How far do you drive for work? I drive about 1-7 miles one way most of the time. I drive to the urban core of a large city near my house, to the suburbs around me, maybe to the outskirts of the city. I don’t like driving my truck a long way to work, and I’m surprised when I do. I laugh at myself, knowing other guys, who drive the length of our metroplex back and forth 5 or 6 times a day in some cases. I feel spoiled when I realize how easy my commutes are.
Several years ago a customer hired me to work on their house at a lake about 45 minutes away. I know garage door installers who drive 45 minutes a hundred times a month, but for me it was like a planned trip. After I talked to the customer a little bit we agreed I’d come out and work on the house un-seen in person. I was pretty sure I’d be able to do the work she showed me pictures of. It was a dare job on a drawer modification and wood finish. After I set the date on the calendar the customer said, hey, why don’t you just spend the night and hang out on the dock.
I was as stumped as you. I don’t know where this stuff comes from. Who offers a room to a worker, plus a beer and a chair on the dock? Well these people did, and because I love a dare, I packed clothes and drove further than I ever thought I’d go in a 27 year old truck, worked all day, and sure enough spent the night in a brand new customer’s house. It was a lake house, and the guest room was basically in the lower level, it had it’s own entrance, kitchen and bathroom. So I was not even in their space. And we did hang on the dock and drink a couple beers. The next day they fed me breakfast, and I finished the work on the house just like a normal day, and headed home. My little monkey brain kept counting those 90 minutes of driving I saved by staying at the lake house, but mostly I just laughed at the fun of it all.
This summer a couple in a town about 32 minutes away hired me to work on their house. Again, about four time longer than I’d drive to go to work around here. The house is nice, pretty new and out on a big lot with a private gravel road. This group of houses really choose to manage their own space. I go out to do a mile of trim. The customer who lives at the house meets me at the end of the driveway with a trailer and his SUV to help me haul my shop around the house. It was wet and he buried his car and the trailer in the yard the first drive in. He was real calm, and we hauled the gear from the sunken car to the house in a soft rain. The customer was cool as a cucumber, and obviously just saved me about 700 pounds of hauling on my own. Again, this gesture of kindness and service. After we got all the gear in the house and I was setting up my shop I asked the customer, “what’s with hiring a guy to do fairly simple trim from 32 minutes away?”. He said he had a hard time getting good help in his own area, and was glad to have me out. When I finished the job that week he helped me haul the gear back out to my truck. This time across the seemingly 20 mile front yard in some serious summer heat. We were glad to have the gear out of the house after 20 minutes of this. The woman who lived in this house was the same way. She brought a cup of coffee to me every morning and never complained when I spent a minute playing with the dogs in the front yard a couple times. Regular work. Exceptional customers.
In the last several years I’ve seen plenty of friends loose jobs. I’ve never hoped for them to get another job. Instead, I’ve always encouraged them to seek self-employment. It’s a longer drive than you wish sometimes. It is full of nights and days of un-sureness and trial. But to me, it’s the most rewarding job of all. The work is great enough. If you have half a heart, you’re always hoping and trying to do your best at the craft chosen. But real reward comes in levels of freedom, and the truly human experiences. The customers. People, who out of thin air, extend an unexpected hand of compliment and support.
Guys with job like mine go home happy at night. We spend months behind on paperwork and bookkeeping. We lay under trucks in lousy weather fixing things. We laugh with our families about the funny dogs and cats we wrestle, and we acknowledge our days of service, and the customers we have. And when something as simple as driving further than we are used to adds to the experience, we feel even more texture and depth than ever before.
I have to admit. Those 32 minute drives home were kind of nice. My truck is so noisy I wear a head set and listen to the radio. I know it’s agains the law and all that, but who cares. I just drove 32 minutes to play with dogs all day while a put a little trim up.