Each epoch offers its own particular opportunities for an enterprising young man looking to make a start. If I’d come of age in turn of the century Liverpool, I’d have been a hard working dock laborer; in 1960’s Texas, a young oilman. In turn of the century Provo, Utah, there was but one choice for a self-starting take-charge young buck in need of summer work: door-to-door sales. In the spring of 1998, the pest control game was in decline and there were some new hotshots making waves around town. My hardscrabble friends and I checked out the ProtectAmerica Security Systems Informational Pizza Party that year, and our lives were never the same.
The numbers on offer were impressive, though never very easy to precisely nail down. We took it as evidence of our own naiveté that we couldn’t figure out whether your 12% super-seller escrow bonus kicks in between your gold and platinum level merit awards, or after your management star upgrade. But Oliver and Becton always had answers, the kind of answers that penetrate you with good sense and then instantly evaporate into the pepperoni air. Regardless, the bottom line numbers were easy to understand: If you had disfiguring acne and the kind of demeanor that causes young mothers to draw their children closer, you were looking at around $100,000 for the summer. For a group of impressive, charming young strivers like us . . . well, Ollie and Becton will let you do the math.
So one morning in early summer, four of us caravanned out of Farmington in four different cars, each packed with a few small possessions and unbounded optimism. No prospector ever headed west with higher hopes than we took with us on the high road to Denver, and no product bore more promise than our ProtectAmerica Basic Package with optional key fob and added glass break detection upgrades. We could almost hear those Colorado criminals making their relocation plans as the mile high skyline appeared on the horizon (A skyline that benefits greatly from being the next stop on the line from Cheyenne, by the way). Just kidding. I have no clue about the criminals. All anyone thought during the whole 10 hour drive was whether they’d save any of the $100,000 in summer commissions, or blow it in a month.
Our apartment was waiting for us. We had to arrange the cable TV for ourselves (NBA playoffs were the primary logistical concern), but everything else had been previously arranged by our super-competent manager, Jason. Some training was given, some glossy one-sheets passed around, and then we sacked out to rest for the work of the coming day.
Pounding pavement and knocking doors in the name of commerce and ambition is more invigorating than you might think. We were an energized group, fed on motivational chestnuts and a stew of sketchy crime statistics. We invaded those neighborhoods not only as salesmen, but as experts—educators partnering with our neighbors to cast out the criminals and take our communities back. “Just having this sign in your yard reduces your chances of a burglary by 20 percent, ma’am,” we’d say, “but of course only the full system is going to stop those committed criminals. And that’s the only way to get the free key fob too, but I don’t know if you’re the type of person who uses a set of keys . . .”
Every day, five hours or more, you knock the doors, looking for that perfect neighborhood. You try a rich area, then a poor one, then one that is exactly the middlest middle class neighborhood in America. You find an ethnic pocket every once in a while, and you try out different greetings based on the demographics. Your one deepest certainty is that these people are afflicted with crime, and the best possible thing they can do is to just stop hemming and hawing and making excuses and hand over their money to you– the security professional.
And then you find that none of them want any help. For two weeks straight, and 2,000 doors in a row. Life gets harder fast. You stare at the calendar wondering if there’s still time to hit that six-figure mark that was a given just days before. You rationalize: “Hmm, I guess in a pinch I can make do with earning only 90k this summer.” But still, nobody’s buying.
Until day number 14. When you knock on Mr. Martinez’s door. And finally, everything changes.
To be continued . . .