Thoughts on Money, the Job & Travel

It’s been an interesting first week on the job. In case you missed my first post, I’m taking up a job working as a utility pole auditor for VentureSum based in Charlotte, NC. The company sends guys across the nation to basically stare at telephone and power poles to determine what sort of attachments the poles have and logs the information into digital maps so utility companies can accurately charge other companies for renting space on their poles. What a strange world I’ve found myself in.

For one, it really highlights just how selectively we filter our reality on a daily basis. As I said in my second interview, “I never really noticed how UGLY it all is until now. Just lines and poles EVERYWHERE.”

Fortunately, they laughed and I stand by my aesthetics on this one – the next time you’re walking down your neighborhood, take a moment to actually look at all of the poles, transformers, splice boxes, phone boots, power, cable, fiber optic, and phone lines crisscrossing. You might be surprised by just how much of an eyesore you’ve trained yourself not to notice.

It’s easy but not easy, though, because it takes a sort of mental training to even see it. It’s easy to see what’s not there and not see what is there. This first week has definitely shown me that. I went back in an area I was feeling confident on yesterday with Joel the field trainer and was appalled by just how often I seemed to be seeing lines that weren’t there and not seeing ones that were. It’s quite confusing at times to sort out all of the lines. It’s like spending 8 hours staring at tangled Nintendo cables with singular cables leading to other bunches of Nintendo cables while slowly driving a truck, trying not to hit mailboxes.

But I think I’ll do well at it. I spoke with Kent, my therapist, today about it and I told him how it checks a ton of boxes for me. I have near-complete freedom in arranging my schedule. It’s a salaried position and as long as you can see poles and get around 8 hours of work a day it doesn’t really matter when you start, break, or end. So I can work with my energy and break or rest as required.

Because of the nature of the work, I’m traveling constantly. A few weeks I might be in West Virginia, others in Pennsylvania, and the next in South Carolina. We drive our trucks to the area and then work there for the week, get flights back home, and then fly back and continue our assessments. And we’re free to rack up and keep the hotel and flight points as well! So I’ve been spending time researching the best airline to rack up points with. So far, I’m looking at either United, Jetblue, or Southwest. Each of them has associations with the Choice Hotel network (we usually stay at Comfort Inns) so points can be transferred over to the airlines. United Airlines has international links; I could rack up enough points for a round-trip ticket from NYC to London in just 2 months of work! But they also have black-out dates and takes more money to get points than the others.

Southwest and Jetblue are more generous with their points but don’t really do Old World international, which is disappointing. Jetblue does have links throughout the Caribbean and Latin American down to Peru, though, and their TrueBlue program is pretty tempting (complimentary drinks, for one). Southwest I’ve always flown with in the past so I know what I’m getting there…More research is needed but in summation: the job will support future travel endeavors, assuming I’d even want to travel on my time off, haha.

It’s also an anti-social job. I’m in an anti-social phase of my life right now and I can’t believe my luck in finding a job that pretty much requires it. We get our digital maps and areas to plot and work on those locations solo. Once a week we all get together over dinner to discuss issues and the field manager is always available by phone or at the hotel. The office staff in Charlotte sometimes doesn’t even see guys for the entire year as small groups of guys get sent all over the country. We really don’t work together or with others. Our payroll specialist told me most of the guys are introverts, which is very unsurprising. You’d have to be to enjoy this sort of work.

I get a lot of toys. I have a work truck, work tablet computer, work phone, hard hat, Nikon binoculars, MyFi device, phone signal booster, first aid kit, BEAR SPRAY, AND A MACHETE. The machete is apparently for hacking vines off of poles but I prefer to think it’s for invading private properties, which I do regularly. When I do, old people who have far too little stimuli in their lives look out their windows or front door with a scowl and take pictures of my truck with their phone cameras because I’m clearly casing the place to steal their lawn flamingo or something. Joel says he’s had to use the bear spray as well when I asked. Strangely, he wouldn’t elaborate when I left the comment hanging, waiting for additional information. I mean, you can’t just say “yes, I have had to use the bear spray before.” Must investigate further.

And then there’s the money. I’m still in a bit of disbelief and will remain so until I receive the first paycheck, or perhaps several of them. $40,000 has always been what I considered an ideal amount of money to make. I mean, one can always desire more of it, but I’d always said to myself “this is the amount that would allow me to live in a comfortable manner, free of fiscal concerns.” And now I get to do so, and then some. VentureSum will be paying for food and lodging while I’m out, so my utility and meal costs are drastically reduced. I’m still trying to figure out where I’ll be living as technically I’m still homeless and don’t have a permanent abode yet. But I don’t want to spend much on a place I won’t be at most of the year…I’m thinking an apartment in Gastonia or another outlying Charlotte community is ideal. But I’m holding off on a lease until I’m off probation and am an official employee with an official salary. Until then my salary is at $30,000 but according to Jojo in the office, Kenny and I are already on the advanced training material so we’re feeling pretty pumped.

But the money, like…I’ve been quite poor for some time. Somehow, I’ve managed to travel extensively despite it all. I know people still think you have to have money to travel but it’s not true. My first international trip was to New Zealand. I was living in Austin, TX, half-way through my first Americorps term. I was making $900 a month, under minimum wage, and living on food stamps. Food stamps that I blew through because I loved shopping at Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck). And I managed to still save up for the visa, doctor’s visits, and a flight to New Zealand in what’s probably the most expensive city in Texas.

During my trip to Europe last year, I was working freelance as an Upwork writer. My income was a trickle and inconsistent; I was actually living paycheck to paycheck, which was frightening while abroad, but I survived. When I made it to Belmont in August to work for Daniel Stowe, I had $300 in the bank. $200 of which that needed to go straight into paying for a housing deposit, a bike with a flat tire, and a backpack with a pair of pants, some undies, a couple extra shirts, and a can of pasta sauce and pasta. And then I cried because I was in a big house all for me and safe again. It’s not that hard to travel. But I’m kind of done with traveling by like that.

I’m going to start saving, see a doctor and dentist, buy some nice clothes, and invest in new camera gear. I’ve owned a single lens for…Far too long. By next August, my life will have been utterly transformed. Maybe take a trip at the end of the year (or earlier) to do street art abroad and not think about my finances for a bit. I’ll gladly stare at street poles for a while for that. It turns out I like money.

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