As much as a like telling this story, I think the video below will tell a better story to round out my journey. I was invited to the ProveIt podcast from ProvingGround by my friend Nate Miller. It’s part of a series that they have been working on to showcase career paths that are atypical in the AEC industry and my path is very atypical.
Today I moved the humming bird feeder since several wasp had found it as their new hang out spot. We learned that if you paint the yellow petals on the feeder red to match the other parts of the feeder the birds will find it and the bugs will not. These are the things you learn and the activities you do on a Sunday afternoon at my age.
I also watched online yesterday a series of online hackers present their work at the first AEC Hackathon Online event. I feel like it was just a few years ago, (7 years ago this winter) that it all started. Kudos to my boy Damon for keeping it running all these years and the global reach it now has. I think there were over 600 people active in the slack channel during the event. Check them out and support the efforts https://aechackathon.com/
I want to pick up where I left on with my story, but I wanted to give a few more bits of context. Before I started summer school at Southern Poly in 2000 to study architecture, I had always had a passion for design. I feel I might have been misguided when I enrolled at Georgia. You see, UGA is not where you go to school to study architecture, it’s Georgia Tech. One of the best programs in the country. In fact, there are several schools just in the southeast to study design and architecture. I could have gone to Clemson, just 73 miles further east of Athens. I just did not think about what I was going to study, I just went to Georgia since I got in. I don’t even remember applying to other schools. I am sure I did since it would have been wise to do so, but maybe I just stopped looking once I got into Georgia. Architecture for me started much earlier when I would draw buildings during Sunday service. When I too old for the young kids Sunday school, but not old enough to sit with the teenagers; I would kneel at the chair next to my mom (with my back to the stage) to use the chair as a drawing table. My mom would give me a sheet of graph paper from her organizer and a pen. She taught me two-point perspective using the ruler that came with her leather organizer and pen. Since the church was downtown Atlanta I got to see the high rise buildings every week and would try to replicate what I remember seeing of the great city. I can’t help but think that seeing Atlanta grow over the years had to influence me at that age. As I continued in my interest, I got a job from a friend of the family (and church) working with John in the summer. At 16 I could finally drive to work and did not need to work cutting grass each summer (in the heat). I could work inside with the air conditioning. What does a 16-year-old kid do at the architecture firm? I remember having a really important job organizing the material library, putting ArchRecord magazines back in chronological order, and scanning old hand drawings into digital format. The second summer I was working on a computer using a digitizer tracing hand drawing details into CAD. I have no shame putting that job on my LinkedIn profile since it really was my first job in the profession. I got pretty good at using the computer and owe a lot of that to John for giving me that awesome job so long ago. I knew I could always call John for a short stint each summer helping out where I could. I met so many wonderful people in that firm. It was John who asked me one Sunday why I was at Georgia and why was I not studying architecture. I had no good answer for him. That summer I did reach out to John and he helped me to come to the decision to go to Southern Poly. I got it, it was affordable and it really was something I was interested in and had been interested in for most of my life.
Southern Poly is in north Atlanta, just north of Georgia Tech. I learned after I got it and started talking to professors that many of them also taught at Georgia Tech. So, you could argue I was getting the Georgia Tech education without having to pay the premium and living in downtown Atlanta. After going to Georgia it is nearly impossible to go to Georgia Tech. Talk to anyone who has gone to either school and they will confirm, the hate is deep. We should be looking out for each other like sister schools, but no – when Georgia plays Tech, the gloves always come off. Southern Poly was very much a commuter school, meaning you would not see people on campus after class – they all went home right after class. But, in architecture school, you don’t leave. I was introduced to studio life at Southern Poly. I remember one late night passing out to the sight of blood when a classmate took a small piece of the finger off with an X-Acto blade. It happens more often than you know at 2 am working on a model. There was one student there that was inspiring, I wish I remember his name. For his final project (graduating project) he did it all his drawings by hand and on a single piece of paper that was the full length of the room. He worked on it for weeks pinned against one wall. You had to walk right up on it to see the great detail. He would hide a few nuggets in the drawing for others to find. Like a naked woman in the foliage was a common hard to find, but funny where’s waldo type of moment. The school was small and I did not get close to many of the students while I was there. I would use my weekends to go back to Athens. Yes, I would drive 90 minutes one way to see people in Athens, go on dates and see Georgia play, then truck the 90 minutes back. I do not want to know how many miles I wasted in my car going back and forth. It did not last long since I only went another semester before making a really big decision to move, again. This time I was getting serious about a girl and studying at a bigger school. I missed the big school feeling and was getting tired of Atlanta. I needed an escape and following my girlfriend to Iowa made sense to me and no one else in my life. My friends and family had no idea why I was moving to Iowa and had little time to convince us otherwise. I applied to Iowa State knowing nothing about the school or the weather. Moving after the snow melted was well-timed. I think if I had visited or moved in the winter I would have never stayed. I loaded up my car, left what did not fit with my parents, and headed north to Ames Iowa.
I’ll pick up next week on becoming a Cyclone and what school was like in the midwest. I can tell you that it was in Iowa that I build my character and the struggle got real. I spent three years between Des Moines and Ames and when I look back, I am glad it went down the way it did for me.
It’s the summer of COVID and it has got me thinking about the last 20 years and the stories of my life. I am now living in Athens, just bought my first home and always tell the same story to people that ask.
“So, where are ya’ll (you guys) from?”, asks every new person we meet in the neighborhood.
“We just moved here from San Francisco, to be closer to family, I actually lived here 20 years ago and it’s kind of a moving back home type of move.”, I simply reply to all of those questions. I have the rhythm down pretty good at this point. They ask I answer and we both are happy with the exchange. No one really asks why 20 years or what happened between moving away and coming back. They don’t typically ask because it the south and you don’t really get into people’s business. They don’t ask because it’s typically 90% humidity and above 80 degrees and we are all standing in the sun since they were just out walking the dog and they are just trying to be personal in the initial exchange. They don’t ask because I need a few hours to tell the story, real stories that make up those 20 years.
So, this is my first entry to telling that story. My memory is poor, so I will do my best to tell the parts and pieces the best I can and because this is no novel or memories I don’t need to footnote the resources. But, if those from my past have better facts, I can edit the story with that feedback. After All – that is the beauty of writing – editing.
What will you expect to find in my stories? Why I moved away, the real reason(s). Why I have returned. There are parts of the struggle and hustle that I am proud of. There are parts of pride and shame that I am not. There are people I have met and now lost contact with. There are those I have met and grown closer to, including my kick-ass wife Courtney. I am writing these stories for myself and am more open to them being public for those who might care. I did not become who I am overnight and it can’t be told in a 30-minute sitcom story. But, I am thinking, if I try…I might be able to shape a bit of myself through a few words.
I guess I should start first on why I am writing this now. It’s Sunday afternoon and I just finished moving to the last item from the apartment over to the new house – the firewood. I will not miss using the weekend to move a truckload a time of “stuff” from the apartment to the house. We thought it would save us a few dollars and stress to just move a little bit each weekend. It has been a month since we got the keys and signed the paperwork in full mask protective gear and heavy purell. But, we are here and I finding time to reflect in my new office. Maybe it’s the stress of moving that is starting to list and offering me some space to think. I love listening to podcasts and that is what I have been listening to while I drove to the house, loaded the firewood, filled up the truck with gas, and then unloaded the firewood. The podcast that inspired me to write though was This Week in Startups with Jason Calacanis where he sat down with Chris Atoki where he tells his story from being homeless to a homeowner. Chris went viral after sharing the milestone on Twitter. I have been following Jason for years and I really enjoy listening to his podcast as it keeps me connected to the Bay and the industry I am in now. But back to the inspiration, what about the podcast triggered this thought. Chris’ story is about the hustle. It’s about him taking an honest look at himself and not making excuses. I am actually only 24 minutes into the podcast and need to go back and listen to the full story as I write this, but it was enough to get me writing. I paused the app and took my headphones out after finishing putting the firewood away and thought, for a moment, I have a story. Maybe not as inspiring as Chris and not sure I will even share mine in hopes to go viral. But, for those that care and know me…maybe they will find it interesting, to say the least.
It’s 1998 and I am finally moving out of my parents’ house and moving away to go to college. Headed to UGA to study…no clue, but I did know that was ready to move out of my parents’ house. It was thrilling to get accepted to Georgia. There is no way in the world I could get in today, but I did when I did. I had the HOPE scholarship and that made it a bit easier. I remember being in the dorms, playing lots of volleyball, and eating a ton of food. I remember a few football games and getting free stuff for signing up for a credit card that magically gave me money I did not have. Looking back I hope that it is illegal to give free swag away to trick kids into signing up for huge interest credit cards. It was way too easy to get debt I did not need. I don’t remember going to class. My guess is that it was not really required to be a college student. They took my money regardless if I took my investment seriously as a student. I did the bare minimum. I bought other students’ notes and crammed for all the exams. I do remember always having a job. My first job was working at the front desk at the dorm. It was a simple job. I reported to the RA who lived on the first floor, just a few feet from the front desk. I checked the student ID’s as they came by. Each student has a special sticker that cleared them to be there. They could also bring in a guest (I think), at least I remember letting them bring in friends. I took the job since it was easy, made me a few dollars and I had easy access to the volleyball court. There was no sandpit when I first got there. I tell myself I made that happen. I did the research, helped raise awareness, got the powers-at-be to approve the construction and installation of the court. I then played all the time. I am sure I played every day and people knew I was either working or at the court. I guess I was not making enough money at the desk before I turned to a new hustle. Each Saturday there was a small little event on campus, kind of big deal at Georgia. For students, football on Saturday varied. Don’t go back and look at the record of UGA football during this time, because that did not matter. Football feeds the school back then just as much as it does now…maybe add a few more commas on the budget, but still. For alumni, football on Saturday did not vary, and that is what I learned. Some would show up Friday afternoon to set up their tailgates for the following day’s activity. They would set up right next to my dorm. I got to meet many of them as they had been parking in that exact same spot for 20 years. Can you imagine even trying to take that guys grill spot? Proximity to the stadium was directly proportional to the dedication of the fan. What I learned later was it also correlated to what they were willing to pay for a ticket. Keep in mind that this was long before online ticket sales. I guess you can say that my education at Georgia really started based on my interest in economics. Maybe I did pick up something in that class with the other 500 students in that macro-economics course. I think I got a B in that class. Looking back, I just smirked that I should have majored in business and told this story to get in. I had a few factors going for me. I worked at the dorm near the tailgaters. I knew hundreds of students, even if only by a smile working that job. I also learned that alumni were willing to pay to get into the stadium. Let’s just say this only worked in my favor as long as all those factors did not change. So, the hustle.
Each student could buy season tickets at a fixed price. $18 for all home games. All they had to do is stand in line and buy them. I found students who had no interest in football walking by me every single day at the dorm. One day I started asking them one by one. Would you and your friends like to make a few bucks for a few minutes of your time? I gave each student $20 for their season tickets; tickets they had no interest in using in the first place. All they had to do is find 4 friends and stand in line for a few minutes. Again, keep in mind that Georgia was not the team they are today, so most students did not care about standing in the same heat and humidity I mentioned before to watch football for 3 hours. So, for $100 I could get 5 sets of season tickets and it only cost me $10. As I got more sets, I found some students need a bit more of an incentive and I was willing to go to $40 for each season ticket set. I used 100% of the money I was making at the desk to buy as many season tickets as I could. So, quick math. Let’s just say that each week the season got closer to starting I was building a small debt of tickets, but I had 50 sets of season tickets come to kick off for game one. I then went to the same tailgaters and did not sell season tickets, but single-game sets. How many tickets do guys need I would say? Student tickets did not have a price on them since students could not sell them and why would they? There is a student section and why would you want to sit in the student section if you were alumni. The area of the stadium that they did not check tickets on where the upper deck seats. I simply told the alumni where they could expect to watch the game with these tickets, where to enter the stadium. I just needed one person working at the gate who simply did not care who they were showing them a ticket to get it. I floated a few dollars to that minimum wage worker to simply not pay that close attention to the tickets vs the attendee. Let’s just say the UGA vs Tennessee game paid for all the season ticket debt at once – all the other games where pure profit. I don’t feel back about the whole hustle looking back because I learned that value is simply what people are willing to pay and the school was making plenty on the food and parking and all the legit ticket sales. I also felt I was helping the school since I was getting tickets that would have gone unused actual use for the support of the team. When you are 19 years old you learn to tell yourself things to legitimize your decisions. I also don’t think that stops at 19, it did not for me.
UGA was fun, I learned what being an undecided major meant. I learned how to meet people and break my shell of being a shy kid in a sheltered home life of high school. I learned how to be comfortable around girls who were quickly becoming women around me. I learned the confidence and courage to find the grey area between what I considered right and wrong. I also learned to lie. I lied to everyone I knew. I had two full-blown lives. One life was a student on a scholarship who attended church 3 times a week and was inspiring others to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The guy who went on dates and had friends and was popular. The other life was scalping tickets, fooling around with girls in dorm rooms, and finding every way to work around doing things the right way. My Napster game was solid and if I had more time would have sold more movies on the side to those Alumni people. It did wear me out, playing the double life and just barely getting by with my grades. I had other jobs on campus, one working inside the sports program and that was cool. It might have been the best job on campus. I was a proctor. You don’t apply for this job, someone graduates and pass the job by recommendation. I got to hang out with players and get to know them through this job. What the players did not know is that I was hired to spy on them. Each day I got a list of players and schedules. I simply reported back if/when they showed up to class. I know, it’s ironic that someone who skipped class all the time was reporting on players who were doing just that. I liked the players I was spying on so I would fudge the times so instead of people 10 minutes late, I would say they were 2 minutes late. Enough for the coaching to talk to them, but not be too tough. I loved being at Georgia, it was a good time. But, one day the school said that my time was over. You know that scholarship I mentioned before? The HOPE scholarship only worked for you if you maintained your grades. I just needed to maintain a 3.0 to get that money. Between working and the scholarship, I was making it work. But when make grades came it at 2.5, I was put on probation and had 1 semester to get my grades back up to 3.0. That did not happen and I had to leave Athens. It’s funny how quickly you realize who your real circle of support is when times get tough. I had no one around me watching my back as my grades slipped. I had no one close enough to know about my double life. I had no one telling me that I was about to lose something that could be my foundation for the future. I just packed up my bags and moved on. So, in the summer of 2000, I left Athens and moved to Marietta GA and transferred to Southern Polytechnic State University to try something different and try to get my life in order. I will save the next part of the story for next week.
As I write this I am finding that the outlet of writing is helping me. Let me know if you find any of it helpful or simply entertaining.