In the spring of 1982, the President of the company where I worked walked into my office and said, “We’re going to consolidate marketing in Philadelphia. We need you to move out there to be with the rest of the staff.”
That came as a shock. But not totally. I’d already flown out to Philly from Chicago a few times for meetings, and the VP was ramping up promotions for the investment banking firm that was growing fast thanks to the aggressive establishment of investment trusts across the country.
That summer my friends held a goodbye party. In August I moved east 750 miles from my home outside Chicago to a town called Paoli on the train line west of Philadelphia.
That move meant leaving behind a girlfriend that I’d met the previous fall. We were growing closer and the relationship would ultimately survive that move to Philly. We got married three years later. But first, we’d endure a long-distance romance without email or social media. We wrote letters mostly, because long distance phone calls were expensive.
The story of the benefits of moving to Philly has much to do with meeting a bunch of guys in a club called Runner’s Edge. Training with them from the running shoe store a block away from my apartment in Paoli was actually a life-changing experience. A trio of brothers was involved, with Richard, Peter and John Crooke all leading a group of some of the best runners in the Philly suburbs. So there are no regrets there at all. I learned quite a bit from them all and my times improved.
But then the job came to a crunching halt. I saw signs along the way and wondered what the heck to do about the situation. One morning on the train into work I sat next to a friend from Chicago that had also been moved to Philly as an addition to the wholesale investment team. He turned to me and said, “I don’t know what you guys are doing over in marketing. We’re not getting anything we need to sell.”
I was admittedly young and naive about the investment world. But I understood that warning loud and clear. I could also see the reasons why it was true. The man and woman running the department seemed more in love with the notion of marketing than its execution. Plus they were at least flirtatious and possibly fucking the daylights out of each other. In any case, it was a major distraction from the job at hand.
We’d gotten a bonus check of a couple thousand dollars at Christmas, so we knew the firm was doing well. But come April, the Big Boss pulled me into his office and slid an envelope across the desk. Inside was a severance check for $7,000. “We thank you for coming out here,” he told me. “But we’re cleaning house in marketing and starting over.”
Knowing what I thought I knew, I couldn’t blame him. Sadly for me, that company went on to do great things. Had I somehow shifted over to writing rather than graphic design, perhaps I’d have survived the shakeout. Instead I walked out of the office that day a bit confused but also relieved.
And then I went on a road trip. As people are wont to do when life around them doesn’t make sense.
Down the eastern coast I drove. All the way to Assateague Island. While walking through the pine woods I was startled and overjoyed to find large Lady Slipper plants blooming in the shaded soil. It looked like a fantasyland. There were migrating birds singing in the trees and nature seemed to welcome me into its arms.
I went for a long run up the largely empty shore and stripped naked to go swimming in the large waves. Another couple was splashing naked in the water as well.
When I got back to Paoli I packed up a batch of my stuff and drove back west to Chicago. A month later I flew back out to Philly, rented a U-Haul truck and stuffed everything I owned into the back of that stupid truck.
Before leaving for the road trip down the coast, I’d plucked a jack-in-the-pulpit from a nearby woods in order to do a painting. It was still sitting in a large vase the day that I returned to clear out the apartment. The plant had absorbed so much water it stood more than a foot tall. I wasn’t sure what that growth symbolized, but it felt like an act of defiance to leave it there, vase and all.
On the way home the engine of the U-Haul van stalled on a long incline in the Pennsylvania mountains east of Pittsburgh. I’d driven a few U-Hauls before, but nothing like this had ever happened. Rolling backward on the turnpike is not a good feeling. Still, I kept my nerve and gently pumped the brakes between attempts to start the damn truck again. Finally it fired back into action and I drove up and over the pass with an emotional sigh of relief.
Stopping in Toledo for the night, I parked the truck and locked it up tight outside the motel. Then I stepped out into an open field and watched fireworks lighting up the night. It was the Fourth of July. An Independence Day of sorts. But from what?
I guess it was independence from thinking anything is ever secure, forever. Not a “situation” as one might call it. Not a relationship or a home. The only thing we have is our brains and some determination. That’s all that keeps us moving or brings us back to whatever we call home again.
The rest is history.