…and the most intense.
If you really want to get acquainted with your fellow man, if you want to understand people and society, start a business. I’ve run a business since January of 1978. Originally it was in musical instruments. First repair only, but that quickly led to retail and installment sales. It’s a walk-in store and shop, plus we do on-location sales, sound system installation and setup, and on top of all that I was part of a performing group (sound engineer) that also traveled. All that’s still going on, but I’m now doing the design, manufacturing and internet sales thing with the gun accessories.
Please; this is not about me, though it may sound like it. It’s really about you. And people. It’s about the world.
You cannot really understand your fellow human beings until you’ve sweated, worried, obsessed, invested, committed, risked everything, issued credit, and experienced the range of reactions, to that effort, from your fellow citizens. You end up knowing the bank managers (they come and go) on a first name basis, the county clerk on a first name basis, several lawyers, teachers, fellow business owners. You end up in small claims court, as a repo man, in debt yourself. You end up in district court and in federal court trying to defend the property you sweated, cried, and devoted your life to. You develop a relationship with the local collection agency, the local churches, and the local schools. You deal, haggle, plead with, and give charity to, many people per day, every day. In our case it was six days a week, plus weekends in the taverns, conference halls, churches, farms, businesses, and convention centers playing music. One gig was in the garage/shop of a trucking company, for a company party. Another was for a wedding of two friends. Later, we played for their “divorce party”. We played for a lot of weddings.
You deal with many thousands of people on a very personal level. You learn of their troubles, their struggles, their marriages, their kids, and their extended families– their successes, their failures, their medical problems, their births, their schooling, their graduations (and do come, please) their weddings, their new children, and their deaths. All of those things become part of your business. They buy things from you, they utilize your services, and many of them owe you money. They are your life. One family could no longer pay us because their mother was in jail. Another customer could not get into the Air Force because he’d rented a saxophone from us and immediately pawned it for cash, eventually losing the pawn, and had never paid us. He eventually got in on a promise to pay, but I must have spoken to four or five base commanders on several continents, before we ever saw one payment. Another family invited us to their son’s graduation party, being as we’d been so much a part of his music education.
You owe a lot of other people money. You get to know your account rep at General Motors finance, at TransAmerica, and at Textron Financial. You get to know the sales reps at the manufacturers, while you must see and judge the credit reports of hundreds of your customers. Can these people be trusted with a thousand dollars worth of my sweat, blood and tears. They sure think so themselves, but that’s not the benchmark. The proof is in the pudding.
Wal Mart gets to know millions of people– their habits, their wants, their needs, their strengths, their weaknesses, their successes and their failures. They have to. It’s how they stay in business. Some people love them, some people hate them and want them eliminated, and some don’t care– all for the same things Wal Mart does.
Then there’s hiring and firing. You find out what’s being taught at the universities. And what isn’t. You make friends, and then you have to fire them. You make other friends that are permanent. You share in their successes and their failures, their sickness and their health, in good times and in bad. You learn of their families, and their extended families, and you meet their circle of friends.
You learn more about life than you can ever tell. You learn that utility rates (phone and power) are nearly double the rates paid by residents. You learn that property taxes are also nearly double the rate for a live-in home. “Home Owner’s Exemption” they call it here. You learn that property tax isn’t just paid on real estate. Those tools you built yourself? Those are property too, and subject to the same tax. You wanna spend forty grand to beautify the exterior and improve the sidewalks of your downtown business? That’s gonna raise your assessment, and increase your tax bill, you money-grubbing motherfucker.
You get to know the police, too. Very well. You end up testifying as a witness when that customer you though you knew, ended up embezzling the entire trust fund his bed-ridden mother signed over to him as executor. You end up in federal court when you refuse to hand over an instrument that you’re still making payments on, but a customer rented it (on a rent-to-own plan which is deemed legally as a “purchase”) and then filed bankruptcy, and it’s a big no-no when you try to exert your property rights without permission from the trustee (you also find out how a trustee can get a personal hatred for business owners who try to assert their rights without permission, and launch into a years-long vendetta).
Back when we were still operating, out of a one-car garage in my brother’s back yard, our competition in town (a music store that had been in business for many years, was much bigger and had a downtown location) started to lose franchises. Having no one else to sell to in the area, the factory reps came to our garage. We eventually bought a pathetically few instruments from them. A personal friend of the competition in town reacted by visiting us to yell at us for “grabbing up all the business”. Yeah; that’s us. Two kids in a garage we’d rebuilt ourselves, in a backyard. It had no inside walls– just bare insulation. Living hand-to-mouth. Virtually no assets other than our brains and our hands. We’re the “privileged class”. We’re “The Man” out to suck the life out of the righteous, with our dirty, no-good instrument repair tools (many of which we built ourselves) and little more than the trust and faith placed in us by some wholesalers’ credit departments.
People are funny that way. You’ll never be able to please all the people all the time, but you can sure as hell please a few of them some of the time. That’s the best anyone can do, and in the process you’re being as sociable as sociable gets. You’re participating in life, and interacting with the community, to a degree that few people ever experience.
Sometimes it is very, vary sweet to be alone. Only for a while.