Sunday, December 11, 2005

Professional Dilemma

I want to preface this post with a disclaimer. It features embarassing acts from corporate higher-ups, and although I'm certain none of the parties involved are currently reading my blog, who knows whether they might stumble across it in the future. To them, I have to say, "this is funny!" I recognize that as a general rule, it's not wise to relate embarassing stories about one's bosses in a public forum, but given that it's only personally embarassing and not in any way reflective of anyone's professional abilities, there should be no repercussion beyond a little snicker.

We were returning from a successful presentation some 25 miles from our home branch. I was driving, my boss sat in the passenger's seat, and her boss, the regional vice president, sat in the back. Both of the women in my car were perhaps 10 years my senior. As we zipped down the freeway, the three of us had a lively discussion about the business challenges facing our particular team. I was trying to be insightful, and did actually come up with a proposed change to one of our standard operating procedures that both women affirmed was a good idea. It was the kind of change that could only be implemented by executives higher than the vice president, so it wasn't like we were about to start doing it immediately. In any case, I was successfuly impressing my boss and my boss's boss. Although shmoozing has never been my strongest suit, I do recognize the overall importance of being well regarded within any corporate structure.

Then it happened. Looking back, I realize now as I'm typing this, that it might have been the sewage treatment plant under the big highway interchange we had crossed a couple miles before that moment, but that doesn't change the dilemma I thought I was facing. A horrible smell filled the interior of my sedan. One of the two women in my car had farted. It was nasty too. Of course, the windows were all the way up. We were going 75 mph and it was cold outside to boot. Whichever one did it, I thought, knows she did it. Dare I crack the window?

Then it occurred to me that the whichever boss hadn't farted, probably was crinkling her her nose at ME right then. I was the man in the car, and well, men are men. An awkward silence hung in the air with yet-to-dissapate odor. I picked up a thread in our discussion and just started rambling, hoping to distract everybody. I couldn't crack the window. That would be tantamount to blurting out loudly, "Aww man! Who cut the cheese!?"

What do you do in that situation? Maybe I could turn up the fan a little. Nah. That's a little obvious too. Just pretend it didn't happen. Okay. The fart finally faded as farts always do.

As we pulled into the office parking lot, I was stil grateful to be able to roll down the window to use my key card.

I wonder how it would have been different had I been travelling with two men, as is more often the case when talking about upper management in the mortgage industry.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fighting a Ticket

Back in August, I was on my way to work. It was 7:30 AM, no rain, traffic was light, and I was heading north on Lakeshore Avenue, a road I travel on every day and have for the last 5 years. Right in front of the Catholic Church, a motorcycle cop on foot steps out into the road, points at me and then points to the side of the road, obviously instructing me to pull over. I comply and the cop approaches my window, asks for drivers' license and registration and says, "I'll tell you why I pulled you over in a second."

I was confused. My car was in perfect shape; I wasn't doing anything wrong. A minute later, he returns and asks if I knew how fast I was going. I wasn't going particularly fast. Maybe 35 mph, the same speed I always travel, and certainly the same speed everyone else travels on that road and so I tell him. Lakeshore is a major artery connecting two busy parts of town. It's got two lanes of traffic going either way and 3 stop lights on a stretch that's at least a mile or so.

"Well," the cop tells me, "The speed limit here is 25 mph. You're getting a ticket."

I was very annoyed. Who gets a ticket for doing 35 in a 25? That's just ridiculous. I didn't know the speed limit was 25. The next section of that same road has a speed limit of 30. That I knew; I had seen the sign before. Grand Avenue, a similar type of connecting street just a block away also had a speed limit of 30. I couldn't recall seeing any 25 mph speed limit signs on Lakeshore. When I returned home, I looked, and there were no speed limit signs from where I turned onto Lakeshore to the spot I got the ticket. That decided it. I was fighting this ticket!

Having no idea if the lack of signing was a legitimate defense, I turned to Google and found all kinds of interesting sites explaining how to beat a ticket. Friends and co-workers offered advice. My favorite was go into court, and if you see the cop who cited you, ask for a continuance (I later discovered that was not possible in Oakland as they require 7 day notice for continuance requests). If you got ticketed in the day, ask for night court and visa versa, thus redcuing the likelihood your cop will show up. Still, I couldn't find anything specific regarding placement of signs except that if it's a residential street, the de facto speed limit is 25 if there are no signs. Hmmm... I didn't know about this.

I took pictures. I printed out MapQuest maps and included legends as to the speed limits of surrounding streets. I was going to ask for the ticket to be thrown out "in the interest of justice." I went to the first court date prepared to make my defense only to discover that it was just an arraigment and they wouldn't hear arguments. If I pleaded not guilty, I would be inelligible for traffic school if I lost a trial. I was risking not just the $75 of the ticket, but possibly hundreds in car insurance rates. I knew this was a bad ticket; I decided to take my chance in court.

A month passed. My intention was to do even more research, take more comprehensive pictures and obtain the "speed survey" for the street in question. I learned early in the process that if RADAR was used to determine your speed, then there must be a valid speed survey on file that justifies the posted speed limit on that road. Well, I've been kinda busy. I didn't take pictures, didn't get the speed survey and started my additional research an hour before I was planning on leaving for court this morning. The 20 minutes I spent on the Internet this morning was extremely valuable. In my notes, I recorded the California Vehicle Code sections that required the speed survey. I learned about some interesting case law which had decided that if a speed limit sign is posted that makes the majority of the vehicles on the road into violators, the speed limit is invalid. I wasn't as prepared as I might of been, but I still felt good about my very first appearance as a defendant professing my innocence in a court of law. I did spend two and half semesters in one of the finest law schools in the state.

When I sat down in the courtroom, I didn't see the cop who thad ticketed me. In a way, I was bummed, because I didn't want to win that way. I wanted to present may case! The cop walked in at 8:35, five minutes late. I guess the clerk knew who was there and who wasn't. The first three cases were dismissed becasue the ticketing officer wasn't there. The next three cases were pretty much automatic convictions becasue the cop was there, but the defendants weren't. I was the first case to be heard where all parties were present. I strode up in front of the bench. There were two tables on either side of the aisle, but despite years and years of watching Law and Order, The Practice, Boston Legal, etc., I couldn't remember which side the defendant sat at. They pointed me to the right table and the cop took the stand.

I was preparing my cross examination in my head. My key was to ask for the speed survey. If that didn't work, I was going to use my pictures (having hastily scribbled "Exhibit "A", "B" and "C" on them just moments before). I thought maybe if I took on a southern accent, they might think I was more Matlockian, and I'd stand a better chance. "Yohh Honahh, I would laik to ask the officah just HOW he chose tha pahticular spot to set up his illegah speed trap..."

I never got the chance. The judge asked the officer to relate the particulars of my infraction, but the cop looked kind of sheepish and began mumbling. Seriously, the guy spoke so quietly that no one in the court could hear exactly what he was saying except the judge. All I caught were "no speed survey" and "if it pleases the court, we'd ask the charges be dropped." The cop looked up at me looking surprisingly embarassed and remorseful. Aha! No speed survey! My plan would have worked. The judge declared "Violation dismissed!" I guess traffic court can't afford gavels or something, because the judge not only didn't rap it, he didn't even have one.

Of course, I was happy. I beat my ticket. In a way, however, it was almost like the cop not even showing up. There was no trial per se, just a dismissal. Still, that embarassed look on the cop's face made it all worthwhile.

I was not the only driver stopped in front of the church that morning. I saw some leaving just after I was stopped, and the cop undoubtedly ticketed lots of other drivers after I left. A few mornings after it occured, I saw the same cop, now joined by another cop, using the same tactics in the same spot. How many of them faught their tickets? Few if any. I'm sure the vast majority simply paid the fine. I feel good for myself in that I saved myself a smirch on my driving record. I feel bad for those who just paid their tickets. At least I know that embarassed cop won't stand in front of the church and despoil the diocese by issuing illegal tickets any more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Although some consider it gauche to talk about one's own pay, something happened last week that I feel deserves mentioning. I don't intend to laud my own actions nor that of the company I work for, instead this story demonstrates how when you do the right thing, sometimes the universe looks after you.

First the bad part. In my division, if you originate a loan that has a pricing discount on it that has not been signed off on by corporate, you get paid maybe 1/10th of the ordinary commission. Given that the bonus part of my monthly check is by far the lion's share, an unauthorized pricing exception can devastate a month. Worse yet, the branch you work for gets hit with a huge penalty, drawing the ire of the boss. There are some systems in place to spot pricing exceptions in time to get them authorized, but the reports and such are flawed in that they don't indicate precisely what the nature of the discrepancy is. Even if the pricing is authorized, if there is even the slightest error in the extensive form by which one requests an authorization, the loan officer takes the hit. In one way, it is an understandable policy to prevent wild discounts, but still, given that one could lose a very substantial chink of pay each month, I think it's overly punitive.

In October, I originated 5 loans, and had the credit for a 6th given to me for winning an internal contest. Of those six, I thought everything was fine and and authorized. They had funded, and I was expecting the biggest check I've received so far. The boss comes out last week, and announces that of those 6 loans, 2 were showing unauthorized pricing exceptions. One of them was on the one that I had been given; I had no role in how that loan was handled. On the other, I was sure my pricing was right. 3 or 4 times I had checked it. Yeah, my pricing was correct, but on the form under which I had I received my authorization, there was one little error. The margin was off by .25%. The rate points and terms were correct, just a miniscule little difference in an aspect that won't even effect how the company makes a profit. The borrower will likely refinance during the fixed period, and the margin won't ever even kick in. The other error on my gift loan was a small discrepancy in the property type. I any case, I stood to lose 1/3 of my paycheck.

Another loan officer was facing the same situation, and she really went off. Threatening to quit, writing missives to the regional vice president, she challenged the policy, and it was said "we'll see what can be done." Well, it got done, My boss and the VP did their thing and I found out yesterday I still get paid. But that's not the point of the story...

After we found out about the unauthorized pricing exception, but before I found for sure if I'd still get paid, I noticed on my commission report that I was being overpayed on another loan. I was receiving extra commission because of an error on the company's part in how they looked at the loan. On that particular loan, I was making $1200 too much. Nice chunk of change, but still a lot less than what I was losing because of the other issue. Still, given that the boss was trying to do something for me, I couldn't just sit there are not report the error. I walked it in to her office, pointed out the mistake, and left the branch to go out into the field.

A few hours later when I return, the boss calls me into her office with "big news". She read me her e-mail thread where she had reported the overpay. Senior VPs in HR were part of the conversation, and when it was all said and done, they rewarded me for my honesty by letting me keep the extra $1200 that I was overpaid.... and again I don't get hit for the penalty on the other loans. Nice.

That being said, don't think the loan business is some gold mine. In November, I have originated 1 loan for a whopping $300 commission, and that's going to be my whole check.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Second Wedding Anniversary

For those of you haven't yet the opportunity to read my dear wife's account of our recent trip, please click here to visit "Jasiland". The bulk of the photos we chose to be net-worthy are on her page, and what I want to write here is just an addendum.

Above is my attempt a panorama shot. Anyone who has a digital camera has, at one time or another, takens several pictures and try to piece them together with an editing program. It really sucks when you don't frame it right and you end up with slices missing from you panorama. The shot above suffers from the opposite: too much overlap.

One of the amusing and original aspects of m'lady's
first post on her blog is that she never names the location of our weekend getaway.

No mention of the luxurious cliffside hotel suite I booked at the last minute. No mention of the harrowing drve through scenic forests and mountains we took to get there. She brought her town with her, and I agree, Jasiland is a town that no matter where I am, I love being there. I'm still dying to tell everyone where these pics come from. Those of you who've been there might recognize some of it. For those who haven't, go. Where? Again, I'm not going to say. It's such an amazing place. Using the vernacular of the time, I think it was original said to be that "Men Do' See No mo' nicer spot than this".

Walking around the cliffs will take your breath away. We found out it can be kind of dangerous too. California being the litigious place it is, there are many many signs to remind the hiker to watch his or her step. There are no railings protecting you from the 60 foot drop to the rocky shoreline below. Ironically, it was that at the trail head that someone sprained her ankle turning to read one of these signs.

It was sore for a couple of days, but she's okay now.

I thought it might have been this dangerous aspect to the place that lead them to put the Grim Reaper atop their church spire, but the wife insists that it isn't the "Grim" reaper in this photo, just an ordinary reaper, maybe even a "happy" reaper. I don't know. If I am pumping water, I do not want some guy with a scythe sneaking up behind me, even if he has wings.

When I was taking pictures with wil abandon, I began a theme. I tried to take a picture of every animal I came across. The coast has lots of intresting (and not so interesting) creatures crawling, walking and digging around it. Here are just a few.

We had a great time on our weekend getaway. We both needed some time to relax, enjoy nature, and fight about whose turn it is to take the next picture.

The trip was much better than our First Anniversary trip which I wrote about on this blog a year ago. October 2004 archive

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tricky Gas Station

Boycott Arco gas stations!!! Do not patron these corporate thieves!

What did they do this time, you ask. Is it their rapacious desire to despoil pristine habitats from Alaska to Argentina? Could it be how their interests are being served in our illegal war in Iraq? There are lots of "big" issues we could hang on all the oil companies. I don't know if Arco is particularly guilty of any of them, but I am calling for a boycott because they tricked me out of at least a half a gallon of gas!

I pulled into the Arco on University Avenue in Berkeley because I saw a lower price on their sign, $2.85 for mid grade, than I had seen at other local stations. After stopping, I noticed the sign said "cash price"; if your used a credit or ATM card, it was 1o cents per gallon more. It is already bad enough that with my new car I have vowed to only feed it the more expensive 89 octane mid-grade gas. I had a twenty dollar bill in my wallet; it was worth it to burn up my last remaining cash, even though at today's prices, that $20 wouldn't fill my whole tank.

My first problem was that I had encountered the slowest flowing gas pump I have ever run into. It is hard to quantify, but I'd guess it took at least twice, maybe three times as long per gallon for this newish-looking pump to do it's thing. At first I thought it might be some ploy by Arco to make it seem like their gas was less expensive. When filling your tank with today's gas, it can be depressing to watch the dollars and cents numbers zoom upwards while the gallons indicater spins at the speed it always has. On this slow pumping Arco machine, the amount I was paying crept comfortably slower towards twenty, as if the gas was at 1985 prices. I later concluded that I just had a bad pump when I saw other customers come and go more quickly.

With all this time on my hands, I noticed the price it showed on the pump was the credit price, not the ten cent discounted price I had earned by giving up my last Jackson. Maybe it was actually charging me a lower price, but just not indicating that on the pump display. How many gallons should I expect for my $20? I'm usually pretty good with math, but it took me a while to figure 2.8599X=20, X=20/2.8599, X=number of gallons I should get. My mind was somewhat numb after just playing 4 straight hours of rigorous basketball. No way to do that without calculator or at least pen and paper. When it finished, I was very confident that it seemed like too little, so I marched with my receipt to confront the attendant.

"Excuse me," I began, "I paid $20 cash, and my receipt shows $2.95 per gallon. That is the credit price." I knew something was wrong here, but I wasn't sure how I expected the guy to fix it.

"Are you sure you gave me cash?" he answered suspiciously. Oh, man, wrong move on his part. With the rough summer I had financially, I KNOW when I'm giving up my last twenty. I was now certain he'd made a mistake. After he reviewed the receipt some more he continued, "Ah, sir, you are being charged for the Premium gas. That's priced $2.95 per gallon."

"But I paid cash!"

"Correct, sir."


"You chose Premium." There has never been any standard by which the oil companies name their different grades of products. By the name alone, no one can tell what super, premium, super plus, performance plus, platinum plus or super premium performance enhancing plus mean. I was starting to catch on that the guy was telling me I had picked 91 octane gas instead of 89 octane.

"I pushed the middle button!" thinking that the slow poke pump had malfunctioned in another way, "I wanted the mid-grade! I pushed the middle button!"

"Go, sir, please go look at the pumps," he concluded, actually waving me off with this hand. I went and looked.

I wrote there has never been any consistency in how they name these levels of gas. One thing that has always been the same is the order they're placed on a pump where you push a button to choose your grade. From left to right, like one is reading, cheap stuff, mid grade, premium. The mid grade is ALWAYS in the middle. Not at Arco. I was aghast to see the 89 octane on the left, the 91 in the middle and the 87 at the far right. He was right, I had picked the premium.

Stepping back into the attendant's hut I exclaimed, "No one does it like that! Why do you guys DO that?" I just asked to make myself feel better. As expected, the attendant just smiled and shrugged.

I know why. Some freekin corporate marketing exec sitting in a room, trying to figure out a way to improve sales of their mid grade and premium gas, which I'm sure less people are using now that it's often $3/gal or more. Rearrange the established pattern of placement on the pumps, and just like when people read, their eyes will pass over the mid and premium before coming to the regular stuff at the end. It's basic merchandising; but it breaks a standard operating procedure that we consumers have gotten used to for 10 years or more. I'm sure I'm not the only guy whose has just pushed the button he normally pushes without reading. How about the guy with the high performance motorcycle or sportscar engine who needs that 91 octane stuff? If he just picked the rightmost button like he normally did, he'd be filling his tank with 87 octane which could damage his engine. At least I only got gypped out of indeterminate amount of gas.

Boycott Arco? I know I'm supposed to boycott Unocal 76 because of what they've done in Burma. Chevron/Texaco ain't exactly been the paragon of corporate virtue either, but like most Americans, I'm most likely to go to the station that has the lowest prices. Even if it was Saddam's Oil Change, Rape Rooms and Filling Station, if they were 6 cents cheaper than the place across the street, I'd go there. I'll go to Arco again, no doubt, just not that pump, and trust me, I WILL be reading the buttons from here on in.

Friday, October 14, 2005

File Drama

I just finished up doing a loan for a lady who probably didn't "deserve" to be able to buy a place. It is one I'm going to wonder about for years. I'm going to wonder if I've done the right thing. I'm going to wonder if she'll be able to afford the mortgage, property taxes and all the other expenses that go along with owning a home. At the same time, she is now among the landed classes, something that with equity growth, could secure her future forever. She makes $20/hr, and she owns her own home, something that would normally be unheard of in the Bay Area. Well, in a way, we own her home, as she received 100% financing. The sellers contributed $12000 from the sales price to cover the closing costs. She had a thousand dollar deposit, and was expected to come to the table with about another thousand. If you've got two grand and can buy a $315,000 condo, you've got a great loan officer.

I didn't "state" her income higher than it actually was. I didn't gouge her on the rate (not that I could). It was a good loan, using full documentation, on a relatively inexpensive property. My concern is that she faught me and her realtor every step of the way while we were trying to do something for her. She would send me bank statements with the account numbers whited out. Every document I asked for (and there are lots needed when asking for a mortgage) was greeted with, "Why do you need that? I don't think you need that". I'm sure there was no fraud here; I did get everything I was asking for eventually, it was just her attitude. I was helping her fulfill the American Dream, and she acted like I was forcing her to do so. Two days ago, she went to her final signing, but she needed another $1400 in a cashier's check. She didn't bring it. They let her sign anyway, but they won't record with the county until that money is received. Yesterday, I got a call.

"Gil, I don't think I can go through with this loan," she said.

"What? Why not?" My stomach churned. I had put hours and hours of work in with this lady, going back to the beginning of August. I saw it falling apart, but in a way, I was almost grateful. I imagine a marathon runner is relieved at that exact moment he collapases, unable to continue, within sight of the finish line. The runner will regret it later, but at the moment, there is relief.

"They took my car."

"Who took your car?"

"The car lot. I fell behind on my payments so I could have this money for a down payment, and now they took my car. I need the money to get the car back."

"Wow." I was shocked. I didn't know what to say, but once again, she was being wishy washy.
Mind you, I had already beat up my boss twice to get pricing concessions on this loan so that she could come to the table with almost nothing. There was no room to budge. Heck, the loan had already funded; we were just waiting to record. Still, in my short time as a loan officer, I've never had anyone try to back out of a purchase after they've signed docs. I didn't know if she even could back out at this point. I told her I would check on her options and call her back. After talking to the experts at my office, I learned that obviously, we can't force her to come up with the relatively small down payment. If she never paid it, the transfer would never record, and everything would just rescind.

My phone rang. It was her realtor. Of course, the realtor was panicing. She said she had heard a message from the buyer, stating what had happened, but all her attempts to call her back had not been answered. From what she'd shared, our buyer had the same distant, cold relationship with the realtor as she had with me. Even then, the realtor offered to loan the buyer the money to close the deal so she could get her car back. The realtor asked me if I thought she was doing the right thing. She asking me? At this point, all my doubts about my buyer's ability to handle this place came to a head, and I said "no". I told the realtor, that no, I wouldn't do it, but I am not her. She needs to decide whether to risk her own funds on this lady. At the same time, I recognized that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the buyer, and she shouldn't back out thinking she could get this deal again sometime in the future. She barely qualified for this place as it was, and although the skyrocketing ascent of property values here in California have leveled off a bit, there is no way she'd ever be able to find a condo at this price again, particularly considering the great loan I put together for her and the concessions being made by the seller. Furthermore, although I couldn't share the specifics of her credit report with the realtor, I knew that once this repossession of her car hit the credit bureaus, it would be years and years before her already marginal credit would have recovered to the point where a lender would even consider doing a loan. All this, and the buyer wouldn't return the realtors calls.

After hours of pleading voice messages from both of us, the buyer finally agreed to let the realtor do her the favor. I told her the cold hard facts outlined above. The realtor used a different strategy. She told the buyer that if God puts someone in your life who is willing to help you, one needs to recognize that and not refuse the help. I will let the cynics come to their own conclusion about that, but as a theological determinist, I would agree with that statement in principal. My only question is are we really helping this lady?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Jojo Lapa follow up

More on the goofy Quik Stop guy.... It would help if you've already read the post from a few weeks ago entitled "JoJo Lapa." If not, see the links below and to the right.

Soon after my great bonding experience with the Nepalese kid who works at the QuikStop down the hill, I went in again and exclaimed "Jojo Lapa!". He kind of frowned and looked away and responded half-heartedly, "jo jo la pa." Then, in all seriousness, he added, "You see, my people don't say 'jojo lapa'. The people on the other other side of the mountains, they say jojolapa. My people say something different."

"Namaste?" I inquired, knowing that to be the formal way in Hindi to say hello.

"Ah, yes, but more commonly, 'Namasko'", he replied.

Now, of course, whenever I go in, we exchange hearty namasko's.

Tonight when I walked in to buy my nightly can of beer, Metallica's Master of Puppets was playing rather loudly on the radio behind the register. Namasko kid noticed my enthusiasm for the music and asked if I liked it. Metallica is, of course, one of my favorite bands and an important part of my personal musical development. I told him I liked it without really revealing exactly how significant it was to me.

Namasko Kid began a monologue (much to the dismay of the next guy in line) on how he had felt Metallica to be the most significant musical group to come along in recent history, surpassed only in its impact by Nirvana. He told me how strongly he had been influenced by Metallica which made the arrival of Nirvana and the whole Seattle sound somewhat surprising yet that much more profound. Wow. I had taken this guy to be at least 10 years my junior, but from the timeline he was describing, he has to be near my age. Even stranger was that this is exactly how I feel about how my musical tastes devloped and evolved between the years 1986 and 1995. I was tired after a long day at work and just wanted to get home, but I really have to talk to this guy more about music; his tastes and opinions parallel mine.

Speaking of the next guy in line, his conversation with Namasko Kid demonstrates another thing I'd talked about in the first JoJo Lapa post, namely that the guy has a knack for making his patrons feel uncomfortable. I had my single can of Colt 45 on the counter, and the guy behind me notes, "Colt 45, good beer!" He had a bottle of Miler High Life. I should mention that I've seen the guy a million times in the QuikStop, and he me. He is one of our neighborhood drunks, although for me, thats a bit like we kettles calling you pots black. In any case, the old alcoholic black guy turns to the Namasko Kid and says, "he's buying a beer! How come you don't tell him he's always buying beer?!" I was on my way out at that point, but I started to hear the guy complaining that Namasko Kid told him he was always buying beer, and he didn't like that. If you're the neighborhood equivalent of a retail bartender, it's not a good idea to be pointing out to your regular customers that they're a lot of drunks. If we weren't too sodden to drive elsewhere, we might take our business to another convenience store.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

San Francisco

Would Herb Caen have been as good a journalist if he was assigned to write about say, Sacramento or Duluth or Knoxville? There is a spirit to "The City" that inspires one to observe, reflect and report in a way that no other city I have ever been in can. It does take patience and time. Certainly thousands of people, residents and visitors alike, simply pass through or go about their daily business without pausing to absorb the goings on in San Francisco. It is a nice city to drive around, but to really see it, you have to be on foot. Being stationary is even better.

I had the chance on Monday to sit in one of the weirdest spots in SF for a good 30 minutes, and just being there inspires me to make one of my infrequent blog entries. I was leaving the SF Countrywide branch at Van Ness and McAllister, and I decided it was time for a long overdue haircut. Things are picking up for me in my new career, but right now, I am on a rather austere budget. I remembered a hair cut I had back when I was in a similarly tight financial circumstance while living in SF in the late 90's. There was this little Chinese lady who had a barber shop on Market Street who charged a remarkably frugal $5 for a trim. The problem was I couldn't remember where on Market it was. I trudged down to Van Ness and Market to pull $20 out of the ATM I knew was there. Standing there idly "guarding" the B of A was one of SF's Finest.

"Excuse me," I asked the beat cop, "Do you know Market Street pretty well?"

He looked at me mildly scornfully which seemed to communicate something like I was stupid for asking such a question, and grunted a "yeah..."

I related the story of the Chinese lady barber. I refrained from adding the details about how I asked her to give me a haircut like George Clooney (it was the late 90's), and she looked at me in bewilderment and answered "Gaj Crooney? Who he?". The cop had no recollection of a cheap Chinese barber on Market.

He pointed to the east and said, "Now, if you go down to Sixth Street, there's this place..." he paused and looked me up and down. I was wearing my usual worn-out-from-too-many-years-working-in-a-department-store business attire and continued, "...but you don't want to go down Sixth Street." Apparently, the cop had judged my streetwiseness on the conservative side and decided 6th was too dangerous for me. I know the SoMa area can be little rough, but I lived for two years in the Tenderloin. I know how to handle the streets of San Francisco just as well as Michael Douglas. I found it a little amusing that there were areas of Downtown that even the cops won't send people. I think the 6th Street merchants might be a little peeved by that. "There is this Fillipino lady on 7th Street," the cop continued, "right there next to the check cashing place, she's got a little shop. That might be what you were thinking of." I thanked him and wandered the four blocks down market to 7th.

Check cashing places, which also offer things like Payday loans and money orders, thirve in the ghetto. Naturally, folks in and around such places are folks who aren't likely to have a bank account. I weaved my way through the small crowd of inner city dwellers surrounding the check cashing establishment and entered the barber shop. It was 5:30. Thousands of guys in a half mile radius were getting off work. I thought for sure I'd have to wait, but no, I was the only guy in the place other than the little Filipino grandma who looked like she could have cut hair at Corregidor in 1942. It was much like any other barber shop on the inside. Magazines, cyllindrical containers of blue liquid with combs inside, and the faint smell of hair clipper oil. On one wall, an apparently hand made collage of magazine pictures of hairstyles like I had seen many times before in other barber shops. How they could all be handmade and still be so similar is beyond me. All of the hair styles in the pictures would have been all the mode in 1983. Deciding I didn't want to look like Ralph Macchio, I flopped down in the barber chair, and said, "I need a haircut."

I felt so sorry for the ancient barber lady as she kept having to lift her arms to a level even with her head as she cut my hair. Couldn't she have lowered the chair or something like that? Another thing that was weird is that it was the first "dry" haricut I had had in 10 years at least. She didn't do the spraying of the hair with water that seems to be the standard operating procedure of all other barbers. Instead, she cut my hair dry, with what to me seemed like rather dull scissors.

Oddest of all were all the strange people walking by, some even sticking their heads in the otherwise empty barber shop. The traffic noise was loud, so it makes sense that people talking on the street would need to speak up to be heard. The majority of people who were talking loudly as they passed by the 7th Street barbers were not talking to someone else, but to themselves. If you're talking to yourself, is it really that hard to hear even on the busiest of streets? I surmised that although most of the individuals were not talking to anyone else, they still wanted to be heard.

7th and Market has quite a bit of irregular commerce going on. One guy walked into the shop with a plastic bag and asked if anyone (I guess he meant me or the barber lady) wanted to buy a set of computer speakers. Another lady politely asked if the proprietor or myself would be willing to exchange her five dollars in quarters for a single bill (as I write this, I am in dire need of quarters to do my laundry, so I wish now I'd taken her up on her offer). A big argument broke out in front of the barber shop between a guy selling packs of Marlboros loose out of a sack and another man with a peculiar accent. The latter simply would not accept the idea that although he could buy two packs for $5, that one pack would cost him $3, not $2.50. He seemed mildly enraged that this street hawk would be seemingly cheating people that way. Last I checked, I think a pack of Marlboro's will run $4.50 or so in a regular store.

If I seem derisive of the economically challenged San Franciscans, I don't mean to be harsh. I could spend another blog entry making sarcastic observations about the lawyers, executives and other professionals found in the Financial District just a few blocks away. Before I got this current job and was late for a meeting, I never understood why the majority of these folks would always briskly climb an upward moving escalator. I mean, the point of an escalaltor is to save labor, not time.

I suppose if you take the time to notice, we all seem foolish in one way or another; San Francisco inspires me to notice.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

McKenna's Horsey

Check out this blog. I wandered into it because I saw it was written by someone named "McKenna" my family name (2 generations ago).

I thought it was wonderfully kitschy. Goofy. Ironic. It features a whole series of silly photos of a stuffed animal telling a tragic, yet classic story. I liked it a lot. It reminded me of BatGirl's blog, a Minnesota Twins fans who uses children's action figures to depict stories from the world of baseball.

Then I checked the profile of the author...

When an adult uses kid's toys to tell a story, it's kitschy. That's what I assumed the blog was. Actually, the author is an 11 year old kid. McKenna is now a popular girl's first name, so I was likely misunderstanding any surname connection as well. It puts a different spin on the blog from my perspective, but it is still highly creative in and of itself.

Music Time

I cry in my car. That may make me sound like one of these super-sensitive post-modern men who strives to take ownership of his emotions. Think what you like, but perhaps because I'm oftentimes not all that at one with my feelings that with the right stimulus, my emotions overcome me. I mean, even a particularly touching TV commercial can make me misty-eyed. I've always been that way, but it's always required some external media influence to let me feel what I do.

In the car, it's my music. Right now, System of a Down Toxicity is in my CD player. Track 7, Chop Suey! played really really loudly causes the tears to flow. If you don't recall the title, you might remember the lyrics Why did you leave the keys up on the table? 'Cause you wanted to..." or " in my self-righteous suicide...". System of a Down is an amazing band out of Fresno that mixes the hard core metal rhythms and guitars I've always loved with a melodic sophistication and poignant, often politcal lyrics. They're Metallica meets Linkin Park meets left-wing protest band. My wife bought me their new CD. I like it, but Toxicity remains my favorite.

Listening to really loud music is my favorite thing about my new car. It's got a kick ass stereo sytem, and cars really have incredible accoustics. I can sing along as loud as I want (if I'm alone) and no one minds. I'll often gesticulate wildly while singing, which gets me strange looks from pedestrians or other drivers. It's truly a time to unwind and be at one with an art form. Again, getting in touch with the art helps me get in touch with myself and my emotions, and hence the occasional tear.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Jo-Jo Lapa

The Quik Stop market a block away from my home has changed ownership four times in the five years I've lived in this neighborhood. Usually, with each new owner, family members are installed behind the counter. I see the evening clerks several times a week, as I stop in to buy milk, beer or whatever. Sometimes, I'll learn their names, or if not, a little bit about where they're from.

About a month ago, the Quik Stop changed hands again, and a new family took over running the place. The evening clerk is a goofy character. Skinny and tall, he looks about 22 years old. Buck teeth, a big adam's apple, a Nepalese accent and somewhat of a naive "FOB" demeanor distinguishes him from other clerks who've held his position. He hasn't really endeared himself to our neighborhood like some of the other clerks have. I don't think he's mastered the basics of cashiering at an urban convenience store. For example, I've come up with half a dozen items, paid for them, and then have him look at me and ask, "do you want a bag?" Of course I want a bag! I've heard him ask people who've come up to the counter with a six pack of beer, "back already?" I may be projecting, but if I buy alcohol, and then drunkenly need more, the last thing I want to hear the clerk say is "back so soon?". Still, I like being friendly with my merchants, so I looked something on Google last night.

I stood in line about 9PM, with my (first and only) beer purchase of the night. In front of me in line was a guy in a Peacoat (sic) buying imported beer and American Spirit cigarettes. He looked a like typical Berkeley 2nd generation preppy-alternative Indian. My friend behind the counter asked to see his ID, and after he looked at it, started asking the guy what part of India he was from. The guy answered in a perfect Bay Area tone that his parents were from Trinidad, which is in the Caribbean. The Nepalese clerk made some sad "oooohhhs", and then said "so you never been to India?" After the guy answered no, I think I heard the clerk say, "too bad." Again, this guy isn't an expert at making his patrons feel good. The clerk looked genuinely sad that he wasn't able to connect with this American who looked a lot like he did, setting up what I had prepared perfectly.

"How are you?" he asked as I put my beer on the counter.

"JO-JO LAPA!!" I exclaimed, and the guy's face immmediately burst into a beaming smile.

"Jo-Jo Lapa!?! How do you know 'Jo-Jo Lapa?!!?"

Before venturing down the block, having recently learned the latest QuikStop night clerk was Nepalese, I typed "How do you say Hello in Nepalese?" into Google. Several results were returned, "Jo-jo lapa" being the most memorable. I repeated Jo-Jo Lapa to myself over and over as I walked down to the store, making sure I wouldn't forget it by the time I got there.

"So what does jo-jo lapa actually mean?" I asked the clerk as he took my cash.

"It's a greeting, like 'hello,'" he replied and continued, "Who told you to say jo-jo lapa?" still smiling ear to ear. I explained how I looked it up on Google having learned the other day that he was Nepalese. I think I made guy's evening by giving him what the guy in line in front of me wasn't able to: a little familiar homeland connection in this often intimidating and impersonal urban California culture.

Every time I walk in there from now on, I know I'm going to hear "Jo-Jo Lapa!" Fine by me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

95 mph

I was cruising home today after another 12 hour day in the mortgage business. My new Infinity I30 was purring along. The music was blaring; the sunroof was down, and I was in the fast lane passing the sporadic 7:30 PM traffic. It ocurred to me that I was going pretty fast. Glancing down at the speedometer, I see I was doing 95 miles per hour. I didn't even notice. The car wasn't even straining in any way. The ride was as smooth as 45 mph in other vehicles I've driven. The Infinity is a true high speed cruiser. I'm anticipating a few speeding tickets driving my new baby.

My apologies for the lack of pictures, but as you can tell, I got my new (used) car. It's absolutely amazing. The ride is smooth, the stereo is better than what I have at home and its packed full of safety features. With a down payment, I got a great deal on the financing from a local credit union, so my payments will be very reasonable.

On the ride from the dealership back to work, I needed to fill it up for the first time. I stopped at a gas station in the heart of Oakland's Acorn district. I get out to open the gas door. It's locked, and like a lot of these new cars, it's equipped with a release inside the car somewhere. I start scanning the dashboard for the button or switch. I'm looking and looking, and I can't find it. So many functions, the thing looks like a spaceship control panel imbedded in polished walnut trim. Finally, I decide to consult the car's manual. Ten minutes later, I find the page that describes where the gas door release is. It was on the car door!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Buying a car

Above is not my new car, but an image I found on the web of the model I'm getting.

I fell in love with the Infinity I30 Touring Edition the second I hit the accelerator and felt that V6 (Automotive magazine called it the best V6 on the market) kick in. Vroom! It reminded me of the few times I've been behind the wheel of a BMW. The suspension is amazing. The interior is stylish, and the luxury features are well... luxurious (I'd never make it as an auto mag writer).

I don't have a pic of my car yet, as I'm still working out the financing, but I should have it by Tuesday. It's metallic green with a moonroof, spoiler, the works! It's a 2000 model with 80K miles on it, but whoever the previous owner was, they took good care of it. I've seen the dealership service schedule, and this car hasn't missed as much as an oil change in 5 years. I don't know too much about Nissan engines, but from the reviews I've read online, I can't go wrong with an Infinity I30.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

SIDEKICK rest in peace

My old truck...

I feel like I've lost an old friend

My good wife has been on me for some weeks to get her car tuned up. She said it was running a bit rough, and I believed her, but whenever I drove it, it seemed to run just fine. We sort of put off her maintenance because of where we are financially right now as, to me anyways, it didn't seem that pressing.

Then the "Service Engine Soon" light came on.

What friendly verbiage for Chrysler to tell their Neon owners that their car is about to have major problems. What's next? A "Please, if it's not too much trouble, the car's not feeling so good," light? The mechanic first charged me for a new spark plug wires, and then as I was driving away, the check engine light came back on again. Turns out, the head gasket is blown, and they're going to have to replace it, remove the heads and have them checked for damage, and remachine if necessary. Estimated repair cost :$1000-$1200.

Worse yet, my regular mechanic had his shop sold out from under him. There was a sad note on the door of his closed garage stating the city of Oakland had taken his business away from him by using "eminant domain." They're going to build a big condo complex on the site where he's done business for 30 years.

While I'm driving my wife's car around, she's got my Suzuki Sidekick. I love my truck. When I'm BARTing all over the Bay Area, visiting CMD branches, I get this great feeling at the end of the day when I see my vehicle parked all by itself in a lonely lot. It's like I'm out hunting or adventuring or doing some other manly thing, and then, returning from my struggles, my faithful mount is waiting for me. Like it missed me. Okay, I'm anthropomorphizing, er, perhaps equineomorphizing would be more descriptive, but it's not unusual to have an emotional attachment to a vehicle. The Sidekick is the first car or truck I ever bought with all my own money. It has run well for several years, although I know it has over 300K miles on it.

As I'm going back and forth to the mechanic for my wife's car, she calls me to tell me that the Suzuki suddenly couldn't make it up the hill. She had to park down the street as the car mysteriously had no power. The engine ran, but it made the whole vehicle shake violently. At first, we thought it might be because I'd let the gas run all the way down, and then parked it on a hill. Maybe sediment from the tank had gotten into the fuel line. Just a minor clogged artery... a little bypass surgery was needed. My old mechanic recommended a colleague of his, and I had my poor Suzuki towed off to the "Auto Repair Master." It's still there. It took him two days to throw up his hands and tell me it needs a whole new engine. They can't diagnose how it happened, suffice to say there is no pressure in two of the cyllinders, and it's beyond hope of repair. Cost to repair: $3500 to $4000. I bought the truck for $3000.

I don't blame the beloved wife one bit for the fact that my car died. She only drove it a few blocks, and I'm sure the same thing would have happened had I been behind the wheel. It is kinda weird not being there when it went through its death throws. It's like entrusting an elderly pet to someone while you're out of town and having it pass away under his or her care. You know he or she didn't kill the animal, but its a tough feeling nonetheless.

To make matters worse, even the rental car company is giving me troubles. When I found out my car was totalled, I called Enterprise of Walnut Creek to arrange a weekend rental. We've gone a whole week now with no vehicles, and tons of stuff to do, including shopping for a new (used) car. They said they would hold their last vehicle for me, and that I should call back when I'm ready to get picked up. I called them after work at 5:15, and they said 30 to 45 minutes before pick up. I waited and waited, checking my cel phone every 5 minutes. Finally, after an hour waiting, I called them up to find they were closed. I called every other rental car place in town; all were closed. I called Enterprise national roadside assistance. I hadn't rented a car, but I was roadside, and I sure needed assistance! They were sympathetic, but couldn't do anything. Man, I was, and still am pissed off. Leaving me stranded after I made a reservation! When I'm done with this post, I'll be calling them, and the manager is going to get an earfull.

So today, I go and look for a car loan and a new car. I've never had a car payment, and in my new job, I get to see how car payments can effect someone's debt-to-income ratio dramatically. Thats why I'm looking for a quality used vehicle.

My next post will be about my new car or truck.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Locked my first loan.

Yesterday, on my first day back from our out of town week of training, I locked my very first loan. Locking is the first step in the arduous path before funding. Basically, locking is the customer agreeing to the terms of the loan and sending you their inital documets. Being brand new to the industry, I haven't experienced the pitfalls prevalent on the path to paycheck, but from what I've been told, lots can still go wrong before a lock to becomes a funding.

For one thing, she could simply change her mind. This deal is a refinance, and so there isn't the sense of urgency like there is with a purchase agreement. The borrower cashes in on the equity on the home while paying off her car and a few nasty bits on her credit report. She's also getting a nice chunk of cash to use to visit her family in Nigeria. She bitched and moaned about the interest rate, but then I found out that we're actually lowering her interest rate by a 1.5% compared to what she just refinanced for 16 months ago. Still, making a $250,100 (why the extra $100? Take a guess in the comments) comittment to a financial institution shouldn't be taken lightly. In any case, I feel good about my first ever real borrower, and if all goes as it should, I'll be earning my first real commision in about 15 working days.

It's taken a month to get a locked loan. I was told a month agot that I should average 7 loan fundings per month. I know I'm good enough at just about anything to do better than average, and so my personal goal is 10 per month. In May, I had zero, but that's okay. We didn't even really open until June 1st, and I spent all of May technically still in training. If I hadn't been at Ring Ring last week, I would have locked this loan last week. If I get 5 loans in June, I'll feel okay, because I'm only going to get better.

I've also been told I should get about a 10% funding rate. That means that only 10% of the files that cross my desk should turn into funded loans. My Nigerian friend was about the 11th.



Wednesday, May 25, 2005

First tournament ever...and then the 2nd

I am writing this from my hotel room in Pasadena. Countrywide has sent me off to RING RING, our week of intensive classroom training. At the end of each day of training, we're having a poker tournament down in room 906. Last night was my first ever live tournament. We've had cash game poker nights at our place before, where everyone walks away with whats in front of them, but this was my first ever 9-handed tournament format game of Texas Hold em. No limit Texas Hold Em.

On the very first hand, the guy sitting next to me hummed and hawed, and I really got the impression he had no idea what he was doing. I had second pair with a solid kicker and a flush draw after the flop. I bet strong, he called.. well.. I went all in. All in on the very first hand.

I lost.

Yup. Busted on my very first tournament hand ever. I leaned back in my chair and tried to hide in the corner as it seemed like everyone was staring at the smart guy from the training class. He just lost all his chips on the very first hand.

We had already agreed that the first person to bust would be allowed to buy back in. That extra 20 made the payouts $100 for first, $60 for 2nd and $40 for 3rd. I played my next $20 very tightly and people lost around me. I recovered well and ended up in the money in 3rd place. I made both my original and buy in back. Despite what had happened originally, I am very proud of my 3rd place finish last night. One of the guys I'd beat had been in a real World Poker Tour even in Reno. He had won a sattelite tournament and was playing for a chance at TV and WPT final table or title. The guy who won was the guy who I had lost to on the first hand.

When I sat down to tonight's game, I jokingly thought to myself, "Now, don't go all in on the very first hand again". Tonight's Hold Em Newbie and I ended up all in again on the very first hand. A pair of 5's had flopped, and I had a 5 in my hand for the trips. Good kicker. Once again I was all in on the first hand, but tonight, I won. The exact opposite of the night before. Tonight, I won $20 on the first hand. It was a great tourney and I ended up 3-way with the WPT guy and the guy who came in 2nd last night. When I ended up head to head, the other guy had the chip lead. We played head to head for a while, both of us being very conservative. I started playing a little more agressively and it paid off. My heart was pounding like crazy as I realized I was in position to win my second ever tournament. I bluffed at few pots and he didn't call me. I knocked him out with a trips..and that was it... I won!!!

That $100 should cover my beers for the week.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Full Circle

Standing there on the corner of Larkin and McAllister, I looked at the two buildings accross the street with a vague nostalgia, a certain animosity and a new sense of accomplishment. I had come full circle. Not much had changed to the appearance of UC Hastings College of the Law in the 8 years since it became the site of my life's biggest mistake. It was still the same glass, metal and concrete as in years past. In previous years, however, it was hard to look at, like an old bully who had beat me up on the schoolyard. Now, finally, I felt like I could face that campus without shame.

I had just walked out of a meeting with the son of Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco's congresswoman and the minority leader of the House of Representatives. Sue, Tony and I were returning from our visit to the SF branch of CMD. Young Pelosi happens to be a sales manager with Countrywide. We had been talking about our business partnership which would involve deals totalling tens of millions of dollars. The office itself was on the former site of Stars Restraunt, accross the street from City Hall and the SF Opera House. I was involved with important stuff with important people in important places.

"Its a great feeling," I shared with my boss and coworker as I gestured accross the street, "That campus was where I went through one of the biggest disappointments in my life." We're really building a strong sense of "team" at my new office, so I had no hesitation revealing my emotions to these two. "Now, I stand here with two top notch mortgage professionals, knowing that I'll soon have more success and earnings than I would have had as a lawyer, and I really feel like I've finally overcome that disappointment. Its like I've come full circle." Sue beamed and Tony shook my hand vigorously, sharing in my optimism and sense of accomplishment.

Soon after I dropped out of law school, I received a gift from a family member of a "Big Dogs" t-shirt. It was basketball gear; something I'm always in need of, and a traditional gift from this family member. It showed Big Dogs playing basketball and the caption on the back read, "If you can't play with the Big Dogs, stay off the court!" If the person giving it to me had been there at the time, I would have thrown it back in their face. It seemed like it was meant as a horrible dig at me dropping out of law school. I felt extremely disrespected, but at the same time, I recognized that emotional depth hasn't been one of my family's strong suit, and there was a strong possibility that the person giving me the gift had no idea that message on it had so much personal significance. Its not like us to smile and give with one hand and then kick you in the stomach at the same time. I never knew if the shirt was intended to be the insult I took it as, or if the person simply saw the big dogs playing basketball without understanding how message would efffect me. I wanted to believe they were innocent as communicating through t-shirt slogans means a serious lack of connection. Although I suppose impersonalizing the resentment it created through Blogging isn't much that much better either. In any case, I stood there, 7 years later, on the site of the "court," with a sense of victory. I was on the court, running with the Big Dogs. Finally.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


About 150 or so of us sat at round tables in a hotel ballroom. All of us had come to take the Jeopardy test. I finished 12th. Unfortunately, only 11 had scored high enough to make it to the next round of testing. The other 139 of us filed out the door, smiling and laughing, knowing that eventhough we hadn't accomplished our goal of being considered for Jeopardy this year, we had fun.

On the elevator of the way down, someone sneezed. I said, "What is gezundheit?"

The test itself was very tough. 50 questions which got progressively harder. They asked us not to reveal the exact content of any of the questions, particularly on the net, as they don't want to have to come up with entirely new questions in every city they visit. I'll honor that request. The seating arrangement at the tables was very open, in that it would have been very easy to have looked over at a neighbor's answer sheet at any time during the test. I didn't look for any answers, but I did happen to notice that a some of the other folks at my table weren't writing anything for some of the questions. Out of 50 questions, there were only 3 or 4 that I had absolutely no idea. I'm thinking I missed about 7 or 8. As we were waiting for the grading to come back, I discovered through our conversation, that most of the folks at my table thought they missed many more than that.

They read the names of those selected to continue. We all waited with anticipation. No one at my table was selected, and as I mentioned, maybe 7 or 8 percent of the entire group continued to the next phase of testing. They didn't actually tell us our score at the end, so when I say I finished 12th, I should say I tied for 12th with 140 other people.

I had fun and will try again in a year or two.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wish Me Luck!

In an hour, I'll be heading out to a attend the Jeopardy auditions in San Francisco! Wish me luck!

In all modesty, I think I have as much generel knowledge (some would call it trivia, but I think that trivializes it) in my head as the average Jeopardy contestant. I just need to get a good draw of categories and be fast on the button.

The first step will be to pass a written test. 50 questions. I wonder what a passing score will be? If one passes, only then does one get to compete in a mock game, in front of the television lights - a screen test. From what I understand, Alex Trebek personally watches and chooses the constestants from the taped auditions. One doesn't even have to win the mock game, but it probably helps.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Another New Office

Yesterday, my new boss and I visited one of our CMD branches. My new position as a loan officer with Countrywide's Full Spectrum Lending Division is that of an Account Executive -CMD Dedicated. That means I specialize in borrowers with "interesting" credit and do so on behalf of our partners in the Consumer Mortgages Division (CMD). When one of my colleagues at CMD gets a lead that they can't qualify into one of their "A" loans, they are supposed to refer that business to the Full Spectrum Lending Division. If they do and we then fund the loan (we have loan programs for just about anybody), they get their full commission on that transaction, just like they had worked it themselves. I get my commission, and Countrywide gets to keep the bisiness within the family.

Its a good set up if everyone participates. The borrowers get their money. The "A" paper folks get paid, and I get my leads handed to me without having to solicit new business. For various reasons, however, many of the CMD loan officers are reluctant to give us their "B" paper folks to the FSLD. We're kind of like the red-headed step children of the loan world. Our rates are higher; much higher than a lot of these borrowers are used to. Another problem is that the CMD folks can still get paid under the table for their B paper loans they farm out to mortgage brokerages. Due to the relationship-based business model of the home loan industry, many of the CMD loan consultants trust their brokerage partners more than they trust me and my colleagues at the Full Spectrum Lending Division.

What we need to do is convince CMD that FSL can be trusted with their borrowers. Its kind of a weird set up. Most of us work in companies that have lots of divisions. My wife works at a big wholesale coffee roaster that also has a small retail coffee shop. Its kind of like her retail department not trusting the quality of the beans that come from next door at the roaster. It seems weird that one division of a company should have to work so hard to get the business of another division within the same company. Corporate has already told the loan officers of CMD that they have to use FSL. Its not so rigorously enforced because the "A" paper loan consultants are the lifeblood of the company, and no one wants to piss them off.

A lot of my time is going to spent in CMD branches, schmoozing the "A" paper folks. They'll ultimately form their opinion of me based on how I handle their clients, but in the meantime, I've got to build their trust. My boss is instrumental in this process as well, and she and I made our inaugural visit to my new primary CMD branch. The Downtown Oakland office of CMD will be the main office to which I am assigned.

The visit went well and they've already given me a big transaction to work on. Our formal introduction won't be until next week, but yesterday was a preliminary sit down between myself, the two branch managers and the #1 loan consultant at the Oakland branch. It went well. We all bonded. My boss did the full dog and pony show as to why FSL deserves the business we're already supposed to be getting, and I got to show my face a little bit so that people will get used to me. My wife even made homemade cookies for the branch.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A New Game

Putting together loans can be kind of fun. It's a numbers game. Increase the interest rate, and you lower the closing costs. Add points, and you can lower the rate. Lower the monthly payment by offering interest only, but then give up any equity building unless the price of the property goes up. What kind of pre-pay penalty period do you use? All these balances and tradeoffs. The possibilities are endless! I've always enjoyed puzzles, and thats what a lot of this is about.

I am still very much in training. I've got a lot to learn, but one of the nice things about our office is that we're brand new, and there's already business coming in. I've been the loan officer for half a dozen or so deals. No takers. So far, I haven't booked a single loan. Every one has fallen through. Given we are only expected to have about 10% of the files that hit our desks actually become funded loans, I'm not too alarmed by the fact that I haven't made any commissions yet, but it certainly would have been nice to have booked at least one.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Week One Completed

One week down. A career yet to come.

Except for that one summer as an intern at Zilog, this is the first time I've ever worked in an office. Its kinda fun at first. I got my filing system set up in my desk. I'm learning the computers.
I think I'm going to do well in this office.

I twisted my ankle hard yesterday. It was my first game in a week or more. Actually, I suppose it was my third because I played in three different sets of games at three different basketball courts here in the East Bay.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Jeopardy contestant test and audition!

Can you imagine the excitement I felt when I read the following words:

Congratulations! We are happy to confirm your appointment for our

Jeopardy! interviews (for our regular shows). To qualify for the show

you must take a written 50- question test. If you pass the test you

will then participate in a mock version of the game and you will be put in

our files to be considered for the upcoming season of Jeopardy! >>>>>>

This is it! Six months ago, I registered online at to be considered as a candidate for the show. Two weeks ago, they sent me an e-mail with a request to respond within 48 hours of receiveing the notice. That would qualify me for the San Francisco auditions. I didn't open the e-mail until 4 days after it was sent - well beyinfd the stated limit. I responded anyway. I remembered the date of the auditions as being May 8th.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know I've recently started a new career in the mortgage lending industry. As part of my training, I was to go to Boston for the week starting May 8th and continuing to the 13th. A week on the East Coast doing sales training. Even if the Jeopardy people had allowed for my delinquency in their stated time restictions, I would be out of town, and unable to attend.

We found out yesterday that the training has been moved for those of us on the West Coast. I'm guessing that when they looked at the airfare and everything else, it just seemed more logical to have a West Coast training week seperate from the East Coast one. Its something they should have had already figured out, in my opinion. I told everyone that I had given up an oppurtunity to be on Jeopardy for these meetings, and what horrible irony it was that now, I could have attended, but do to corporate confusion, my life long goal would be thwarted. Make no mistake, I've pictured myself as a Jeopardy contestant from the very first time I saw the show. Ever been with one of those people who know all the answers on Jeopardy and shout them out before the contestants? I'm that person. Still, it made for good office positioning, particularly in retrospect. Allen just took this info and started running with it. He told the branch manager the whole story about how I had forgone my dream of being on Jeopardy to attend the corporate training in 2 weeks. Sue then went on to tell the regional vice president that one of her recruits was being considered for Jeopardy, but missed his chance because of the change of schedule.

Today I got the e-mail I quoted at the top. As it turns out, I had remembered the date wrong from the get go. Its actually for May 18th. My Countrywide Full Spectrum Lending training will not interfere with my opportunity to try out for Jeopardy. I wil be at that hotel on May 18th. I will pass the test. I will do well on my screen test. Alex will pick me, and I will be on Jeopardy some time in the Fall of 2005.


The training

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A New Industry

***Names have been changed to protect anonymity***

I landed at the office with the nice desks. Seeing those warm burgundy desks comforted me as I stood outside the glass doors. The locked doors. I had arrived 5 minutes early at 8:10 AM. Four minutes later, another guy walked up, tried the door, found it locked then looked at his watch. I walked up and introduced myself. His name is Derek (his fake name), and like me, he was starting a new job that Monday morning. The boss showed up at 8:15 as scheduled.

Its now 4 days later, and things are going well in my new position learning how to succeed as Account Executive with Countrywide Home Loan's Full Spectrum Lending division. I've been challenged mentally, mathematicaly and technologicaly. I think I'm going to like this new career. Remember, I'm not only changing jobs, I have to learn a whole new industry and job description. I'm going to be a loan officer. Having been a big ticket salesman or retail sales manager for 12 years, my comfort level with talking to people on the phone is pretty high. My impression so far is that phone skills are likely the most important part of the job.

More to come...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sears & RoeBye Bye!!

I remember the human resources lady looking at my job application. It was 1991, and I had sold through much of my inventory of handicrafts that I had brought back from Indonesia the summer before. "Oh," the lady behind the desk said, "you sold at the flea market, you must know how to sell. We can put you in the shoe department."

That was how I became a commission salesperson. Fourteen years later, twelve of which at Sears, I'm finally done riding the cash register. Good Life. Great Price. Decent Job. Today is the first Sunday I've had off that I haven't had to specially request or call in sick on. No more weekend work. The irony there is that I've got some errands to run, and I'm not sure these places are open today. Never had that problem on a Tuesday.

My last day was a mix of sadness, elation and trepidation. I'll truly miss my coworkers and the laid back atmosphere we (mostly) had with one another. The commissioned sales associates at Sears Oakland aren't the cutthroat, highly competitive, uncooperative teams you find in many other stores. At times though, I did get frustrated when it seemed I was the only one willing to go the "extra mile" to make things right, even if it cost me my own sales. In any case, they'll do fine without me, and I will definitely miss them.

Yesterday was also my last day to get my employee discount. The TV I've been considering was on sale. It's a Samsung 42" HDTV-compatible (4x3) PTV . Yesterday, it was only $999 with free delivery and 1 year 0% financing. I woulda saved another 10% with my discount. Without a doubt, a really great deal. I almost bought it, thinking to myself, a year from now, I'll be making enough that I'll be able to pay it off with ease, even if I can't afford it right now. Then I thought, a year from now, I'll be making enough that I'll be able to afford an even better television. Much better to wait until I can afford the 54" DLP 16x9 Sony Vega I really covet. If my current TV was broke, I woulda bought the Samsung yesterday, but given that this is a luxury not a necessity, its best to wait for what I really want.

Tomorrow begins my new job.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Beginning of the Last Week

Today I went into work knowing that this would be the last Sunday I'll ever have to work at Sears Oakland. It was a strange feeling. Like the monday of the last week of school. A countdown to major change is underway. Today may in fact be the very last Sunday I'll ever work ever. Retail is the only industry outside of vital infrastructure jobs where people even work on Sundays, and since I don't expect to be back in retail anytime soon, I think I'm done with Sundays.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Major Career Change

Major change is never easy, and professionally, I am embarking on would could be the biggest change I'll ever make. For twelve years, I've worked for Sears Roebuck and Co., an entity which technically no longer exists (it got bought by K-Mart). For the last five of those years, I've been in the appliance business, selling washers and dryers for the last four. It's been the best job I've ever had. Where else can you make nearly $30/hr teaching people about interesting aspects of what they thought was a dull thing coming in? There's the thrill of making the sale. There is the confidence and fulfillment that comes from knowing that one is a real expert in your field. I know more about washers and dryers than any other salesman I've come across, and I'm really good at selling them too. The hours are great. The environment is not too stressful (provided you make your numbers). Sears gives great benefits, and with so many years under my belt, I got 4 weeks of paid vacation a year. Why would I want to leave that?

After doing my taxes, I got to thinking about how I had made less in 2004 than in 2003. It was just a few thousand, but its ominous for someone in their thirties to have a decreasing income. Commission rates have eroded over the years; store management goes on these hiring spurts where they flood the floor with too many people. A smaller pie cut into more pieces means less food on the Joko Londo family table. Now, the top management is talking about how Sears will have to reduce fixed costs to remain competitive. To me, this means commission rates are going to be cut even further. The handwriting is on the wall. The glory days of appliance sales at Sears are over.

At least once a week, someone would tell me I'm a darn good salesman. Occasionally, one would inquire as to why I was even working at Sears. Surely, someone of my talents could do better somewhere else. I'm not boasting, I'm just reporting what others said. As the K-Mart/Sears merger approached, I started looking. I interviewed with Verizon for a corporate sales job. As I chronicled in this blog, I visited job fairs. One company that I got a really good feeling about at the last fair was Countrywide Lending, the largest mortgage lender in the USA. I went through the process, got a second interview and effective April 25th, I will be the newest loan officer at their full-spectrum lending branch here in the East Bay.

I gave notice at Sears today. Everyone is sad to see me leaving. Again, Sears has treated me very well. If things don't work out as a loan officer, I know I'm one of the best washer/dryer salesman in the whole company, and I could always go back (losing seniority would suck though).

My biggest concern is finances during the transition period. My training salary will be roughly half what I average at Sears. I won't be closing loans during the first few weeks; heck, I may not close one during the first month. They're expecting me to close 7 loans a month. With about a 1% commission going to the loan officer, and the average mortgage in the Bay Area being nearly $400K, I'll likely be more than doubling my current income. That could be months away, however.

I also have to deal with the anxiety of a turbulent economy. If the real estate market collapses, no one's going to be buying or refinancing. So much more rides on the economy and interest rates, whereas people will always need washers and dryers.

Ideally, I want to make enough so that my wife can devote herself to her writing full time. She is somewhat of a vicarious outlet for my own creativity. If I'm not going to write the great American novel, at least I can support her while she does. I got my job at Sears when I was in college and I never really left. I think its about time I got a grown-up job.

A Crack in the Sky

I spliced together this image out of two pics...

It was a very weird cloud phenomenon, and although atmospheric effects never seen to turn out all that well using the middle-of-the-line cameras I've always used, this one turned out okay.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pics from California

Ione, California. Its a small town, 100 miles or so east of Stockton. We went up there to do some research and take some pictures. I'm sharing a few on the blog. The pic below (sorry the foreground is out of focus) juxtaposes an empty vineyard against one of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Here's the story and a pic of the Preston Castle.

The one image I'll remember most from the return home via Highway 104 was the sight of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. The plant was closed 20 years ago, but the cooling towers are still standing. Standing in the shadow of those 200-foot tall stacks in the middle of nowhere filled me with a feeling of dread. Just their shape has an iconic power. The news from Chernobyl and 3-Mile Island were accompanied with pictures like the one below. Its a very weird feeling to see one up close.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My interview with the lending company went much better, despite my best efforts to sabotage myself. The office was beautiful. It took up half the ground floor of a suburban skyscraper in Walnut Creek. Behind the glass walls stood 30 or so of the most impressive desks I've ever seen. These weren't cubicles; these we eight-floor long, beautifully polished brand new desks, each with a matching flat-panel monitor and computer and state-of-the-art phone. This is the kind of place one could do some real "officin"!

The place seemed completely deserted. Not a soul at any of the workstations. Of course, the very reason there were positions available is that this place was a brand new branch. The manager, was in her office in the back, and she sat me down at one of the terminals were I began a battery of personality tests. Standard types of questions. I followed the manager's advice and didn't try to "maximize" my results; I didn't spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the ideal answer was. I went with my gut. After all, I do think I'm very good salesman, and if after all these years, my personality is not suited to my profession, I've done pretty well in spite of that.

During the interview itself, I was surprised to see that she didn't take any notes nor have any type of interview guide in front of her. She asked me one question, and then we just sort of launched into a conversation In fact, I've never been to an interview where the interviewer spoke far more than the interviewee. I could barely get a word in edgewise! This lady could talk! She told me a lot about the company and what "sub-prime" lending is all about. Fortunately, the next guy arrived a bit early, and she left my interview to go set up the next guy on his personality test. This gave me an opportunity to collect my thoughts and mentally prepare my "pitch." When she came back into the room, I thanked her for telling me about her office, and then began describing why my skill set and experience would fit in well with the environment she had described. I sold myself.

On completing my missive, she noted that based on my verbiage, she was definitely going to recommend me to the next level of the interview process, a phone call with the regional manager. She said this was DESPITE the results of my personality test. Huh?! Despite??? Apparently, I scored poorly in relation to what they think makes a good loan officer.

I mentioned my self-sabotaging efforts. They weren't conscious efforts; I want this job. The first was the computer test. The second was the onions I had with lunch. I thought brushing my teeth and mints would take care of it, but when I got home, my wife noted my breath smelled bad. I did have to lean accross the manager's desk at one point to explain the values in the sales reports I had brought. I think she noticed. My third error was in not bringing the phone numbers of my references with me. I didn't think that in today's litigious business climate that anyone even checked references anymore. With law suits being filed for unflattering recommendations, most companies do not allow their managers to speak positively or negatively about current or past employees. I did call the next morning with the phone numbers.

We'll see if my experience and persuasiveness can overcome the stinky breath, bad test scores and lack of attention to detail. I can see myself sitting in one of those desks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Disappointment and Hope

Near the corner of Jackson and 5th St in Downtown San Jose is a small storefront with a big sign out front reading "Health Insurance." This is the district office for UGO, the insurance agents for the National Association for the Self-Employed. Nestled in Japantown, surrounded by Sushi joints, Asian supermarkets and across the street from the Shisheido shop, the office itself is rather humble. After spending half an hour in their clutches, I've concluded the offer they're making future employment candidates is rather bold. Not in a good way.

On arrival, I was escorted into the "Conference Room." It was the only other room in building besides a common room. Sitting at a table were three other guys. They were dressed, like me, in the slick manner of professional salesmen. This would be a group presentation, but at least I wasn't being brought in here with a bunch of kids I though as I noted that I was about 10 years younger than the other candidates.

The office manager arrived and started discussing the company, what it does and its growth. Standard stuff. He asked if anyone in the room had experience selling insurance. One guy raised his hand and lamented how hard it was to knock on someone's door and tell them that you're there to talk about death. I guess he wasn't selling car insurance. The office manager then began talking about the costs involved in getting started in the insurance business. I had already gleamed from the company literature that this was a position for an independent contractor - you wouldn't actually work for them. You would be an independent insurance agent associated with their company. That's not what I'm really looking for, but I thought I would at least here them out.

The California insurance license costs $200 to take a 40-hour training class, and then another $190 to take the test and receive a license. Okay, I understand that the license would then be mine personally and add value to my resume. In all modesty, I'm a very talented salesman. In fact, I know I would be a significant positive asset to any company I worked for. I strongly believe that, and would expect any company responsible for my paycheck (regardless of the contractor/employee status), to believe that about me as well. If you believe in me, at least reimburse me for training I receive so that I can work for you. Doesn't that sound reasonable? I'm mulling this over, thinking that I'm not too happy with the offer so far, then they hit me with another one. After you get your license, you pay UGA another $175 as an "Establishment Fee." What? I should pay you?!? Isn't that kind of backwards. Again, I think as a prospective employment candidate, I'm pretty hot stuff. I think I should looking for someplace that would pay a signing bonus, not one where I pay them for the chance of selling their product. Utterly disgusted, I stood up, muttered a "thank you," walked past the office manager and out of room. The look I saw in his eye as I walked out was one of resigned frustration. He's the poor sap who had to try to hook these other guys. This was a horrible offer at best, an outright scam at worst.

One thing about professional sales is that there are lots of bad jobs out there. It costs a company very little to hire on sales staff, throw them into the field, and hope that they bring in more revenue. At worst, these recruits might convince some friends and relatives to buy the company's products, then they fall flat on their face and walk away. These jobs will occasionally be so bold as to ask for fees from their employees disguised as "training materials fees," or now as I learn, "Establishment Fees."

Today, I venture out on another interview. This one with Countrywide Home Lending. Touting itself as the leading provider of home mortgages in the USA, the position I'm interviewing for is that of a loan officer. This doesn't sound like it could fall into the category of "fake" sales jobs I described above, but one thing worries me. As part of what I was asked to bring today, I should recommend two individuals I know who I think might also make good loan officers. I was told to keep the diversity image of the company in mind when making that choice. This leads me to believe there are one of two things going on here. First, the whole thing is a multi-level-marketing (MLM) scam. The MLM company is another pot hole in the road of good sales jobs. Have you heard the good news about Amway? Second, they want to know what kind of people I know. Do you associate with people outside your ethnic group? That's the kind of people they're looking for. As it so happens, the two names I chose, Jamila and Damian, are African-American. After 7 years working in the Downtown Oakland S-Mart, I'm about as comfortable with diversity as a man can get.

We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Insurance Salesman?

I'm heading off to a job interview this morning with the National Association for the Self Employed. They provide benefits, insurance primarily, to those in business for thmeselves. At the job fair I mentioned two posts prior to this one, their presenter did a great job making the field sound exciting and full of money making opportunities. The latter may be true, but insurance sales exciting? I don't know about that.

I used to think the same thing about appliance sales, and that was from a perspective of selling electronics in the same store. Applinances seemed boring. It turns out I was wrong; they can be interesting and complex, and teaching people about them is the best part of my current job. Would I also find teaching people about insurance products equally and surprisingly interesting?

I may be putting the horse before the cart here, but I just wanted to write a few things about how I'm feeling.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Graphite Gazette

Metal Mistress

by Gil MacKenna

Chapter One:

Los Angeles, CA. 1993

Andrea lit a cigarette as the man in her bed put on his tight, black jeans. He had to lay there on the bed next to her to get them on, and she stared at the tiny ripples of stomach muscles beneath his smooth, tanned skin. She watched with erotic fascination as his small, but well-defined, chest rose when he inhaled sharply to get the zipper closed. She took a drag off her smoke. This one's name was Dave, and he was one of Andrea's favorites.

Dave turned, propped his chin up on his hand, and gave her a smile.  It was that satisfied grin he used on most of his band's album covers, and the one that was on all the posters.  Andrea briefly thought of the thousands of girls who stared at pictures of this smile, and dreamed nightly of the cute, mysterious guitar player who lay half naked next to her. He belonged to her this evening. It was one of the many priviledges of being Andrea Parsons, President of AP Records, and daughter of Andrew Parsons, founder and Chairman of the Board of International Media, one of the largest financial empires in the world.

"How long have we been lovers?" Dave asked, gently reaching for her cigarette.

"Ten years." she said coldly. Andrea didn't like to think of her rock stars as being 'lovers'.   They were fucks, nothing more.   They came here for her satisfaction, and because it was in their contracts.  She made sure that "twice yearly consultation meetings with company management" were a part of every AP contract. There was no 'love' involved. Andrea kept her cigarette away from his reaching hand.

"Shit, that's a long time." Dave rolled out of the bed and walked over to the liqour cabinet. Andrea liked the way his long hair fell over his back, almost reaching his tight butt. "Got any vodka in here?"

"Of course, Dave." she said sarcastically, "I sent for a bottle of the cheap stuff as soon as I noticed your appointment was coming up."

Dave opened the cabinet and pulled out a bottle. "Cool! Kamchatka! The cheap stuff tastes so much better."

Andrea quietly laughed at his odd taste; she knew he really did like the cheap vodka more. He liked it more, eventhough he now was rich enough to fly to Russia to get the real stuff if he wanted, thanks to her.

"Yeah, ten years is a long time." Dave was pouring himself a drink. "I'll never forget that night you picked me up. The Metal Princess in her Plastic Chariot. You were the only chick I'd ever seen who used her car to impress dudes."

Andrea remembered the Ferrari had plastic panels to make it lighter. A flood of images and emotions assaulted Andrea. That car had too many powerful memories connected to it.

"It was at that shitty little club in Hollywood," Dave continued nostalgicaly, although Andrea wasn't really listening.

She was thinking of her Uncle Paulo.

"and I still can't believe you were only fifteen! There ain't no fifteen year-olds driving two hundred thousand dollar cars."

Andrea turned away from Dave, closed her eyes, and tightly clenched the damp, satin sheets.

Uncle Paolo gave her that car for her fifteenth birthday, soon after she had returned from spending the summer with him and his wife in Rome.

"You were a real wild one, Andrea,"

There was a sound of ice being stirred in a drink, a sound Andrea associated with her alcoholic mother.

Mother decided that the private schools weren't teaching Andrea the importance of social graces. She still acted like a tomboy. She never paid any attention to how she looked, and all of the make up and hair products mother had bought her remained unused in her bathroom. The strange and noise-like music she was getting into worried mother to no end. A summer in Europe would straighten her out, it would teach her how to be a lady.

"You just sat there in that sexy car of yours, and watched us load our equipment into Stan's truck."

Andrea learned a lot that summer. She learned what it meant to be a lady, but a kind of lady her mother did not even know existed. She learned about power, how to use her money, influence, and body to get exactly what she wanted. She learned about marijuana, opium and cocaine. She learned how to drink massive quantities, throw it all up, and continue partying through the night. She learned how to fuck men, and how to fuck women. She learned there was nothing quite as sweet as a good, mind blowing orgasm. She learned how to look out for herself, sacrifice for no one, and take everything her position allowed her to. She decided then that she would not waste away in a big house like her mother, wife to a husband who was never there.

"Finally, you stuck one hand out your window, raised a finger, and slowly called me over." Dave took a long drink from his glass 'My father owns AP Records' you said, 'Get in. Lets go fuck.'"

Celine and Paulo were young Andrea's teachers. Paulo was thirty, ten years his sister's junior. His wife Celine had been a model in Amsterdam before coming to Rome. Andrea learned mostly from Celine, who whispered into her ear late at night, telling her to live each moment at its fullest. Andrea admired her beauty, and slept with her whenever Paulo was away on business. There was a never a shortage of young men, mostly actors, who wanted to seduce the successful movie producer's niece. Andrea went through them quickly, most of whom couldn't keep up with her voracious appetite. There was one man she wanted more then any of them, her uncle.

Chapter Two

Rome- 1983

The WeatherPixie

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Thursday Night after the job fair.

I am a salesman. That is my profession. In all modesty, I'm damn good at. People tell me that I'm good at my job. Customers. Its a nice feeling. Tonight I went to a job fair. I think I fared well. My current employer treats me well, but I've reached somewhat of a plateau in my earnings at Sears.

Gil the Account Executive... Selling financial services to individuals and businesses. I'd be good at it. I know I'd make more money. How will I know how much I will like it until I try it? I know I 'll always be a kick-ass appliance salesman/sales manager. Sears will always take me back. Its because of that, I know I can leave

Monday, March 21, 2005


The WeatherPixie

I remember the sky.
blue, yellow and orange.
I paused at the light.
Feeling like a schmorange.

thirsty with a headache
to the table for a banana
I hear Manilow far off
its the Copa Cabana

Thursday, March 17, 2005

SimCity 3000

Another program on my computer that has me wasting a lot of time lately is SimCity 3000 by Maxis. This is the 1999 version of the famous PC game where you zone your city, build roads and infrastructure, adjust your budget and taxes and then watch while your city grows from blank terrain into a megapolis. Once the city is built, one has to maintain decaying utilities and deal with earthquakes & tornadoes. Fun for fans of civilization building games like me,

In previous versions, the city would morph. Builidings would get more futuristic looking unitl finally, after about 300 years, great colonizing arcologies would form and launch themselves from the tops of your buildings. You had won. Well, in SimCity 3K, thats not happening. Im in the 2300's, and things are just sort of staying the same. I'm wondering if this game will ever have some kind conclusion.

I think the secret is in the name of the game. Maybe I've gotta run this city into the 4th millennium before things start to get interesting again. I want my city to succeed, but the game is kinda boring when you're just replacing old water towers and power plants. I've become invested in the fate of the neighborhhoods, parks and commercial districts I've spent hours and hours shepherding. I don't want to just abandon my city.

I need a third computer so I can blog, play online poker and run my SimCity game all at the same time.