I had two more days in LA when I got the call.
Actually it wasn’t so much as call as an email followed by a Skype video chat followed by a quick succession of GChat exchanges.
A girl I barely knew — scratch that, had never met in person and exchanged a few emails and one Skype call with almost half a year previous — had just quit her job and flown to NYC with very little money in the bank and no prospects. When she got off her flight at JFK airport, she had 5 job offers waiting for her along with a lunch meeting that resulted in her signing a contract that established her as the star of a new reality TV show that would be shot and taken around to a handful of potential stations for airing.
And she wanted me to be there as part of the pitch video.
The question at this point was whether or not I would be able to make it there for the shooting. The gulf between NYC and LA can be quite vast, and though it gets cheaper all the time, I had already purchased the ticket from LA to Sydney, from where I would hop over to New Zealand shortly after. It would be a logistical nightmare to try and change everything at the last second, not to mention expensive.
But then, can you put a value — in time or money — on a novel experience? I’ve been to NYC before, but the circumstances of this particular opportunity were as such that I would have to be foolish to pass it up, whatever the price ended up being.
I went cruising for tickets, made the necessary arrangements, and flew across the country to meet someone I only knew in cyberspace (do people still call it that? Sounds a bit dated at this point, doesn’t it?).
I knew generally what to expect of Amber.
Our first emails exchanges were enthusiastic and worshipful of each other’s accomplishments and opinions. I knew from Skyping that she was perky and upbeat and would probably be a fun person to explore a big city with (I hadn’t been in NYC for years, so I was under no illusions that I would still know my way around).
After getting off the plane, I hop a cab (actually I snag one of the many operators of non-cabs that hang out around the airport…don’t want to wait in line for a legit one) and make my way to the cross streets where Amber told me to meet her. On the way I’m able to practice my Castillano Spanish with the driver: he’s Ecuadorian and is thrilled to find that I’ve recently returned from South America.
I text Amber to let her know when I am a few blocks from our meeting place, and as we pull up I see a figure rush from a side street, head wrapped in a scarf, looking frantically around for a yellow cab that isn’t there. I open the door and shout to her and she runs over and dives inside next to me.
“Hello!” we both say. We hug our greeting, as if we’d done it a million times before, and she tells the taxi driver where to drop us off.
She fills me in on the details of her story over a bottle of Malbec (much more expensive in the States than in Argentina) and a collection of cheese-focused tapas in a small wine-shop a few blocks from where she’s staying.
After wobbling tipsily back to her friend’s place, I burrow into the couch appreciatively and immediately fall asleep.
It’s amazing what can happen in just a week’s time, and there seem to be a million mini-stories worth telling from the week I spent in NYC with Amber.
There was, for example, the Prom-themed party thrown by one of the founders of Foursquare. Amber invited me to come as her date and we lit up the dance floor, both of us leaving with a different person and ending up with myriad awesome/incriminating photos.
The day of the shoot was pretty wild. Most of it was spent following Amber around with cameras while the director tried to capture her Amber-ness so they would have a visual of what makes her such a marketable brand. Later that night she had discussions with 3 really amazing people and myself, and all seemed to go really well. There was even an impromptu debate that took place among the participants and a few bystanders, all of which was recorded (I guess that kind of discussion is part of what makes Gen-Y folk so television-worthy: drama!).
Then there was the unexpected meeting with Seth Godin. Through a few connections Amber and I were able to secure a solid-half hour tea time with the most well-known (and I think, brilliant) marketer of our time. He offered some really valuable advice (not to mention difficult questions) regarding Amber’s next steps, and engaged both of us in a discussion that led us both to decide that he is just as amazing in person as he is in writing (which is saying something, as you already know if you’ve read any of his books).
Perhaps the most satisfying moments for me, however, were the ones where we would just wander around the city, meeting up with fascinating person after fascinating person. Everyone had a story, someplace to be and an insatiable desire to make new connections and learn new things.
It’s difficult for me to say this, being a rationalist and all, but the energy was just so good. I haven’t felt that kind of energy since I left the startup scene and took to the road. It was like an injection of something I didn’t know I was missing.
On the final day of our stay, Amber and I rushed to the airport, news of an enormous snow storm that was on its way for that night nipping at our heels.
That wing of the adventure was coming to an end, but I think we both knew that by taking a chance on one unexpected opportunity, we had found a basket full of others just sitting there, waiting for us to pick them up. Like taking candy from a baby who doesn’t even like candy. Just by showing up, and being willing to show up again and again while we were there, we had won. No competition even bothered to be present.
It’s easy to win when you play on a court the other team doesn’t know about. And sometimes chasing wild dreams is what will lead you there.
Update: December 11, 2016
It’s hilarious going back and reading some of these initial impressions of people and moments that ended up becoming dear friends and pivot points to some degree or another.
Amber is a wonderful person who’s doing quite well these days, and many of the people I met on this little NYC adventure are still good friends, today.
Seth Godin is somehow just as amazing in person as he is in his work and online, and his approachability and kindness were influential in how I decided to approach interacting with my audience.
I didn’t realize it until later, but the flat where Amber and I stayed was Derek Sivers’ place: a guy who’s worth looking up (watch one of his TED talks) if you’re not already aware of his work.
Something I often tell people, particularly when I’m in a smaller or more remote city or town, is that I often prefer living in less-connected places, because if I were living in Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York or London or some other hub, I would feel a constant sense of needing to get out there and meet with people. There’s always a networking brunch or board game night to attend, and these events are amazing, and some of my most valuable friendships have been made as a direct result of them, but it’s also stress-inducing; there’s a constant ‘fear of missing out’ that pervades every waking moment, if you’re not careful.
This is not to say that there isn’t the potential for that same feeling in a place like, say, Wichita, Kansas, where I am as I write this update. But it’s so glaringly obvious in places like NYC that it can be difficult to avoid, and it can make focusing on your own independent work and thoughts far more difficult, because you don’t want to miss this get-together, and you want to be sure to stay in touch with that cool person you met at the last one. It’s the good kind of frantic. And that’s nice sometimes, but for me, and the kind of work I do, it’s not conducive to entrenching and getting to work.