Gary Tetz

As a long-term care professional walking into just about any self-storage facility in America, you might be struck by how much they evoke old nursing home design — banks of ghastly-stark, fluorescent bulbs bathing infinitely branching double-loaded corridors in frigid, antiseptic light.

Thankfully for our residents and staff, and healthcare in general, the greatest commonalities diminished long ago. Though the basic architecture is still too prevalent — and I wish every senior could experience a more homelike and utopian facility floor plan that wasn’t forced to prioritize efficiency and staff convenience — at least the doors don’t roll up.

But that’s not why this topic’s on my mind.

As a business model, I’m the poster boy for why self-storage places exist, and I’m exceptionally grateful. For an exorbitant monthly fee over the past few decades, they’ve helped me navigate that awkward transition time between believing my precious stuff is irreplaceable, to wondering what’s in that cinderblock room I rented in 1986.

Punching in the code and driving through the gate to store a bicycle I’ll never fix or dresser I won’t refinish, I’m suddenly part of a bustling hub of personal transitions and often visibly unwelcome challenges, yet another similarity that evokes long-term care campuses. People like me aren’t there because we want to be — it’s more a hostage situation.

“How many of your clients are going through divorces?” I asked one self-storage manager, who estimated more than half. I suggested she gather some folding chairs and offer a weekly relationship support group in one of the empty 10 x 10 units, but she failed to see the lucrative revenue opportunity.

Life changes and the accrual of detritus being unrelenting, I recently needed even more storage space, and the Spirit of Google led me to a nearby facility that seemed to offer all I required — walls, a roof and a sturdy lock to protect things no sane thief would ever wish to steal.

That’s how I met Brad (not his real name), who spends his days signing up new customers, walking the halls like a high school principal and staring at the monitor of pervasive security cameras. It wouldn’t seem to be a terribly attractive job option, but even on the phone, he was so cheerful, it made me a little queasy. “It’s! a! great! day! at Generic Storage Place! (not its real name)” he exuberated. “How can I help you!?!”

I thought it was probably a one-time sales charade, but he turned out to be the same in person. As he led me through the paperwork and showed me the place my useless items will reside for the next 23 years, I kept waiting for the façade to crack and the mask to slip, but it never did. I’m as skeptical of pretense as the next jaded human, but Brad’s unrelenting vivaciousness finally won me over.

As I turned to leave, keys in hand, he said, “Sir, you’re not done yet!” I turned around, perplexed, wondering what I’d missed. But he simply extended his arm. “You have to shake my hand.” Corny, I know, and he’d probably delivered that line 17 dozen times previously. But still, it was adorable — and I complied.

No, Brad doesn’t serve in long-term care, but like all of us, he almost certainly faces challenges in his life and profession that might excuse the occasional loss of what I’d call evangelistic positivity. So I’m determined to celebrate every Brad-like beacon of persistent optimism, whenever and wherever I encounter them.

Sure, I wish he could somehow spare and share some of that attitude with me, but maybe it’s all for the best. Because where would I store it?

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.