I moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1988, at the age of 19. Coming from a small town of fewer than 3,000 people, I was not prepared for life in the big city.

None of my family lives here in Denver, Colorado. Thirty years ago, I only knew a handful of people; my half-sister’s ex-husband and his family. I didn’t meet her until the age of 14. My half-sister and I bonded immediately. We were both family black sheep.

When her ex-husband came to Montana hoping to rekindle their relationship, we became friends almost overnight. His nephew had made the trip from Denver with him, and when it was time for the vacation to end, I packed my things and moved to Denver.

My sister did not get remarried to her ex-husband. I stayed with Kelly [her ex-husband] and Rick [his nephew] for at least a year. I had landed a job immediately, and purchased the third car I had owned; a 1977 Chevrolet Camaro. Funny, that car seems so old now, but at that time, it was only 12 years old.

Kelly began dating and married another woman. I became roommates with another friend of ours. That friend gave me my first line of cocaine. I was not prepared for such a powerful drug, and it quickly became the most essential thing in my life. When I fell behind on my rent, my roommate and owner of the condo, placed my things outside, and changed the locks.

At the time, I was working as a shift leader for Wendy’s International. Since I had a good job, I lived in my car and saved my money until I had enough for an apartment. Not once did I ask my family for help. I don’t remember telling my mother about my situation. I probably didn’t want to worry her. Not having family in Denver, things were rough for a while.

I stayed with Wendy’s until December of 1997. In 1988, I started as a part-time employee making $3.35 per hour. A few years later, I became the youngest General Manager in Denver, Colorado. Not long after that, I achieved the rare status of [Training Store Manager]. For a long time, I had the only training store in Colorado. When I left the company in 1997, I was being groomed for District Manager. My addiction to pain pills destroyed those plans. Of course, having an intimate relationship with one of my employees did not help. As I’ve stated many times, I was not a good husband to my first wife.

In 1997 I lost my first wife and my first career. I gained something, the ability to say, “my name is Joe. I’m a drug addict.”

The mountains that I climbed while working for Wendy’s were thought to be unclimbable. It was the greatest job I’ve ever had. For years I was the golden boy of Colorado. Managers and corporate employees traveled from all over the country to ask me how I accomplished what I accomplished. Yes, Dave Thomas came to my store. Those were my dark days of vanity and selfishness.

I have nothing but love and respect for that company. I let them and myself down.

I would go on to become a Culinary Chef, but that is another chapter. As a Scorpio, I have a clear understanding of the term [Phoenix Rising]. I have returned from the ashes three times, each time I’ve looked back and said, “I didn’t know anything the last time.”

Joseph Shanklin

August 10, 2020


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