Little Rock: not a bad city

Today I drove to Little Rock, because my mother is having surgery in the morning. I got in town fairly early in the day, so I had a chance to drive around town and walk around a few neighborhoods. This is the first time in several years I’ve been in Little Rock for something other than Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I’ve got to say I’m really impressed. Little Rock has come a long way.

I visited Hillcrest, a funky, arty neighborhood. I drove through Forest Heights not far from my mother’s house, and I got some excellent Thai food at a place called Sai Gon (they serve Vietnamese as well). Even the newer parts of town seem vibrant, energetic, full of life. And, of course, downtown is booming. Little Rock reminds me of some other cities I have visited recently – Boulder, Flagstaff and Austin. Not bad company to be in.

This is a city that is going places – and it’s always had built-in advantages such as a low cost of living and a good climate. I hope to get back over here soon and spend a few days just having fun.

Want cheap gas? Go to West Memphis

At the time I’m writing this, most gas stations in Memphis are charging anywhere from $1.79 to $1.88 a gallon. But just across the bridge in West Memphis, at Exit 280 there’s a Pilot station charging $1.67, and a Diamond Shamrock station across the street charging $1.66.

Looks like the huge price increase in gasoline this year is not only due to what’s going on in the Middle East, but also due to gas stations at home take advantage of the situation to pad their profits. Perhaps they think they have a captive audience in the city and will get all they can.

Or, maybe at truck stops like the ones in West Memphis, people are more likely to come in and buy other items after they fill up. So perhaps those stores are selling gas as a loss leader. Don’t know. Anyone know about the economics of the gas station business?

At any rate, the truck stops at Exit 280 have just about consistently had the lowest prices for most of the past three years. Looks like I’ll be crossing the bridge when I need gas.

Plans for the rest of this week

I’m about to go out of town, to Little Rock – my mother is having hip replacement surgery tomorrow. Ten years ago, hip replacement was a big deal, involving months of pain and rehab. Now, from what I’ve heard, it’s routine. People who have had it have told me they were walking without a cane or walker 3 weeks later, and were taking dance lessons 3 months later! So, barring any complications, I’ll be back in Memphis tomorrow night.

Wish I could spend more time in Little Rock, but this is a key week for my BNI networking group that meets on Thursday mornings. We’re officially launching the chapter, which means we’re electing officers and giving it a name. Last Thursday I got 3 referrals for people who needed credit card services, and that’s pretty typical. So I make it a point not to miss BNI unless it’s a dire emergency.

Saturday is the annual St. Peter’s Picnic in Midtown. I always have a great time at outdoor festivals, and the picnic is for a good cause. So I’ll be there most of the day.

Sunday, of course, is July 4. Being Sunday, I’ll probably start the day with a bottle of champagne at Sleep Out’s, and being July 4, I’ll probably end the day watching fireworks. The rooftop of my building, Number 10 Main, is a great vantage point. Last year there were over 100 residents and guests on the roof. I was lucky enough to be standing next to a family whose kids were seeing fireworks for the first time, and they were amazed.

And Monday is a huge day – Sun Studio’s Rock’n’Roll 50th Anniversary Party, outside Sun Studio, 706 Union. Monday is the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ recording of “That’s All Right Mama,” considered the first rock’n’roll record. So at 11 am the festival will kick off with radio stations all over the world playing the record, and then bands will be playing all day. I’ll be there through the entire thing, but in particular I’m there to see my friends in Turbo 350, who will be closing the show at 11 pm. Rumor has it that Justin Timberlake will be in attendance, which means absolutely nothing to me except that he will draw a huge crowd.

That’s about it – will be missing an Mpact event today that I really wish I could attend. Every month, Mpact hosts Leadership Luncheons with the CEOs of some of the city’s largest companies and nonprofits. Well, today the featured speaker will be Jerry West, NBA All-Star and General Manager of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Off to Little Rock. Will be back tomorrow night!

What the bums are drinking this week (special edition)

Friday night I stopped in a liquor store on South Main where my friend Shane works. Because Shane and the owner both know me, I was allowed behind the bulletproof glass where all the liquor is kept; they pass the money and the purchases through a slot in the window.

A few minutes after I got there, one of the local bums came in. This guy is perhaps the sorriest case I’ve seen – about 50, torn clothes, shoes that are so worn out that the soles are hanging on by a thread. Now if I were in his situation and I came across a few dollars, I’d head to Payless or Family Dollar and buy some decent clothes. But that’s because I don’t think I like a bum. He took his proceeds from a hard afternoon of begging straight to the liquor store. Here’s the conversation that followed:

Shane: May I help you, sir?


Shane: Dude, you’ve come in here every day for the past year asking for Night Train, and we’ve told you every day that we don’t carry it.

Bum: Hunh. (Stands there for about a minute and a half)

Shane: So do you want something else or not? Make up your mind, there’s a line behind you.

Bum: Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh. Uh. THUNDERBIRD! (I could tell from the state of his clothes that he was a Thunderbird drinker)

Shane: You want the pint or the fifth?

Bum: Uh. Uh. Uh, how much is the pint?

Shane: The pint is two dollars, and the fifth is three. (This store sets its prices so they come out to even dollar amounts after sales tax. Trying to get a bum to understand that a $1.99 bottle is $2.16 with tax is an exercise in futility)

Bum: PINT!

(Shane takes a pint of T-Bird out of the cooler and sacks it up. Just as he is about to hand it throught he slot, the bum says:)

Bum: FIFTH! I want a fifth!

Shane: You do this every day, man! You tell me you want a pint, and then just as I’m about to hand it to you, you change your mind. (puts the pint back in the cooler, sacks up a fifth) That’ll be three dollars.

(Bum hands him two dollars)

Shane: I said THREE dollars, you ignorant son-of-a-bitch! A PINT is two! You ordered a fifth!

(Bum stands there for a couple more minutes)

Shane: You idiot, if you want this fifth of cheap wine you’d better give me another dollar! I’ve about had it with you! You either hand over another dollar or I’m about to kick your ass out of here!

(Bum pulls out dollar. Looks at it. Looks at Shane. Looks at dollar again)

Shane: Do you want this or not? (starts to put the fifth back in the cooler)

(Bum hands Shane the dollar)

Shane: Here. Take it. Now get out of here!

(Bum stands there and looks at Shane)

Shane: I said get!

(Bum stands there and looks at Shane)

Cop, who happens to also be in the store: Time to move on, buddy.

(Bum walks out)

That was hilarious. Makes me want to work part-time in a liquor store just for laughs. Maybe I’ll ask Shane if there are any openings where he works.

Health care and investments that make sense

Been meaning to write about this for a while…I’m getting another side business going, that won’t interfere with my credit card merchant services gig. This side venture looks to be a lot more fun and fulfilling.

It started a few months ago, when I began attending my BNI networking group. There I met this guy Ralph who told me he was in the financial education and access business – he teaches people how to gain access to health care, insurance, and investments that make sense for the individual.

So we started talking about health care. He showed me a way to pay the wholesale rates that insurance companies pay for prescription drugs, doctor office visits, etc. Did you know that some prescription drugs are marked up as much as 100,000% by the pharmaceutical companies? That’s why everyone hates their health care so much – because it’s designed to make money for the drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals – not protect the individual. It’s out of control.

I immediately thought of my mother, who is retired and absolutely getting killed on her prescription costs. I called her and got a list of the drugs she takes. We ran them through an online check and found that she could get most of them 30-50% cheaper with the company’s prescription card. So she paid $9.95 a month for a card and saved many times over the next time she went to the drugstore. She told me, the pharmacist said it was the deepest-discounted drug card he had ever seen. She was delighted to have the extra money every month.

Then we got to talking about investments. Now, I self-direct my Roth IRA, which is invested in individual stocks. I’ve done well, and have no plans on changing the way I invest at this time. But, I have friends who have heard about my portfolio performance and have asked, can you show me how to invest the way you do? My answer: absolutely not. I spent years dabbling with an imaginary portfolio on paper before I went into the stock market for real. It’s not something that can be taught to someone.

So, up until I met Ralph, I had advised my friends to invest in an S&P 500 index fund, which is a mutual fund consisting of the 500 stocks that make up the S&P measure. It’s about as safe as you can get if you’re going to be in the stock market. But, the market can still go down. $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 index fund on April 1, 2000 would have been worth only $5,700 three years later. Ouch! Hopefully the dot-com bust won’t happen again, but still, the risk is there.

The alternative, of course, is to invest in something fixed like CDs. But that’s a losing proposition too, because CDs barely keep up with inflation.

Ralph showed me an investment product that works like this: It’s based on a stock market index like the S&P. But, at the end of the year, if the market is down, the company puts your principal back. So you can’t end up with less money than you had at the beginning of the year. If the market goes down the toilet like it did in 2000-03, you won’t go with it – at worst you’ll break even. Not bad, huh? Now, of course, the company has to make money somewhere, and they do it by putting a cap on the gains – the products vary, but the last brochures I read had the cap at 12% a year for one product, and 3.2% a month for another. Not too shabby – 12% is a heck of a lot better than a CD will ever do. So, you get to participate in the gains of the stock market – historically the best place to have your money in the long term – without the risk of losing your principal. Oh, and you can get a bonus of up to 10% on your money they day you open the account. This is absolutely where I would steer my friends.

The thing is, most people don’t even know these kinds of products exist. So they blindly follow the advice their broker or insurance agent gives them – which is usually designed to generate a commission for the broker or agent, not look out for the client’s best interests.

That’s why I like what Ralph does – it’s all about educating the public, letting them know what opportunities are out there. Whether or not they purchase the company’s products, at least they’ll be informed. At least they won’t be at the mercy of the drug and insurance and investment corporations anymore.

So, I’m going into business with Ralph. I had to get an insurance license, because some of the products we sell require one. I passed my Life and Accident & Health licensing exam today.

There are some other really cool products too. For example:

Most people’s life insurance is really death insurance – you don’t get the benefit until you die (and then YOU don’t get it, your beneficiary does). Ralph’s company has a life policy that not only pays off on death, but also pays you immediately if you have a critical illness such as heart disease or cancer. It also pays if you become disabled. And if you reach 65, you have the option of converting the cash value into a retirement benefit. It’s the first cash-value life insurance I’ve ever seen that makes sense to own.

Now here’s something that’s really cool – they have a card that provides discounts to alternative care. Yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, aromatherapy, chiropractors. They also have cards that get you access to dental care, vision care, hearing aids, and doctors’ office visits at discount rates.

And, they have health insurance. Which is pretty boring but still something people need. I never bothered to get insurance after becoming self-employed in December, figuring it would cost me a couple hundred a month at my age (34-year-old nonsmoking male). Through Ralph’s company I got major medical coverage for only $72 a month. Again, not bad.

I’m finding that it’s substantially easier to get appointments to talk about this than it is in the credit card biz. In fact, just from wandering around chatting with folks the past week, I already have 4 people who are interested in hearing more about various products. Ralph is already saying that this is soon going to become more than we can handle, and we’ll have to find a couple more key people. That’s not bad either – will be a chance for someone to earn a thousand or two a month on a part-time basis with completely flexible hours.

So, I’m really thrilled about this new venture. This is a chance to change people’s lives for the better, and there’s an element of teaching involved, which makes me happy. But unlike my days at the university, in this business I can actually make good money for teaching.

If you know anyone who needs any of the stuff I described above, drop me an e-mail – I’d be happy to talk to them.

Couple of unrelated quick notes about upcoming events:

Mpact Memphis is having a General Membership Meeting Thursday night, the 24th, from 5:30-7:30 at the National Civil Rights Museum. Mayor A.C. Wharton will be speaking. Mpact hasn’t had a general meeting in several months, and I’m glad they’re bringing them back. If you’re looking to get involved with Mpact, this is the best chance to learn what is going on.

Friday night the 25th is the South Main Trolley Art Tour from 6 to 9. Good people, good art, and most importantly, free wine in many of the galleries. Hope to see you there.

Downtown Performance Art: Uniform Monday

Many of you know that I am not a big fan of Autozone. I don’t have a problem with their stores – which actually do have quality products and helpful employees – but rather their corporate office and their so-called corporate “culture.”

Part of that culture is Uniform Monday, which means that every Monday all the corporate employees dress in the same uniforms the store employees wear. Since I live a few blocks from their HQ, when I walk around at lunchtime, I see lots of people sporting the company red-and-black. And again, when I walk past their headquarters around qutting time (which tends to be about 7 pm for salaried people – the company thinks they OWN you), I see more red and black.

So recently I got to thinking, it wouldn’t be hard to put together my own Autozone uniform and parade around town. An Autozoner’s (yes, they really call themselves that) uniform consists of

Red shirt with the Autozone logo and the person’s name. I see these at thrift stores all the time and could probably pick one up for a few bucks. It may not have my name on it, but who cares?

A name tag. If your name is sewn onto your shirt, isn’t the name tag redundant? Wait, I’m trying to apply logic to corporate America here, my bad. I’m sure I could go to a printing company and get a name tag printed which reads “PAUL RYBURN” and underneath “CUSTOMER SERVICE.” Or perhaps “BILL RYBURN” if I find a “Bill” Autozone shirt at the thrift store.

Black casual slacks. I already own these.

Black POLISHABLE shoes. It’s VERY, VERY, VERY important that the shoes be polishable. Jesus himself will strike you down if the shoes are not polishable. It says so in the Bible. Or, rather, in the Autozone corporate handbook, but same dif if you’re an Autozoner.

A belt. You MUST wear a belt. A few years ago I talked to a guy who worked there. I guess he wore some of those Sansabelt slacks that don’t require one, and his manager pitched a fit. He said his manager turned red in the face, almost purple, and looked like he was about to lose control of his bowels. I got a mental image of the manager standing there yelling, and he gets so wound up that all of the sudden he has a big ol’ juicy BM in his black casual pants. And maybe it would leak out onto his black shoes. His black POLISHABLE shoes. Except, I guess they’d be brown polishable shoes at that point.

So, I’d put on my uniform, an exact replica of the official Autozone uniform. Oh, and then I’d accessorize it with a nice baseball cap that says “LEGALIZE POT NOW” and walk around all over downtown, all day Monday, displaying my company pride.

And that would be my performance art piece.

I suppose I won’t do it, though. Someone might look at the outfit and get the idea that I’m a pothead or a stoner, which I’m not.

Or worse, they might think I work for Autozone.

What do math tutors make these days?

Anyone know? One of the servers at my local watering hole found out I’m a former math teacher and asked me to tutor her in calculus this fall. I haven’t a clue what to charge her. The last time I tutored people on a paid basis was 1993, and I charged $15 an hour. But at that time I was just a grad student who happened to be good at explaining things. Since then I’ve had a 5-year run as a faculty member in a major university’s math department, including two semesters instructing the very calculus class my server plans to take – and I had a reputation for drawing success out of math-phobic students. So I feel completely justified charging a premium rate for my services. And if nothing else, inflation would dictate than I charge more than I charged eleven years ago.

So if anyone reading this has paid for a math tutor recently, I’d appreciate it if you’d e-mail me and let me know what you paid, as well as the level of experience your tutor had. Meanwhile, I guess I’ll call a few tutoring services, pretend to be a student and find out what they charge.

Hmmm…sometime I should do a journal entry on the tutoring business I ran in 1992-93 as a grad student, and the paper-typing business I ran at Rhodes as an undergrad. Those were my first two attempts at self-employment, and a lot of the lessons I learned are still relevant today.

But right now, it’s getting late, so I think I’ll take a walk around downtown and then get to bed.

You’re going to think you’re reading a 6-year-old’s blog, but…


Seriously. I never learned to ride when I was a kid. No idea why. Somehow I got by until I was 16, and then I figured, I have a car, why would I want a bike? But recently, I’ve been thinking, it would be a convenient way to get to destinations that are slightly too far to reach on foot – Mud Island, Midtown. There’s just something about exploring a neighborhood on foot (or on a bike) that just isn’t the same driving an automobile.

So last weekend I got talking to my friend Bobby, who also hangs out on Beale Street quite a bit. He’s a bike aficionado – owns about a dozen of them. He told me I could get a good bike from a local pawn shop for cheap, and that he’d keep an eye out for one for me. Well, yesterday he found one – 30 bucks for a 12-speed in excellent shape. He went ahead and bought it, and rode it from his house on Mud Island to Beale Street and back to verify that it was in working condition. Today I went over to his house to see it.

And I attempted to ride it. For the first 10 minutes I couldn’t even get on the seat without falling over. Felt like a complete idiot.

Then, after about twenty failed tries, I was able to get on the seat and keep my balance as the bike rolled – but as soon as it came time to pedal, over I went. Most of the time I was able to stop myself. One time I took a rather nasty bump but got up okay.

I went inside and drank a Gatorade – it was blazing hot outside, and the fact that I had consumed my usual bottle of champagne at Sleep Out’s earlier in the day wasn’t helping matters. Then I went back out. Push off…attempt to pedal…over I went. Push off…pedaled once while keeping my balance…over I went. Push off…pedaled three times before losing balance. Then I pushed off again, began to pedal, and it was like I had been riding a bike for years. Made it all the way down the street and felt like I could have gone another mile if I had wanted to.

I spent the rest of the afternoon pedaling around the neighborhood while Bobby and my other friends washed their cars and grilled out.

The way I see it, there were two reasons I was able to ride that bike:

1) I believed that I could, and imagined all the fun I would have once I learned how to ride it; and

2) I realized I’d probably have to make a lot of mistakes (i.e. fall over a lot) in order to learn how to ride.

I definitely think there are some lessons there that can be extrapolated to my sales career and other areas of life.

Plans for this weekend

Tonight (Thursday 6/10): The Madison Hotel’s weekly rooftop party, where the Dempseys are playing. I need to write up a detailed post about the Peabody and Madison rooftop parties sometime.

So, I encourage you all to join me on the roof and catch the best band in Memphis. But, if standing outside in the June humidity isn’t your thing, I have an alternate suggestion. Mpact Memphis is hosting a Riverfront Forum tonight at 5:30 at the Theater & Communications building at the U of M. You’ll be able to hear the two sides of the debate on riverfront redevelopment – The RDC and Friends of Our Riverfront – so you can have an informed opinion. I won’t be there, because I want to see the Dempseys and I’ve already heard both sides (and am pro-RDC; will post on that sometime) but this is a good way to get informed. You do NOT have to be an Mpact member to attend.

Tomorrow (Friday 6/11): Going to the Beale Street Tap Room to see Johnny Hotshot, a band a friend of mine is in. I’ll probably buy the $10 wristband so I can wander in and out of all the clubs on Beale.

Saturday: Haven’t figured it out yet. Probably studying, because I have to take a test and get my insurance license (I’ll explain why in a later post).

Sunday: Champagne brunch at Sleep Out Louie’s, and from there, who knows.