WordPress looks different. I’m not sure I’m posting the way I want to. Guess I’ll find out.
It has been a while. I graduated KU in 2012. I worked for a while as the Office Manager of my friends restaurant. I got some decent experience creating and publishing ads, even did a single piece of animated work I was proud of for an online ad. I’ll get back to that last part.
Competition got really hard when things like Door Dash and Grub Hub started up, some bigger corporate chains moved into our neighborhood too, and the squeeze meant I had to find somewhere else to make money, as my position with the company was something of a luxury. I went to Home Depot and turned my forklift and lumber experience into a supervisor position. I got the overnight freight job and settled in there, learning how to run a team and manage workloads. Then covid happened to us, and everything turned into a wild ride. It was about this time that I bought a motorcycle.
I wanted to ride again, and the 2-stroke scooter I bought when I got back from England in 2010 of course had an airleak and I just didnt’ want to mess with 2-strokes anymore. So I thought I would go to different motorcycle dealerships and look at what they had. I had my eye on a BMW G310GS, but I wasn’t exactly sure where they were selling BMW motorcycles. I ended up at Rawhide Harley just to look around and ended up buying a Sportster Iron 1200.
Which I liked quite a lot. But what I learned was that the sort of riding I really enjoyed was long distance type stuff. Which should not have been a surprise to me. The best rides I went on with my scooters was when I lived in Orlando, Florida. I used to ride out of the city and go through orange groves and stop at the weird little marinas to look at the boats. Sportsters are fun little bikes, but after about 30 to 45 minutes your really want to get off one. Or at least I did. The seat was terrible and there was no storage. I started looking at what it would take to make the Sporty more comfortable and better equipped to haul stuff, and then I decided that instead of trying to make a bar hopper into something it was never meant to be, I should just go ahead and buy a bagger. Which I did:
Meanwhile I’m slogging away at Home Depot, grinding away every night trying to be the corporate trooper that they needed me to be. I loved my team, loved working with them, didn’t even mind conceptually what I was doing. It wasn’t like when I worked at the liquor store selling rotgut to alcoholics. People were wanting to build better lives for themselves and coming to Home Depot gave them the tools and material to do that. I can be OK with that. I was part of a “high performing” cadre of workers. We all pretty much started in the same hiring “class” and went through the same process to end up supervisors and otherwise upward-oriented people. And we were all grinding it out every day and night to make things happen. The demands and realities of the pandemic were taking a toll on me. I had a goal, to go “dayside” and take control of the department I started in: Lumber and Building Materials. That would give me two of the three necessary department experiences to shoot for further promotion. I was also considering moving over to the Distribution Center. I took a motorcycle vacation right when the pandemic was starting to heat up in the Midwest.
I rode the Pig Trail in northwest Arkansas, which is a hidden gem of a route. It was a very nice time. When I set out, Arkansas was OK. At some point it became a virus hotspot, and when I got back to work they made me quarantine for another two weeks of paid leave. I was not to go back to Arkansas during that time.
Of course nobody had said anything to me about Missouri. And this picture here represents the only bit of Illinois I set foot on.
Anyway. I ended up figuring out my job well enough, and putting up with enough horseshit with a smile, that I got the move that I wanted, and I came back to my old department as the bossman. I believe that position was a parting gift from the outgoing Store Manager, since the position was held vacant until I got there. Or it could be, I guess, nobody else wanted it, but there it is, I had it.
Another year goes by and I’m ready for vacation again, and this time I head off to Deal’s Gap to ride the Tail of the Dragon.
Which was fun. One of the coolest parts of it is that there are so many motorcyclists there. It felt kind of like some of the larger scooter rally rides I went on, just way more laid back. All the people I talked to were very friendly, and hanging out at my motel’s patio was nicely laid back and comfy. Then I decided that the Tail of the Dragon was pretty short for a destination, and started hitting up the other rides that are around there. The Cherohala Skyway is nice, and there’s a big dam out there that’s kind of cool to look at. I decided that I was leaving by way of the Blueridge Parkway. I wanted to ride the length of it, and then see what happened. I should mention that in 2020 there were so many hurricanes that they ran out of names to give them. As I was going up along the Blueridge Parkway an Xbox huge stormfront was moving in, basically chasing me. I was basically a day out in front of it when I left the Deal’s Gap.
I cannot adequately put into words what riding along the spine of the Blueridge Mountains was like.
The hurricane started to catch me as I got to the northern end of the mountains. I had plenty of time left of my two week vacation. I had toyed with the idea of going to Washington DC or even the coast, or going even further north through the national parks. I was so tired when I stopped at this trailhead. My Heritage Classic was super comfy, and with the overhead cover of the trailhead sign I could sit there basically dry and let myself drift for a while. There was a trick of the rain, or an echo, or maybe I was half sleeping, but for a while I swear I could hear faint singing coming from the forest, like a mountain top choir singing hymns just for me if only I would wander down the trail to find them.
But I’ve seen O Brother Where Art Thou? and I wasn’t getting suckered by any Sirens. I slept in a cheerful little motel right at the northern mouth of the Parkway that night, still not sure what I was doing. I woke up the next morning and checked the weather radar, and things were looking extremely grim. The hurricane was no longer a day behind me, it was like an hour or two behind me. I’m bombing out of the mountains, and I’m being passed by locals who were clearly upset that a flatlander was trying not to kill himself in dodgy conditions and uncomfortable terrain. Really, I am from Kansas. These roads felt perilously steep and curvy for an interstate, and to top it off the hurricane was hard on my heels. Hard patches of rain were coming and going, and I spent some time under bridges and overpasses through some of the worst of it. I bought gas in a little mountain town that seemed to be just a single general store and a dozen ancient houses, checked the hurricane’s progress, and rode like hell trying to outrun it. It caught me again just outside Indiana where I ate dinner at a hole in the wall pizza place, then I slept in the sketchiest hotel I had yet been to (the places I’ve slept on these trips are a whole different story of their own), and finally made it to the flatlands again in Indiana.
I found myself in Saint Louis pondering how much time I actually had left of my vacation, and decided that another ride through Mark Twain was due, and then, why not, another trip to Arkansas. I rode the Pigtrail for a second time, delighted a motel clerk when I told him I was back for a second year in a row, and eventually rolled back into Kansas and into my home territory, and finally home.
Nine days alone on the road.
I was exhausted from my road trip, but it was a comfortable sort of exhaustion. It was a state of mind that I find difficult to describe, but it was rather meditative. The act of riding a motorcycle requires constant attention. The act of riding a motorcycle hundreds of miles for days on end is a physical feat. All the many hours and miles of emptying my mind of everything but the feel of my machine and the awareness of my surroundings, it did something that I’ve never achieved sitting zazen. The nearest experience I can relate it to was sitting in my gun ring for days on end, swinging back and forth on the strap that I think is supposed to be a seat but I never bothered to ask, quietly enduring the weather and maintaining my .50 and watching the world go by from the top of my humvee. It’s a state where you simply exist, experiencing the environment and reacting only as necessary, tired, sore, but beyond thought for most of the day.
I got back to Home Depot and I felt pretty much the same way as when I got on the bus to leave Fort Sill and the army behind me forever:
I just did not give a fuck.
I went through the motions, trying to fit back in, but somewhere on the road in that nine days I was gone all the little coping mechanisms, self-delusions, and grim determination it takes to be that corporate trooper melted away. It had taken me three and a half years to build it all up, piece by piece as I needed it. Every single one of the thousand cuts I clenched my teeth and smiled, and I took them one at a time, and I contorted my personality to make it all work. I used to joke that my orange apron was like a Mickey Mouse costume, that I was just playing a character when I was at work, and I got to be myself when I clocked out. Only that wasn’t exactly true. I took it home with me. The corporate trooper I was trying to be showed up early and left late, and sometimes came in on his days off, and sometimes came in just to buy something and ended up doing the little dance just because I was there. I had no idea how much I needed to share my misery with my team to get by. Going “dayside” meant having to shoulder it all alone. And now I didn’t give a fuck. I was going to work, stopping at my folks house to eat, going home and basically going straight to bed.
And then my precious little orange fluffball Tomo got cancer. I had to hold her as they injected the chemicals that put her to sleep and stopped her life. I leaned back in a chair and held her on my chest, the same way I held her when she was a kitten. She never got out of the habit. She went from being this tiny thing I could hold in the palm of one hand, who curled up tight over my heart, to this giant orange ball of hair stretched across my chest and neck. And that’s how I held her when she died. And I think that was the last of it for me. I took the next day off work, but I never mentally or emotionally clocked in again. I became angry that in Tomo’s last couple of years of life I spent so much time at work. I was angry at myself for putting in overtime instead of going home to be with her. I was angry at myself for coming home so exhausted that all I could do was fall asleep in my chair instead of petting her or playing with her or just letting her sit with me together. There was more than one day that I came home, sat down in my living room chair, maybe took off one shoe before falling asleep, woke up the next day, and went straight out the door again without doing anything but putting on a cleaner shirt than the one I slept in. I was angry at work, and I was angry at myself. I was heartbroken and there was nothing I could do to change what had happened. I sometimes feel guilty that I have had so many pets in my life, but I have never felt such love and sadness for one of them as I did when Tomo died.
A new job offer fell into my lap, and I jumped at it. Leaving Home Depot felt like breaking up with a crazy girlfriend. There was so much relief that I didn’t know I would feel until it was all over and I was feeling it. I maybe came across as a little desperate during my final interview, but the next thing I new I was a Facilities Manager for a local synagogue. I celebrated by finally getting the bike I really, really wanted:
FLHR Road King Standard. I traded my Heritage Classic in for this before I even set eyes on it. They had to ship one up from Texas because I purchased late in the year and my local dealership didn’t have one in stock. For almost a whole week I didn’t have a motorcycle, and I had never ridden a Road King before. I didn’t know if I had made a huge mistake or not. I had gone thousands of miles on the bike I traded away. I had Rhinehart pipes on it and it was broken in perfectly. It sounded great, took off with force, and was very comfortable. Had I made a huge mistake? I worried for about five days. Getting on the Road King it immediately felt different. It had a higher, more upright riding position (or at least it felt like it.) Better ground clearance. Different steering geometry. I was worried for nothing. I was grinning ear to ear before I had gone a mile from the dealership. It was perfect. Or at least it would be. Show me a stock Harley LMAO.
I tried at my new job. I hired a friend of mine as an assistant manager. We set up a routine, and I was making a really decent salary. I liked helping out with the shabbat services, enjoyed conversing with the Hazzan, who seemed delighted to explain different religious things I was helping with, and like helping people get the tools and materials to make their lives better, helping a community observe traditions and build community is a lot more fulfilling than some of the things I’ve done for money. A lot of the things I’ve done for money, really. But I still had to put on a face every day. I couldn’t muster up much give-a-fuck outside of the days I rode my bike to work (even though I really like my pick-up truck.) I ended up moving from a cubicle in the administration area to hiding in my workshop, and I really began to resent just about any interaction I had with the school side of their operation. I had wanted a job to retire from, but this was not it afterall.
My assistant manager had an existential crisis and started taking online classes while looking for another job. He encouraged me to do the same, but I was resistant at first. He had a crazy idea for us to start a business together, and that we should train ourselves for it. The more he talked the less crazy it sounded. He was excited for the new things he was learning, and that reminded me of how I used to be. At work I had turned
almost paranoid and reactionary. I had developed conflicts with other personnel there and felt spiteful and angry all day. I knew it was not really their fault. I knew it was mostly me. I knew I was unhappy. And eventually I came to terms with the fact that I had to leave. I was on autopilot, coming in everyday, avoiding other people as much as I could, preferring to stay late and do my work when nobody else was around, and getting into that same pattern of come home, fall asleep, wake up and go right back out the door. It’s not living being like that. And of course my assistant manager was looking for another job and was going to find one sooner rather than later.
On the very last day it was possible to do so, I applied to go back to school. I picked up the classes I needed from spots that had been dropped by other students when their tuition came due. I was in the JCCC Animation program. Which brings me full circle (remember when I said I did an animation for an online ad at the beginning of this blog?)
I get to learn new things and be creative again. It’s hard when you’re grinding away at work and you’re responsible for a bunch of things that you don’t really care about. I don’t exactly know how I ended up how I did. There are a lot of people who used to know me that would be surprised (or possibly dumbfounded) at the idea that I have turned myself into someone extremely qualified to be a responsible company man. Getting a new job has been irritating. All of my experience and skill makes me the perfect candidate for very well paying jobs that I very much do not want to do anymore. I have recieved more than a few inquiries from head hunters who would like to give me the same job I just resigned from, and the fact they’re talking about even more money does nothing for me. Chasing a higher salary is exactly how I made myself this stressed out to begin with. And let me tell you, once all the pretentious ambitious has been washed away by unlooked for introspection of the lonely highway, it ain’t coming back.
I’m an artist and a writer and I live to create. I don’t know why I ever thought I could be a corporate trooper. I don’t know why I ever wanted to, other than it seemed like the easiest way to get more money. And I’m not shitting on the money I made. I got a nice pick-up truck and a nice motorcycle out of it. But I can’t sustain that mentality, and I obviously don’t want to anymore.
I’ve had so many mid-life crisis moments that I may have earned a record. It started when I first joined the military. I HAD to do it. I’m glad I did it, but I clearly was not cut out for a military career. This feels circular in that way. It was something that I really thought I wanted for myself. It was something that gave me invaluable life experience just for showing up. The lessons I learned while I was in have stuck with me for life. And I think the time between my graduating KU and turning in my resignation at the synagogue is the same. I couldn’t be the person I thought I needed to be when I was a soldier, and I could’t be the person I thought I needed to be when I tried to become a career manager. Neither can I be the relentlessly optimistic person I tried to portray myself as when I first started this blog. There is no happy ending. But I think I’ve figured out what I need to be happy on a day to day basis. Am I going to get a job in animation once I get my degree? Probably not, no. And if I did professional animators, at least the ones who work for the big studios, work like dogs and that’s not something I’m interested in. This is purely selfish, and purely about living the life I want to live. I don’t want to give my whole life over to a career that I hate. Instead of a career, I guess I’d rather have a job that allows me to live the way I’d like when I’m not there.
I’m doing this because it’s a next level of art that I’m interested in doing. I have done animations on my own for my own enjoyment before, and getting formal training in that is basically because I want to do it the way my mother makes fine art. She does it because she’s an artist, and it’s what artists do. My writing is similar. I haven’t given up on getting more things published, but I never really thought I’d make a living doing it. Animation for me is another way to tell a story, and right at the core of my being I believe that’s what drives me. And who knows? Maybe my friend from the synagogue and I can collaborate in exactly the way he initially proposed and we CAN make some money. But if not, c’est la vie and je m’en fous.
What is our real takeaway here? I am restarting my blog because I am back in school. I am determined to create more art to share and more adventures on my motorcycle to relate. I had a lot of fun doing it the first time around. Now I’m here to make that fun last.