Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Savannah, GA, 27 deghrees...

Last night was cold.  27.  I was fine inside my Slumberjack, zipped up to form a bag around me head to toe, and with my second Slumberjack opened up flat and laid over the first.  Toasty warm.  But now, sitting here writing, I'm in full street clothes, thermal underwear, a flannel shirtjack and my Dickies insulated denim jacket, and I'm still pretty chilly.  I just had a little warm meal at a MacDonald’s inside the Wal-Mart, where I am staying the night outside Savannah.  Egg and sausage on a muffin, coffee.  Nice.  I hear gulls crying as they circle overhead.  They're a small comfort, their pathetic pleas momentarily filling the void I feel in my isolation.  Just over a week.  I am thinking more and more of Kathleen Johnson's Katrina Relief program, my destination in New Orleans.  It sounds really good, a base from which I can draw some support so that I can afford some spare energy to work on my electrical system and cooking (I still haven't looked into why my propane grill wouldn't work the other morning, when I tried to boil eggs; the first mechanical failure of the trip and what felt like a big blow.)  But New Orleans is still a long way away, though I am comforted that I am two thirds of the way there from my start in Boston.

I've installed window sash locks on my IKEA drawers to keep them shut as the truck moves.  I'm proud of them and I think of the beautiful hardware I used to specify for doors and cabinetry I designed for my clients, hardware costing thousands of dollars, with patina carefully hand applied to their surfaces.  My sash locks were $2.50 each at Home Depot, and their warm slightly bronzed nickel color is a lovely match to the muted coffee colored oak of the cabinet.  Aesthetics are more about careful choice than dollars.


Yesterday, I went out on my motor scooter with a full pack of photo gear for the first time on this trip.  Savannah is adorable, everywhere lush with overhanging trees laden with ancient southern charm.  The gridded city plan is regularly punctuated with green park squares dotting about every 4th intersection along a few boulevards, like cabochon stones inset into the corners and forming octagons out of otherwise square marble tiles.  Cabochons are usually set diagonally to the rest of the floor, but Savannah's many park squares are orthogonal to the grid, and make a remarkable pedestrian experience.  You can walk through each square, but cars must go around .  Scootering around was great, I'm sure car navigation is a pain.  But the numerous tourist trolleys do it on a fifteen minute schedule, and with competing companies, you see a trolley every few minutes.  They are old timey looking, but run on propane.  There are also lots of churches.  And homeless people.

I find myself only mildly interested in capturing the city with my camera.  Travel photos.  Carefully composed pictures of the landmarks.  Still, I feel somewhat obliged to do my duty as a traveling architect.  I happen across Damon May, playing saxophone and flute for the squirrels who gather around him, harvesting the peanuts in shells he has sprinkled on the ground for them.  But, I am vaguely disappointed in myself for these photos, too.  Am I so disheartened that my sympathy for his plight bores me as well?  It's kind of a Hallmark moment of journalistic photography; formulaic.  What will grab me?  My friend Sandy, whom I met in Dade County getting out the vote for Obama, advised me that my social life will not start until I get to New Orleans.

I am out in Savannah again now, after my cold morning start in the bus.  I’m taking a break, sitting in an internet café filled with SCAD’s; Savannah College of Art and Design students.  It’s like an episode of Friends.  Savannah is overrun with kids in their 20’s.  They outnumber  the tourists .  And the homeless people.  Classic romantic jazz vocals are playing over the sound system;  Mel Torme,  Johnny Hartman.   Barbara Streisand, even with all of her milking populist appeal, is killing me with her slow “Make Someone Happy.” 


  1. Hey S! I love reading your blog. It's like I can "hear" your voice. I called you yesterday, because I couldn't remember the perfect ratio of water-to-rice for brown rice. But alas, no answer...Hope you are doing well. We miss you!

  2. Hi Kate,

    3 to 5, rice to water. That makes too much, so reduce it to 1 1/2 to 2 1/2

    Thanks for the post. I know a bunch are reading, but there are few comments. I wrote a long one today...