the richest people on earth
august 29th, 2017
getting fired for the first time in one’s life is never an easy pill to swallow. since i was new to this whole getting fired and unemployment thing, i wasn’t exactly sure what first step to take. all i knew was that i was going to take the lemons of getting fired and make the lemonade leap into pursuing my dream. after years of traveling, i wanted to take that unique experience and make it accessible to all. i inadvertently bartered and traded and meandered my way serendipitously around the world, somehow getting everything i needed and giving back equally as much. somehow, i would translate that into a startup company that could provide that to the most stakeholders en masse. i had no tech experience, but i’d never really failed at anything before, and didn’t think much about the mt.everest that was ahead of me. i didn’t know it was there.
i got up bright and early with the sunrise and like a dutiful new yorker, i went to starbucks. it was odd since i’m a local organic artisanal coffee kind of person, but i needed the solid wifi so off i went to the starbucks on the northwest corner of union square. it was 2007, when few had smart phones with data plans, the coworking revolution had yet to begin, and most had to buy data plans to get online on the go. i had such a plan with at&t, except I didn’t pay anything for it, and got a weird glee out of this small thing. i had had a problem with my account whilst abroad, and when i called customer support to fix it, they mistakenly granted my account unlimited free access. at a time when there were no hot spots or free wifi signs or anything like that, i always thought that my free wireless access thing was like some kind of cosmic coup i had with the universe. i let friends use it. i used it when travelling about. and I relished that i could use it then.
i sat down at a table and opened up my laptop screen and logged on. the first day of my new life as an entrepreneur had just begun, and i was going online to figure out where to start. i knew absolutely nothing about business, or technology, or gps or mapping systems or anything of the sort. i was very well versed in alternative local currencies and barter and work trade and in following your inner compass and being in the right place at the right time doing exactly what i was supposed to be doing. that had become my mantra for all the crazy shit i had done throughout my life, and given that it would all somehow always work out, even when it didn’t, i continued to follow that path for i had no reason not to trust it.
i surfed around looking for business resources and mba programs and i studied other travel sites. i drank cup after cup of coffee. i kept searching here and there. i was basically shooting arrows into a vast ocean. and yet, i persisted, not knowing exactly where i was going but trusting that ‘not all who wander are lost’, a quote by jrr tolkien that i clung to like a second skin. i soldiered onward, til my hands were shaky from coffee and my bladder was ready to explode. at that moment, a lovely woman next to me had an issue with her computer, a macbook pro just like mine.
i could tell the woman was fussing with something going on with her laptop, so i just turned to her and asked if she needed anything. as it were, she couldn’t get online and had a really urgent something she had to look up immediately and this and that and all i heard was a midwestern accent spinning out. i smiled at her calmly, handed her my laptop and invited her to use it with my super duper magical login, while i went to the bathroom. once i reached the back of the coffeshop, i came upon a long line. i had totally forgotten that this was one of the most trafficked coffeeshops in the city, in one of the most touristy parts of town. i was going to be in line for a while. as i stood there in the queue, i had all the time in the world to think about how crazy it was that i had just handed over my laptop to a complete stranger at starbucks. it was 2007, back when the first apple stores and genius bars were popping up worldwide and the iphone hadn’t been invented yet. few even had these laptops.
fortunately, this was back when i still had all my faith in tact for things like humanity and the universe and strangers, and i didn’t really have much worry. i went to the bathroom, and i came back to my seat to find the woman sitting with my laptop smiling and relaxed. she explained that she was heading to a photo shoot that day and that she was the creative director of the whole thing and had needed to get online to find something for their shoot. she had travelled from minneapolis where her firm was based, and this was the very last photo shoot of her career before leaving the corporate world and the midwest to move out to california. the photoshoot was for the black card magazine, an exclusive magazine issued only to american express black card holders who spend a minimum of $250k annually. the ad was for harley davidson motorcycles and this woman was off to new jersey to scout locations for the shoot and meet up with models and do whatever it is you do when you are the creative director of an award winning ad agency doing your last job before letting your freak cowgirl flag fly.
i was loving all of this, as i was way into motorcycles despite my many mishaps on them, and i had owned my own motorbike in asia, named lolita. and i was from jersey. and i had dabbled in modeling as a teenager though i never fully pursued it beyond a portfolio and an open audition, where i went running for the hills. and here was connie, all blond haired and blue eyed and on fire over being amidst her last big gig before she was off to her whole new life. and there i was, naive as fuck sitting in the starbucks in union square, searching online for how to launch my first business without having a clue in the world about where to begin. i knew that i had gotten good at being in the right place at the right time. i was feeling like this was one of those times.
she told me that it was possible that her client may be open to a different route than agency models and that it could be unique to try an actual real woman who rides as the model for the shoot. she took down my information, thanked me profusely for both saving her day and for being so unlike the new york stereotype, and then she went off to meet the location scout and photographer and lord knows what other very important person. i went back to my work, not really sure where to start or where i had left off before i went to the bathroom. but i was stoked.
a few days later, i got a call from my new best friend connie, asking if i would be available to do the shoot and if we could all go out to jersey and shoot for the day. i’d be compensated $750 and some harley clothing. i was told to bring my own clothes and to try and look myself and be natural. the morning of the shoot, i met up with her and the location scout in the city, and then we all road tripped out to jersey where we met up with the photographer. the location was an old victorian house in bloomfield. it was blue collar italian new york suburbs and jersey strong to the fullest. the house was worn and wooden and painted white with an outdoor veranda in front that wrapped around the entire side of the driveway. in the driveway sat the star of the show, a big black harley davidson touring bike on steroids shining like it had just come from the dentist.
unfortunately, we were not going to do any riding that day. the ad scope was for a big spread, where the bike would be on one page showcasing it alone in all its glory, and then me and a guy would be on the deck overlooking it. the way that worked best was if i was sitting on the side rail of the porch facing the driveway and motorcycle and awaiting my moto man to come in from his mighty moto ride and approach me. the director and photographer placed us in different positions throughout the deck and then settled back on the position where i’d sit on the side rail and the guy would come towards me after his long ride. we tried this and that way within this structure, and just couldn’t get it to flow right without visible awkwardness.
in between takes, i took a long deep breath in and out. i closed my eyes, and went back in time to a travel motorcycle memory. i was backpacking through the mountains of the himalayas and when i would reach a hill station, i’d see motorcycle travelers arrive and descend off their touring bikes and get their bearings. i opened my eyes, and we were back in new jersey ready for our next take. as the guy came towards me with helmet in hand, i reached out my arm and stroked my hand through his hair. i did so exactly as i would had he just come in from a long ride and taken off his helmet, with sweaty hair going in all directions. i didn’t ask his permission nor was i guided by the photographer to act as such. it just came naturally. and that was the money shot.
shortly thereafter, the little side block that we were doing our photo shoot on was cordoned off by the police. a show called the soprano’s was shooting their last episode on the same block, and the paparrazi and crowds would come as soon as they found it. by the time they did, the crew and i were all in the trailer taking celebratory shots of tequila to celebrate connie’s long career at the ad agency and bright future ahead. they told me that i had done so well i was getting paid double, and by the time we got out of the trailer, there were fans at the end of the block. you couldn’t tell where either of our photo or film shoots were, so the fans were all just excitedly headed in our direction, and we were doing our thing, and it felt like a wild ride.
we got back to the city before sunset and we all had a ball together. i used the paycheck from the modeling shoot to launch my first startup. a few months later, the spread appeared in the black card magazine, though i never saw it because the mag is sent solely to these card holders who spend a minimum of $250k a year. connie did go all out, and arranged for the photo prints to be sent to me. the ad was a stunning photo of the shining bike gleaming in the center of the driveway, with me perched beyond it on the porch stroking motorcycle man’s hair. the caption read: “the richest people on earth don’t necessarily have the most money”.
whilst launching this startup i ended up losing everything i had, having to declare bankruptcy and spending most of my 30s climbing my way out of the mess. i never ever forgot about this day, my first day as an entrepreneur, or that ad caption, as it ultimately became my new mantra.