“A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice, lest you jeopardise your chances of self-promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts. And before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit.” Jimmy Reid, Glasgow University rectoral address, 1972.
We had already lost so much. Our 4,500 sf home with detached 3,000 sf photography studio, both of which I had helped my father-in-law build for us. Our health insurance (which by “industry standards”, was not all that expensive) The childhood of our first born. It was happening all over as the economy began to come apart at the seams. “The Amercian Dream” becoming a nightmare for so many and we were doing our best to adapt to the situation at hand and to move forward. A close family friend had married and moved across the country, leaving the home he owned available for rent. It was less than 1/3 the size of our previous home, with a 200 sf garage, which we converted into our new studio. Refining our process and leaning heavily on our creativity, we had increased the profitability of our little business, but by this time we were so far in the hole that it seemed like for every two steps we took forward, we took one back. We loved what we did and our clientele continued to be supportive and enthusiastic. Growing the business seemed to be the only real chance we had to get ahead, or at the very least, to catch back up. We spent nearly every waking moment, every conversation, every ounce of energy, focused on business.
One evening, after another day of shaking the bushes, we sat in the silent living room of our D.C. suburb, empty strip mall, fast food, Pentagon commuter surrounded home and it hit us. Aside from our immediate families, both of which we’re close to and who strangely enough actually like each other, we had no friends. 19 years in the same place, and we were alone. Both of our families lean toward digging deep roots and we had dutifully followed suit, but we were slowly understanding that we were both far more “gypsy” than we had ever allowed ourselves to consider. We were no longer certain that we could defeat this Goliath wearing our current armor.
A number of things happened rather quickly from this point, setting the stage for something we had never even seriously thought about. We had come to the realization that, as much as we loved our business and our families, we really didn’t like where we lived. 2 1/2 hour one-way commutes dominated the realities of so many around us. I had done it myself off and on for 10 or 11 years, walking away only to be drawn back in search of the money. As is so often the case, an external force provided the opportunity to ignite an inward catalyst. Our friend had decided that the housing market had rebounded enough for him to attempt to sell his home. He made us a generous offer to purchase it, but we in no place, either financially or emotionally, to commit to home ownership again any time soon. We were going to have to move, and for the first time in over 20 years, we thought about really moving. Northern Virginia is an expensive place to live and a quick look into what was available at the time made our decision even clearer. We considered a lot of places. We had friends in Austin and Las Vegas. Wen had fallen in love with San Diego a few years earlier. We even talked about moving to Costa Rica (we still talk a lot about moving to Costa Rica) In the end, our search narrowed to include three main conditions. We wanted to stay on the East Coast, within driving distance of our families. We wanted to be somewhere with culture and a community feel. I wanted to be somewhere warmer in the winter.
With only slightly more precision than closing our eyes and tossing a dart, we pulled up Google maps and started researching. Richmond… too expensive and too much like where we already were. Virginia Beach… been there and done that the first year of our marriage. Asheville… cool and funky, but way too far out in the boonies. We’d already spent enough time in the boonies, and it snows there in the winter. The entire Carolina Coast… too dependent on seasonal tourism. Charleston… a little too old school and blue haired (not the punk rock kind) Savannah… hmmm… it had the Savannah College of Art and Design: culture, a historical and vibrant downtown: community, the second largest St Paddy’s day celebration in the United States, complete with a video showing people celebrating March 17th in shorts and t-shirts… BINGO!
Our normally crazy schedule had a four day gap in it, so we figured we take a quick trip and do some recon. We didn’t think we’d know if we loved a place in just four days, but we were pretty sure we’d know if we hated it… and darn if we didn’t fall in love. A quick trip back a few weeks later to let our soon to graduate second son see if it might also be a fit for what he felt he was looking for included the last piece of the puzzle. The day before leaving, Wen ran across a Craigslist add “rent our beach house for December, get January and February free.” We did the math and determined that it would work our to basically what we were already spending where we were, and that it would give us a chance to spend the winter somewhere warmer (something we had talked about doing for the previous couple of years anyway)
We signed the lease that weekend and proceeded to inform our families of our decision. We told them and ourselves that it was at the very least a chance for us to do something we had been wanting to do for a while, and at most a test run for something we might want to consider as more of a long term opportunity.
In the back of our minds, I think we all knew that we wouldn’t be coming back.