Back in the day, I managed motels for a guy named Oscar. He had a special knack for buying properties that were in financial trouble and “flipping” them through a very unique but devious formula.
As a twentysomething trying to figure life out, it was an exciting job and an alluring lifestyle. I admired and feared Oscar. He was both cantankerous and shrewd. He told great stories – a few of them accurately. He loved to consume alcoholic beverages and listen to live Las Vegas entertainment.
Oscar taught his young managers (including me) how to create new, exciting hot-spots in the little communities where his motels were located. It was our job to make sure potential investors of considerable wealth and little business savvy were dazzled by this sparkling veneer.
Oscar tore down walls and expanded little motel bars into grand entertainment showrooms. He would bring in hip bands that played tunes from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kingston Trio. They’d deliver their music and clever banter on a stage illuminated by colorful, flashing lights.
Meanwhile, I’d hire innocent, wide-eyed farm girls and boys and turn them into upscale bartenders and cocktail waitresses. Suddenly, a property that had been distressed and downtrodden a few months before would turn into the place to be seen and have fun. Eager patrons would fill the motel rooms, book the banquet halls, and completely buy in to the touch of Las Vegas that Oscar brought to Little Town, America.
Toward the end of Oscar’s motel-flipping process, the bubble he built would be about to pop. There was no way, after the sizzle wore off, that any of these motel investments would stay profitable. But the trap had been set already. Oscar would have sealed the deal with whatever local, wealthy investors I’d introduced him to, and we’d be off to scout our next property.
I learned a lot from Oscar over our few years working together. Some of his basic business principles served me well in future endeavors. But the flimflam foundation of the work, and some of the personal habits that went with it, took me decades to clean up.
I’m glad to have known Oscar, glad to have learned what that lifestyle was really about, and gladder still to have found my own calling, in cheering for people doing the real, honest work of remodeling – that of positive personal behavior change.