Okay, I’ll admit it; I’ve been procrastinating on this entry, for two reasons:
- There’s some moaning, complaining and ranting, and that’s not as fun to write about as the good stuff.
- There’s just a lot to write about, so please bear with me. This one’s going to be a little long.
I’ll keep it organized by good stuff and bad stuff. Let’s get the griping out of the way:
Emily Car is doing just fine, no thanks to Canadian Tire. She had a coolant leak we just had to attend to, we couldn’t have her bleeding out on the mountain pass. It’s a long, cold walk between here and Port Alberni.
So we figured that while we spent two days in Port Alberni attending a seminar entitled “Exploring Entrepreneurship!” we’d get Emily’s water pump and intake manifold taken care of, which we knew was a 5 – 8 hour job.
We knew we were in for it when Canadian Tire came back with a quote that was $400 dollars MORE than Sydney Tire in Parksville had assessed at our pre-purchase inspection. If it was possible, we would have just driven the extra two hours to Parksville to get the repairs done there, but between gas, meals and the cost of a hotel room, we wouldn’t save any money doing that. Instead I faxed the Tire the quote I’d gotten earlier and they agreed to come down to match Sydney Tire’s quote.
We got up before dawn and hit Highway 4 on Wednesday morning, before I’d even had my coffee. I was nursing a protein drink and fretting about the dogs at home in their kennels, doomed to spending the next 48 hours cooped up between their awesome dog walker’s thrice-daily visits. (I needn’t have worried, they got four days worth of exercise in those two days. Our most excellent dog walker had them out for four-hour hikes with a pack of other dogs both days, and they were tired and relaxed when we got home.)
We arrived in Port on schedule, dropped off Emily at the Tire and got a courtesy ride over to the employment office for our class, beginning at 9 am.
The seminar was one of those good things, so I’ll save it for the “good things” section. On with the griping!
In our class of 20 people, three of them warned us that Canadian Tire had scammed them. One woman said she’d been cheated for an unnecessary $3,000 brake job, after they told her the truck was unsafe to drive. When she got back to Nanaimo and confronted her usual mechanic demanding to know why he’d let her drive away with faulty brakes, he replied “I didn’t. They lied.”
It was no shock when I called the Tire to check on Emily and heard that her ball joint was shot and should be replaced immediately. She was too dangerous for the road, her tire could go flying off, taking the front fender with it and sending us careening down the mountain, end over end and crash at the bottom in ball of smoke, fire and twisted shards of metal. I’d better pay them an extra $400 to fix it before driving home if I wanted to make it in one piece.
Funny how the cost of this unexpected repair is precisely the difference between their first quote and the one they matched from Sydney Tire.
Now the sight of a wheel flying off our car after dark in the middle of the mountain road known as “bear highway” is enough to make me want to impulsively spend $400 if that’s what it takes to remove that threat, but Kat is much more shrewd.
“That’s bullshit!” she exclaimed, outraged, halting all conversation in the room. “They just want to make up for the money they lost. I don’t trust them. Besides, they wanted to overcharge on the intake manifold, how do we know the ball joint is a $400 job? How do we know there’s anything wrong with it at all, the pre-purchase inspection said it was fine!”
Kat & I have begun to hone our “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine. I do the talking, Kat stands right behind me, staring the guy down and looking seriously pissed off. I explain “My partner and I need to discuss it further,” while Kat says “No Fucking Way!” with her eyes. It works. We sprung Emily with a new water pump, new fluids, a fixed-up intake manifold and an only slightly dented wallet.
We called Shane, the local trusted mechanic when we got home. His answering machine picked up. Shane did not sound well.
“Hi you’ve reached Shane’s Mobile Repair. I’m not at the shop today, my son was up all night. I might be in later in the afternoon, so please try me later.”
I left Shane a message, explaining our encounter with the Tire and how we wanted him to have a look at the ball joint to see if it really did need replacing. I wished him a good morning’s sleep and hoped he got a better rest that night.
Shane called back later that day, and left me a message: “Hi, Shane here, sorry I couldn’t return your call earlier. My son & I got some sleep and we’re both feeling a lot better, thank you. My wife’s back later tonight so we’ll be fine. It’s good that you know Canadian Tire’s a scam, a lot of people I know have been conned by them. Yeah just pop by the shop and I’ll throw a jack under the car for you and have a look. Have a good one!”
I took a moment to think of how that conversation would have been different in Toronto.
And now for my second gripe / rant. Employment Insurance.
I applied for Employment Insurance earlier this month after it became apparent back in December that I would need to procure paid employment to supplement our income for the first couple of years of the business. We came home from the course to find a message from EI, asking me to call them.
I called a woman named “Tricky Trixie” back, and she asked me about the business, how much time we’d spent at the course, did I want the business to become a full time job, etc. I replied that I’d spent two days at the course and ultimately yes, I did want the business to become a full time occupation.
EI denied. Denied on the basis that I had said I spent two full days at a course that I was enthusiastic about, that gave me a lot to think about and plenty to progress on. Yes I want the business to sustain me and my partner full time, but that is not the reality at this very moment! At this moment, and in the immediate future, I require employment. That’s why I applied for EI.
Me and my stupid big mouth. I’m so used to talking to other business owners, program managers and potential lenders, so eager to pass on my enthusiasm for launching it I gave them reason enough to believe I was not seriously looking for employment. I was informed that EI is not intended to support people starting a new business, it’s too support people between jobs.
No matter how I reiterated and explained that I AM between jobs and that my work on the business in NO WAY affects my ability apply for every job available, to attend every interview and to drop whatever I’m doing to jump into employment, she accused me of changing my story after I heard her decision.
Denied, denied, denied.
I am SO angry. I was so furious after that call I was shaking and crying into Kat’s shoulder, sobbing “It’s not fair!”
I worked my ass off in Toronto. I worked harder than anyone in any job I’ve ever had. I put in unpaid hours to get Planet Aid (the second hand store) out of the red and into the black. I worked unpaid overtime just for the opportunity to learn new skills at ACMS, which allowed me to earn four promotions in six years. I took night courses to improve my skills, I worked whatever overtime was needed to ensure my responsibilities and deadlines were met every month. I paid my taxes, I paid my CPP, I paid my EI, I paid my mandatory contribution to the group pension plan, I saved extra in an RRSP. I lived in shitty neighbourhoods in roach-infested apartments for as long as I could stand it just to save money. I did the damned best I possibly could, I contributed to the system, and this is what the system does for me.
WHERE DID ALL MY MONEY GO?
I’ve looked it up. I have $30,000 locked up in a pension plan because my employer decided it’s employees couldn’t be trusted with their money until they were 70. I have contributed over $45,000 to the Canada Pension Plan, and I have no delusions about the possibility of seeing that money in my old age, should I be fortunate enough to live that long.
What serendipitous, ironic beauty is it that all of this money, money that is “mine” on paper, would pay off all of our debt, start up our business and provide for our living expenses for two years – but I can’t touch it. So we have to borrow, go further into debt and pay interest.
And now I can’t even tap EI. Since when was pursuing self-employment options along with employment options a bad thing? Isn’t being self-employed a good thing? That would leave one of those jobs in this community open or someone else, maybe get someone else off EI too. Hey, in a few years we’ll be hiring. We have a greater earning potential self employed than we do as employees (after establishment, of course.) In the long run, we’ll be paying even more taxes as employers and business owners than we would as employees.
If I had given up on the business and sat back between sending out resumes, watching TV and waiting for the phone to ring, I’d be collecting my first EI payment on Monday. But because I had the honesty and optimism to tell them about the continuing plans with the business, despite our setbacks, I’m cut off. Nice. Do the officials writing up these EI policies realize that 85% of BC’s economy is small businesses? Does all those years with my nose to someone else’s grindstone count for anything?
I guess not, since I have the intention of owning my own grindstone one day, generating my own wealth, rather than making money for other people.
Stupid EI. Stupid big mouth. I am so angry with them, and furious with myself. We’re starting the appeal process next week, and my father suggested I contact my MP. Oh wait, I can’t right now, they’re all on vacation! Probably tax-payer paid vacation!
Meanwhile, I find myself wondering how much I could get if I sold a few of my eggs off to some infertile couple. Some people can get $10,000 for their eggs. But you have to take all kinds of hormones and there are health risks to consider… maybe a kidney. I wouldn’t have to take hormones to donate a kidney. It’s a risk to go through life with only one kidney though – OOO! My liver! I don’t drink or smoke or take drugs, my liver is prime! And livers grow back!! Now Kat is telling me that she’s sure I won’t have to resort to selling off my organs. Always pulling me back from the brink, she is.
That’s it for the bad stuff. Now on to the good stuff.
The course in Port, “Exploring Entrepreneurship!” was awesome. Okay, I’m a class nerd and a keener, always asking questions and enthusiastic while others are rolling their eyes, doodling in their notebooks and trying to stay awake. Kat was one of the latter, at least for the first morning. She kept slamming back an amusingly named energy drink she’d discovered at the nearby 7-11:
All through the class I wrote in furious shorthand changes to make to the financials, the business plan and ideas for the proposal. The class gold was the stuff about market research and different methods to demonstrate that our sales figures were realistic. It’s funny that our first mentor, Kat’s brother and a successful entrepreneur himself, thought our sales figures were quite conservative, as did the first lender we approached. We didn’t hit any resistence for our sales figures until we started working with Community Futures, but at least now we know how they want these figures backed up.
The best thing about “Exploring Entrepreneurship!” was all the other people taking the class – it was the best networking opportunity we’ve had in months! A third of the class was from Tofino or Ukee, seven other local business owners at the same stage of their endeavour as we. Among them, the manager of a sea kayak tour company who’s thinking of buying the business, a couple who owns a B & B and who want to start a much-needed distribution network for locally grown produce, and a fellow named Todd who’s looking into buying the art gallery he’s been managing for the past year.
I really liked Todd in particular. We have similar personalities and we were all over that class. After returning to Ukee, Kat & I drove to Tofino to pay Todd a visit and check out this gallery.
The gallery is awesome. Amazing. Beautiful. All kinds of natural light, just an incredible space with so much potential. We’ve just fallen out of the habit of calling ahead, so Todd wasn’t around when we paid our visit, however we did get to meet Gordo, the current owner of the gallery and the owner of three other Tofino businesses.
Gordo is just fabulous. He chatted away with us for a good half hour about the gallery, his other businesses, his future plans, and he gave us some incredibly valuable leads: Apparently, years ago, there WAS a coffee roastery in Tofino. I WONDERED why no one had done it before, and I had my answer – somebody had. According to Gordo, this roastery was highly successful and closed only because the owner relocated for family reasons, and brought his business with him. Gordo gave me the number for the Tofino member of the Chamber of Commerce who would remember the roastery, and perhaps we could get some more information from him. (Aside: When people here give out phone numbers, they just give four digits. Oh Dave? He’s 1234. Shayna? She’s 9876. Every number here starts with either 725 for Tofino or 726 for Ukee. Another small town quirk.)
Wouldn’t that be perfect, to prove that not only would our roastery do well, but that another HAD done well – it would help prove the need for our service.
While in Tofino, I also dropped off a resume at a hotel that is looking for an accountant. I managed to whip up a kick-ass cover letter, and I’m really hoping I get called for an interview.
Saturday was a day of renewed optimism and rainbows. We walked around without our rain coats and were gently misted with sun showers all day. We saw some spectacular rainbows.
This one was in Ukee on Saturday morning. I saw it while out walking the dogs:
The dogs & I spent a good hour at Big Beach, and I saw a surprise rainbow sneak up right behind me in the sheltered tidepool right over my head and ending just ten feet away from me. It was incredible, and the closest I’ve ever seen one that large. I half-expected Skittles to start raining down on me. It lasted only 30 seconds though, and then the sun slipped behind a cloud and it was gone.
This one is at the north end of the Tofino harbour:
And this one was right over the center of town:
Spring flowers are sending up shoots everywhere, and the sight of them is as uplifting as the rainbows:
When we got home, we saw the bald eagle hanging out on his perch with a bunch of crows in company. I’ve seen the crows go after the eagles, and the eagles drive crows away from carrion. They’re both scavengers and in direct competition, but here it just seems like they’re hanging out. I wonder if they’d shared a good carcass recently.
Crows are known for their intelligence and adaptability. Up north, crows team up with wolf packs and have been observed calling a wolf pack to a wounded prey animal to finish it off. Crows can’t do much with an intact carcass, but wolf scraps are paydirt. I wonder if the crows and the eagles have a similar relationship, or whether the crows and the wolves or cougars work together.
Speaking of cougars, there’s a report of a “Rogue Cougar” in Ukee: http://www.westcoaster.ca/modules/AMS/article.php?storyid=7509
I’m really hoping I’ll get a chance to see it. I don’t want it to go after the dogs of course, but still, most people are lucky to see one wild cougar in their lifetime, even though wild cougars watch us all the time. I would be thrilled if I was one of those people.
I’ve also been convinced to audition for Ukee’s production of “The Vagina Monologues.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vagina_Monologues
Yet another play I had no time to see in Toronto, and here it’s coming to Ukee! We’ve just got to support it and while we were sure to go see it, I wasn’t sure I’d want to be IN it. Well Ashley of Wild Heather Books is making the whole thing happen, and she’s so enthusiastic about it I can’t help but hop on board. It’ll be a great way to meet other feminist women in the community and hey, maybe we’ll even find the elusive Ukee lesbian community. We know they’re here, but we don’t know who they are yet.
I’m surprised to say I haven’t really missed the Church street gay village. I thought I would miss the gaybourhood at least! If I was having a bad day, I’d stop off at Church street on my way home. I’d pop into Baskin Robins and chat with the owner who knew Kat & I and always remembered the last time he saw us. He’d tell us this or that flavour was “Very Delicious!”
We’d sit on the patio and watch the people, the over-pumped gym rats going in and out of the “bath house”, the young executives in designer everything and fake tans, marching briskly with their cell phone glued to their ear, the pairs of women in birkenstocks and matching haircuts, the leather daddys out in their studded glory, the drag queens in their magestic finery. The gaybourhood is something else, and it always made me smile.
But I find I don’t need it here. I don’t even miss it. On our drive back from Port, Kat suggested that maybe I didn’t miss it because we fit into this community so well. And it’s true. No one cares that we’re gay. We’re a young couple wanting to start a business and contribute to the community – that’s what matters here. We have so much more in common with the people of the west coast that we ever did with Torontonians. We’re outdoorsy, we love camping and kayaking and nature. We value the schools, the hospital, the hospice and other public services. People assume the same of us that they do of any other new couple – they’re curious about us, they want good things for us, they assume we’re married and will have children eventually, and some of ’em are going to stay reserved until we’ve lasted a couple of winters here. But overall, we fit in, better than we did in Toronto. That’s what we felt in the summer, that’s why we’re here, and that’s why I’m sure that it’ll all work out for the best.