Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What it means to have left Kalamazoo (and no one really leaves their second town)

You know all those stupid click-bait articles that direct you to leave your hated day job and chase your dreams? I did that.

I was a manager at a dealership and thought I finally had it made with a $55k/year job, paid vacation and benefits that included a company car. 'Having it made' couldn't have been farther from the truth. I worked 50-60 hours a week and frequent Saturdays. My 9-5 was closer to 8-7 and despite wearing a suit, I was still the grunt at the bottom of the ladder. You could easily draw similarities to 'The Great Gatsby.' I was someone who crawled up to the top from the bottom, and was treated as such. Eventually I had a few breakdowns at work that lead me to quit my job and chase a girl to Kalamazoo.

I had to find a new job. A few car dealers in the area heard of my retreat and offered me a job based on their correspondence with me in the past. I was not about to repeat history and subsequently turned down a sales job at a staffing agency as well. I wanted to work at the 'cool bar' and after a month of no prospects, landed a job doing just that. The bartenders there got to play whatever music they wanted and the dress code was 'whatever you want.' I started with two serving shifts and a door night each week. Eventually I worked my way up to closing server four nights a week and held onto the koosh door duty each week. After a few months I was finally bar tending but nearly none of this has to do with the best part I experience whilst moving to my fantasy college town.

The people and co-workers were amazing. Down-right jaw droping-ly impressive. Having an 'in' with the local music scene was a serious plus, as my bar was music venue as well. Every town known to man could take notes on how Kalamazoo conducts their music scene. Between their house-shows and emphasis on local music- Kzoo does tunes right. I managed to meet many musicians who helped my own voice along quite well.

The next group of people who blew me out of the water were the dedicated service professionals. Weather it was the cook staff around the local foodie scene or the bartenders I had the pleasure of sharing the stick with (or didn't); I was consistently impressed. You will be hard pressed to find such a collection of free-minded people. It was also the first time I had been exposed to so many people who cared deeply about who YOU are and expressing that. While the musicians developed my voice, the rest of the open spirits nurtured who I was underneath.

Sadly, the whole town ended up with a sort of 'the dream can't last forever' vibe as I prepared to return to my aging family. While my day time bar tending gig allowed me to meet many awesome characters, they only reminded me of the folks I had left behind. They were mentors, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers who only served to pull on the heart strings of the life that was waiting for me only two hours away. After only year and a half I packed up my life and headed back to the home-land.

It was, and is, bitter sweet. I still live in Kalamazoo within my head. I think often of the people I left behind. I can return at any time, but it will never be the same. That town impacted me in a serious way and I reflect on it often. I said repeatedly when I left that I would love to settle down there, but I'm not ready to settle down. I needed some time with my home-town mentors and role models. Some people never get over 'Nam, or the night their band opened for Nirvana. I guess I'll never really get over Kalamazoo. It is that 'second town' to me. It symbolizes everything that Detroit and her surrounding suburbs aren't to me. I love it dearly and nothing will ever change that.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Scratching the surface of a record collection (not literally).

When I first moved to town, I found a quick three day job roofing. As we unloaded the old roof into a dumpster, the home-owner was clearing out some things from his basement. Jack was an elderly gentleman who asked if I wanted a record player. I had just moved from a house with one and didn't actually have a turn table myself. I happily obliged and took his record player and 5 milk crates of records.
This is the tip of the iceberg. The old jazz and dance alone
almost puts this gold to shame.

"You sure you want this stuff? It's mainly dance music (tango, waltz, jazz etc) and old swing rock."
"Yes, I definitely want those things."
"...ok, but have you ever heard of X, Y or Z?"
"Nope, not yet."
"I don't know if you'll like it, but it's yours"

When I got home that night, I tried to hook the record player up and couldn't get the damn thing to engage. I was stumped by one of the most simple devices known to produce sound. As my origins lie in electronics and sound equipment to be exact, this was frustratingly infuriating. I held onto the blasted record player and never even dug through the records. They remained a mystery to be solved another day.

Cut to this past Friday: my mechanic friend Paul was getting off work early and called me to have a beer. He had already left the bar by the time I got out at four pm (keep in mind technicians get done early sometimes. When there's no more work, we go home. We are a rare profession that eagerly digs through our tasks to eagerly earn more). Paul came by my apartment as it was down the street from his post-work watering hole. We walked to the liquor store so I could enjoy a few post brews as well. When we got back to my place I had little to entertain with, I took the opportunity to ask about the record player.

Paul is a bit of a sound engineer when he isn't turning a wrench, he was happy to take a look at the turn table with me. We took the covers off and started playing with the moving parts.
"There's only five or six real components here. Those, and a ton of springs that are all probably worn out." Paul has a certain gift with explaining things.
"So how do we coax life out of an old belt-driven dinosaur?"
"Like this."
What proceeded to take place was half home-brew genius and a fantastic manipulation of old parts. The record player was alive and we started to dig through the records. What came next was nothing short of amazing. An actual break down of the collection will be posted in the days to follow (this whole read is essentially one long click bait). The importance here however is how intimate being handed someone's record collection can be.

I've been given an entire insight into someone's life and musical interests. This isn't a large stash picked up from some garage sale, it was the last of what someone held onto. It's the important stuff. The records that matter. It is a gift like I'll probably never experience again, and I couldn't be more grateful. It's like listening to their story, a slice history of their life.

I plan to write Jack a thank you card to drive home how amazing this all is. I hope he in some way grasps the terrible generosity of his act.