching the sunrise (actually just a gradual increase in light) as the steam from the sidewalk grate slowly revealed the shape of a person, huddled on top of it for warmth. It seemed odd to see a homeless person in the Nation’s Capitol, but I began to notice every grate had at least one person on it.
McDonald’s opened promptly at six a.m. and we filed in to get some breakfast or at least coffee for some. The crew person held the door for us, scanning us briefly, trying to determine our ability to pay. The ones on the grates were left outside as the patrons made their way to the counter.
We hung around until seven, which was the time the tourist office opened. Upon arrival, we found out that much of DC was closed on Sundays, including the White House. We decided on the Smithsonian, which opened at ten a.m.. We found parking and waited in line for about two hours. We got in about 10:30 and the group wanted to leave at 11 because that is when Hard Rock Cafe opened.
I was in shock! We were in the Capitol of the USA and out of all the historical sites, they wanted to go to a franchised food chain. I voiced my objection but was outvoted swiftly. In fact, all my recommendations were being shot down.
After lunch, the group decided that they were tired and wanted to return to the hotel in Virginia. I was floored! We hadn’t seen anything yet! I was determined to see something of historic value before we left, so I told a bald face lie.
I informed the group that I was hoping to see the Vietnam Wall Memorial before we left. This was important to me since my Uncle was killed in combat in 1968, during the fiercest battle of the entire war. My Mother had never recovered from losing her baby brother and I promised her I would take a picture of his name on the wall.
Now, my uncle was in the military, but was very much alive and working for the Police Department in Fondulac, Wisconsin. As far as I know, no one from my family was killed or even served during Vietnam.
I made up a name, Clifford something or other, I can’t even remember it now. We got to the memorial and walked around over an hour but did not find his name. After ninety minutes, I had seen enough. I informed the group that I was possibly mistaken and maybe he was killed in Korea.
That lie has always surfaced in my head every Memorial day since. I have the utmost respect for all who served this country. Knowing my many health issues precluded me from active duty, I am eternally grateful for the men and women who answered the call to serve. I am proud of my brother who served on a nuclear submarine in the late eighties. He described some of the missions as being very similar to “Hunt for Red October”. I’m proud of his service.
My nephews served overseas with the National Guard in the war on Terror. They took after their grandfather, my father in law, who was a marine ambulance driver. He was shipped out at the end of the Korean War, only to be sent to Japan because the war ended before he got to Korea.
Of course, I am grateful for their service and more grateful that they did not have to give their life for this country, only their service. I hope no more soldiers have to die for our country, but I am not that naive.
I know that there will always be a conflict somewhere on this planet as long as we are driven by sin and desire. All war boils down to the simple act of wanting something someone else has, be it land, resources, people or some other bright shiny object. In Matthew 24:6 Jesus warns us “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”
War, it seems, is inevitable, as sure as that sunrise all those years ago in Washington DC. And when I look back on that day, I begin to understand the real message of Memorial Day. Memorial Day wasn’t time set aside to remember the wars we fought in.
Memorial Day is to remind us of the cost.
Full Disclosure – I came back from Virginia and became a Sales Manager at another store in March 1999. I quit three months later.