Packing up and leaving forever, then coming home
Five years ago, my wife and I hired a property manager and put our Grant Park home up for rent. We sold or gave away half of our possessions, put the family in the car, and headed west hoping for the best. No job awaiting. No fixed idea on where we would end up. All we knew was we wanted to get the heck out of Atlanta and shake up the paradigm.
Boy did we ever accomplish that.
We soon found ourselves just outside L.A. in Claremont, CA, unpacking the family car at my sister-in-law’s tiny apartment with her son, boyfriend and four cats. We made a floor bed in the corner of the living room about 8-feet from the litter box. Not exactly luxury accommodations, but we were grateful for the free crash spot.
I quickly found editing work in Hollywood and also discovered what a hellish auto commute felt like. I figured it’s only 30 miles away, but became squeamish upon the realization that that it would equate to 2 hours in the car with my heavy foot constantly bouncing back and forth between the breaks and the gas as I inched my way down the congested 6-lane interstate. 4 hours in the car and 8 in the edit chair became my routine. Oh, the glamor of it all! About a month later, my wife Kristen found a full-time job. At least now we could get our own place… and with a pool and hot tub to boot!
Eventually I found a job in Claremont managing social media for a well-respected liberal arts college. My commute went from 4 hours per day to 4 minutes each way. My creative energy surged. I began cranking out media for their website, newsletter and social media outlets giving that school a tremendous value considering the almost laughably low salary. It was okay by me, though. The quality of life jump was palpable, I liked the academic environment and I got to work under a true mentor, Max.
We found a groove. Kristen was working in the MarComm department of another one of the Colleges and people in town were either impressed or envious that we had both landed desirable full-time college jobs within beautiful Claremont. It appeared that we would be riding this out for a while. We weren’t getting rich, but living comfortably in a beautiful place and growing every day in an environment that values learning. Kristen was pregnant with our third child, and we were happy.
That’s when I got the call.
It was from a friend and former CNNer, now working for Fuse. He was looking for an L.A. based producer for their brand new, high-budget nightly T.V. show FUSE NEWS. The pay was tasty, the job description was exciting, and it was all about music! How could I refuse?! I gave Max my two-weeks notice and within a month I was commuting to Hollywood again. This time was going to be different. I was going to be part of an artistic and journalistic movement… right? Wrong.
I was asked to recommend a videographer and I referred my acquaintance Rick who recently joined the “Laid Off From CNN Club”. He was hired, and—along with celebrity reporter Jack—we had our West Coast music news team. The show was out of New York, so we had some autonomy from the mothership. We called ourselves “Team Gonzo”. Our role was to produce stories and send back the fully edited pieces ready for the NY team to plug into their nightly newscast. We had good time covering music news in L.A, interviewing musicians, attending red carpets, filming concerts and getting access to the upper echelon in the world music scene.
With mounting corporate pressure for ratings (ours sucked), the stress trickled through the production ranks and the disgruntled culture of the NY headquarters began to infect us three time zones away. I became overworked, overstressed and unhealthy—spending way too much time away from my family and losing sight of my own identity.
I felt a tremendous sense of relief when the show was canceled and the entire staff laid off.
FUSE NEWS lasted a year and a half, but in many ways it seemed like an eternity. I made one final commute home to lick my wounds and reconnect with my family.
It only took a few months for us to pack-up and move the family once again to Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a meagerly populated college and mining town with hundreds of miles of wilderness on one side and an enormous body of fresh, freezing water on the other. It seemed to be the most drastically different place from L.A. on the continent.
We acquired a small, locally-owned video production house that had been operating in town for twenty years. Kristen and I were trying our hand at entrepreneurship. The fresh air and slow pace was refreshing. We slept at night with doors unlocked and windows open—listening to the hourly chimes of the clock tower and full-throated horn blasts from the ships pulling into the ore dock. The kids could walk themselves to school and our business, the local library, the park, and to theater rehearsals. It seemed like we had traveled backwards to a simpler place and time.
We joined and sponsored the Marquette Chamber of Commerce. We participated on committees. We attended regional Tech Meetups and local business events like Entrepreneurs on Tap. We received a distinguished service award from Lake Superior Community Partnership for “economic development, adding employment and increasing the total workforce in Marquette County”. We expected local business to embrace our professional experience and design/production savvy. We were going to bring this place into the current millennium and get some business ownership experience in the process, dammit!
But despite these efforts, we quickly learned that local marketing budgets were tight in this working-class town, and high-end production and professional design was not high on the priority lists of most businesses in the area. We reduced our rates and adjusted our standards to meet the demands of the market long enough to grow and rebrand the business into something we would sell for a profit. That took almost two years.
Two bitterly cold years.
Despite the harsh temperature and unfamiliar business environment, we developed a handful of relationships that we wouldn’t trade for anything. There are some amazing people up in da Yoop and I’m glad we went. We learned a lot about ourselves and business ownership… and even how to tunnel our way through four feet of snow.
Now, we’re back in Atlanta with an unrecognizable perspective. The city hasn’t changed all that much, but we certainly have.