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.

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