20 years ago

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.