Sunday, August 27, 2017

Why I Embraced Vagabonding

I was a traditional entrepreneur from the age of 23 until my mid 40s. Then a whirlwind of unforeseeable events took place and the current of those e emts took me on an adventure I never saw coming.

I've been vagabonding since 2004. I go to places without a plan of how long I will stay, have experiences and then move on. 

Whether I am on the hunt to discover unknown adventures I can't define, or leaving a life behind is unclear. But the experiences are raw, unfettered, and real. 

They stimulate the imagination and bring into focus a truth l live by: nothing is for certain and everything is subject to change. Nothing is better or worse, it is simply something new and original.

When people ask me why I vagabond, I can only say that it is to experience life up close and personal, without filters. To see cultures, people, lifestyles, and absorb them first, then, in hindsight -- with the clarity that time and distance provides -- form opinions about it. Rather than having opinions first and seeking out information to validate those beliefs.

People seem -- to me -- to be driven by the past regrets they can't change, or planning for a future that may never come. So I choose to live in the moment, not necessarily for it. I find clarity of mind in that strange space between being disconnected from all that is around me, yet completely aware of it.

After 20 years of a very traditional life, where I founded and ran various companies, some financially very successful, some not, and during the worst financial fallout of my life (where I lost everything, including my apartment in NYC), something happened. I let go: the current of life has since taken me on adventurous, confusing, and wondrous journeys.

Some see me as adventurous, other a lunatic. Life is like that -- everyone has an opinion.

During those down years I began to write, and for the first time was inspired by doing something that I liked the process of as much as the results it generated, for better or worse. There was no end game to it. Rather, something I began doing simply for the experience of doing it.

Because I had a business persona for two decades, complete with designer suits, short-cropped hair, and big fancy cars, I adopted a pseudonym s as writer.

I wrote for magazines like American Songwriter, Glide, Jazz Review and others, and even had a NY nightlife column for a while.

Shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires for a 10 day trip with a friend (where I stayed for 7 glorious years) I had read a great book entitled "Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Distance World Travel" by Rolf Potts. In it he shared his views on travel preparedness and tips, but also infused his worldviews. It captivated me, he spoke of things I had long felt but were unable to express. I did express my views however in my review of it.

It is this intoxicating sense of adventure that led me to plan the motorcycle trip to the Himalayas for September 2017 while I'm still physically able.

My introduction to true raw travel began with Kena, a Colombian photojournalist student I had met, who was studying in Buenos Aires. She changed my life in many ways. I went from being a tourist, well-traveled as I was, who went places to look at stuff, to becoming a traveler who went to places not to look, but to see.

Once you see something, you can't un-see it. 

Nothing would ever be the same. My first backpacking trip was with her to Salta, Argentina, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How I met her, and my past before her is another story that I will leave for another time.

The Days Before Vagabonding

For 18 years I ran freight management and logistics companies. I started most of them with small amounts of capital; the first I launched with a few clients lined up and $4,000 in the bank. It grew to $130,000 a month by the 13th month.

I sold it 3 years later and veered into entertainment; first a music production company and artist management firm. With a few near misses, I segued and launched Big City Records.  We achieved a front page stellar review on Billboard, in the Jeanie Mcadams column The Rhythm & The Blues for the album Soul King. We were one of only 7 indie labels to appear at the Jack The Rapper R & B music convention in Atlanta, GA in 1991. When our distributor Shwartz Brothers expanded into video and fell into Chapter 11, our cash flow ended and I had to close it. So it was back to what i knew.

In 1991 armed with $10,000 I launched a new freight logistics company, expanding (beyond truckload and direct expedited LTL services) to trade-show delivery, and later national commercial furniture delivery & installation in 28 states -- the largest independent in the country by 1994. I sold it in 1997 and became Chief Operating Officer of that division where I expanded into a 200,000 square foot facility on 7 acres with an in house railroad track, where I built out a packaging plant to unload trains and package those goods. By 1998 I was tired of the industry and leap at the chance to sell a small entertainment company I started in 1997 to a publicly traded company, and took the helm as president of that subsidiary.

Quickly I had assets in stock, though due to the SEC 144 Rule couldn't sell it for one year. But I achieved what i long set out to do: get a public company selling consumer products, in this case packed music (cassettes and DVDs). During that year I got my first taste of bureaucratic aggravation and despite being elevated to CEO of the entire company, found myself responsible for a company I didn't really control. It was the misstep that would change my life.

By the next summer when a product we marketed fiercely to get ranking in the record pool charts (#9 in Atalanta, #1 Pensacola,  and elsewhere,) and our marketing budget was suddenly 'moved,' I'd had enough. But when I resigned and made a deal to take back ownership of those products it was too late, and I lacked the finances to right that now privately-held ship.

I was penniless in 2000. For the first time I understood what broke meant. I was about the lose my apartment on 55th street with no idea where to turn, living on a quart of WonTon soup each day. I didn't want to return to the freight industry.

A new chapter began. I made a few quick deals in 2001 and got back on my feet. But I had no direction of where I wanted to go, and no one I wanted to go there with. I took a gig as a New York columnist for an L.A. based magazine, and wrote one off articles and reviews under a pseudonym for music-related magazines; American Songwriter, Glide, Jazz Review and others.

When I befriended a woman from the neighborhood 40 years my senior, over the next year or so she became familiar with my writing and asked if I'd help her complete her memoir. 

After the death of her famous son many years earlier, she had gone to Buenos Aires, and fell in love with the city where she met a small group of friends that would host her once a year during her pilgrimages there. She asked if I wanted to go with her this year. Not really, but I loved her so I couldn't say no. April 2003 I found myself in Recoleea, an upscale part of Buenos Aires. By the second day -- when she asked 'what do you think?' I told her I was staying. In fact I went back to NYC, got my affairs in order and traveled back.

My first friend was a Colombian photojournalist student. A few months later I got a gig to do an article about the nightlife, so I hired her to take the photos and serve as an interpreter. When I paid her and asked what she would do with the money, she instantly said "travel." Where I asked. Up north, to Salta. I said I'd check the airfares to which she said, "no, by bus."

My images of bus travel equated to Greyhound, which didn't intrigue me. But I was game.  I had traveled the world as a businessman and tourist. But I was totally clueless about backpacking. The day we were to leave I had my big rolling suitcase in the foyer of the apartment we shared in Monserrat, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires. "Not with me", she said. "You need a backpack."

That trip changed my life, again. We hitchhiked, wandered without a plan, and became so immersed in local culture, that for the first time I looked upon these new places without the baggage of predefined expectations.  I evolved from being a tourist that went places and looked at things, to being a traveler who saw.

I've been vagabonding since.