A momentous year, indeed. But then I take a step back, I climb a few thousand feet higher and I find myself marveling at this entire decade that is about to end. What a decade it’s been for me. Many periods in recent American history are defined by decades. “The roaring twenties,” “the sixties.” “the seventies,” “the eighties” all seem to be compartmentalized by the pop culture, music, technological advancements, icons and politics of their ten year tenures.
The close of a decade like this is a big deal to a guy that’s only 27 years old, so bear with me. I’d like to document the ten most impactful, and mostly isolated elements of the last decade that changed me and my life. In chronological order:
1. Falling asleep at the wheel. The first Saturday of February, 2000. After an epic day of riding powder at Sugar Bowl I fell asleep at the wheel heading west down Donner Pass on Interstate 80. We were still in the mountains and the road was steep and windy. The east-bound lanes were on a different part of the mountain side, so only the two west-bound lanes cut through that stretch of mountain, with wild cliffs and hills on both sides of the west-bound lanes. My friend Todd Gonsolves and my younger brother Jonathan were in the car with me, they had also fallen asleep. Apparently, I was the last to doze off and the first to wake up. Todd recalled that when he woke up in the turbulence, he immediately looked over at me and I was wide eyed, with my hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock. As the road turned right, I had continued straight into the woods, through some trees and over large rocks and boulders, bouncing around but fortunately always landing on my wheels. Immediately upon waking up, I veered the Explorer back into the fast last of traffic, even using my turn signal and checking for a gap in the busy Saturday evening post-powder-day traffic. I made it to the right side of the road and parked.
There was lots of damage, but we were extremely lucky in many ways. The driver’s side mirror was gone, leaving only exposed wires. A tree trunk had come close enough to rip it clean off, but not close enough to end up in my face. The trauma to the car was enough that when I swerved back onto the road, the roof rack (consisting of a large cargo Rocket Box and luggage rack sitting on Yakima cross bars) ripped off the roof and bounced around the two busy freeway lanes. A Ford Taurus drove right over the rocket box, splitting it in two. He pulled over, checked his car, his alignment, made sure I was okay and went on his way. No harm, no foul. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the roof rack didn’t’ kill anyone. I couldn’t believe I didn’t hit anyone with the Explorer. I couldn’t believe I made it safely back onto the road and onto the far right shoulder with no bodily injury to anyone. It would have been all my fault.
Last of all, I couldn’t believe I just trashed my dad’s car. I knew that when I called him from the side of the road he wouldn't flip out. I knew before I dialed. I was shaking uncontrollably from the shock, but not because I was afraid of his reaction.
I made it home eventually, pulling up to the house in the battered and limping Explorer. Mom and Dad were probably watching out the window because they came out before I could get inside. I didn't cry until then, several hours after the accident.
As far as I can remember, he didn't ask for any money from me. I didn't have to pay for it. They cut me a whole bunch of slack at once. When all the damage was assessed, Dad made sure I knew the total, then went on with life. I was never scolded. I think it was obvious that I learned my lesson. I look back on that experience as a one of the worst but also best things that ever happened to me, largely in part by my Dad's wise and merciful treatment.
I also felt very strongly that our lives had been preserved by divine intervention, despite my youthful mistake. It may sound cliché, but I knew God loved me and I knew I had a important role to fill in life. I went to school on Monday and hugged all my friends.
2. September 11, 2001. Less than a month before I was to leave on my mission. My mom woke me up and said something along the lines of “something horrible has happened.” I had never been to New York and I couldn’t picture the World Trade Center in my head at that point if I wanted to, but a part of me understood the gravity of what was happening. I watched the news for a few hours and watched the second plane hit the second tower, live. I went in to work at REI, and nobody was shopping. Some co-workers went home to cope or never came in. We were almost 3,000 miles away in California. But we were Americans, and the heartbreak has not yet healed, nine years later.
3. Two years in Germany. I served a mission in southern Germany from October 2001 – October 2003. Of all the places in the world I could have been called, I had a secret desire to not only serve a German speaking mission, but to be called to the Munich Germany mission. And I was. For those of you that are not familiar with the geographical “lottery” of Mormon mission calls, it suffices to say that was a miracle which I never took for granted.
I can’t list all the crazy life-shaping experiences I had in Germany, but one seemingly normal day stands out in particular: I was walking through the center of relatively unexciting Ansbach, a suburb of Nürnberg when I had an unexpected feeling of intense gratitude for how great my life is. How blessed I am to have the family and upbringing I’ve had, and how lucky I am in general. It’s difficult to explain the feeling and how it was different from other little fits of gratitude, but it changed my life in a profoundly quiet way.
4. Guitar. I started playing Dave Nieman’s junky old classical guitar the summer of 2000 during my first stint at Ricks College (soon thereafter known as “BYU-Idaho”) with the ultimate goal to learn “Lie in Our Graves” by Dave Matthews. I borrowed a half dozen other guitars until I bought a Fender acoustic later that year and finally my Taylor 314ce in April, 2005 (thank you, 12 month same-as-cash financing). Bought an American Deluxe Fender Stratocaster in 2009. Went from being outrageously social to introverted and reclusive in many ways – and I have no problem with that. I learned to love alone time. My guitars have been some of my best friends. I’ve slowly evolved from thinking of myself as a drummer that plays guitar, to a self-taught guitar player that used to play the drums a lot.
5. CP+B. In August 2006 I graduated from college, got my first college-grad job with benefits at arguably the hottest ad agency in the world and moved my life from Rexburg, ID to Miami, FL. Since then, we won “agency of the year” awards more than we didn’t, and just this month we were named “Ad Agency of the Decade” by trade pub AdAge. It’s been a wild ride and now I’m entering my fifth calendar year with Crispin Porter + Bogusky. I’ve been beat up and spit on, wasted and used but there’s a reason our motto is “We never learn.” I'm obligated to add this job to the top 10 list if for no other reason than the giant time commitment it’s been in my life. In the last 3.5 years, I’ve undoubtedly done the work of at least 5 years. There’s a reason the HR department of this life consuming agency is instead called QOL (Quality of Life), and there must be a reason I’m still here after I’ve seen so many of my peers come and go. I've never been bored, that's for sure.
6. Jaime. Less than one month after moving to Miami, I was smart enough (and brave enough) to marry a girl name Jaime Lea Falke in the Oakland California Temple on September 23, 2006. I met her in 2005, but didn’t really fall for her until she strategically fought for our steady relationship starting January 2006. She definitely saw the vision before I did, and I’m forever grateful for that. By September 2006 I knew this was a cool girl. I knew she made me laugh out loud all the time. I knew she was super cute. I knew she was a culinary wiz. I was amazed she didn’t annoy the crap out of me like most other girls. I knew she came from a good family and that she’d be a great friend and a great mother one day, but I had no idea how much I would come to love and appreciate her in the next 3 years. I had no idea how much more beautiful she’d become in three short years. I had no idea how much better it would get.
7. Annie. My first job at CP+B involved lots of travel. Just after moving Jaime to Miami, I would be out of town almost as often as I was in town, leaving her all alone in this new and sometimes scary city. It was time to get the dog I’d wanted so badly. March 10, 2007, Jaime and I brought home a black lab puppy we found at a shelter called Pets in Distress Miami. We named her Annie, and she kept Jaime company (and safe) during my stints out of town. She began to stick by our side immediately upon bringing her home that first day and she looked to us for shelter, food, fun and love. Almost immediately after taking her from the shelter, she knew we were hers and she was ours and there seemed to be a silent appreciation for her adoption. She still sleeps by our side and looks after Jaime on a daily basis. She’s a great dog and member of our family. Such a friend. The older I get, the more I realize all I really need besides Jaime is a good dog and a good guitar.
8. Boulder/Louisville. We moved to Boulder in September 2007 after a year in Miami. CP+B had opened up an office out here and I wanted in ever since I interviewed for the job. Jaime and I both love it here and I feel lucky that I’ve found a place we’re both incredibly happy. We found an apartment to rent in Louisville, CO, about 10 minutes drive into Boulder proper or a 10 minute walk into Boulder open space. Louisville used to be an old coal mining town and has become the family friendly, charming small town annex to Boulder. It’s beautiful and practical without the compromise that’s usually the byproduct of practicality. We love it and I’m scared to ever move anywhere else for fear that it won’t stack up.
9. Homeownership. After almost two years of renting in Louisville, we found the right place to buy. We looked at a lot of places around Boulder county, and ended up choosing the best location over the best price. We bought a townhome about 100 yards from our apartment and moved into a neighborhood we already knew and loved. A month after closing escrow in June 2009, Louisville was named the #1 place to live in America by CNN Money magazine.
10. Dad. My dad was found dead early on the morning of November 5,, 2009 after a motorcycle accident in Horsham, PA the night before. He was 53 years old.
My dad is easily one of my best friends and my favorite people in the world. I loved how he would call me randomly just because something reminded me of him. A jazz club in NYC, a CD at Starbucks, a quick stop into Bucks County Outfitters where I used to work, a VW ad on TV, anything relating to Germany or Colorado or marketing or guitar or drums or scuba diving or dogs or the young single adults in the church branch he led etc. etc. etc. Most of the time when he’d call he’d refer to me as “speed dial #5.” I don’t know why, but I loved that. I wasn’t even #2 or #3 or #4, but I loved his nicknames. He’d call us “Shmagooflus” when we were kids, and beyond. And he’d call me “laoer” (Chinese for “the second eldest” son). He’d refer to himself as dad-dad-daddio (a Back to the Future reference for me, but probably more of a be-bopping jazz reference for him). I really miss him. I miss his face and his phone calls. I miss the way that we had turned into adult friends, and not just father over son. Fortunately, he lived life to the fullest and taught me to do so as well. That full life included many, many valuable memories with family which he has left with me. Almost everything reminds me of him now. More importantly, his shocking death solidified my conviction in the continuation of life and the eternal nature of our spirits. There’s a plan for us, no doubt.
I think I understood who he was in life, but the full realization of his mortal legacy was really forced upon us by his unexpected death. I’m grateful for that legacy and fully plan on continuing in his style and work as best I can. What a way to end the decade: Waxing nostalgic in a whole new level of retrospection that I never knew before.