Danny, Dan-O-Mite, Dan-tastic, My friend Dan... this story isn't finished. There's a bit more to add. Words and pictures.
My friend Dan.
I love that picture. I wish it was more clear, but it was taken on an old flip phone. The picture perfectly describes Dan - in so many ways. Yep... he was the guy that if your phone was sitting around unattended - DAN became your new profile (and everything else) picture. That guy knew cell phones! He had worked with Sprint for years and found himself in mid/Sr. Management as time went by. Dan had a beautiful McMansion in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake. Two daughters and a lovely wife. More on them later.
Dan was my friend. He died August 23, 2017. Dan's death was sudden. I remember being at my sister's house - pet sitting or something. I got a phone call from Michele Carbonara. It was sweet of her to let me know. It was also very thoughtful. I met Michele when I was in my late 20's. She was seated right next to her (then future) husband John. Michele and John were Inside Sales Reps at Follett Software. I was the new guy out in the DC area. I had flown out to Chicago for some initial training and to meet the folks I'd be working with. They were two of the first people I met. And two of the most important people I met... they're among my favorite people on earth. I worked with them and with Follett Software Company - during that stint - for maybe 12ish years. I resigned in the late 90's as a Regional VP of Sales. Not too shabby for a.college drop-out.
Years later and after my divorce, I moved from Holland, Michigan to Crystal Lake, Illinois. Home of Follett Software! I was back to return to the Educational Software world I knew so well. And what do you know... Michele was my new boss. I could NOT have been happier. Nobody knows Follett Software like Michele. As John said once over a beer... "she knows where the bodies are burried." And he's right. Follett Corporation will miss Michele when she retires. She knows every aspect of the company and most of its sister companies, customers, and the entire industry. Anyhow...
I'd been back for maybe a month. Michele called me into her office and asked me what I thought about mentoring a new guy. Wow. I was thrilled. That confirmed a number of things to me. One - I was on the right track. Two - Michele hadn't forgotten who I was, how I worked or my way of doing things. Of course, I said yes. Then she filled me in on the details.
The new guy was Dan. He was a friend of Zach. Zach was a cousin of Chuck Follett. Chuck was THE President of Follett Corporation. For the record - Follett Corporation is a multi-billion dollar per year privately held Corporation. I had met Chuck when I was maybe 21 - at a bar in New Orleans. I was there for an American Library Association conference. I knew right away that Chuck was an industry player. He had a such a commanding presence. I could write some great stories about Chuck. I actually wish he'd write a book. It would be a hell of a read! Anyhow - although I'd met Zach, it had been years since I'd seen him. When I was introduced to Zach, he was a kid. And his job was changing lightbulbs at the new Follett Software building/offices in McHenry, IL. He'd since evolved into running Follett International. Quite an evolution I'd say.
That whole thought was kind of intimidating. The new guy was a friend of "the family." I was "the new guy" again. But I wasn't as new as Dan. Surely there were more qualified people to mentor a new guy - but I trusted Michele and I trusted that she chose me for a good reason.
Dan started a couple days later. Michele introduced us and off we went into the workaday world.
Dan wore a tie. Every day. I believe the first thing I told Dan was "lighten up man, ditch the tie." But no - Dan wore a tie every day.
As I got to know Dan, I realized we shared in-common a huge life experience. We'd both been "victims" of the corporate blowback from the 9-11 terror attacks. In my case, the company that I was working for at the time - completely imploded. It was a high-end software company. The software was NOT mission critical in most cases. But when implemented - it could launch companies to the next level. We were a "want" not a "need." On top of that - they were horribly managed. Maybe more on that whole debacle another time. But it forced my hand to move from my beautiful log-home in the Shenandoah Valley to West Michigan. A promise I'd made to my former wife. "The next move will be where you want to go." Valliant on my part I must say. Ugh.
Dan was mid/senior level Management with Sprint Communications on 9-11. Sprint, like many companies, completely overhauled themselves after 9-11. Sadly, Dan's whole level of management was eliminated. It caught Dan completely off guard. The entire mobile communications industry overhauled themselves as well. Dan had nowhere to go in a parallel or upward position. And if you knew Dan, a lesser position was not an option. Not at all.
Dan eventually hit up his friend Zach for a job. That's not really the kind of thing Follett Corp. does though. They rarely hire "friends" for friend's sake. You've got to know your shit - and what's more - you've got to be damn good at it too.
Dan did get a job in Inside Sales though. The same place I wound up at after a 7ish year break from the Educational Software industry. I was grateful to be back in any capacity. But Dan seemed to see the whole thing as a let-down. He yearned for a life back in mid/senior Management. And was rather impatient in climbing back up ANY corporate ladder.
Dan wasn't an easy friend to have at times. Especially at first. I don't think I've ever met anybody who marched to the beat of his own drum quite as much as Dan. I grew to love that about him. Dan's life was short. But it was it was full of music, love, family and friends. And more music.
I learned a lot about myself because of Dan. Shortcomings mostly. Nothing major. But they were things I wished I'd done differently.
Dan was NOT perfect by any measure. Just like his friend Bill. Or, anybody who reads this. None of us are close to perfect. Some of us care, some don't. Some try to change. Some don't. Some march to the beat of their own drum - damn the torpedos. Others - don't... Or didn't.
I was fairly new back to "the company." I originally left in the late(ish) 90's after working as a Sales Representative and then as a Regional VP of Sales. The latter was a tough job. I really didn't enjoy it. I enjoyed my coworkers and customers and our mission. But, I didn't enjoy being a boss-man.
Shortly after 9-11, the company that I was working with nose-dived. They were ill-prepared for how to handle a crisis. In fact, they "fired" 50% of the company a month or so after 9-11. Uhhh... we weren't that bad! The two brothers that owned the sompany had their eyes on a new shiny object. Data Visualization. I've always admired companies that diversify their offerings. I've never admired companies that decide to "halt" a product's life-cycle to satisfy the whims of the owners.
My ex-wife and I sold the log-home and moved to Michigan. Her home-state. 5 years later, I walked out the door and never looked back - except once. That was about a week after I moved out... Our dog of 13 years, a once-in-a-lifetime guy named Cody. Actually spelled - Code. That was short for Code-Brown. Cody was a Chocolate-Lab. You'll have to ask a Nurse if you want more info on "Code Brown." Save to say, Cody as an 8 week old pup reminded me of a little turd.
When I left my wife, I needed to stay in Michigan for 1 year. A cooling off period the state called it. I was 45. Working at a Lowe's store. Not quite what I had in my plans as a hot career move. But I was grateful for that job. In so many ways. I had a BLAST working there. I had financial obligations like a car and an apartment. Since Lowe's wasn't my long-term cup of tea, I started poking around the Education Software company. They were based in Chicago. A city I knew well. And I knew many of the people that were working there.
Shortly after my divorce was finalized, I packed up and moved to Crystal Lake, IL. It's maybe a half hour north of Chicago if there's NO traffic. Hours otherwise. True story. I was offered a job at the HQ of my old company.
I'm leaving out a chapter in my life where at age 45 I hopped into a red hot sports car with my buddy Matt and at an average of 100 miles an hour headed straight to North Las Vegas, Nevada. I meant Matt when I went to work at the Lowe's store. He's about 15 years younger than me and from the moment I met him we were thick as thieves - in a good way of course. Matt had been accepted into the North Las Vegas Police department academy. He had talked his old buddy Bill into thinking that he might want to be a cop too. Perhaps the world's oldest rookie. Perhaps, not thinking clearly!
This whole thing didn't happen overnight. Matt and I trained and ran and trained and ran. I was in damn good shape. Matt had been accepted into the academy, and I had done the preliminary work to take a series of tests to maybe qualify for the next round of the academy.
It was a 3-day battery of tests. If you passed on a particular day you got a phone call that evening inviting you to the next days event.
Day one was a long test. They asked a cajillion questions all designed to get you to answer the same question differently and hopefully get inside your head. I passed the test and got the phone call that night inviting me back the next day to a local colleges track and field facilities. It was September. It was Las Vegas. It was hotter than holy hell!
Day two was filled with a mile run, a two mile run, various and sundry cop type exercises. Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, everything but throw-ups! I actually lapped kids over half my age in the mile run. I felt like a million bucks. I was in great shape and I had Matt and his future cop buddies rooting me on... "Come on old man! Don't let these punks beat you!"
It was a great day. I crushed it. And I got the obligatory call that evening.
Day 3 was, I believe, at a convention center. It was a panel interview. With me in a tiny chair all alone in the auditorium and four main looking cops up on a stage next to a very kind and demure woman from the community. As soon as I sat down they started firing off questions. The only one I was prepared for was " Mr Payne how did you get here today?" I knew they weren't looking for... My uncle brought me! They wanted to know in cop-speak exactly "how" I got there.
I told them my buddy Matt drove me we left at 9:30 a.m. heading south on yada yada street, you can fill in the blanks with directions to how I got there. That's exactly what they wanted to hear.
The questions were rapid fire and they were looking for clear concise confident police officer type answers. No wishy-washy bullshit. At one point one of the officers asked the question... "Mr Payne, you and your partner are dispatched to a business after hours. You get there the door is swinging in the wind. You walk in and you see your partner going through desk drawers stuffing things in his pockets! Mr Payne what do you do??"
I told them that I would tell my partner to stop immediately. Take everything out of his pockets and put it back where he got it. And that I never wanted to see anything like that again... Or I'd come and talk to you people (I said with a wagging finger).
After the interview I walked out to a little waiting area and was eventually called to a table where I was told that I didn't make it through the interview. But they wanted me to come back in December for the next round of tests.
I talked to Matt on the way home kind of bummed, kind of not, kind of proud that I had kicked ass and taken names as a 45-year-old midlife crisis, freshly divorced, eager to move on, incredibly good looking dude. Oh... Sorry. He told me that I answered the question about the desk drawers 100% spot on correctly... If the kind demure citizen wasn't in attendance. She needed to hear that I'd read the thieving bastard out. Even though in the real world nothing would happen. At least on a first accusation. Matt then went on to let me know that no-doubt a month or so later I'd be down in some alley probably getting my ass kicked by a couple of crackheads. I'd call out for help and who do you think would show up to render assistance to officer Bill? Officer Thieving Bastard of course!
He would of course report back that he looked high and low and didn't see or hear a damn thing. Meanwhile I get my ass kicked by a couple of crackheads. Of course this wouldn't happen... I would have tased those fuckers post haste! Ha! And ended up looking for a new job where I didn't have electronic projectiles at my disposal. I always wondered what it would be like to have them when I was back in the sales world. Oh well, a guy can dream can't he?
I had a few months to get my act together, finalize the divorce, and if I was lucky find my way back into the educational software world. Thank God I didn't go back to try to be officer Bill - take two!
Somehow I got a little sidetracked, this was supposed to be about Dan and not me. But then was my friend. So there.
I mentioned Dan loved music. I mean that in no uncertain terms. Like me, Dan had a soundtrack constantly whirring about in his head. I don't claim to know what his sounded like. Mine ranged from cartoon classic music to Pink Floyd to the music that played while the wicked witch rode her bicycle with Toto in the basket... You know the tune.
Dan invited me into his home to meet his family and have dinner with them. I was humbled. Dan made me feel at home. Something I sorely missed. And it was sincere. It was also January, in Illinois, and it was colder than you could imagine. We went out on Dan's back porch cracked open a couple of beers, started a fire in a little firepit and froze our asses off, drinking beers, laughing, sharing stories, and having a blast getting to know each other. Dan's wife and two daughters would walk by now and then shaking their heads at these two idiots shivering out in the blustery cold windy night air. Dan and his family invited me back numerous times. I truly felt the love.
Dan would strum a guitar from time to time. He had a Taylor acoustic, made by the actual Taylor family before they sold out and started making shit guitars. He was a hell of a lot worse than I was. But his smile was twice as big when he played. Shear joy! That's how I picture Dan to this day that huge smile, his guitar, maybe even outside shivering taking a break for a sip of beer now and then.
That's really all there is to the story. Other than, one particular evening at about 3:00 a.m. Dan's buddy Bob called and invited us over. Bob was a heavy hitter with Sears and had pretty much a recording studio in his basement. It was only a couple of houses away and we were there in no time. Dan was on drums, I was playing one of Bob's electrics, and Bob was playing either base or an electric guitar. There are two things I remember clear as day that night. One, at one point Dan stopped us cold. He looked over at me and he said "Bill play louder, you don't suck at guitar!" I laughed, and turned up the volume a little. That was Dan. A little confidence booster just when I needed it, as only Dan could deliver it.
The other thing I remember was it about 4:30 a.m. A door swung open, and some blonde haired lady staring a hole right through me! "Who the fuck is that?" She was pretty much asking about me! I thoroughly questioned how bad I actually sucked on the guitar that night. Who was this woman? What did I ever do to her? What's up with the foul language? What's she doing in Bob's basement?
That woman would be - Mrs. Bob. She was mighty pissed. It was late. We were drunk. It was her home, her basement, probably her guitar!
Dan and I were packed up and out of their lickety split. I was no match for Mrs Bob. Either was Bob for that matter. Wtf. One second it was rock and roll, and the next it was "who the fuck are you?" I'm not kidding. She was seriously pissed. As soon as Dan and I were outside and headed back to his home we were laughing our asses off. We must have shared that story back and forth a hundred times.
Anyhow time came and went. I ended up moving back to the East Coast. Dan and I stayed in touch. He eventually went through a divorce which broke the poor guy's heart. I have no doubt that Dan was not an easy guy to be married to. Like I said, he marched to a unique beat, of a foreign drum. But I do know this. Dan loved his three girls. It broke his heart.
And then back to the day that Michele called me. It was the day that Dan died. I was in shock. I wept. I still do. I loved that guy. Dan was my friend. One of the most unique friends I've ever had. Not always an easy friend to have. And I'll save those stories for the grave.
Dan Evans was my friend.