Bridging the Blog Gap
If you've relied exclusively on checking this blog for updates on my career/life, you might've thought I died in October 2014.
Well ... the good news is, I didn't!
The relatively unfortunate news, however, is that I did move all my writing efforts from here to my Medium account. So if you're digging through my blog posts here, you're bound to encounter some pretty dusty, dank stuff.
Quite a bit has happened in the last three years, though, so let's go ahead and catch you up.
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In October 2014, after several deliberative weeks alone at my Uncle's cabin on York Beach, Maine, I moved to Greenville, S.C., with no home, no job and no friends or family in the area. I applied, unsuccessfully, for a smattering of marketing and social media jobs, before landing a gig as Manager of a Sbarro at the Haywood Mall.
I found a (really nice!) apartment near Haywood Road, to be told I'd be shipped to Winston Salem, N.C., for three weeks for training, along with our store's new General Manager, who'd been hired simultaneously (and I had not met).
I showed up for Day 1 of my managerial training, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, black slacks and safety shoes ready to go.
There was one problem: the new GM was nowhere to be found. Several phone calls later, we determined there was no new incoming GM, and I'd instead be undergoing training solo.
Two weeks into the training, with no GM in place at the store I was about to head back to, upper management decided to offer me the role of General Manager.
Talk about being thrown into the fire; I was 1,000 miles from "home" (New York); had never worked in the food service industry before, much less at a Sbarro; and was hardly a pizza-making expert. But with the mall's heavy shopping season on the horizon -- Black Friday, of course, being the busiest day of the year, just about a month out -- I was suddenly anointed General Manager of Sbarro #318, Haywood Mall.
The stress of the upcoming holiday season exacerbated my desire to find another job; on Black Friday, I worked a 28-hour shift rotating pizzas until I could barely stand anymore. The regional manager ended up talking the previous GM out of retirement to join me, but (obviously) I wasn't about to take a pay cut, so after some tense negotations, #318 headed into Christmastime with co-General Managers.
Just before Christmas, my friend Lee Karchawer called with an opportunity relating to his nonprofit, Pay Away the Layaway. With their donation pool expanding, they were looking to execute payoffs in different cities around the U.S. -- and Greenville, S.C. made the list. We coordinated schedules and even had a customized t-shirt printed in Greenville, which I wore to a media-friendly payoff at a Walmart in Greer, S.C.
This would be my first experience with Pay Away the Layaway, but not my last. I asked a couple of Sbarro colleagues if they wanted to join me; no bites. I went alone, in my bright green tee and red Santa Claus hat.
Here's the concept: Parents/grandparents with limited incomes can purchase holiday gifts on layaway -- more or less, credit extended by big-box stores. Often, the families are unable to complete payment, meaning that for many children around the U.S., there may be no gifts at all for the holidays. Pay Away the Layaway's donors make possible these media-friendly "payoffs" at stores around the U.S., where "layaway angels" arrive to pay off the bills of families in need. In recent years, PATL has worked with celebrities and athletes like Kendra Wilkinson, Dexter Fowler and Khris Middleton, among others, whose presence helps raise awareness of the organization.
On this unseasonably warm December morning in Greer, I played the role of "angel," representing PATL to the families, store management and local media.
It. Was. Life-changing.
You have not felt genuine euphoria until you save Christmas for a stranger and her grandchildren. I'd never experienced the emotion I felt that day, but I knew I wanted to feel it again.
It was that day that I started to envision my second cross-country roadtrip -- to all 50 U.S. states, in 100 days.
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If you're here on TeamStrub.com, you likely have heard of that second adventure, which would begin May 15 from Greenville, and end Aug. 21 in Asheville, N.C. But there were still tens of thousands of pizzas, strombolis and breadsticks to be made in the meantime.
Even as I was imagining traversing the United States again -- this time with purpose -- the daily slog of a 55-hour work week was weighing on me. If you've ever worked in a shopping mall, you know that the post-New Year's plunge in business corresponds with a drop in hours -- and when you work at a small shop with two General Managers with mandatory 55-hour responsibilities on its payroll, staff assignments become really difficult to come by.
As I was a bit more computer-savvy than our talked-out-of-retirement GM Emeritus, if you will, I created the schedule each week -- and our staff of about 10 knew that. So when their hours dropped from, say, 35 hours a week to 10 (or even less) -- the blame fell directly on my shoulders. I'm a fairly happy-go-lucky fellow, but the challenge of running a store in January and February was in many ways even tougher than the holiday bonanza.
When an opportunity arose for a GM in our region to spend two weeks managing a store in Asheville -- about an hour north of Greenville -- I jumped. Any sort of variety, any travel opportunity -- anything, honestly, to get away from the daily doldrums of the Haywood Mall -- was music to my ears.
Along with the late-winter, no-staff-hours stress came the company-wide re-branding. My favorite part of the whole job was stretching the limits of the menu; we had maybe 20 different types of pizza, and about 9 different stromboli combinations, at our fingertips. To the astonishment of my colleagues and regional manager -- but probably not anyone who knew me outside of Sbarro -- I could sell strombolis better than anyone in the southeast. Haywood Mall #318 led the region in stromboli sales, and the staff in Asheville took to 'Stromboli Saturdays,' where I made and showcased, literally, every stromboli in the book. I took enormous pride in offering variety, as well as my own ability to make the perfect stromboli -- mostly because I was perhaps the worst pizza maker in company history. (Same ingredients; totally different technique.)
As spring rolled in, word came down from corporate of a nation-wide simplification of the menu -- absolutely the right move from their perspective, and absolutely terrible news for me personally. The only real fun I had at Sbarro was being taken away.
Thankfully, I had another plan in the works.
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I've written and spoken at length about how leaving my job at the advertising agency in Binghamton was the hardest day of my professional career; resigning from Sbarro was not nearly as challenging. Regional management and my co-GM both knew I was disappointed about the stromboli realignment; what they did not expect was my real reason for departing.
Through the months of March, April and into May, I spent every waking minute planning a complex 50-state, 100-day adventure that involved highlighting a different youth-related nonprofit organization in each state. In April -- while still with Sbarro -- I spent half a Saturday roadtripping to Raleigh, N.C., to volunteer during the Binghamton University Alumni Association's inaugural Global Day of Service. It was this 'Global Day of Service' concept (which, by the way, is not unique to Binghamton; it's an incredible initiative that's taken hold at many colleges worldwide) that corresponded *perfectly* with my vision of volunteerism in every state -- and because of Pay Away the Layaway, I decided to focus on youth-related organizations.
After volunteering in Raleigh, I drove the two-plus hours home to Greenville -- threw on my black slacks, apron and mesh hat, and went in for a rare Saturday closing shift. (Chuck's days off were delivery day Wednesdays and Sundays, so I took Mondays and Fridays and very rarely closed Saturdays.)
I worked up until just a few days before the trip began -- so much so that the headlines in the upstate S.C. media described me as "local pizza manager." I still, to this day -- almost three full years after accepting that job -- don't quite believe I actually did it for eight months. I left on good terms, but not good enough that when I returned in August of 2015, that they'd have any interest in bringing me back -- and why would they? I was a great employee (although a below-average-at-best pizza maker), but clearly a nomadic soul in disguise.
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Now, about that trip. Again, if you're reading TeamStrub.com, you've almost certainly seen, heard and/or read about '50 States, 100 Days.' Since the trip ended, I've been more or less a digital broken record about being the 'first person to live-stream and Snapchat in all 50 U.S. states.' I Tweet, Facebook and yammer consistently about '50 States, 100 Days: The Book,' and my YouTube channel is filled with friends and colleagues from around the world offering their enthusiastic video reviews.
If you're not familiar with the trip, here's where I'd invite you to poke around a bit. Although not on this particular website's blog, there is an astronomical amount of content on the web about the trip. I've done dozens of podcasts and video interviews, and of course there's all the video from the journey itself. I won't waste characters in this already-much-too-long piece about the trip, other than to say it was magnificent, I don't regret a second of it, and I'd do it all again tomorrow if I could afford it.
But readers of the book know how abruptly it all ends -- that's exactly how my entire life felt on Aug. 21, 2015. Suddenly, I was back on my leather loveseat in my still-furnished apartment in Greenville, with a decorated car, long, shaggy hair, a grotesque beard, an exhausted body -- and a brain filled with, what I believed, to be one of the coolest stories ever told.
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I couldn't believe I was back in almost the same situation that I was in nearly a year before. After a couple of extremely well-deserved days of relaxation, it was time to figure out what happened next. I came quickly to the realization that instead of planning 100 days, I probably should've been planning 100 years -- but too late now.
Again, I applied to a ton of jobs around Greenville, this time with the added advantage of living there. One of the largest marketing firms in the U.S. is based in the heart of Greenville, as is the most compelling (in my opinion) Convention & Visitors Bureau in the country. (The award-winning #yeahTHATgreenville campaign was, and still very much is, absolutely brilliant.)
I'd known before the trip began the potential of a dedicated, genuine, all-in content marketing strategy -- and now I had the experience to prove it.
Being a one-man team has its benefits, and it definitely has its drawbacks. Here I am more than two years later, still trying to upload all the content hiding on my hard drive; still trying to unravel all the photos and videos on my phone; still trying to cough up all the stories strewn scattershot around my brain. I knew then as I know now that brands have this same problem, even if they don't recognize it, and I knew then as I know now that the best approach is to roll up your sleeves and start telling stories.
I wanted to work with a brand to tell stories. It didn't have to be a nonprofit, and it didn't have to necessarily be in Greenville, as much as I wanted to stay there. At my core, and as I proved during the summer of 2015 -- that's what I do: I find, share and tell stories through digital avenues.
I'm not a "Snapchatter." I'm not a "live video star," and definitely not a self-proclaimed "influencer." But I like to travel, I like to identify stories, and I take pleasure in telling them. Most importantly, I've never wanted to live to work -- I want to work to live. Skipping ahead a bit here, I cringed so hard at an alumni event several months ago when I heard an alum several years my elder focus a conversation with recent grads about what job they want to have. "Your life, and your value, isn't defined by your job," I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
And yet here I was in Greenville, applying -- again -- for job after job.
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I don't remember every last detail of my second job search in South Carolina; I do remember driving across town to an Olive Garden, where the manager ended up not being available, and leaving repeated voicemail follow-ups at a Taco Bell. I also filled out an application in-person for a relatively well-paying temp role at BMW, with a huge presence in nearby Spartanburg. The young, attractive brunette who formerly was the office manager at my apartment complex had taken a role at a staffing company, and so I knew at the very least I could line up something through her.
Nope. Nope. Nope. And nope. Everything I applied for locally fell apart. It's probably best, in the long run, that I didn't land the role as GM of a Taco Bell, because heck, I still like eating Taco Bell now.
As it turned out, at the last minute, I did get accepted somewhere in Greenville -- as a server, at a popular chain restaurant that I won't identify. I went in for the first day of training, was shown around the kitchen -- not bad, but not nearly as clean as mine at Sbarro -- but the red flag came right before I left, when they handed me a signature polo shirt and told me it'd be $16. (Or whatever the cost was; doesn't matter.)
I told them I didn't have cash on me and that I'd bring it in the next day.
I never went back.
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All the while, I'd been being courted by my old boss, Al Vieira, from the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. He'd since been among the many, many layoffs at Gannett, and subsequently accepted a role at a newspaper in upstate New York -- way, way upstate New York.
Two hours north of Binghamton, to be exact, with the Johnson Newspaper Company -- parent of the Watertown Daily Times, among a bunch of other small publications in nearby Malone, Massena, Lowville; even as far as Batavia, among others.
Al, with his decades of experience with Gannett, a rapidly shrinking media conglomerate, was recruited to help JNC consolidate production of its broad portfolio of papers into the 'hub' at Watertown -- and I was to be among his hired guns. Al had generously left a job offer on the table for me for weeks, as I searched far and wide, unsuccessfully calling every Taco Bell in town in South Carolina.
I made no secret that I really wanted to stay in Greenville, but you can only live without an income for so long. I accepted the job in Watertown, packed up the Honda Hotel, and headed back to upstate -- up, up, uppppstate New York -- to return to the copy desk, a role I'd departed at the Press & Sun-Bulletin four years prior.
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Life in Watertown was interesting. The fall foliage up there is spectacularly gorgeous -- that is, until winter arrives, and you're living in one of the snowiest cities in America. I found an apartment just blocks from the WDT offices -- not that Watertown is all that big to begin with -- and re-started my life as a page designer.
Working at the WDT was uniquely challenging. I quickly picked up on the tactical stuff -- Al knew I'd have no problems learning the system within days -- but, again, found myself professionally hamstrung by two key traits: my burgeoning creativity -- from a design perspective, "they" wanted 100 duplicate cheese pizzas, I wanted 9 different strombolis -- and my unending need to question systemic imperfections -- "Why are you teaching me a CMS that is horrendously inefficient?"
I'd win the first battle -- my co-workers on the design desk loved the newfound freedom I'd earned us -- and lose the second. Instead, I just never really learned how to manage the digital side of things at JNC, even though I'd been brought in with that dual expectation. I was invited to meetings with senior digital staff to envision a cleaner, more effective web system -- almost certainly just for show -- but never empowered to help execute those well-laid plans.
I'd seen dozens of colleagues get laid off at Gannett due to the company's institutional failure to think digital-first, and now I was on staff at a smaller organization, even further isolated from NYC-based media conglomerates that are at least trying, that was throwing in the proverbial towel.
I'd quietly eat alone, collect my bi-weekly paychecks and focus on bigger things..
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In November 2015, now fully indoctrinated at JNC, and seeing colleagues I'd just gotten to know get laid off, more or less, at my expense -- not a good feeling -- I decided it was time to start writing.
I'd never written a book before, but it couldn't possibly be harder than visiting 50 states in 100 days, so why the heck not.
I decided to write the book the same way I'd approached planning the trip -- one state at a time. On my hard drive right now live 51 individual chapters -- all 50 states, plus a second stop, of course, in New York.
Each chapter stands perfectly well on its own, and the book is less one continuous story and more a sequential collection of newspaper-style columns.
In fact, I explored the idea of selling the set of columns to newspapers around the country, to be run weekly, starting Jan. 1 and running all year long. With an introduction, a 52-week series through all 50 states still sounds like a fun content idea to me.
It might've worked, too, had I pitched to newspaper conglomerates in 2006 -- before the tsunami of iPhone-yielding, digital-attention-grabbing, print-averse millennials like Chris Strub.
Oh, the irony.
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The book was a work in progress when I tuned into a live-stream broadcast by a gentleman named Brian Fanzo in late Nov. 2015. Brian, a proudly self-proclaimed "pager-wearing millennial" from Pittsburgh, and I had become acquainted through the live-streaming app Meerkat, but on this evening, Brian was tinkering with another app hoping to become the next big thing. (That I don't even recall its name should indicate how that went.)
Brian was preparing to host the second Periscope Summit -- the follow-up to a successful first go-round in New York City, to which I was invited (shortly after '50 States, 100 Days') but could not afford to travel. This Summit, scheduled for a swanky high-rise hotel in San Francisco, would attract creators from around the globe, and in the digital neighborhoods where I spend my time, it was a huge deal.
I was watching quietly from the Lovesac in my living room when Brian noticed my name in the audience and encouraged me to join the broadcast. I immediately sprang up to find a signature yellow t-shirt -- really, my only public look at that point -- and accepted the invite.
Looking me, as he would so eloquently say, in the 'digital eyeballs,' Brian spent the next couple of minutes explaining to his audience what I'd accomplished earlier that year -- you know, the 50 states thing, not the stromboli sales in Asheville -- and proceeded to invite me, live, on the spot, to come speak on stage at Summit Live in San Francisco.
I nodded, thanked him profusely, left the broadcast, texted my parents and cried my eyes out.
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We'll leave this story here for now -- an appropriate spot, since it was my trip to Periscope Summit -- which would be re-branded as Summit Live -- that launched my career as I now know it.
My speech in San Francisco was underwhelming to say the least, but it was a speech, on a stage, at what I would call the world's premier live-streaming conferences. It brings to mind two critical refrains that I cite often:
"Done is better than perfect." My speech that day sucked. But I gave a speech, at Summit Live, that launched my career. I could've easily declined Brian's invite, with the excuse that I needed to brush up on my public speaking skills. I could've skipped attending the Summit, with the excuse that I'm just a copy editor in up-up-upstate New York with half an e-book in hand. The speech was imperfect. The book is imperfect. This blog post is far from perfect (especially the hungrier I get here). But it's (just about) done.
"We are all famous to a few people" -- Joe Wilson. Case in point: It doesn't matter how many people came to my session at Summit Live; it matters that they were there. In less than two weeks, I'll be speaking on the same stage as two of the attendees in that room: Sara Moore, organizer of Social Media Day Dayton (Ohio) ... and Brian Fanzo himself.
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I'll be updating my blog here on TeamStrub.com quite a bit this week, to get you up to speed on all the events, career twists and turns, and exciting things happening lately. Moving forward, I'll be using this space exclusively to post about the various travels and adventures to come. Please subscribe to my email list, which I'll also be relying upon more often in the immediate future. Please get your copy of '50 States, 100 Days, The Book' now on Amazon, and if you feel inspired, leave a review both there and via video for my YouTube channel and Facebook page.
And if you enjoyed learning a bit more about my back story, please share this blog post out, and hit me up on Twitter. I'd love to hear from you and, most importantly, learn how I can help you along your journey.
Keep in touch.