Poof! Just like that my 6+ months of vacationing from the "so-called real world" were over. After being in grad school for a year and then traveling about the country, I had settled in a new place. Suddenly the impending weight of the need to actually begin supporting myself began looming like an ominous storm cloud on the horizon. I had to get myself a J-O-B! And soon considering I was being supported by my biggest fan --- M-O-M. But getting a job in San Antonio became a trial far more difficult than I ever anticipated and oddly enough, turned into an auspicious string of events that actually makes for an interesting story.
Before arriving here, I had my heart set on continuing my education in a very practical setting: an architecture firm specializing in sustainable design. I would be learning from professionals I respect, while earning money to support myself in an environment that nurtured my integrity without the unfortunate guilt of selling out. This is why I was overjoyed by the possibility of interning at Lake/Flato. I had the necessary education and skills, an interview that had gone seemingly well in retrospect, and someone on the inside (my friend Elizabeth) tuning me into what was taking them so long to make up their minds.
By the time I returned from my trip to Arizona through the middle of April, it had been over three weeks since my interview. I had not heard from the Internship Director on the matter and was beginning to get concerned. But I still was confident it would all turn out fine and I should direct my efforts at attempting to land a meaningful summer job since the internship would begin in the Fall.
I had many thoughts about what a meaningful summer job might have been, but then I decided I would aim to get work doing custom framing (which I really enjoyed doing back in the day) or even contributing my museum exhibit work experience (which I really enjoyed doing even more, further back in the day) to one of many fine San Antonio museums. After reorganizing my resume, I completed a tiring first two days of job hunting doing just that. The gentleman who works at a Mexican Folk Art gallery at Blue Star fixed up a detailed map of SouthTown marking establishments he thought might be good places for me to work. A guy at a little independent frame shop told me he had no need for anyone at the time, but gladly took my credentials to give to a colleague that might need someone. The HR director at one of the museums explained that the only position currently open was the Curator of Antiquities. Even though I hadn't completed my thesis on Hellenistic sculpture yet, she kindly took my resume, regardless.
Ultimately, I got more dead ends than leads, which lead me to try a new strategy on day three. What I did was this:
I strapped on a brand new, glistening pair of enormous balls! I decided to march on down to the design district where I proceded to barge into several architecture firms, resumes in hand and exclaim in a nutshell (no pun intended), "Here I am - new to town - in need of work - HIRE ME!"
This had mixed (and yet another pun) results, but more commonly the overwhelming small town vibe of San Antonio enveloped the boldness of my unannounced interrupting of busy workdays. Many of the small firms in the design district who were not hiring thought that perhaps they might know someone who was, and if I were to just leave my resume with them then they would see it through. I was so delighted by their eagerness to assist a newcomer to town.
Just when I thought I had exhausted this technique, The Universe began spewing its magic upon me. I was bludgeoned by the catalyst of that unusual string of events that was weaving me into it's web of amazement and awe.
What happened was - I ran into Stephanie (one half of the immensely wonderful married couple I was living with) across the street from one of the firms I had just barged into. She had just finished up a meeting with the Membership Committee of the SouthTown Board of Directors. She suggested I go upstairs in the building we were loitering in front of where another member of the committee happens to have her marketing firm. Stephanie figured that maybe there was something graphic design-related that I could do there. Sure! - worth a shot, right?
As it turned out, I had run into Lara, the owner, at a party that I went to with Stephanie & Patrick the weekend prior. She recognized me as the guy who remembered everyone's name. She did not have anything available as far as employment was concerned and wouldn't have had the time to train me if she did (as my knowledge of marketing is pretty desolate). BUT (in the San Antonio tradition) she asked that if I were to email her my resume, she could then email it to a few designers/architects that she new around town.
Lara came through, and on Thursday, I received a call from Kimberly - President of Marks Design Group, an interior designer who was looking to hire someone...could I come in for an interview? Damn right I can!
On Friday Morning at 10am, I did just that - leaving right before noon... the interview went very well! So well that I walked out of the workshop-converted-office with the paperwork to fill out (or figure out, more importantly) for my benefits! Medical insurance - what a concept! And get this for auspiciousness: She happened to graduate from Florida State in Interior Design (like I did) back in '81 and knows several of my former professors. Additionally, and most insanely ridiculous of a coincidence - she also happens to be the sister of my elementary school art teacher, who could very well be held responsible for the early development of my passion for designing the built environment.
I was exstatic! Best of all, Kim said that she could tell by speaking with me and viewing my portfolio, that I could move up from my entry level base salary and do in a year what takes the average person five. I couldn't believe it! I was very flattered and spent a good portion of the following weekend scanning the Ikea website, eagerly awaiting the day that I could afford all the savory and affordable Scandinavian design treasures for my new house that I would one day move into.
Life seemed too good to be true, and sadly it was. On Monday, I anticipated hearing from Kimberly in regards to when I would start my new job. When that did not happen, I emailed her Tuesday. And later that day she had this to say:
Thank you for your note and especially for coming in to talk with me. I really enjoyed meeting you and look forward to the opportunity of working with you. I hate staggered enthusiasm, but I have been delayed in responding to you because we are in our own sort of delay in the start up of new projects. While we have a lot of potential projects on the horizon, none have been released so our work load is thin as of present. I hope this situation changes soon. In the meantime, I understand that your job search should likely continue, as everyone in fact needs work and bread on the table.
I appreciate your patience and understanding, and I will certainly keep you abreast of things here as our work load changes! I hope you will keep me posted on your whereabouts and keep in touch also. Thanks,
Say what? Wait...what just happened? How? Damn.
And just like that I was back to scraping myself off the pavement.
I was completely bummed. Though success in the matter seemed to move quickly, the thought of putting myself back through the wringer of job hunting was exhausting! Then Patrick suggested something BOLD but brilliant and given the situation, I had little to loose.
I emailed Kim back full of "patience and understanding" and suggested that I come in pro-bono for a day or two and perhaps work on a project where I client was on the fence about hiring her. I could do conceptual schematics or presentation renderings which could sway them into signing a contract. She would have an additional project on the table, thus giving her a reason to hire me. She could see me in action, plus I would gain instant clout for bringing in the work!
Kim responded enthusiastically, impressed with my persistence. She was up to the challenge. She had been courting this second generation immigrant owner of a hair salon that was in need of a "serious makeover" for his family's establishment. My preliminary ideas she thought might help nudge him to make the investment. With that, I was in the office the very next morning with a roll of trace paper and my gigantic toolbox of design supplies in hand.
Kim brought me to the site, and explained the program with all its complexities and when we returned to the office, I made myself at home in an empty cubicle, getting down and dirty on the assignment. She informed me that Liz, another designer, would be at my disposal for help and research. It took me an hour of so to organize and get acclimated, but then I began spewing ideas onto paper. It was rather magical. I felt rejuvenated and refreshed by the opportunity just to be designing again.
A woman (a very pregnant woman) named Alicia stopped in. She was the sales rep. for Mannington Flooring and seemed to have a friendly relationship with Kim's other drones. She was also on the committee for a fundraising event with the local IIDA chapter and was able to snag me a free ticket. This was fantastic because regardless of how my pro-bono day would go at Kim's, such an event would be an excellent place to network considering that all the local designers (potential employers) would be there. Plus, because she visited all the local firms regularly she was in the know with who was hiring. She gladly insisted she would email me a list of anyone she could think of.
I tried not to get too distracted, because there was still much to be done in my attempt at winning Kim a new client. At 4:30, after a nearly endless endeavor on my part, she came downstairs to review my progress. I showed her my ideas which she shot down effortlessly one by one. According to her, my schematic concepts were unrealistic, far too edgy, and I jumped to conclusions regarding where I thought the direction of a business I didn't own would move. Though stunned at her reaction, I watched as she praised Liz regarding her ideas, which simply and cheaply were to put up a facade around the building and its new addition in the shape of the Alamo.
YIKES! Is that not what I spent an entire year at the FLLWSA learning never to do? Had it all been in vain?
Ofcourse not! But I was certainly immensely humbled by the amount in which I still needed to learn about the harsh realities of the building industry. In a flash, I was reminded what it was that I was fighting against - uninspired, yet affordable design. Good, efficient, and inspired design should be affordable! Kim came back to me and asked, "Well did you at least have fun?"
I did indeed. But I told her that it did not appear that I was successful, and should start seeking employment elsewhere. And after I stopped banging my head against the cubicle desk repeatedly, that is precisely what I did.
The next day, I emailed Alicia from Mannington and reminded her that she promised to email me a list of hiring firms. I didn't worry too much at the end of the week when I still hadn't heard from her because I had a free ticket to the Potential Employer Fundraiser Auction Event and All Things Fancy Pants Design-Related at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
I dressed up in the most designer-looking apparel that the Fairy Godmother could rustle up and ushered myself to the ball. One of the unfortunate things (or more-so extremely fortunate) about the past year and a half of my life, was the frequency to which I would attend these types of events as per being an apprentice at the FLLWSA. One thing was to be expected: a completely open bar! Well, in the case of this event, my spoiled self had to pay cash for a few drinks. And $20 was only about to go so far. In addition, due to my all too early arrival, I became more bored than I could stand really quickly. Usually I am rather at ease in socially awkward situations, but this affair was a little too high brow for others to open up any conversation to a wandering loner with big hair, apparently.
HOURS later, I was relieved when the buffet opened up. After retrieving some Asian catering delights, I scouted the courtyard for a good table; a reasonable in on conversation with strangers. I found the perfect table too - 3 or 4 couples all around my age. One half of each these couples all worked at an architecture/interiors firm called Drewry Martin Design Inc. I worked the table nicely, using my Taliesin experiences to engage their interest in me. Then, one of them said the magic phrase: Oh! You know, we are hiring. You should send in your resume on Monday. Here is my card.
I'm still weirded out by this, but one of them also recognized me from school. She had just started the Interior Design program at FSU my senior year. Its especially odd because San Antonio is such an unlikely place for a person from Florida to end up and there we were - three of us, including Kim, and we were all from the same home town. We had much to gossip about including this gem - that Alicia from Mannington had her baby - 1 month early. It happened the same day I met her while at Kim's office. That's why she didn't email me the list. Crazy.
I stayed to the end of the live auction, happy to have reacquainted with a fellow alumnus and a potential future co-worker. On Monday I sent off portfolio packets to half a dozen firms including Drewry Martin. On Tuesday, a call came from the receptionist there - can I come in for an interview? "Yes! Okay, tomorrow at 11. Great."
It was a very unusual interview. I spent an hour or so with two women who seemed delighted to have me there so that they could discuss inter-office politics in my presence between bouts of my polite aggression to dazzle them with my credentials. At some point, we got up for a brief tour of their workplace, which was nice. It seemed like a good sign when they introduced me to everyone, including Mr. Drewry and Mr. Martin, the partners. I was told they would be in to interview me shortly. To my surprise and horror, they did this at separate times so I had to repeat myself three times in the two hours I spent there. It was mentally grueling, but I felt good about the interview, even if I wasn't so excited by their work which was mostly warehouses. Warehouses, being just about the least exciting building type for any designer, if you can imagine.
They said I would hear back from them within two weeks, having several other candidates to interview. I wasn't worried - unless someone with far more experience came to them. I thought it would be a nice fall back, even though I wasn't terribly enthralled about DM Inc. (or their work). My mistake.
I actually did not get any other interviews at any place I applied. No one would return my calls. It seemed as though all the fountains of possibility had dried up. And indeed two weeks later, I got a nice letter from Drewry Martin Inc., explaining that they indeed had gone with someone else.
Yikes. I was getting desperate. I sucked it up and applied at numerous corporations that might make use of my skills and/or preserve my integrity (just a little) like Home Depot and Whole Foods. Surely they would hire me, at least for the summer!
I NEEDED A JOB. Would I have to be a college graduate working for an evil empire like <gasp> Starbucks or <choke> MickyD's or even <puke> Waaaaaaallllllmaaaaarrrrrt???????
The Universe simply would not allow that to happen... And as I made another round of a nearby shopping plaza, the perfect little retail operation revealed itself to me. I ventured through the smokestack-clad storefront of Whole Earth Provision Company. I was greeted by a petite, black-haired girl who asked, "Can I help you with anything, Sir?"
"Yes, I was wondering if you all were hiring..."
"Why yes! Here, let me give you an application," she suggested enthusiastically.
I sat outside on a bench enshrouded by the shadows of the towering smokestacks that once served as the powerplant of the former limestone quarry and had more fun than I've ever had filling out an application. Judging by the questions I could tell this could be a fun place of employment. Well, at least until something more lucrative came along. After the usual listing of previous work experience (which was already on my included resume) I answered questions like what my strengths were and what I needed to work on, what I enjoyed doing in my free time, where I grew-up, and what my favorite color is (avocado green).
Whole Earth Provision Company (or WEPCo) is a small, Austin-based company with seven stores throughout the big cities in Texas (except El Paso, which is like the step-child big city in Texas). The mission statement sounds exactly like something I would have written myself, it goes like this:
"Whole Earth Provision Company is a specialty retail business offering a broad array of quality, innovative products which excite those who share our enthusiasm and concerned commitment to learning about, experiencing, preserving and enjoying our home planet."
This encompasses just about all of my favorite things including but not limited to camping gear, supplies for the savvy traveler, eco-friendly clothing, flip-flops, and great books and great toys!
Upon completion, I returned the app. to the front counter and walked across the parking lot to Borders so that I might peruse the latest edition of Rolling Stone. It was 15 minutes later when I received a phone call from Rosie, the manager at WEPCo asking me for an interview the following day. Hell yeah.
Gleaming with happiness, I returned home and checked my email. There in my inbox was a message from the Internship Director...
Hope you are well. Things are busy here. Elizabeth sends her regards. We are just making some decisions about interns for the fall (September thru January). Are you still interested in a position? Let me know what you're up to and if this is still on your radar."
Wow! By this point, I had almost forgotten about Lake/Flato! I damn sure as hell was still interested in an internship position with the AIA 2004 Firm of the Year. I phoned her the next day before my interview at WEPCo to get the details. I would start right after Labor Day. How exciting!
As expected, my interview with Rosie (who happened to be the delightful black-haired girl who retrieved for me the application) at WEPCo went according to plan. Rosie was quite impressed with my outgoing personality and witty sense of humor. She hired me the next day for a full time, summer position with the opportunity to keep a weekend shift if need be while at L/F. I was especially thrilled because I would be working in the book & toy section.
Three weeks or so into nestling into my new job I was flying high. I loved that I could wear flip-flops to work. I loved that playing with puppets all day was part of my job description. I loved that everyone I worked with was really cool. I loved what a close vicinity the store was to Whole Foods so that I could eat there easily and frequently. But most of all, I loved that I was just simply working. I hadn't earned a living in so long that I even forgot how much earning a living actually is. This was somewhat of a problem.
After receiving my second paycheck, it was clear that I was not quite making ends meet and that I would need to pick up another job... Oh no! But I struggled with that so much already - what would I do?
Apparently not much it seemed. Working 'til close on Fathers Day, I left the store and checked my voicemail, where it appeared that Kimberly Marks of Marks Design Group had called and requested I come in for a meeting with her to discuss an opportunity that she needed help with for some kind of special project.
Excellent... So on my next day off, I paid her a visit where she proposed that I reduce my hours at WEPCo so that I might assist her in drawing illustrations for a resource booklet for interior designers that she is having published. What a fantastic opportunity, indeed.
I took her offer and now work 60 hours a week between two jobs. The resource booklet should be completed well before my internship with Lake/Flato begins, and when its all said and done, I'll be a published illustrator! Isn't life funny? Within a month I went from being jobless and desperately avoiding begging my parents for more money to being entirely overworked at TWO great jobs that may even make it possible in the near future to afford Swedish-designed, fabulous Ikea furniture, afterall.