After failing to make contact with the owner at the first house, I quickly moved on down the street. In a way, knocking on that first door was a huge hurdle to overcome. Now that it was over, the next door would be just a touch easier to knock on. This time, maybe I’d get a chance to actually use my sales pitch on someone.
The second house looked much like the first, although this one had a chain fence protecting it’s grassless yard. Funny thing about New Mexico – many of the yards are made up of nothing but dirt. There might be a few clumps of grass or weeds, and in some of the nicer areas, the yards were made up of gravel. But not a whole lot of grass. I wasn’t in Indiana anymore.
I climbed the stoop and knocked on the door. Two steps back, turn to face the neighbor’s house, look impressive.
Finally, a click. The door started to open, but stopped after only a few inches.
“Can I help you?” The voice was quiet and, in an unsettling way, nervous.
I turned to face the homeowner, but quickly realized I could only see about half of her face. It threw me off.
“Umm, yes, hello. My name is Sam.” A long pause. I’d completely forgotten what I was there to do.
“Can I help you?”
“Sorry, uh, yeah. My name is Sam. I’m here for the summer. Actually, I’m staying in Bosque Farms, so not actually here, I guess.”
I’d gone off script. This was nothing like what I’d practiced for the past week. This was verbal vomit.
“Are you here for Miguel?” She was as confused as I was.
“No, well…maybe.” At this point, I thought about turning around and heading to the next house. Cut my losses, you know? But I stuck it out. “I’m here because I’m going through all the neighborhoods selling these educational books.” I gestured down to my bag. She glanced down to my side before quickly telling me she wasn’t interested. Before I knew it, the door was closed.
I stood on the stoop another ten seconds, just trying to process what had happened. System malfunction. That’s what it felt like, anyway. I walked back out to the sidewalk and slowly headed to the next house, giving myself enough time to recite the first two paragraphs of the sales pitch before knocking on the next door.
And so went the next few hours. I’d knock on a door, someone may or may not answer, I’d try to get as much of my sales pitch out before the door shut, and I’d move on to the next house.
I checked my watch after making it to the end of the third block. I still had another 90 minutes to go before I could take my lunch break. To that point, I’d only successfully gotten through the entire sales pitch once. This was after about 20 houses. As I went house to house, I drew out a map of the street, using little boxes to represent each home. I put an “X” through any of the houses I’d already spoken to and circled the ones where I got no answer. I’d go back to those houses later in the day.
I crossed the street and started knocking on doors, slowly making my way back to my car three blocks away.
Over the next 90 minutes, one of three things happened at every single house. Either 1) I’d hear someone in the house, but no one would answer the door; 2) someone answered the door, but quickly closed it once they realized I was selling something, or 3) they’d listen politely as I rambled for a few minutes before abruptly ending the conversation and shutting the door.
I opened my car door and was throttled by a heat wave escaping the vehicle. I rolled down the windows as soon as I was able to get the car started. The steering wheel was no less than 3700 degrees Fahrenheit. For the first time all day, I realized just how hot it’d gotten outside.
New Mexico is fairly arid, especially when you compare it to a state in the Midwest, where the oppressive humidity is stifling. New Mexico is hot, but like everyone likes to say, it’s a dry heat. My car had been sitting in direct sunlight for nearly 5 hours and the temperature inside couldn’t have been less than 125 degrees. I figured Murphy (my trusty ’95 Camry) needed a break from the sun.
The day before during my exploratory drive, I’d spotted a playground a couple blocks away, a perfect spot to spend my 20-minute lunch break. I pulled into the lot and killed the engine. I found a tree to sit under and got to work on a peanut butter sandwich, pulling my phone out of my pocket to give Ricky a call.
His phone rang a few times before clicking over to voicemail. Maybe he was making a sale, I hoped. The next call was to Travis, the guy who got me into all of this. He picked up after the second ring.
“Huh-luh.” Travis was in the middle of eating his own lunch, evidently.
“What up, man.”
“Sellin’ books!” he exclaimed. “What about you? Today’s your first day on the streets, right?”
He was right. If you’ll remember from a few chapters ago, Travis and his partner Tony were able to find a place to stay almost immediately. Today was Travis’ second day of selling.
“Yeah, I’m out here trying. Not getting a lot of people answering the door, though.” Travis didn’t respond. I assumed he’d taken another bite of his lunch. “Anyway,” I continued, “how was your first day? You make a million dollars yet?”
“Naw, nothing like that. But not a bad day. Sold three sets yesterday, but nothing yet today. It’s crazy though, I sold those three sets back to back to back. Found a good street and crushed it.”
I didn’t realize it until after he said it, but I needed to hear that. That was enough to lift any doubt I had about my prospects. I still felt pretty confident that I’d start selling soon, but it seemed this whole exercise was going to be somewhat feast or famine. I needed to keep that in mind for the upcoming afternoon.
Travis and I chatted a few more minutes before Ricky called me back. I switched lines and got caught up on Ricky’s morning. He’d gotten a soft sale on a set of books, but had to go back later in the evening to close the deal once the woman’s husband got home from work.
A few minutes later, I was in the car heading back to the block where I’d left off. I did some quick math and figured I’d visited around 35 homes, essentially putting me on pace to hit the goal of 80 houses per day.
The afternoon seemed to fly by. I’m not sure if it was the mix of adrenaline and nerves or maybe just severe dehydration, but I hardly noticed the heat. By 3PM I had managed to knock on 60 different doors. By then, I’d been able to get through my sales pitch in its entirety a few more times. One woman was wavering on a software set, but ultimately decided the cost was outside her budget. She was incredibly kind though, allowing me to sit in her air-conditioned kitchen for about half an hour while she gave me valuable intel on the rest of the neighborhood. Turns out I was in an area that was home to mostly retirees, although there were a handful of families strewn about. She pointed me toward a couple houses the next block over, families she knew from church.
After leaving her house, I took a few minutes to update my hand-drawn map. The area the woman had pointed to was in the next section over, which I’d probably get to the following day. My luck hadn’t been great that first day, but now I had hope for the next one.
Over the next few hours I kept knocking on doors, and kept hearing no’s, or worse yet, nothing at all. That caught me off-guard, to be honest. It seemed like for every door that opened, there were four that didn’t. But I kept going, making sure to mark which homes I needed to return to.
By about 5pm, I noticed a change in behavior. It seemed that once five o’clock hit, the answer rate jumped dramatically. I went back to where I started and began working through the houses that hadn’t answered. I skipped the very first house, because, well, I didn’t want to go back.
My day ended around 8:30pm. I should have worked all the way to 9pm, but I was absolutely beat. To this day I wish I would have worn a pedometer that summer. I easily cleared 20 miles on foot that first week. My first day had been fueled by adrenaline and positive self-talk. I didn’t book any sales that first day – hard or soft – but I knew the next day had plenty of promise, thanks to the little old church lady and her intel.
I got back to the house in Bosque Farms a few minutes before 9pm, surprised to see that Ricky had beaten me back to the house. As I pulled my car next to his, I wondered aloud, “He must’ve quit early, too.”♦