The piece below was written last year when my daughter Sarah gave me a gift for my birthday. The idea was you received a topic each month to write about and the response went back to my daughter. It was a great way for her to learn more about my childhood. The topic below was, "Tell me about your first boss".
Keep reading for "The rest of the story".
My first real boss was a guy named Jim. He owned a very cool bike shop in Allston, MA called Laughing Alley Bicycle Shop. That was actually the name but I don’t remember exactly where that name came from.
I was a freshman in high school (or maybe just ending middle school) when I was introduced to Jim by a friend of my sister Eileen. Amy mentioned me to Jim and he agreed to meet with me.
I rode my bike from where I lived in Medford to Allston. I think it was about 8 miles each way and I think I did it in less than an hour. In those early days I would have ridden twice the distance for the opportunity to work in a bike shop. (Bear in mind, I rode through Harvard Sq. every day taking my life in my hands). Bikes were my life. I lived and breathed bicycles.
I remember being pretty nervous going in for that job interview. I wasn’t a trained bike mechanic but I loved bikes and tinkered with mine constantly. I even once built a bike with over 30 gears when nothing like that even existed at the time. Guess I should have patented that one.
Somehow, I convinced Jim to give me the job and when the interview was over and the job was offered, Jim looked at me and said, “You forgot to ask me an important question”. I had no idea what he was referring to but he saw my quizzical look on my face and said, “You didn’t ask me what the job paid “. Little did he know I was ready to work for free.
I somehow remember my hourly rate was like $1.75 an hour.
Over the years Jim taught me well. How to build wheels was difficult at first. He sat me down with a bunch of spokes, a rim, and a hub and instructed me to watch him and follow along as he built a wheel along side me. Jim was truly a master and even though my wheel building skills improved over time, I don’t think I ever reached his level of expertise. There was a jig you placed the built wheel on to “true it up” meaning getting it perfectly aligned so there was absolutely no wobble in it. The key wasn't just getting it straight though. It was to ensure the tension on all the spokes was also uniform. This was something you learned only by building A LOT of wheels.
Jim was probably not that much older. Maybe 10 years older but was really a smart guy and good business man and working there helped lay the foundation for my love of running businesses.
Jim also was a great influence on me regarding music. Exposing me to artists I probably never would have come across that soon. (There are certain Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, and Steely Dan songs that bring me right back to that shop today)
When I was 18, he and his friends (I was the youngest in the shop) introduced me to good beer. Heineken, St Pauli Girl, Becks, Guinness, etc. none of that watered down American stuff ever touched my lips at Laughing Alley Bicycle Shop!
They always seemed to eat really well too. The shop was close to a Mecca of eateries. Many afternoons you could see Jim walking in with a nice French bread under his arm and some good cheese.
Jim was a fair and good boss. He could be a little tough and at my young age, I thought he was a jerk at times but looking back on it he was making me a better mechanic and helped me grow and mature. (Turns out at that age, it was me that was the jerk).
One time I think he had enough of me complaining about working on crappy low quality bikes. (I had built myself a custom bike with the finest Italian components at the time and was a bit of a bike snob by then. I still have that 40 + year old bike!).
One day, Jim gave me a quality high end bike that came in for an overhaul. This consisted of not just adjusting the brakes and shifting mechanisms but literally tearing the whole bike apart and putting it all back together.
After I finished, Jim stopped by my work station to inspect and pointed out several areas where my work wasn’t up to par. He was angry and rightly so. He gave me a shot to prove myself and I failed. I remember being angry at his comments but more than that, disappointed in myself for falling short. I fixed what he found and made sure going forward I would try harder.
I got to visit Jim again when I started college and then life went in a different direction as it often does. I’ve tried finding him over the years with no luck ( the bike shop is long gone and Jim’s last name is way too common)
I think I’ll keep trying to find him as I’d love the opportunity to sit down and thank him for all he did for me. I guess I was too young at the time to know how much he meant to me.
Well, the story doesn't end there. I tried one more time recently to find Jim and was actually successful! We recently met (outdoors) and had a really nice conversation and a chance to reminisce.
So, my suggestion for you is to think of someone from your past (or even someone in your life today) that has made a positive impact on your life and let them know. You will both walk away with a lot. Jim told me he had no idea how I felt or how much impact he had on my life. Your special someone may not know either so let them know before it is too late!
As always, please feel free to reach out to me anytime for a conversation. Click HERE to see my calendar or just shoot me an email or give me a call.
In good health.
All the best.
Rick Fingerman, CFP®
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