I've had a few people ask me how I ended up in Minnesota—the frozen north, Rocky and Bullwinkle country, Fargoland—after living in California for a decade and owning a home in Colorado. It is pretty simple and I think this song is a fairly straight-forward reminder, at least of California.
- Oh there ain't no rest for the wicked
Money don't grow on trees
I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed
There ain't nothing in this world for free
I can't slow down, I can't hold back
Though you know, I wish I could
There ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good
Living in Southern California without a big inheritance safety net was like living on the edge of destruction for most of those years. “I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed” and every time I got a little safety margin built up it came crashing down on me with some piddly medical issue (we never had any major medical issues in California). California is a great place for skilled single people and an ever greater place for people who come from money. I moved there as the provider for a single-income family I was running-in-place for all but the very last year of my life in California. That last year, I was working full time managing QSC’s Tech Services department, going to Cal State Long Beach full time at night, and doing as much of the husband/father thing as I could manage while working and going to school 60 hours a week.
I remember standing in the middle of QSC’s chassis assembly area one afternoon. I was in that spot because I’d been in an engineering/marketing meeting earlier and I needed to install some upgraded product verification software in the assembly Audio Precision test fixtures. While I tried to upload the software, I was being bombarded by questions from people on the assembly floor, the final product test techs, and people who heard I was out there and had questions they’d been saving up for the next time they saw me. Tech Services was in another building and I didn’t venture into the assembly area any where as often as I had when I’d been the Manufacturing Engineering Manager; the job I’d had for the previous five years. The new manufacturing management regieme didn’t spend a lot of time explaining itself or answering questions from assembly personnel, so there was some pent-up energy out there looking for an outlet. One of the techs, Tom Northway, watched a while and, when there was a small break in the action, said, “You have the answers for all of us, don’t you?”
I don’t think I ever felt like I had anywhere near enough answers, but I always thought I owed anyone who cared enough to ask for my help, or advice, some kind of attempt at providing that help. The end result, for me, was that I totally burned out trying to be everything to everyone, often at the same time. One of the things that originally attracted me to electronics engineering was the fact that I could focus all of my attention on a problem, a project, or even just a small aspect of a product design and no one would expect me to do anything else. By the time I left QSC Audio’s manufacturing management, I’d practically forgotten everything I knew about focusing on one thing. Moving to Technical Services was the right thing for me to do, for myself, but it was too little, too late. By then, I was so mentally tired that getting out of the California rat race seemed absolutely necessary.
That moment on the manufacturing floor where all of those minutes, hours, and years of constant head-spinning management frustration was eye-opening. For at least a year, I had been telling my family that I was leaving when I finished my degree at Cal Long Beach, but that frantic, frustrating, multasking moment and Tom’s question sealed the deal. At that moment, I knew I was on the road again; a phrase that has followed me since 1965. Bob Dylan’s line, from “On the Road Again,” has been a song always near and dear to my heart, “Then you ask why I don't live here. Honey, how come you don't move?”
That’s a pretty good description of life in southern California. All my life, I’d heard about “La La Land” and how that “good old Midwestern work ethic” would blow away California (and New York). Don’t believe that shit for a second. Everyone who doesn’t have a permanent silver spoon stuck to their lips is running in place. The pace is frantic, the pressure is intense, the competition is fierce, and the cost of failure can be catastrophic and there are 100 people waiting in line to take your place, if your place sucks. If your place is a really good life, home, job, or opportunity, there are 100,000 people waiting to take it away from you. They probably won’t steal it from you. They’re just waiting for you to drop the ball for a few seconds and they’ll pick it up before you even know you dropped it. And when you lose in California, you might lose everything. The distance from superstar to living under a bridge is far shorter than you can imagine. The path back up is filled with traps, obstacles, opponents, and expenses.
I “made it” in California. I succeed in an occupation that has more failures and escapees than most (engineering). I supported my family in a middle class manner without a college degree or a nickel in inheritance or outside support. I even managed to collect a respectible college degree before I left. When I left, I was more than ready to move and I have never once been tempted to move back to the sun, constant stress and motion, high rent, and precarious lifestyle of a middle class guy in California. And that is why I’m here in Rocky and Bullwinkle Land.