After spending the summer after college graduation hanging around Altoona and being a bum in my off-campus apartment, I finally came back home to Philadelphia.
I headed to my neighborhood playground to play some last of the summer pickup ball before the good weather faded away. The regulars, who hadn’t seen me in a couple summers, complimented me on the change in my physique.
I ran into a guy named Marty. Marty was a few years older than me, and had always been one of the better players on the court when he played. Marty was 6’5” and a point guard; everyone respected his game. I never knew Marty’s basketball background, but he’d taken a liking to my game as I’d become formidable on the pickup game courts.
He asked me about college and what my future plans were, now that I was back home. I told him the same thing that I’d been telling everyone: I wanted to play pro basketball overseas.
I don’t know.
Marty quickly sized up my situation and chuckled as he said to me, “man, you stuck in traffic.”
Stuck in traffic.
That was the first time I’d heard the phrase, but I knew exactly what it meant. Stuck in traffic was the most accurate description of my life in 2004.
I posted my resume, now boosted by a college degree, online and applied to as many jobs that I could actually see myself working at, even some that I couldn’t.
I had an interview at some financial company — Something Capital — and knew it wasn’t the gig for me. I knew that as soon as I came into their offices. Their workplace was set up just like you see on TV, with a bunch of cubicle spaces all lined up next to each other, each space having a desk and computer. It felt like death to me.
The interview was me and three other candidates. I don’t remember anything anyone said (including myself). They gave each of us a green folder to take with us; the folder contained more information about the company and such. The starting salary was $35,000 a year, which was around $700 a week — great money to me at the time. With that kind of money, I could buy some new business clothes and shoes, which I’d need for the job, from somewhere other than Walmart.
The finance company never called me back.
When I got a call for an interview at Foot Locker, however, I already knew it was the job for me. To me, it was a forgone conclusion that I’d be hired. The interview was at the Foot Locker on 69th and Market streets in West Philly, but the interviewer told me I was being hired for the Granite Run Mall location, which was all the way down in Media, PA, a good 45-60 minute drive from home — and a 90 minute trek on public transportation since I didn’t have a car at the time.
I was still happy to have a job. Though it wasn’t the type of job I ultimately wanted, it was better than sitting around the house doing nothing while everyone else was at work or school.
After starting at Foot Locker as a full time manager-in-training, I didn’t touch a basketball for two months. Summer had turned to fall and it got to be too cold for playing basketball outdoors, I couldn’t afford a gym membership, and the only gyms that had basketball courts would require me to have a car to get to them.
After cashing my third or fourth paycheck (at the check cashing spot in The Gallery Mall downtown on my way home from work), I figured I might have enough saved — $700 — to purchase a vehicle.
Back at this time, the newspaper had a large classified section with all kinds of offers that were just in words — no photos. Crazy to think of this now, but that’s how it was. I called a number for a listing for a wagon that was $650. The guy told me I could meet him the next day at the Rite Aid at Broad & Wyoming.
I took the bus and train to the meeting spot. The man pulled up in the wagon, which was sky blue and looked fine on the outside. Another guy, the seller’s business partner, I supposed, pulled up in a black car. I took the wagon for a spin around the Rite Aid parking lot. I didn’t have any other checks or balances for buying a used car.
I’ll take it.
The man informed me that we’d need to go to the tag and title shop to transfer the car into my name. I could drive the wagon and follow them (in the partner’s black car) to the place.
The seller obviously had done this used car selling thing many times before; the woman at the title shop processed the transaction quickly. I paid the money for the car in straight cash, homie. The seller and his friend in the black car grabbed their stuff out of the trunk of the wagon and pulled out of the title shop parking lot so quickly that it gave me pause that I may have just been scammed.
To my surprise though, the car worked fine.
Well, it worked fine for two days.
The car overheated multiple times on the highway as I drove home the second night with my new whip. When a car overheats like that, it just shuts off, right there on the road. And it won’t operate properly again until it cools off. Luckily I was close to an exit when it happened, and I was able to maneuver the wagon to a gas station parking lot not far from Plymouth Meeting Mall, where I’d worked as a teen. I parked the car and got out.
I remembered how quickly the seller of that car and his friend had pulled out of the title shop’s parking lot two days prior. Mentally I began chalking up the lost $650 and lessons I’d learned from all this.
Don’t buy cars out of the newspaper from people you don’t know.
Have a mechanic look at a used car before you purchase it.
Maybe save your money and get a certified vehicle from a reputable dealer.
I started walking towards a closeby bus stop where I could catch a bus home.
Then, I changed my mind and turned around.
I’ll tell you the rest of this tomorrow, and the whole story of how I finally got on the right career path after college in my new book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life. Preorder it now and get all these free bonuses.