Life Among the Natives

The Wife bought a new set of tires for Darth Beetle, today, replacing those with which it was originally shod.  Nice.

One of the caveats driving a coupe is the great size of the single doors on each side.  If you park going up even a slight incline, it can be a challenge to exit the car, which is by design quite low, without the giant door coming back to injure your leg.  Also, in something that relatively low, you’re the last one to know when you’re in an accident.  So, I drive it until it decides to return to the funeral home when it came.

The Wife enjoys the Kia Soul, with its smaller doors and higher stance.  The Sirius radio is also great.  We take it to Atlanta and have escaped death so far.

I’ve discovered that Murrow Blvd. is an excellent way to exit the sphincter of Greensboro down MLK, as appropriate and designed by the country clubs.

The trip down 421 is far less than harrowing, thanks to the regular presence of troopers.  The exit to Liberty quickly brings forth a world of ghosts inhabiting a hollowed out excuse for moral collapse.

For me, it’s always especially poignant, my biggest account as a Foxpro developer, with The Chair Co., a $10M per year glider rocker mfgr running 70 employees and putting out 2500 units per week, coming up first on my right.  Bill Clinton signed NAFTA, the Zapatistas declared war on Mexico and the owner sold the company to his reps, who bore the collapse.  I thought it was brilliant.

Up next on the left was Larry Teague’s electrical and hardware business.  I always thought his watercolors put Timberlake to shame.  He’d spent year swith Commercial Electric in GSO, pricing projects.  He’d raised a family, lost a wife and taken another.  I helped build their new house for a few weeks that summer.

To do business in Liberty, you needed to extend credit to the contractors, and Larry inherited the system from Blake Home Builders which cost $1000 per month.  We quickly decided we could do a lot of programming for that amount and set about replacing it.

By then, I’d hammered out a cast iron accounts receivable package, which thanks to The Chair Co., and the direction of local CPA, Robert Ward, was well suited to customization and even integration with GL.  I spent many a pleasant afternoon with him, trying all manner of things, in the midst of running a hardware store.

They had a 2 x 4 ft. sign they pulled on people who complained about the prices:

Go the Hell on to Lowes, then.

We tried to scan some reports, but eventually they had to enter 10K inventory items.  I’d never done POS, but we approached it logically and created a workable solution of which we were proud.  But the coup de grace was the Receivables which managed to take any manner of credit to an account and apply  interest judiciously, which means individually.

I contend that this period, in places like Liberty, represents the Zenith of technology, where we could pick up Windows PCs at wholesale, apply them in a LAN, hang printers and implement FoxPro systems to run $10M companies, from soup to nuts.

Speaking of which, about the same time, I was asked to implement Liberty Oil Co.  It was during this time that it was said of me that I could teach monkeys to run a computer.  And what a system.  Mr. Ward, having designed the Chair Co. system, a marriage of Tom Ferguson’s cost accounting and his requirement for financials, synthesized what we had into a gorgeous little system where one screen updated sales, inventory and receivables, with month end reports.  It ran on a series of PCs until recently, when I stopped supporting it.  Over twenty  years.

I’d taken some accounting courses at GTCC and run a $3M receivables at Randolph Telephone for my dad, after high school, So I understood double entry bookkeeping, but most importantly, the ability to age accounts and apply interest.  Yeah, my dad, Alan Martin, learned how to program in Assembler and then COBOL on a series of Burroughs minicomputers, prior to the PC, to do billing.

I’d dropped out of NCSU after a semester, working the Spring at Don’s Music City.  We were into Commodore 64s and programmable TI calculators.

I’d been going to night school at UNCG and then switched for a year to attend GTCC’s DP program.  It was mainframe bullshit, but I did excel at flowcharting, which I haven’t used since.

Jim Owens was a pharmacist from Roseboro, who’d fallen in love with merchandising and was fucking with Liberty retailers on the wholesale price of things like Coke.  Ken Schurr, whom I think was from the upper midwest, married a local lady and got to know Jim at Liberty’s epic parties.  Ken had worked, after the USAF, for a couple of national papers and now was a rep for mainframe systems featuring the iconic Coyote terminals.

While Ken was in the front door at the Greensboro News & Record, I was in the back, converting spreadsheets and Access files to databases with reports.  Ken took dBaseII and built a system to process prescriptions.  Jim’s work ethic, the son of a car dealer, was remarkable.  He regularly worked a shift in the drug store and then stayed up, automating his store.  The software they produced lives on to this day, the last time I checked.

I was hired in 1984 as the first employee of Liberty Drug Systems and over the next eighteen months, installed 50 systems in pharmacies in three states.  Mind you, we started with TI-PCs running MS-DOS 1.25 on a floppy with a 5MB HD.  And yet, Ken’s code not only processed scrips, but enabled a pricing system built custom by Jim for each pharmacy.  He’d show up around 11:00, after the owner had run nightly reports, and demo the system while talking over old times, because nearly everyone went to UNC School of Pharmacy.  It was like Animal House every night.

I spent days maintaining one set of dBase code, designed to meet the needs of every customer.  I hit the road, doing upgrades, which meant arriving at closing, backing up the files to 40 floppy disks and then heading to a hotel, where they were restored to a mule, which cooked the files to support new formats.  The next morning, I arrived before opening and restored the upgraded system.

We had a guy in Aberdeen filling 750 scrips per day.  TI was turning out faster hardware and we were throwing everything we could get at the problem.  But I was breaking down and left.

I worked for Wayne Brown in Greensboro for about six months, developing dBASEIII apps, before breaking out on my own.  Shortly after that, in 1987, my dad died, leaving me a small insurance policy, which I partially invested in the house where I now sit.

Wayne was the older brother of Gary Brown, monster IBM 36 guy, a graduate of the UAF academy, who flew bombing missions over Vietnam and gone on to get his MBA.  He had entre into the biggest businesses in Greensboro.  But he was disorganised.

Striking out on my own, I put my cards about at local computer stores.  The Byte Shop, an Apple Store of all places, sent Louis Patseavouras, MD FACS my way and for the next two years I worked with him and another cosmetic surgeon in La Jolla on a billing and inventory system, which they eventually sold.   I was able to develop a user interface and menu framework which I continued to improve and implement until 2010.

Not long after that, Tom Ferguson from High Point, who’d worked at Liberty Furniture,  bought Arnold Hogan’s chair co. in Liberty and the rest is history.

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