I woke up early again that morning, determined to beat the rising sun. The eerie landscape of the beach in those moments before sunrise added a certain exhilaration to my daily run. It was in these moments that I enjoyed true clarity of thought, as the juxtaposition of cool sand under my feet and the warmth of the rising sun on my face provided the impetus to persevere in my ongoing career mission.
Wait. I just can’t. Who am I kidding? You know none of that is true, right? Early morning? Jogging? Me? I think not. But cool story, bro. 🙂
Yet, as I sat in the Myrtle Beach airport contemplating my next career stop, I fabricated this illusion of potential reality – as if in a way to justify taking this gig. Myrtle Beach was definitely a cool place, located, not surprisingly, on the beach. Plus, the surrounding area was dotted with literally dozens of top-tier golf courses. And the cityscape, while small, exuded that beach nightlife vibe. Oh, did I happen to mention that I was 21 at the time? I’m not sure if I was cut out for the job, but I was certainly well-qualified for the lifestyle.
Myrtle Beach was my fourth, and next to last, stop on the “Where will Mitch Land” Tour, playing at multiple locations in late Summer 1985. At this point, I had already interviewed with San Diego, Lubbock, TX, and Pensacola, FL, with only Macon, GA remaining – and, come on, it’s not like Macon was going to beat the Beach.
I sat there and reflected on the tour to date, as it was nearly time to start making some serious decisions.
The tour didn’t start out so well. It seems as though I just wasn’t cool enough for San Diego. I think my visit to the offices there was structured for the sole purpose of showing me how the other half lived. It was like I had walked into the Ritz Carlton, where they looked me over and immediately gave me directions to the Motel 6. I’m thinking Ron Burgundy had it right when he muttered those infamous words, “Go f*** yourself, San Diego.” (Fine, let’s just say it wouldn’t have been a good fit and leave it at that, shall we?).
My next stop, the luscious green landscapes of Lubbock, nestled in the mountains of West Texas. Fake News alert! I don’t recall seeing a green tree while I was there. And I’m pretty sure the highest elevation in town was the top of the speed bump in the Curby’s Express Mart parking lot. Considering all that and the mini tornado that blew bread racks around like tumbleweeds in the parking lot the night I was there, and, well, Lubbock had some work to do.
The third visit of the tour took me to Pensacola, FL. It was my first visit to the beautiful Gulf Coast – home of fighter jets, luxurious white sand beaches, and frequent hurricanes. Yes, hurricanes. As in Elena, which at one point during my visit looked to make a direct hit on Pensacola. Nearly 1,000,000 people evacuated the central Gulf Coast as the Category 3 hurricane neared landfall.
Funny enough, one of my most vivid memories of the shortened visit to Pensacola was watching the guys board up the windows at the airport. As I boarded the plane to head back west the lady at the gate told me I was lucky, as this was likely one of the last flights out before they shut the whole place down. This hurricane thing was making that Lubbock mini-tornado look like a spring breeze.
By then, as the man-made and natural disasters of the tour seemed to be growing exponentially, I had some trepidation about even making the visit to Myrtle Beach. I went nonetheless, and not only was the locale obviously fantastic, but the job would be great too. It definitely wasn’t going to put me on a fast track to anywhere important, anytime soon – except maybe the golf course or the beach – but, hey, I was already 21, I’d been at this work thing for a while, maybe it was time to slow down and smell the seaweed.
In fact, things looked so good, I decided I wouldn’t bother to make the Macon trip.
But then my local General Manager and a Western Region Manager each conveyed to me that an Executive VP in the Corporate Office expected me to make the visit to Macon. They told me this with an emphasis placed on Executive, and a double, super-special emphasis placed on Expected. Alrighty, when do I leave?
Here’s the thing, at this point in my life everything I knew about Macon was based on seeing the 1974 movie “Macon County Line” … and let’s just say it’s not the most flattering portrayal. Worse yet, I had also seen “Deliverance.” This was definitely not the 1-2 punch the Macon Chamber of Commerce or Georgia Tourism Board was looking for.
Undaunted, and maybe without a real say in the matter, I made the trip.
Here’s where my earnest belief in the concept of ‘everything happens for a reason’ comes into play.
To my surprise, my visit to Central Georgia went exceptionally well. The system was just the right size – large enough to garner Corporate attention, yet small enough that I could be a big fish in the pond. The people blew me away with their charm and Southern hospitality (even if I couldn’t understand a damn thing they were saying – reckon? fixin’? wth?). The system General Manager was by far one of the kindest and most genuine human beings I have ever met. And best yet, my would-be direct boss was a rising star in the company, and word on the street was that he was on his way to greener pastures elsewhere – which, in my not-so-humble opinion, would make for a certain promotion for me.
I also came to find out that the reason the Corporate Executive VP expected me to make the Macon trip is that it was where he wanted me to end up. I mean, they could’ve saved a lot of airfare had they just told me this in the beginning.
Two obstacles remained… one, unlike Myrtle Beach, there were no sandy ocean beaches in Macon. To my dismay, I was told there was nothing they could do about that situation. And two, taking this job was going to be a pretty significant pay cut. Unfortunately, I was told there was nothing they could do about that either. We were at an impasse.
Finally, the Executive VP inserted himself into the compensation negotiations, and after about three or four very intense minutes (more likely, about half that) I acquiesced. I was sold on the concept of being the heir apparent. I was intrigued by the concept of living in the South. And I was surely nowhere close to the concept of slowing down to smell the seaweed.
So there I was… a PNW boy, about to undertake a new career venture in a totally different country. Fine, while it may not have literally been a different country, at 3,000 miles from home – and with a very different culture – it certainly felt like a foreign land for this young man.
Regardless, everything seemed to be falling perfectly into place for my career path expectations. Little did I know there was an unforeseen turbulence building behind the scenes that would undermine everything I had worked for and throw my career plans into complete turmoil.