Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Doing What You Love is a Privilege, Not a Right.

Warning: Do not read if you have teenagers in the home.

I was asked by JC Skane, the executive director for a local non-profit “WARM” (who is doing great things for our neighbors) to speak during their annual fund raising luncheon – about 200 local citizens. Most of my public speaking has been limited to Council, Historic Preservation and Planning Commission meetings and usually ends with someone crying or an arrest (just kidding about the crying).

The following is my speech – keep in mind, the events were more than 20 years ago…. Enjoy.

Thank you so much for having me – there are many great organizations in town but when I first met some of the board members for Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry a few years back I was truly impressed with their mission and recognized immediately the benefits to our community as a whole.

Looking out for our neighbors, especially those in the twilight of their life, who just need a little bit of help and with that little bit of help WARM is making a big difference in their lives.

Before we get started, let’s all thank WARM for the great work they are doing and let them know they can always count on us for our support.

Thank you, and for those of you who have not met me, I’m Dave Spetrino, Jr. Our company, Plantation Building Corp, has been doing custom homes, renovations and what we refer to as Downtown Urban Re-Development in the Wilmington area for 12 years now.

Let me give you some background about me. I grew up in Northern Virginia in a suburb of Washington DC called Dumfries. I had a pretty typical childhood, my Mom was a teacher and my Dad worked for the government.

I went to College at Radford University where I graduated with a degree in Business Management. During my Junior year of college I started a small company called DAZTech – a marketing and promotional products company which is still in business and now owned by my younger brother Jon.

After graduation I continued to live in Radford; I was running DAZTech and after a couple of years had passed I was starting to be referred to as the ‘old guy’ at the College Parties. “Hey, are you a narc?” – I was 22. It was at that point I realized that while I had intended to go to College at Radford, it wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to live the rest of my life.

It was time to figure out what I wanted to do and the first question was to determine where I wanted to live.

I had always been involved in some aspect of construction and real estate – working as a carpenter during high school, got my real estate license when I was 18 and was a landlord of 3 rental properties by age 22.

I loved these industries, understood them, and appreciated the challenges that came with them.

I began my research to find a town where I could move and build a company that would be involved in both construction and real estate.

I wanted to be in an area that would benefit from these things called baby boomers that I had been reading about, a City where as our nation aged, people would retire and locate there.

It had to be someplace that through the pros and cons, I would want to live for the rest of my life.

But most importantly, the real criteria for any major life decision at that point were that it also had to have a bunch of really hot chicks.

After visiting 8 other cities in the Southeast, Wilmington would be the lucky place where I would locate and hope to find what was most important to me at that time – a place where I could build a company, make a difference within that community and, as previously referred, find the future Mrs. Spetrino (who by the way does exist and is here today because she just can’t get enough of hearing me talk).

So, as I stood alone at the foot of Princess Street in January of ‘94, I made a deal with myself along the RiverFront that day.

I would move to Wilmington and I promised Wilmington that if it would take care of me; I in turn would take care of it.

With that, the City and I kind of shook hands, I spit in the River, ate a hot dog to celebrate and within a year I had divested my former life and took up shop in a $100 a month window-less office in the basement of the Cotton Exchange (thanks to Nancy Bullock and her father John.)

And I’ve been working Downtown ever since.

My current office is 3 blocks that way, our two boys go to school 6 blocks this way and my home is 8 blocks that way and pretty much every shilling that my wife Kathy and I have made is located in a big, 11 acre pile of sand along the Cape Fear RiverFront in the shadow of PPD about 7 blocks that way.

And if you can’t tell by now, I really enjoy doing what I do. And I really enjoy the ability to influence what I perceive as positive long term improvements in our Central Business District through re-development.

Our company has been able to take neighborhoods and sections of town that have been overlooked or just completely disregarded and create amazing places to live. In some ways it was just a matter of taking the time to push aside the tarnish and help bring back the shine.

And this is something I don’t take for granted. The desire to be able to do the things that I enjoy has always been the great motivator for me.

Financial security is important to all of us but think about this for a second, getting paid and getting to do something you really love is not necessarily a benefit enjoyed by all.

So you may be wondering how I came to understand that simple logic. Well, let me take you back to 1987 and a set of events that had nothing to do with real estate or construction or Downtown Re-development but certainly influenced the rest of my life.

I loved to drive. If I could do one thing it would be to have a car and just ‘ride like the wind’. Drive, drive, drive – just me and the congested roads of Northern VA.

But being born in October is about the worst thing your parents can do to you.

Being born in October means you are the youngest person in your class, it also means you are the last of your friends to get your driver’s license – even worse for me, not only was my birthday (October 10th) on a Saturday that year, Monday was Columbus Day and I wasn’t going to be able to go to the DMV until after school on Tuesday, October 13th!

And I don’t care what anyone says, patience is not a virtue, because it seemed as though I was 15 for like 3 years. I couldn’t wait to turn 16 and get that license.

My 16 year old friends and my 15 year old self would go running around on a Saturday nights and head to which ever unlucky classmate had parents out of town and was therefore obligated to throw a party.

Now, believe what you will, but to this day you can ask any of the guys I grew up with – I never, ever drank in High School. And it had nothing to do with a pledge or religious values – it was because if I stayed sober my friends would let me drive them (and their car) home – even at age 15. (That car eventually became a large cargo van)

My friends got to do what they wanted to do and I got to do what I really liked to do (drive) and I already had a perfectly prepared excuse should I get pulled over,

“Officer, I didn’t want to drive but my friends had been drinking and they made me drive, besides, I couldn’t live with myself if they drove themselves home and something awful should happen”

Now I am not condoning driving at the age of 15, but I really wanted to drive and at the time I was justifying to myself that given two potential outcomes of someone drunk driving vs. someone driving drunks that I felt as though I had a good argument.

And, not surprisingly, at 15 and with the heavy cloud of getting totally busted for driving without a license I was without a doubt the absolute best driver in the world.

I’m serious, turn signals, not a mile over the speed limit, 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Any passenger in my charge would get home safely – course what their parents did to them when I got them home was their problem.

Finally October 13th came and, man, when I got that license and I revved up those 4 cylinders on my ‘82 Toyota Corolla there was nothing stopping me.

With that drivers license I was going to take over the world and finally get to do everything I had always wanted to do in life – which at that time my life goals mainly consisted of delivering pizzas and taking girls on dates.

But, like many fantasies, that dream came to a screeching halt. Within four short months I found myself standing in front of a very irritated man named Patrick Molinari – or more officially known in his courtroom as “your honor”.

My father is standing to my left and he is holding the underside of my arm– holding it as if I might try to make a break for it, which certainly had crossed my mind as a potential option.

And much of this unpleasant court proceeding is a blur because as one of the two arresting officers is describing the offense (Speeding, 72 in a 35) – which my father already knew about from reading the citation– the officer is also describing the fact that I rolled through not one but two stop signs and proceeded to drive another 2 miles before looking in the rear view mirror to see that I was getting pulled.

Side note: I for one thought it was completely inappropriate that since the officer hadn’t charged me with rolling through stop signs there was no need for him to bring it up now here in front of everybody…

But with each word that came out of the officers mouth the Darth Vader like grip by my father on the underside of my arm got tighter and tighter. If you have ever fainted or blacked out for lack of blood getting to your brain, this is pretty much what it felt like.

So to say my Dad was a little upset might be an understatement.

And well Judge Molinari isn’t too happy either, I mean, after all, I had only been driving (legally) for about 4 months and I already had a rap sheet. In those 4 months I had wrecked my car (twice, fender benders) AND this wasn’t my first speeding ticket, it was my second.

I am busted, I mean big time and at this point I have already begun to mentally prepare myself for military school or even Juvee.

Back then I used to watch a lot of the Peoples Court and it seemed like Judge Wapner had always tilted toward the side with the most back up so I brought along a few character witnesses just in case.

I brought people who stood up in front of the court and said, “hey, this kid made a mistake but, he’s a nice young man and he’s doing good things, while it may not look it right now, he has potential”

It also helps to do your research, turns out that the owner of the pizza place where I worked, Walter Jones, played poker AND golf with ol’ Pat Molinari. I talked Mr. Jones into coming to court with me and he told the Judge that, “I was a hard worker and there was a high probability that I could be reformed.”

And a few moments later, in February of 1988, something happened. I learned three very important things that I have taken with me for the rest of my life and now try to apply them to everything I do – especially when it comes to my career goals and our community.

First, Judge Molinari says to me, and I quote, “Mr. Spetrino, a driver’s license is not a right, it is a privilege. Just because you have a car and are capable of operating a motor vehicle does not give you the right to do so. With this privilege comes the obligation of being responsible, not just to your passengers but to the other drivers on our roadways”


Lesson One: Doing what you love is a privilege, not a right. Do the wrong thing and that privilege can go away.

Second, the Judge is pointing his gavel at me and at then with his other and at the stacked house of witnesses that offered to speak on my behalf.

He said that even though he and I were meeting for the very first time under painful circumstances (a total understatement) that it was obvious to him that I while I wasn’t very smart, I was probably not a total delinquent – that I must be doing something right in my life or I would not have been able to assemble teachers, neighbors and employers to speak and write letters on my behalf about the many good traits that I possessed (that is of course when I wasn’t behind the wheel)

And there came Lesson Two: You will screw up in life, you will make mistakes but at the very minimum make sure you are doing more than enough good things in your life to offset the few dumb things – so much so that people are willing to stand up for you and put their own reputations on the line.

At this point I am hearing what the Judge is saying but with my father still holding the death grip on my arm, and the subsequent lack of oxygen getting to my brain, things are starting to get hazy, but as he hands down my sentence (which by the way was 80 hours of community service at the local ER - a whole other story) he suggests I think twice about putting my Father through this kind of ordeal ever again.

And finally, Lesson Three: When you are in really, really big trouble, when you really screw up, call in your Mother!

Thank you for allowing me to tell you one of my (many) life lessons.

Thank you so much for the support and commitment you are all providing to WARM. It is immeasurable.

Most importantly, let me just close by telling you this, the opportunity to speak with you today, has been, let’s just say, a privilege.

Thank you and have a great afternoon.

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