Quality of Life (Kudos to MPD!)

Late last week I e-mailed the Memphis Police Department and complained about the drunk, aggressive panhandlers (downtowners just call them “the bums”). In particular I asked them to pay attention to the corner of Madison and Main, where the bums congregate and beg for money because there is a store nearby that sells cheap liquor. I also mentioned one person who is a particular nuisance – this is the guy who was screaming all sorts of obscenities in front of young children.

Well, last night I received a reply from MPD. They showed me a chain of forwarded e-mails:

The first was an e-mail from the network admin to the major in charge of downtown, making him aware of the request for help.

The second was from the major in charge to a lieutenant, asking for extra coverage in the Madison and Main area to address Quality of Life issues.

The third was a reply from the lieutenant, saying that extra officers had been assigned as asked, and four arrests were made at that corner in a two-day period. One of the arrests was the individual named in the original e-mail.

The major followed up, thanking me for alerting him to this problem, and telling me that the arrest tickets are on file if I’d like to see them.

I’m thrilled. The Memphis Police could not have handled my request more quickly and professionally. My hat is off to them. Great job!

My job, part 1: What I do for a living

This will be the first in a series of posts where I talk about my main job these days, in credit card merchant services. In this post I will explain what I do; in the second post I will explain how I do it. I will also follow up with some posts listing lessons I have learned while out doing sales. And, I’ll post about a networking group I got involved with along the way, and an additional side business that resulted. These posts will probably be interspersed with whatever else I feel like talking about.

Short and sweet, this is what I do for a living:

I help new businesses get set up to accept credit and debit cards;

and

I help existing businesses get better rates on their credit and debit card processing.

My company specializes in working with small mom-and-pop retail stores, restaurants, and professional offices (doctors, lawyers, etc.) The thing is, most of the large credit card processors are built to work with large chain stores. Their business model does not work as well with the little guys.

The company I work for has a very lean business model. The big guys employ full-time salespeople to go out and drum up business. That means they have to pay salaries; they have to pay for office space, benefits, and often perks such as company cars. My company pays for none of that. I’m totally on commission (although the commissions are quite generous). I like it because it’s totally up to me; if I want to make money I can go out and make it happen. In addition, my home is my office, which makes me very happy. And since I’m totally commissioned, I can work as many or as few hours a week as I want; it’s not costing the company anything.

Because of this lean business model, my company has low overhead, and I can usually sign up small companies at rates the large processors could not possibly afford. My regional manager tells businesses, if I can’t beat the other companies’ rate I’ll pay you $50. He’s never had to pay it yet.

I have an additional advantage: Most credit card processors are scum and rip their clients off. Think about it. You’re opening up a toy store or hardware store or dental practice. Do you know anything about the credit card industry? And furthermore, do you care? Probably not. You just want to get the doors open as quickly as possible and start doing what you love. And so, getting set up to accept credit cards becomes a task you have to get done, like doing laundry or paying bills. So you think to yourself, who do I know who can get this done for me? And if you’re like most business owners, the obvious answer is…your bank.

The problem is, the banks know that you don’t know. So they’ve got you. And they write you a contract with an enormous rate. Or they stick it to you on equipment fees. Or, if they think you’re a bit more savvy, they quote you a contract with a low rate, and then kill you with hidden fees in the fine print. Or they quote you a low rate and then mis-classify the bulk of your charges at a higher penalty rate. There are all kinds of ways they can getcha.

So, what I do is educate small business owners on the credit card business and what a fair rate is. I also educate them on the right equipment for their business. In some cases I offer optional programs to complement their credit card service. These include

Wireless terminals that allow mobile businesses to get the best rates

Internet processing, allowing businesses to sell online

Gift card programs that encourage customers to come back more often; and

A program that puts a stop to bad checks for good.

Does every appointment turn into a sale? No. I wish that were the case. But every small business owner who meets with me gets an education about how credit card processing works. They’re capable of making informed decisions; they’ll no longer be in the dark. And many of the business owners are very appreciative; their bank never took the time to come out and explain it all, did they? So, when I end my presentation by offering the chance to sign with my company and get a better rate, it seems only natural to go with the person who has treated them well.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what I do. If you know of anyone opening a new business in the Memphis area, I’d like to talk to them. If you know of a business in the Memphis area that already displays the MC/Visa logos on their door, I’d like to talk to them as well, because those logos are a sign that their current processor is probably charging them too much money.

And with that, I’m off to bed for the evening.

The bums

I have a friend named Kook. She’s a clown. Literally, that’s her profession. A few days ago, she came up to the coffee shop with two children, one of whom was having a birthday. She didn’t have on her clown outfit, but had all the props with her. So, they ordered drinks, then sat down at one of the tables outside to feast on birthday cake.

Meanwhile, there were a group of bums congregating at the trolley stop in front of the coffee shop. Without fail, they show up about 4:30 every day, begging for money either at the trolley stop or at the Walgreens across the street. When they get enough change, they head around the corner to the liquor store. Then they get drunk and repeat the beg/buy liquor/get drunk process.

Well, the bums were quite drunk by the time the birthday group showed up. Right in front of the children – ages 7 and 5 I would estimate – one of the male bums screamed “dick-eating whore” and other obscenities at one of the female bums. This continued for 10 or 15 minutes. They absolutely could not care less that there were small children within earshot. And this kind of thing happens every day.

Today I watched a different bum, who was sitting up by the government offices on the Main Street Mall. There are planters full of pretty flowers outside, and I watched as he picked several flowers. He then staggered down the street, looking for couples. He’d offer the woman a flower, then stand there and expect a tip from the man. As soon as he got his money, he headed for – you guessed it – the liquor store. Then he went back down to the planter to pick some more flowers.

There’s a Thai restaurant a couple of blocks from where I live. I go there semi-regularly and have gotten to know some of the people who work there. One of the servers there used to live in 99 Tower Place downtown, but a few months ago she moved out east. The reason why, she explained, is that the bums wouldn’t leave her alone. Every time she’d come out the front door to walk to work, they’d make obscene comments about her body and what they’d like to do to her. No wonder she moved. No wonder so many of my female friends who live in Midtown and out east won’t consider living downtown.

I am fed up with these people. I do not believe their right of free expression gives them the right to make other people feel uncomfortable, and our flower-man certainly does not have the right to destroy public property in support of his liquor habit. It’s a quality-of-life issue. The bums have had free reign over the streets of downtown ever since I’ve been down here.

Fortunately, the cops may be listening, finally. This week there have been an increased number of arrests downtown, especially by undercover units. It shouldn’t be too hard to lock them up – public intoxication, disorderly conduct, public urination are a few charges they could press. And many of them will be holding drugs or weapons, or will have warrants, leading to additional time in Hotel 201. I e-mailed the downtown precinct at mpd@memphispolice.org and let them know when and where the bums are causing the most trouble. If you’re a downtowner and are bothered by these people, please consider doing the same. The police have got to be made to understand what a problem these people have become.

Let me make it clear that I have nothing against homeless people; it’s the bums I’m tired of. There’s a difference. There’s a really sweet homeless woman who hangs out downtown. She never bothers anybody, and I’ll often see her on Beale dancing to the street bands. The few times she has asked me for anything, it has been food. “Hey mister, I see you got a sandwich there. The next time you buy one, I sure would appreciate you getting me one.” Got no problem with that. The other day was her birthday, and I bought her a liter Sprite. She was so happy – stopped everyone who passed by for about 10 minutes and told them what a gentleman I was. The bums tried to talk her into selling the Sprite and using the money to buy whisky, but she wouldn’t do it. .The Homeless Guy suggests making a care package of toiletries, candy bars, maybe a rain poncho and other supplies to hand out to the homeless. I’ll try to make packages for her and some of the other genuinely good homeless people I know.

The bums, however, are a different breed. In fact, many of them are not homeless; they have places to live, often supported by government checks. Coming downtown to get drunk, panhandle, and bother people is just their hobby. Well, their hobby has gotten out of hand and it’s time to put a stop to it.

Boxing on Beale

I got a real treat Tuesday night. I was sitting in Empire Coffee when retired boxer Bruce “Double Trouble” Card (“bad man…pretty as a girl”) came in. Bruce is also a regular at the coffee shop. He asked if I wanted to go to pro boxing at the New Daisy as his guest. There are boxing matches at the Daisy the first Tuesday of every month. I had never seen boxing live, and I figured there would be no better way to see it than sitting next to a retired boxer. So we headed down there and got seats in the front row of the balcony.

There was a kid, probably still in high school, in his first match ever in the opening bout. “His opponent could probably knock him out in 30 seconds,” explained Bruce, “but the promoter told him to put on a show for the fans.” The kid had a lot of heart and kept going well into the third round, when the ref stopped it and gave it to his opponent by TKO. The fans applauded the kid for a good first outing.

The mid-card bouts saw some guys really going after each other with all they had. I can’t believe we didn’t see a single knockout. One was a TKO, the others went the distance and were decided by the judges.

The loudest applause came during the next-to-last match, when the ring girl came out of her top as she bent over to get through the ropes.

The main event was a disaster. It was a title match, for a federation’s cruiserweight title. The champion was having all kinds of equipment problems. The ref had to temporarily halt the match three times – twice because he lost his mouthpiece, and once because his gloves came off. How did this guy get to be champion? The crowd was booing unmercifully and chanting “this match sucks.” Finally, in the 7th round the challenger got the better of him and the ref stopped the match. The champion protested to the ref. It was a display worthy of Tonya Harding. “Worst main event ever,” commented Bruce.

The mid-card bouts made up for it though. Definitely an experience worth repeating.

Plans for this weekend

Tonight I will probably head down to Beale Street. On Fridays you can buy a $10 wristband that gets you into all the clubs. A lot of Memphians avoid Beale, but I really enjoy it. There are a lot of tourists there who are in a happy mood because they’re on vacation, and it’s fun to talk to them and give them an insider’s perspective on Memphis.

My friends in Turbo 350 are playing the Tap Room tonight, so I’ll probably end up there. They play a lot of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Eddie Cochran, pre-1960 rock and rockabilly. Probably your best bet for seeing some authentic Memphis-style music on the street tonight.

Tomorrow there’s a party on the roof of my apartment building, No. 10 Main, that is being thrown by 7 of the residents – DJ, dancing, drinks. At some point I’ll probably try to round up some people to walk down to Swig. Swig is a martini bar with about 40 different signature martinis and a great food menu (get the stuffed olives – excellent). One of my favorite DJs, Mr. White, will be starting a new Saturday night residency there, and his mixture of house and nu:jazz should provide a nice setting to sip a martini and chat with friends.

When I go out I don’t get the classic martinis with gin and vermouth – I’ve tried them and they taste like radiator fluid. I drink the flavored martinis instead. At Swig my favorite is the Junior Mint, a chocolate mint martini. Instead of olives, they garnish it with actual Junior Mints, the candy you buy at the movies.

Of course, all of the plans listed above are subject to change if I find something more interesting to do.

Pic: Pimp and Ho Party

This is a pic from a Pimp and Ho party I attended on March 20 at Earnestine and Hazel’s. The two women pictured below were my ho’s for the event.

By the way, the brunette pictured here is the former calculus student mentioned below – the one who got a job as an AutoZone financial analyst because of the Memphis Really NETworks event. (Yes, she gave me permission to put this picture on the Web. She probably won’t appreciate me mentioning her AutoZone job in the same post though)

Didn’t get a picture of myself, but I had on a blue leisure suit, denim pimp cap, blue feather boa, gold medallion and cheetah platform shoes.

Was a little disappointed at the turnout for the party – not a lot of people there, and many of the ones who were there were not dressed up. We only stayed about an hour, then hit the downtown Blue Monkey for some food, still in our pimp and ho attire, followed by visits to the Flying Saucer and Beale Street.

Catching up: What I’ve been doing with Mpact

I’m still active in Mpact Memphis, the organization of 21-40 year olds interested in leadership, promoting the city, politics, community service and networking. Probably more active than ever, in fact.

I got elected to an At-large position on the Board of Directors, which means I get to attend an additional 8 meetings a year. Yay, more meetings! Seriously, though, I’m thrilled that the premier young-leadership group in this town thought enough of me to put me on the board. My term runs through the end of 2005.

At the beginning of March, I coordinated a Community Involvement event called Feast for Friends. Mpact members volunteered at a biweekly dinner put on by Friends For Life. The purpose is to invite all in the Memphis community who are affected by HIV/AIDS – those who have the virus, caretakers, case workers. They all come together and have a chance to talk and get to know each other, while volunteers serve them dinner.

The Feast was about as easy an event to coordinate as you could ask for. 11 Mpact members showed up, as well as a couple of people from Hands On Memphis. We served them dinner, refilled their tea and bussed the tables. We also got to grab some dinner ourselves, grab an empty seat at one of the tables and get to know the dinner guests.

The other big event I worked on was called Memphis Really NETworks. Its purpose was to teach college students how to network and tap into the hidden job market. Since I had a lot of experience with college students, they put me in charge of content for the event. For a few weeks I was freaking out! If this event sucked, it would be MY FAULT!!! Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and I learned a valuable lesson – assemble a great team, and your job is easy. A professional business coach volunteered to talk about the ABCs of networking, and the guy who created Mpact’s awesome welcome program offered to emcee.

The event came off without a hitch. It was on a Sunday evening at the Pink Palace, with free refreshments. It was a beautiful 81-degree day. I was the only one who wore shorts.

Since then I have learned that three IT students got internships as a result of the open networking part of the event, and a former calculus student of mine ended up getting a financial analyst position at AutoZone. Success! We made a difference in people’s lives. That makes me feel great.

My next project will be to serve as a Memphis Orientation Leader (MOL), where we’ll take corporate interns in town for the summer under our wing and show them the city. Will let you know how that works out.

Catching up: Finally out of the rat race

The biggest news is that I quit the job I had held for 2 1/2 years. Since June 2001 I had been working as a programmer/IT consultant for a clothing storage company in Earle, Arkansas. They were really nice people, but the 8-to-5 schedule was driving me nuts. I’m just not cut out to sit behind a desk 5 days a week, 51 weeks a year. I enjoy people too much, and I enjoy variety too much.

For a long time I was looking at Moneytecture, the financial software I co-developed, as my ticket out of the rat race. However, we’re finding that marketing an entirely new type of software is not an easy task. So we’ve been through some necessary missteps, and although I am seeing some royalty income trickle in, it’s hardly enough to make ends meet, and not enough to hire me as our company’s first employee.

So, around October I got to thinking…I enjoy meeting new people. I have a lot of teaching experience. I enjoy being on my own – I will gladly trade the “stability” of a job with benefits at a good company for the opportunity to set my own schedule. And, I’ve always thought people should be paid for performance, not for showing up to work at a specified time and sitting at a desk all day. One day the light bulb went off. Hey, how come I’ve never thought about doing SALES?

Suddenly I realized that I had always had a mental block against sales. When I heard the term “salesman,” I thought of someone like Herb Tarlek from WKRP, with slick talk and an ugly sport jacket, out to make a fast buck all the time. But that’s just a stereotype. The best salespeople, I’ve been told, have the hearts of teachers, and always have their customers’ best interests at heart.

So I began to scan the paper for sales jobs, and I looked on Monster.com. Many of the positions required experience. Some didn’t. I called the ones that didn’t, most of which were insurance companies. The people who answered the phone seemed like the slick, fast-talking salesmen that I have always found so revolting. I never bothered to follow up and set interviews. In one case, the guy on the phone was such an ass that I just hung up on him.

So, on November 18, my 34th birthday, I was sitting at work, depressed, wondering if I’d be sitting behind the same desk until age 65. I decided to give Monster a look. There was a sales position for “credit card merchant services.” Meaning, someone who contacts new businesses and sets them up to accept credit and debit cards, and who helps existing businesses get better rates on their credit card processing. And I knew the company was not a slick fly-by-night, because it was a subsidiary of iPayment, a company I recently owned in my IRA, a company with an excellent business model. Their low overhead allows them to offer lower rates than the big processors. And it said “no experience required,” so I applied and got the job.

Initially I planned to quit the Earle job in early December, but I noticed that the company had scheduled an all-you-can eat holiday dinner at Texas de Brazil on December 17, so I gave an extra week’s notice and made December 18 my last day. Hey, Mrs. Ryburn didn’t raise any stupid kids.

So I rode out my unused vacation time through the Christmas season, and started for the credit card company in early January. How’s it going so far? I’ll be making posts about that in the near future. Let’s just say that I’m not yet earning as much in commission as I was making in Earle, but the potential is there and I feel good about it. As I said, the company is great. They offer suggested sales scripts when I make calls, but they don’t require me to use them word-for-word; their instructions were “adapt them to your personality, and if you find something that works well, please share it with us.” My regional manager is great and I can go to him anytime for advice and help closing deals. In addition, in the past month I’ve found an excellent networking opportunity downtown which has made a huge difference – more on that later, it’s worthy of a journal entry all its own.

I’m starting to warm up to blogging. I’m sitting outside Empire Coffee with my laptop, happily typing away. It’s a warm Thursday night and I had planned to go hang out on the Peabody rooftop, but I’m feeling too mellow to deal with the see-and-be-seen scene. I’ll try to get one more entry done tonight, then go fire up the VCR and find out who was voted off Survivor tonight.

My journal is now a blog

After resisting for a couple of years, I’ve decided to give in and do a “blog” like everyone else. It’s a lot less work to update and maintain than my old journal was. The downside is that I’ll lose the cool notebook-paper background and pencil dividers that characterized my old journal. The upside is that I’ll probably post more often. I would like this journal to be more stream-of-consciousness than it has been in the past. Look for a few paragraphs a few times a week, rather than larger entries on a more sporadic basis.

I decided I kind of liked this format after frequently visiting another blog, written by The Homeless Guy. He lives in Nashville and has provided his readers with a lot of insight into the lives of the homeless. I will have more to say about him in future posts.

All right. It’s been nine months since my last journal entry and I have a lot to talk about. More to come soon.