Saturday, January 02, 2010

Happy New Year from Vail, Colorado!

Why Vail? Why not? I’ve decided to take a crack at finding a commercial publisher for my manuscript. I’m giving myself a few months to craft and shop a query letter and book proposal. If I land a book deal, the advance should be enough for me to dedicate myself exclusively to creating a streamlined final draft which will be ready for publishing by summer 2011, if not sooner. Of course I still need to pay bills, but leading trips doesn’t allow the time or brain-space to focus on writing. I figured if I was gonna be working a make-the-ends-meet kind of job, I might as well choose one offering some fun amenities. I hadn’t been on the slopes in 2 years, so “ski bumming” looked like a great plan.

Things didn’t go quite according to plan.

I was in a real funk shortly after arriving in Vail. I had arrived in Colorado a few days earlier, and was stressed out because I hadn’t secured a job or housing yet. See, the last time I decided to ski bum, I packed my car, drove from Charleston to Summit County and landed a job, housing, health insurance and a ski pass the same day I arrived in the mountains.

This time I flew to Denver, borrowed my friend Katie’s car (Thank you, KT!) and headed straight to Keystone, expecting the same kind of luck.

Thanks to my man, Archie, I had already done my online research and had a couple of job interviews lined up with potential employers. Prior to my arrival in Colorado, one of them informed me that since I left before the end of the season last time I was here, in order to have Human Resources revoke my “No Hire” status, I needed to report to the Keystone HR department with two letters of recommendation from outside sources, as well as a letter from myself explaining the extenuating circumstances leading to my early departure 5 years ago.

I thought that after a quick review of the letters, a face to face conversation, and a chat with my references, the HR rep would have me out of there in an hour, eligible for rehire. Wrong.

Shortly after disappearing into the back offices with my letters, the HR gatekeeper returned saying, “Melissa has your letters, and will contact you in about a week.”

A week?? I need a job and housing ASAP! “I’m sorry, a week? I have an interview with Keystone Lodge in an hour. I was hoping to have this cleared up before then. Is it not possible to speak with her today?”

She disappears again, and returns with, “No, she needs to launch an investigation. It should take about a week. And she said you should cancel any interviews with Vail Resorts personnel until she contacts you.”

“These letters were faxed and emailed to this office yesterday, is there any way I could speak with her for just a second?”

“No, she’s on a conference call right now.”

“I don’t mind coming back a little later…”

“She’ll be in touch with you in a week.”

For a moment I’m speechless, but all hope can’t be lost, right? “Hmmm… Is this ‘No Hire’ status just for Keystone or all of the resorts owned and operated by Vail Resorts?”

“No one associated with Vail Resorts can interview you until we’ve completed the investigation.”

Talk about a monkey wrench in my plans! Vail Resorts owns Keystone, Breckenridge, Arapaho Basin, Vail and Beaver Creek, and accounts for about 90% of the mountain jobs I was aware of. Most of the jobs come with inexpensive employee housing, health insurance, and a ski pass valid for all of the mountains. Being blacklisted from Vail Resorts left me reeling as I walked to Katie’s car, contemplating next steps.

I proceeded to Keystone Lodge anyway, hoping the hiring manager in need of an employee might be able to talk some sense into the HR folks. Nope.

“I’m sorry, my hands are tied until they change your status.”

I was encountering defeat, but I was not yet defeated. Remembering my friend, Fran, had given me a lead in Vail, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and headed to Christy Sports, an independent ski shop in Vail Village.

The initial meeting was good. The manager said he’d like to hire me if I wanted the job.

“I’m definitely up for it! Can you give me a couple of days to lock down housing?” $11 an hour and a ski pass sounded like a good Plan B, but I needed to make sure I could afford housing in Vail first.

Since Christy’s wasn’t offering health insurance or housing, I was actually hoping Keystone would clear me in less than a week, but it wouldn’t hurt to check out my options in Vail.

They weren’t pretty. The cheapest housing options I found in the local newspaper and on Craigslist were $750 a month. To make matters worse, they wanted first and last months’ rent and a security deposit up front. That amounted to $2,250 just to move in! Cue the dark funk clouds.

A couple of days passed without me hearing anything from Keystone HR. I was getting desperate. I couldn’t keep inconveniencing Katie or the hostesses who were putting me up. I was ready to sign one of those $750 leases, but not until I was absolutely certain I had a job. All of a sudden the Christy’s manager was nowhere to be found and wouldn’t return my calls. The funk clouds were beginning to block out the sun.

But I’m a trooper! Christy’s and Vail Resorts weren’t the only shows in town. I visited nearly every employer I came across in the Vail Daily classifieds. I dropped off several resumes, but wasn’t actually able to speak to ANY hiring managers. There was no sun. The funk was real.

As the daylight hours faded on December 20th, I started wondering what I could have possibly been thinking, moving to Colorado without a job. What a stupid idea.

I headed over to May Palace to catch the happy hour meal specials. Melinda, a new friend I met through joined me at the bar. Not long after she arrived there was a full-blown brainstorming session taking place. Melinda, the bartender, and one of Melinda’s friends were all offering possible leads for me to check out as I jotted everything down.

Crashing on Melinda’s floor later that night, I fell asleep watching March of the Penguins. The documentary reminded me to keep it positive. To light a candle rather than curse the darkness… To count my blessings rather than focus on the negative, so to speak.

The emperor penguins of Antarctica walk 70 miles to meet their mates, court and reproduce. The mothers lose a third of their body weight during the 2 months it takes them to produce a single egg, so as soon as it arrives they carefully pass them over to the fathers and walk the 70 miles back to the sea to feed. The fathers will go another 3 months in the coldest, darkest place on earth without food in order to incubate the eggs. They survive the -79.6F temperatures and brutal winds by huddling together, periodically rotating from the center of the huddle to the edges and back again.

I’m a mess if I go more than 6 hours without eating. I can’t imagine going more than 3 months. Sure I had a couple of frustrating days to contend with, but not landing a gig when I wanted to is nothing compared to the hardships these penguins faced. If I could just summon a fraction of their fortitude I’d accomplish my goals too. After all, my network of friends is as vast as that penguin colony.

Perhaps the winter solstice also had something to do with my funk (and subsequent bright day). On the first day of winter (the day marking the beginning of the gradual lengthening of daylight hours), I awoke with a new pep in my step, determined to keep a smile on my face and land a job.

(Yong Pyong, Korea 2 years ago. Can't compare to Vail's back bowls!)

It wasn’t easy. My first stop was Christy’s, where I finally tracked down the manager only to find that he could no longer offer me a job. The second stop was the Vail Athletic Club, where I was hoping to meet with the manager who wasn’t there when I’d dropped off my application and resume the previous day.

“He won’t be in for another 4 days, but here’s his business card if you want to leave him a voicemail or send him an email.”

The May Palace crew was right, the Sonnenalp Resort of Vail was huge… But, unfortunately for me, they weren’t hiring.

The previous day’s clouds were threatening to gather again, but Bob Marley and the Wailers helped me keep them at bay, “Sun is shining, the weather is sweet, make you want to move your dancing feet…” I had a whole list of places to check out for hospitality jobs. I had to keep a smile on my face if I was going to land one of them.

The Vail Plaza Hotel and Club had 3 positions posted in their HR department, but the hiring manager wasn’t available. Undaunted, I filled out an application and proceeded to a pizza shop in Lionshead:

“Sorry dude. I actually have to let someone go, and I’m stressed because I don’t even know how to come at them,” said the manager.

“…to the rescue, here I am! Want you to know, y'all, where I stand…”

Then to The Tee Shirt Company:

“He came back!” said the manager, pointing at the cashier. “He left but then came back for his old job.”

“…(Monday morning) here I am! Want you to know just if you can, (Tuesday evening) where I stand…”

Then to Arrabelle:

“I’m sorry, you’re ineligible for hire. You need to go to Keystone human resources…”

“…(Wednesday morning) tell myself a new day is rising, (Thursday evening) get on the rise, a new day is dawning…”

Oops, didn’t realize they were owned by Vail Resorts. No worries, on to the Marriot:

“Let me stop you right there. You know we’re owned and managed by Vail resorts, right?”

“…(Friday morning) here I am! (Saturday evening) want you to know just, want you to know just where I stand…”

I gotta admit, I was starting to lose a little faith. It was getting late and I still had to drive all the way back to Denver to return Katie’s car. I took a seat in the lobby of the Marriott and tried to map out a new plan. I was trying to figure out where to begin when my cell rang, “Hi this is Jeff at the Vail Plaza Hotel & Club, I reviewed your resume and took a look at your blog. I’d like to invite you in for an interview. When will you be available?”

“I’m at the Marriot right now. I’m available for an interview as soon as the bus can drop me off at the Vail Plaza Hotel. Will you be available in 10 – 15 minutes?”

“…When the morning gathers the rainbow, want you to know I'm a rainbow too, so, to the rescue here I am, want you to know just if you can, where I stand, know, know, know, know, know…”

Jeff was the manager I had been hoping to meet all along. The interview went smoothly and I landed the best job I could have hoped for. The pay is better than all the other ones I thought I wanted, the employee housing is the cheapest around, the job comes with a ski pass, and when the phones are quiet, I have time to work on my query letter and book proposal. Not to mention I’m nice and warm inside (I’m the hotel switchboard operator), and my schedule is such that I can snowboard 5 times a week!

“…We'll lift our heads and give Jah praises, we'll lift our heads and give Jah praises, yeah…”

As soon as my old school temperamental Dell decides to start functioning again there will be East Africa updates including photos and praise for the best group I’ve ever traveled with, but for now I just wanted to wish you a peaceful, blessed and prosperous new year full of excellent health, abundant joy and empowering love.

In the spirit of keeping the blessings flowing, I’m gonna take a minute to count a few of mine here, by publicly thanking the old and new friends who helped me out on this chapter of my life:

Asante Sana, Grazie, Obrigado, Gracias, Kamsah Hamnida & THANK YOU!
• Oneil: for more than words can say
• Archie: for helpful info way back in October, and being ready to put me up if necessary
• Fran: for trying to hook me up with Christy’s
• KT: for being so awesome - excellent company, good eats, letting me borrow your ride, and superb hospitality
• Wandi: for reminding me to use
• Darryl: for the CS testimonial
• Michelle: for being one of the most gracious CouchSurfing hostesses ever
• Melinda: for being an excellent CS hostess, AND providing the most helpful advice & connections
• Alyssa & Megan: for being ready to house me in Breck
• Quig: for ALWAYS having my back
• Jeff: for being the kind of manager for whom an employee enjoys working
• Roshan: for keeping me company on the slopes on Christmas day. Good times
• Steph & the Breckenridge New Year’s Eve crew: for the best New Year’s Eve gathering I’ve experienced in a long time. It was exactly what I needed
• Rhiannon: for being an inspiration

Remember to count your blessings in this New Year, and they’ll keep flowing to you too.


PS – Keystone finally made me eligible for hire again, but I’m happy where I am :)

“Awaken from your sleep and slumber, today could bring your lucky number!”


Blogger Unknown said...

That's awesome, Zik...I'm trying to get my situation to the point where I can get back up to Vail and check the mountain out and then holla at ya. Welcome back to the States, bro. Good luck with everything.

Larry Stewart

2:03 AM  
Blogger The Wishing Well said...

Had a nice morning reading your blog. Had a few years to catch up on! May your deepest dreams and highest destinies be realized. The book and school have immense energy around them.

Peace, blessings and happy 2010. I've coined it "The Year of Breakthroughs"!
-amelia avila-

3:03 AM  

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