The Secret Art of the Sandwich

In 2008 I went to work for Jimmy John’s in Auburn Hills, Michigan. My domestic readers need no introduction to the franchise and I’m willing to bet a fair amount of my foreign readers are at least familiar but if I were to describe the restaurant to the uninitiated I’d say “It’s a Subway with far, far less toppings and better bread.” That’s actually fairly accurate.

The company was owned by a guy we’ll call Carl (not his real name but close enough). Carl was the stereotypical mid-western silver spoon douchebag who had decided one day whilst drinking and blowing some lines with his best bud that they should open a franchise. He was (and is, I’m sure) a short, balding, barrel-bodied man who could not stand being the loudest and most respected man in the room. The “big swingin’ dick” as he called it when referring to others of his genus. He had absolutely no idea how to manage a business but through sheer luck he managed to be the first Jimmy John’s franchisee in the mid-west and was allowed to expand at a pace enviable to any entrepreneur.

So that’s how (after a brief stint at a bakery in Rochester Hills which ended in me cheating on my girlfriend at the time with one of my bosses who was married and newly made a mother) I wound up meeting him and unwittingly beginning a seven year career that took me all across the country. I began, as almost everyone in the company does, as a delivery driver. There I met someone who would become a good friend and with whom I would stumble down a dark path of drugs, alcohol, and young women which almost killed me more than once. As usual, a story for another time. Through this friend I was made a night manager and through a combination of hard work and the company’s inability to retain employees I got to skip the assistant manager gig and go right to running my own store in downtown Birmingham. The clientele were the upper end of upper middle class and came with the expected difficulties. Constant arguing about the menu, threats against my position for late deliveries, etcetera. Eventually through the aforementioned poor employee retention I was chosen as a “fixer” to head to Arizona and see if I couldn’t figure out why every store there was failing. It only took me a few days to discover that the reason was heroin, of course.

So over the course of the next few weeks my team and I fired pretty much everybody and hired sixty employees in a month which was a feat never before seen. I was immediately asked to stay in Arizona permanently and run the highest volume unit. Having nothing but a wake of destroyed relationships and the bad memories that come pre-packaged with hardcore alcohol addiction back home I of course agreed.

The next four or five years were a waking nightmare. I’d work for 14-15 hours and then drink from 5PM until 2AM and then get up at 6AM to open my store and do it all over again. Frequently I’d take a day off from drinking after a two or three day binge in which I swore I was done and would never drink again. I’m sure some of you know how that works out. I know a lot of alcoholics think that they’re pulling it off without anyone being the wiser when in fact everybody around them knows what’s going on, but my employees and friends genuinely did not know I was basically working solely to support an addiction. Even when I was evicted from my apartment (truly the best place I’ve ever lived) and had to move in with a former employee I was able to conjure up a convincing enough excuse. To this day I don’t know how none of my closer coworkers knew that I was hungover almost every single day.

Arizona was simultaneously the best part of my life and the absolute worst. I mean I got to drink as much as I wanted whenever I wanted without anyone saying anything. On top of that the environment and population are equally gorgeous. I made two of my best friends there who I still talk to almost daily (somehow they stuck around through my darker periods; that’s how you know who your real friends are I suppose but I really wouldn’t have blamed them if they cut off contact with me back then). I fell in love more than a couple of times but as one of my current coworkers is fond of saying: “every relationship is failed until you find your last one”.

I tell this short story not as an autobiographical note but as proof of how far you can come if you’re willing to put in the work. My life continued to spiral into the drain and Arizona wasn’t my last stop before coming home and getting sober but there is no part of my personality that mirrors that of my former self. It’s really as if that person died and I was born nine months ago. Even my thoughts are different and if you aren’t your thoughts then what are you? So to those of you still struggling out there, keep up the fight. Look to your friends and loved ones for help. Find a treatment program. I did a complete 180 out of the blue and haven’t so much as turned back for a quick peek. I’m not an exceptionally intelligent or willful person: if I can do it, so can you.

Talk to ya later.

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