Pursuit of a Dream – Chapter 1

Copyright © 2004 by Robert Pruneda
All Rights Reserved

CHAPTER ONE

Austin, Texas
Autumn 1990

“Gentlemen, start your engines!” The grand marshal yelled the most popular words in motor sports. The crowd went wild at Pocono Speedway in anticipation for the start of the NASCAR Winston Cup race. The sky was clear and the weather was warm in the Pocono Mountains as the drivers began following the pace car around the track, waiting to see the wave of the green flag, which indicated the start of the 500-mile race.

The television commentators announced the starting lineup while sharing statistics about some of the drivers for the viewers watching at home. Moments later, the fans rose to their feet as the pace car pulled off the track and the green flag waved. The engines roared as the drivers sped their thirty-five hundred pound stock cars down the front straightaway, scrambling for position as they approached the first turn of the 2.5-mile tri-oval speedway.

Caleb Lockhardt sat in front of the television with his collection of toy cars scattered across the floor. He pretended that he was also competing in the race, while his older brother Jared—who was not very interested in auto racing—lay on the living room floor opening some new packages of baseball cards.

John, the boys’ father, sat on the couch talking on the phone. “So, who do you think is going to win the race, Dad?”

Jim answered with confidence, “Rusty Wallace, without a doubt. What about you, Son?”

“Oh, come on, Dad! Who do you think? Dale Earnhardt, of course! He kicks butt on these speedways!”

John’s dad defended his predicted winner. “That’s true, Son, but Rusty is the defending champion, and you know how well he does at Pocono.”

“Yeah, but he can’t hold a candle to Earnhardt’s three Winston Cup titles. Heck, I’ll bet he pulls off another championship win this year. Only Richard Petty has been able to pull that off. Don’t get me wrong, Dad. I think Rusty’s going to do well, but I still think Earnhardt’s going to take the checkered—”

“WRECK!” Caleb yelled out with excitement. He then played out his own instant replay with his toy cars.

John focused his attention on the television screen. He watched the replay to see if the 3 car was involved in the accident while selfishly checking to see if the 2 car had also been involved. Both John and his dad’s favorite drivers had made it through the accident unscathed.

As John watched more replays of the accident from different viewpoints he heard a beep on his phone.

“Hey, Dad, I’ve got another call coming in. Can you hold on a sec?”

“That’s okay. We’ll talk later.”

“All right, Dad. I’ll call you after the race… when Earnhardt wins.”

“We’ll see about that!” Jim laughed, “I’ll talk to you later, Son.”

John answered the incoming call. “Hello.”

“John? This is Ed Phillips.”

John frowned. “How’s it going, Mr. Phillips?”

“Fine, fine. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time, but I’m going to need you to attend a meeting at the call center this afternoon.”

It’s Sunday and I’m watching the race. Of course it’s a bad time!

“What time is the meeting?”

“Three o’clock.”

“Three o’clock?” John repeated.

“Yes. Three. Is that a problem?”

Yes, it’s a problem, you dimwit!

“Oh, no. Not a problem at all. I was just watching the race with my kids.” John noticed Caleb look back at him with curiosity.

“Tape it. This meeting is important. Oh, and you might want to get someone to watch your kids for the rest of the evening.”

Great! Another one of those meetings.

John asked, “How long do you expect the meeting to last?” In response to that question both of John’s kids looked at each other and then back at him. He knew what they were thinking… Again!

“As long as it takes, John. I may also need you to help out on the call floor for a little while after the meeting. Don’t worry about dinner, though. We’ll have food in the conference room.”

Oh, wow! In that case, can I work a double shift?

“All right. I’ll be there at three.”

After John hung up the phone, Caleb reminded him, “Dad, you promised that we’d watch the race together this weekend.”

“I know, Son, but I’ve got an important meeting to—”

“They’re always important! Why can’t they have those stupid meetings when you’re already there?”

Jared added, “And why do they always make you work on weekends, Dad? You’re always at work! You don’t spend any time with us anymore!”

John’s heart sank. His kids were right, and he knew it, but he did not feel that there was much he could do short of quitting his job. He had five years tenure at Delco Communications and he was hoping to land an assistant site manager position in the near future, so leaving the company was not an option.

“Look, guys. I know I haven’t been able to spend much time with you lately, but I promise… I’ll do my best to make it up to you.” John squatted down in front of his seven and nine-year-old boys as he tried to comfort them. “I love you guys very much and I know you hate that I’m always at work, but just because we haven’t been able to spend that much time together because of work doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

Neither of John’s boys responded and shared looks of disappointment.

“I tell you what,” John offered, “After I get paid in a couple of weeks, I’ll take you to a movie and then we’ll go to the short track for the Saturday night races… no matter what. We’ll spend the entire day together and I’ll even leave my company pager at home. So, what do you say?”

The two brothers looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. “Okay.” They were not enthusiastic with their answer. They had seen so many promises broken lately that even though going to the movies and Saturday night races seemed like fun, they did not want to get their hopes up.

“Great! It sounds like a plan, then.” John looked at the television and suggested, “Let’s watch as much of the race together as we can before I have to head off to work.”

While John sat on the couch with his children, he called his sister to ask if she could take care of Jared and Caleb while he was at work. He explained that he had been called in for a meeting and would probably have to pick up the kids sometime late in the evening.

“Don’t worry about it, John,” Becky reassured. “Daniel and Matthew have been wanting to see their cousins anyway. We’re also having a fellowship at the church this afternoon, so I’m sure your kids will have a blast.”

“Thanks, sis. I hope your kids can cheer them up for me. I’m really not on their good side right now. This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve had to work. I promised that we’d watch the NASCAR race together today, and then I get the call from Mr. Ed.” John noticed Caleb look up at him. He put his arm around his son and then told his sister, “I’d better get off the phone and watch the race before I get in trouble.”

_________________

Delco Communications
Round Rock, Texas

Edward Phillips hung up the phone as Walter Schmidt, vice president of operations, walked into the office. Mr. Phillips waved the executive inside, who then closed the door behind him and sat down in a chair opposite the site manager.

Mr. Phillips’s office was large with a cherry oak executive desk and expensive leather chair on the far end of the office. His desk was cluttered with financial reports. On the walls he had frames with inspirational messages. A dry erase board with notes from a previous meeting hung on the wall across from his desk. A round cherry oak table and comfortable chairs set in the middle of the room across from the office door.

“I just got off the phone with some of the supervisors who are scheduled off today,” Mr. Phillips informed.

Mr. Schmidt asked, “Will they all be present for the meeting?”

“They’ll be here.”

“Have they been given any details about the meeting?” Mr. Schmidt pressed.

“No, sir. I simply told them that the meeting was important and to be here at three o’clock.”

“Good. The less the supervisors know the better… for now.”

Mr. Phillips sighed as he removed his glasses and set them on his desk.

_________________

Stevens Residence
Round Rock, Texas

Becky stood in front of her dresser looking in her mirror as she applied lipstick when the doorbell rang. She called for her husband, “Honey, will you get that! It’s probably John with the kids!”

Becky, John’s older sister, lived about ten minutes away from Delco Communications. John occasionally asked if she could watch the kids for him since she lived fairly close to the call center.

Becky heard her kids running down the hall as her husband opened the front door and greeted John. Daniel and Matthew poked their heads around their father and waved their cousins inside. Jared and Caleb rushed inside the house past the two adults and headed straight for Matthew’s room.

“We just got a Sega Genesis,” Matthew announced. “It’s really cool!”

“You want some coffee, John?” Eric asked as he motioned for his brother-in-law to come inside the house.

“No, thanks. I’ve got to be at the call center by three, so I don’t have much time to chat. I’m running a little late as it is.”

The two sat down at the dining room table as Becky walked out of the bedroom. “Hi, John!”

John gave his sister a hug. “Hey, Sis. Thanks for taking care of the kids on such short notice. I feel like I keep dumping them on you.”

“Nonsense, John! We love having them over. Matt and Danny enjoy seeing their cousins, so don’t worry about it.”

“I know the kids love coming over here, but I feel like they resent me for being at work so much and not spending enough time with them.”

Eric asked, “Have you talked to your boss about it?”

“Sure, but he’s so thick-headed and heartless that it does no good.” John looked at his watch. “Speaking of the old fart, I’d better get going before I endure the Wrath of Ed.”

Eric and Becky walked John out to his car.

“I’ll try to be back before ten,” John promised and thanked his sister and brother-in-law again.

As John drove away Eric and his wife walked back inside the house. Eric told his wife, “I wish John would find another job that didn’t interfere with his family life so much. It’s bad enough that they only gave him three days of bereavement time when Elizabeth passed away—not to mention not allowing him to use any vacation time because of an important project—but now they keep calling him on his days off for meetings and extra work. It’s absurd!”

“I know, but John has a lot of pride in his job. He’s worked hard to get where he’s at right now and—”

“All the more reason for him to quit that dead-end job and work for a company that cares more about their employees, instead of overworking them and treating them like crap. With his experience and work ethic, I’d bet he’d get hired at Dell in a heartbeat. Lord knows they probably pay better.”

“Eric, give John a little credit. I think he’s handling everything pretty well. I’m not sure if a job change would be good for him right now.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

After they discussed John’s frustrating career at Delco Communications, Becky told the kids to turn off the video game and load up in the minivan.

Daniel cried out, “Ten more minutes?”

Becky gave them five. In the meantime, she and her husband grabbed the apple pies that she made for the church fellowship and placed them in the van.

_________________

John walked in the conference room fifteen minutes late. The meeting had already started and he was sure he would get reprimanded for not making it to the meeting on time. He apologized as he sat next to one of the other supervisors. He looked at Mr. Phillips who simply glanced at him before writing something on a piece of notebook paper.

Everyone sat around a large oval table. At the end of the table was a thick notebook computer connected to a large projector, which currently displayed a presentation on a screen built into the wall. Illuminated on the screen were charts and graphs portraying expense and profits margins for the Round Rock call center.

“I think we have everybody here now, so I’ll continue with the meeting.” Mr. Schmidt flipped through a couple of pages in his planner and adjusted his wire-frame glasses. “As you can see,” the vice president of operations pointed to the screen with a thin wooden rod, “profits for the second and third quarters are fifty percent less than last year. This quarter is not looking much better.” He pressed the space bar on the computer and the screen changed, showing present figures. He then placed the wooden pointer on the table and continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, due to this substantial loss in company profits, Delco Communications must resort to some cost reduction measures in order to make ends meet by the end of the fiscal year. Mr. Phillips and I have discussed a possible solution.”

On cue, Mr. Phillips got up and stood next to Mr. Schmidt. He hesitated and then said, “In an effort to help resolve our current crisis, we’ve decided to temporarily freeze all merit increases and performance bonuses effective immediately until further notice from Corporate in Los Angeles.” He quickly added, “However, anything that has already been processed and submitted to H.R. will be honored.”

Many of the supervisors in the conference room began to shift their weight and show great concern about the information they had just received.

“Now, don’t worry,” Mr. Schmidt reassured. “Exempt employees should not be directly affected by this freeze if revenue improves according to plan. Your annual merit increases and Christmas bonuses should still be quite secure. I’m certain that these measures taken should stabilize our current financial dilemma and—”

“Sir, with all due respect,” John interrupted, “the attrition rate is already at an all-time high. I think the agents on the floor who will be directly affected by this freeze won’t take this lightly.”

Mr. Phillips glared at John. John noticed the glare but ignored it.

The human resources manager responded with a smirk, “Then they’re more than welcome to find other jobs, and wouldn’t that actually help our situation, John?”

As John was about to respond, the operations resource manager countered, “Sure, Janice, that would help lower expenses in payroll, but that wouldn’t help our service level would it? We’re already averaging a five to ten-minute hold time for our customers as it is, so how do you expect that is going to help our situation, if we can’t adequately service our customers?”

“Well, Cathy, I’d expect for your team to—”

“We don’t have a choice,” Mr. Phillips broke in, stopping a developing argument between two managers that had a history of butting heads with each other. “We either freeze the raises and bonuses or we’ll be forced to resort to other measures. Either way, we will face further attrition. It’s been a difficult decision to make, but at least this way our employees still have their jobs. We must consider the big picture here.” The site manager sighed and continued, “We’re not here to negotiate this decision; we need to discuss how we intend to properly inform our employees. We need to present this to our employees so they will see that this is for their benefit.”

The meeting continued with several supervisors voicing concerns on how they felt their agents were going to react to the announcement of freezing their performance bonuses and raises. After hours of heated discussions with only a few fifteen-minute breaks and a half-hour dinner break, the meeting finally concluded a few minutes after eight in the evening.

Although the meeting was now over, John’s assistant manager asked him to take escalated calls until midnight. John had received a page from his sister during the meeting, so he decided to answer the page before taking any calls. When he called Becky, she told him that Caleb wanted to talk to him.

“When are you coming home, Daddy?” Caleb asked. “I want to show you all the neat stuff I won at the church fun day.”

“Son, I have to work late tonight. You can show me tomorrow when you come home from school, okay?

“Okey-dokey.” John was surprised at the cheerful reaction. Caleb then asked, “You wanna know who won the race today?”

“I was thinking about that earlier. Who won?”

“Guess!”

“Umm… Rusty Wallace?” John thought he would give his father’s choice the benefit of the doubt.

“Nope! Guess again!”

“Dale Earnhardt?” This was John’s pick.

“Nope!”

“Rats! Who won, then?”

“Some guy named Bodeene or something.”

“Geoffrey Bodine!” John exclaimed, “You’re kidding me?” A couple of John’s coworkers looked at him like he was crazy.

He whispered to them, “I just got the race results.” They did not seem to care.

“I wish Earnhardt would have won the race.”

“Yeah, me too. Maybe he’ll win next week.” John noticed Ron Richards motion for him to get off the phone. “Hey, Caleb, I’m going to have to get back to work, so put Aunt Becky back on the phone for me.”

“Okay, Daddy. I love you!”

John smiled. “I love you, too, Son.”

Caleb handed the phone to his aunt. “How long do you think you’ll be at work, John?”

“Well, the head honcho here asked me to work until midnight to cover the escalations desk. So, I guess I’ll be by to pick up the kids sometime after that. Can you have them crash out in the boys’ bedroom in a few minutes so they’re not too cranky tomorrow morning for school?”

“Matt and Danny are already getting ready for bed,” Becky said as she pointed a stern finger at her kids, hinting they should be in their rooms. “I’ll put out a couple of sleeping bags for Jared and Caleb.”

“Thanks again, Sis. I owe you one.”

“One?” Becky teased, “I’m starting to lose count!”

John grinned. “Goodbye, Becky!”

“I’ll see you tonight, John.”

John spent the next few hours getting yelled at by customers who either made unreasonable demands or were just full of hot air. He received one call after another and found himself very stressed and in a bad mood by the time he picked up his kids. It was just after 1 a.m. by the time they got back home in southwest Austin.

After putting his kids to bed, John changed clothes and got ready for bed himself. He set his alarm for 5:30 a.m. knowing that he wasn’t going to get much sleep. Mondays were always hectic, but tomorrow was going to be miserable with only a few hours of sleep.

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

Complete story available to purchase here:

Comments
  1. Sheilagh Lee says:

    Rob I love the start of your book. I think a lot of people can sympathize with the work conditions.

    Like

    • That is very encouraging for me to read that, Sheilagh. When I wrote Pursuit of a Dream, I wanted my readers to be able to relate to, get to know, and connect with the characters in the story. I’m glad you enjoyed the opening chapter.

      Thanks for visiting, “birthday twin”. 🙂

      ~ Rob

      Like

  2. danniehill says:

    What a great start to Pursuit of a Dream. I just happen to be a NASCAR fan, live in Texas when I’m not in Thailand and hate computers– so I’m all in for this one!

    Well, edited and written! I think you have a winner, Rob! Can’t wait for it to come out! Great job.

    I hope Mr. Ed gets popped a few times, LOL

    Dannie

    Like

    • Ah, a fellow Texan (once a Texan always a Texan) and NASCAR fan. Thanks for the kind words, my friend. It is always encouraging as a writer to get compliments like that. You know, the funny thing is that this book was originally published in 2004 and today the name of my boss at the newspaper is Ed… and we even call him Mr. Ed sometimes. Talk about a coincidence. The real Ed (my current boss who has no relation to the book whatsoever) is a very cool boss.

      Re: “Mr. Ed” getting popped in Book one… Unfortunately it’s not the right genre. But, then again, there is always Book 2 or Book 3 to work that in somewhere. LOL! 🙂

      Cheers!
      vV””Vv

      Like

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