Linda watched her daughter race up to the end of the line at the zoo. The preschool field trip had gone well and now they were making a single file line to wait for entry to a show featuring trained tropical birds. Linda was glad for the opportunity to chaperone the trip and thankful that she got to stay at home with her children as they grew. Money was often tight but they always had what they needed and wanted, a vacation every year, a nice Christmas and beautiful birthday parties. Her daughter was one of a kind. Ever since she had been adopted five years earlier, Linda had realized just how much having a child could change your life.
Back in the line, the little girl at the end of the line soon began talking to the two kids in front of her. Some unseen force seemed to propel those two kids to the back of the line while her daughter moved forward. The child repeated the process on the next set of friends talking, circling, and slowly moving toward the head of the line. By the time the doors to the theater opened, Linda was amazed to find that her daughter was marching in directly behind the teacher, the first patron into the small arena with the prime seat to see the action. Not one of the children in the preschool class seemed to have noticed the girls clever rise from the back of the line to the front and nobody complained about her cutting in front.
Little did Linda know that the girl she saw at the age of five moving effortlessly through the crowd to become a leader would use that skill throughout her life. The girl was constantly circling, mingling and gently rising through the ranks to become a centerpiece of anything she did. That girl was (and is) me. Window Woman, Gutter Girl, and the sales manager and CEO of CNA Company.
I live in Iowa (please think corn and not potatoes). Born and raised here, I became proficient at moving through the farming communities and participating in such rural events as "The Corn Carnival" and "Cow Chip Throwing Contests". Iowa is a place dotted with communities where everyone knows everyone else. It's a place where John Deere trucker style hats are worn without irony or fashion conscience and rusty Ford pickup trucks are the primary mode of transportation.
Before you cast me as the same bucktoothed, tractor riding, Wrangler wearing farm girl (unless you are into that kind of thing, then by all means feel free.) Let me explain that my more formative college years were spent in Kansas City surrounded by the Core Four who taught me about the finer things in life. By using cheap housing and sometimes interesting roommates I was able to forge that same appreciation and carried it back to Iowa with me. I am a salesperson in every sense of the word.
I drive. It's the primary function of what I do. My card may say Sales Manager, my job description may say "in charge of in home presentations and product sales" but really what I do...is drive. A short commute for me is a location an hour or less away. Most days the trip on my odometer reads 180 miles or more, 5 days a week, 2-6 hours a day just me, the road and my audiobooks and podcasts. My office staff seems to never runs out of tiny, backroads towns that nobody has ever visited voluntarily, to send me so 90 percent of each of my days consists of this view through my windshield. I refer you to the song "Interstate 80 Iowa" by Heywood Banks for more information. If you have ever travelled that stretch of highway you will be LAUGHING hysterically after viewing that video!
I love people. I love them the same way that a farmer loves his cattle. He nurtures and cares for them, provides them with their needs, but, in the end, the farmer has a dark purpose, and that is steak night. I come into people's homes, comment on their framed photographs of their grandchildren, smile warmly and speak intelligently. I educate the consumer on what to look out for in the big bad world of home improvement contracting. "Don't worry little calf - - um prospect - - we are here to take care of you." And in the end, I get my steak dinner and my customers get what they want and need and (unlike my analogy of before) nobody has to die in the process.
OK so that's a little harsh, and most times I get poked and prodded like rump roast at the butcher shop as well. People are a timid bunch they are afraid to get what they want in case I don't come through for them. Nobody likes to look like a fool. So no matter how long the drive, how many cups of coffee it took me to remain awake and alert, how much gas station pizza and individually wrapped snack cakes I had for lunch, how much my back aches or how early the dog woke me up to be taken out to poop, I pull up to the house, turn on the smile, and start building the trust we deserve.
My company has been amazing to me. They took me in at a place in my life where I was single, had 2 kids (one of whom was a newborn) and was in danger of losing my house, and they took a chance on me. The products are superior which makes my job very easy at times, and very, very difficult at others but I really do love people and want to help make their homes comfortable. (Besides, I make a darn good living doing it). This collection of stories is meant to share some of the good, the bad and the ugly about what I do, who I meet, and the thoughts that are inevitably running through the minds of every contractor that you have come into your home as well.
Payne Stewart is quoted as saying "If you can't laugh at yourself, then how can you laugh at anybody else? I think people see the human side of you when you do that." Welcome to the human side of sales.
Hillbilly Hell (aka the Day of the Skunk)
The day was wearing on me like sweatpants on a hot summer day. The poor little rural town I had called home for the past two hours had eroded my sense of humanity to the point of making me feel rabid. A quick driver around all seven streets of town revealed no public parking areas where I could recline the seat of my van and read while I obsessively shelled sunflower seeds and spit them out the window. I had long since dismissed the only diner within a five mile radius due to the run down exterior and a conspicuous congregation of screeching cats circling the back door.
Being hungry and in need of refilling my IV bag of coffee I opted for the mostly clean BP station off the main highway. Inside I got what I called the "Road Warrior Special" Large Coffee, Prepackaged Ham Sandwich and a bag of jellybeans. (If you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that the ham had originated from an actual pig at one time.)
I amused myself with games such as "Who Has the Most Teeth" and "I Spy Spandex." but those are no fun to play by yourself. When I grew weary of playing games I amused myself by popping the tiny pastel balls of sugar two at a time and trying to describe this Boondocks town to my husband via text.
"The longer I'm in this place, the more I want a job that lets me sit on my porch drinking forties of Old English, smoking Marlboro Reds and yelling commands at my kids like they were dogs."
"Seriously baby this town is slowly leeching the will to succeed in life out of my very soul."
An overweight gas station attendant in what looked like was once a red polo but was now streaked with hot pink bleach stains came out to where I sat with my sugar and caffeine, lit a cigarette and told me the parking was for customers only. I held up my coffee cup emblazoned with the BP logo on the side and nodded to the convenience store indicating that I am, indeed, a customer.
"Well, the commuter rush is coming soon so you best be on your way." She smiled half heartedly showing all six of her teeth (she was NOT the winner of "Who Has the Most Teeth") and waddled back across the completely empty parking lot.
I sighed and forced the van into reverse and decided on a new time killing game. I drove around town until I found a run down shack with a "For Sale" sign on it. I snapped a picture with my camera phone and texted it to my husband with a pleading description.
"New idea baby! Why don't we move here. We can get this charming fixer-upper just steps away from a very active railroad track for the low price of only $42,000."
A few blocks away I came to what I believe was once a three story school house but was now the parking lot for various semi trailers and possibly some squatters. Again I snapped a picture and reinforced the idea via text.
"There's even a high quality trucking school. Jackson would make a great trucker."
Finally a response. "LOL Sorry babe."
"You're sorry." I muttered aloud under my breath. I secretly plotted to come home with cheap beer and solicit him for a night of redneck debauchery just to punish him for not finding me as amusing as I was finding myself.
I managed to find the only paved parking spot in town (which just happened to be the handicap parking just outside of the unoccupied baseball field) and settled in with my Nook book and some Florence and the Machine.Sure enough, the second that I popped my seat back into recline here come the little leaguers ready for practice.
Sighing heavily (again) I decided I would just have to be early for my appointment and pulled up to the address about 10 minutes early. The house was one of the better maintained on the block. (that is to say, it wasn't a trailer and had an intact roof). Outside two pretty but dirty dogs yipped at me while I rang the bell. I glanced up and noticed some homemade decor items hanging from the eaves. The contraction was made up of plywood, fishing line and empty beer cans, the sign reading "Rednek Windchime" (the "c" was omitted by the artist, not the author). Again I knocked, nobody home yet.
Across the road I heard a neighbor call. "They ain't home yet, there'd be a truck and a Charger in the drive if they were."
I was about to call back that I had figured that out on my own when I caught sight of the neighbor. The man was stout and thick with a big white bushy beard that made him look like a hillbilly Santa. He swung a wood splitting axe over his shoulder and smiled. "Thanks" I muttered instead and clammored back into the van just in time to hear the text message chirp on my iPhone.
"Your Tuesday sale called to cancel and wants you to give her a call." Damnit.
I laid my aching head on the steering wheel and lifted it only in response to some shouting down the lane. What I saw made me think I might have fallen asleep and was dreaming an odd and disturbing dream. A little, old, white haired, black woman on a Rascal scooter was racing down a gravel path chasing a huge wolf like black dog yelling at him to "Come back here now".
I was torn between wanting to get out and help her with her task and wanting to watch how this scene played out. It looked like she was gaining on the enormous mutt so I let my voyeur win the debate. To my shock and awe, the old woman pulled up along side the beast, caught it by the scruff of his mottled fur and deftly strapped a leash onto his collar all while the Rascal continued to speed forward.
"Wow" I exclaimed under my breath. "Just wow."
A few minutes passed and my query in a big white truck pulled up along side the Axe Man and started up a conversation. The lumberjack leaned against the window sill of the truck and they began what sounded like a nightly neighborhood update. The exchange was punctuated by gestures toward me (had he seen me snapping camera phone pictures?) With a laugh and a wave, my prospect pulled up the drive to my van and we met at the front of the house.
"Kristy Potratz - Window Woman." I introduced.
He took my hand and my card and introduced himself as Stu. "My wife will be home in half an hour," he explained and led me, belly leading, toward the windows he wanted replaced. I took measurements and made small talk as I stalled for time.
"I drive a dump truck." he said proudly, "do haulin' all over the state. And Jo, she works for the transit authority." Gainfully employed, I made a mental note.
The house was neat and ordered, antique beer stines hung from a display rack on the wall of the living room. The walls were coated with hip height wood paneling and the trim around all the doors and windows were painted a pale shade of lavender which clashed perfectly with the brown shag carpeting coating the floors. In the far corner of the room there was, of course, a 50 inch big screen TV. Of course.
"A charming place" I lied.
"We've been here about 5 years" he said, "I guess we'll stay here until the house falls down or they put us in the dirt."
A glimmer of hope ignited in me. Permanence was good for my business. It makes my products a long term investment that will pay them back rather than a short term fix for those looking to move or flip a property. The embers cooled quickly though when he announced that the Termite problem they had been having would probably ensure that the house fell down first. Double Damnit.
Still prolonging the time for his wife to return, I asked to use the bathroom. He directed me to the Jack and Jill bathroom sharing a door with both the kitchen and the living room. The lavendar motif continued, this time extending to the commode, sink and bathtub. As I hovered over the toilet, one door that opened to the kitchen squeaked open a creack and the snout of a puppy with gorgeous coloring and clear blue eyes peeked in. I quickly finished my business to avoid an embarrassing reveal to the potential client. I wanted to hide the pup in my sample case and spirit him away from this dump.
I scooped him up, his tongue bathing me in wet doggy kisses and we set off to find Stu on the back porch. He had used my absense to claim a cold Miller Lite from the fridge and stood on the back patio with a smoke and a koozie. He introduced the pup as "Gypsy" and I put him down so Stu could throw a chewed up frisbee for the dog to fetch. Gypsy dutifully bounded after it and I fell just a little bit in love with the dog.
"This is a great lot, spacious" I ventured as a shiny gray Dodge Charger pulled into the spot behind the truck. "Looks like Gypsy has a great kennell out there." I said, pointing to a fenced in house with a tarp over the roof. Inside was a little plastic igloo like structure and a bowl of food.
"Oh, that's not for Gypsy" he said, resting the can on his belly like a pregnant buddha, "That's for Chumley, our pet skunk."
I was speechless. Of all of the bizarre sights I had witnessed that day, the last thing I expected were the words "pet skunk" to fall from anyone's lips.
Stu's wife Joleen joined us and verified "Skunks make great pets ones you get the stink glands removed. Chumley is like a cat, he'll paw at you until you pet him. Uses the litter box and everything.
Windows be damned...I wanted to see that skunk. Stu and Joleen obliged my curiousity and let me down to the enclosure. Joleen opened the gate on the house and called Chumley by name. Sure as anything, here lumbered an enormous, rat faced, black and white skunk. He stopped to sniff at his food dish before moving over to where Joleen was waiting. She reached in and hauled the creature out and held it up to me for inspection.
"Yup that's a skunk" I said uneasily. Then I remembered my iPhone in my pocket. "Can I take a picture?"
"I'll do you one better." she said as she heaved the skunk up and dumped him into my arms. She pulled the phone from my grip and reminded me to support his backside. I grinned uncomfortably at the camera, sure that I was being punked and that the skunk was going to squirt his stink juice all over my favorite sweater. He didn't. His tail swished like a happy cat and he curiously nibbled my fingers. I suddenly thought of rabies and mad skunk disease and my urban alarm bells started going off en masse. I relinquished Chumley back to his momma, who cradled him like a baby and scratched his belly.
I didn't sell any windows that day, but before I pulled out of Hillbilly Hell I managed to catch enough cell signal at the BP station to post the photo of Chumley and I to my Facebook wall. I also messaged one to my stepson Joshua telling him that I trumped his pet snake with my pet skunk.
By the time I arrived home the photo had a dozen comments, some of those stated that, indeed, skunks make great pets. I on the other hand would have preferred Gypsy.