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.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Point Reyes, Oakland, and..

I stayed a few nights at Sandy's house in Fairfax.  She showed me some of the surrounding towns, including San Rafael and a few marvelous places on Point Reyes, which include some spectacularly well preserved little villages with shops and galleries, surrounded by luxurious hill houses.  "This is the gold standard for what you are looking for," she explained.  With a phone call or two, she managed to find and introduce me to Bruce Mitchel and his wife Nancy.  Bruce, a big bear of a man, is an established woodworker, turner, and  sculptor, who welcomed us into his home and studio.  After a few days, I went to visit my friends from NYC, John and Mary Katherine, who relocated to Oakland perhaps 10 years ago (time flies!)  While here the last two days or so, I went to a wood shop collaborative in Berkeley that I found some time back on Craig's list, and arranged to be able to rent access for the month of August. Then I went to the Richmond Art Center and saw an exhibit in which Bruce had a small piece, and saw Bruce and Nancy, too.  Tomorrow through Thursday, I'll go to Mendocino, Fort Bragg and Willits to see if those art communities might offer what I'm looking for at a price I can manage.  If not, I'll come back here to Oakland and rent the shop in Berkeley to make some stuff, and take it from there...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

30 miles to Reno

Pavement everywhere, again.  Malls.  Autozone, Lowes, and Walmart.  Ugh.

When I was in Mississippi, a friend said I was a runaway, I'd just waited a long time to do it.  At the time, I thought that that sounded right.  But now I think the opposite is true.  I was a runaway for the 30 years I spent in New York City, an angry runaway from an earlier life I loved, but where I had been hurt.

I hate it here, now, in Fernley, NV, 30 miles east of Reno, after having roamed freely these past months in remote areas, and in quirky towns with people inventing their lives.  Coming back into this more conventional realm feels like putting on a straight jacket.  I am looking forward to seeing my friends Sandy, John, and Mary Katherine, in Fairfax and Oakland, but I can't wait 'till I get a few hours further north of San Francisco, back out to where there isn't so much pavement.

I'm concerned that I don't have enough money left to pull off my plan to build a creative workshop, but I'm feeling more and more certain it's the right plan.  Some two and a half years ago, when I was first describing the idea for this travel adventure to my shrink at the time, he said "Not only do I think it's a good idea, I think it's important you do this."  (My eyes welled up writing this)  "You don't want to sit around in your 'shitrock box.'"  (Him, quoting the term that I used for my apartment when I was angry at "the system" in NY)  "This is a great country for driving around in..." (I remembered then my surprise when he once mentioned that he had spent years traveling in Nicaragua, which I'd never have guessed with the crew cut, buttoned down shirt and thin neck ties he wore when I knew him.)  He added successively, encouragingly, until he was sure I'd heard, "Don't worry about the money...  You have skills...  You'll think of something...", finishing with a light hearted pursed lipped smirk and a final affirmative nod.  He was always, always, on my side, and time and again I benefited greatly from my certainty of this.  And yet, I later realized that in my entire experience with his otherwise non-interventionist method, I believe this is the one time he'd ever endorsed a particular course of action for me.

I have a feeling he would like my current plan, too... will like; I'm thinking of calling him to say "Hi" and catch up on the last couple of years.

Here's the first floor of the "shitrock box", the modest Greenwich Village rented studio I converted into a duplex and in which I had built my short lived architecture studio.  It wasn't all that bad :-)

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm in Ely, Nevada

300 miles so far today, Friday, and it's 4 p.m.  I'm taking a northern route, Highway 50, through the Rockies.  One lane each way.  It offers a shorter drive from where I was in Utah, and it avoids the desert drive on the popular route through Las Vegas and Death Valley.  500 miles more to N. Cali region.  :-)

As I pulled into Ely, I stopped at a police station and asked about the State and local rules about parking a camper.  "In Nevada, just don't park in traffic."  I smiled and asked "How about something like that gravel lot over there?"  "On the weekend, it fills up with campers." 

:-) !

Looks like I didn't go back to Jerome.  I will call Tim McQuen to keep in touch, and who knows, if Ca doesn't work out, I could try Jerome again on the return trip.

Bryce Canyon

Off the charts!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


A chaotic hodgepodge of too many ill proportioned mountains crowded too close together.  Sorry God, nice try, but, it looks like the storage room for movie sets.  I did get some nice photos and have many more to post.

Two small encounters; a twenty-something fellow offered me a seat on the park shuttle bus.  "You are being very nice, now I will have to kick your ass" is what I didn't say.  It was more like, "Thanks, I'm ok."

On the other hand, among the many, many French and Swiss tourists I overheard talking, several of whom I met, was Stephanie, a lovely recent journalism graduate from Switzerland, who said "Oh your the guy who's been traveling in a mini school bus for eight months!  Your the second famous person I've met!"  She wanted to see the bus and we exchanged e-mail and blog addresses.  :-)

Mystery solved: Odelia and Axel, from France, described me to Stephanie (see "comments")  I ran into Odelia and Axel at the Grand Canyon, at Bryce, and at Antelope Canyons, too!

Antelope Canyon

Beautiful little canyon carved in soft sandstone by wind and water.  Lots more photos to post.

The Trials of Job (what a whiner)...

I'm still angry about the disastrous end to my adventure in Jerome.  I've endured a lot of losses in the last couple of years; my apartment in NYC, my great job, the shut down of the construction industry, and with the difficulty of finding a new appropriate job at 54 even in good times, the possible end of my career as an architect (there may still be private commissions), the house I was going to buy in Fleetwood, and with my savings dwindling, possibly the opportunity to ever buy a house...  And yet, I remain optimistic and light hearted most of the time, I'm fortunate that that is my general disposition, even though I have suffered from an underlying chronic depression for many, many years...  But now, with so many good possibilities in Jerome obliterated by the irrational action of the landlord, I am pissed...  I drove off to the Grand Canyon and enjoyed that marvel, then Antelope Canyon, then Zion, and now Bryce, and I intend to push on to Northern California soon to see if I can find another arty town where I can afford to start my Creative Workshop.  M&B have generously offered their hospitality if I want to go back to Lexington, Ma, and join a local wood working guild half a mile away and use that shop, and also pursue my musical invention at MIT and Berklee, and possibly build a new shop with them further north if B gets a new job he is hoping for...  All amazing, but some time away, and I am so impatient to start.  Jerome still has a quircky, neat community in a beautiful setting, lot's of artists and crafts folks, a foundry, a firm that sells exotic wood species, many houses that need renovation, and I have made friends with two folks on the Architectural review board, and a gallery owner who would show my work.


I wonder if I can still arrange to work with Tim McQuen, CEO of Heritage Woodworking, to design them a collection of my furniture, working out an arrangement to also use their shop facilities for my private explorations.  If that was available, would I go back to Jerome?  I felt a pang of relief when things fell apart there; I did worry that the town was so isolated, and it's 450 residents are mostly retirees, who's businesses need not make money...  The market and social opportunities on the west coast attract me, even with the unknowns.  I have some phone work to do to see what's out there and to see if Tim is still interested in my designs.

Ok, I have almost no time to work on the computer right now, and internet access is very slow, but I'll try to post some pics of these last few amazing places...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some Grand Canyon Pics

Click here for some pics from the south rim, today.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I've been evicted!

I've been working 12 and 14 hour days in the wood shop.  The first day, I called the landlord, Bob Athelier and introduced myself, and as Lonnie had suggested, I asked if we could adjust the position of his camper in the driveway next to the building in which Lonnie's shop is located so that I could pull in my camper, too.  The landlord, asked "Are you living in the camper?" I said I was for the moment and he said "I can't have you living there."  I said OK and he said I could park in another spot slightly up a hill, "next to the tractor", and I said OK.  So, for the next few days I parked where he had told me, and went away at night, parking in a gravel lot at the defunct Old King Mine (which is now a tourist attraction,) and also in compliance with the town ordinance against sleeping in a camper in the town of Jerome.  Now, working 12 and 14 hour days means I would arrive at 8 and leave at 8 or 10.  Tonight at 8, I was hemmed in by a police car, whom I soon learned Bob had called with a complaint about me.

I was not allowed to ask any questions of Bob, or the officer, Charles, whom I had met a few days ago and with whom I had a very friendly chat at that time.  Now Chuck asked for my license and registration, which I latter realized was strange because I was parked, not driving, but of course I gave it to him.  I said, "Has someone complained?  Chuck said "I'm not here unless there is a complaint, buddy."  This was the only touch of friendliness in an otherwise icy cold, professional exchange.  I was instructed to remain in my camper and not talk to Bob during what turned out to be a lengthy check of my papers via radio, but I stood in my bus doorway and overheard Bob saying that I had been rude to ask him to move his camper, and that I would arrive at 4 a.m. (not true) and leave at 10 p.m. (true,) and I was therefore living there (I'll leave the determination of the truth of that to the reader.)  Then Chuck made me listen to Bob say he owned the building and the road and the whole area and he wanted me out now and that the officer would watch me get my belongings from the shop.  Lonnie was there and he had had a lengthy conversation with Bob, but I was not permitted to ask one question or make any comment.

I collected my stuff from the shop, which took about 45 minutes, while Bob, Charles, and Lonnie chatted and watched.  Lonnie's wife Renee came in and helped me, and informed me that Lonnie had also been evicted because of this "incident."  She said "If it's any consolation, we've been evicted, too."  I said "That's just another bad thing, making two wrong things, and it only makes me feel worse.  I'm sorry."  Lonnie had been losing money on his wood shop business for some time, and has no savings whatsoever, and had been counting on the sale of the shop to me to pay the mortgage on his home, etc.  I hauled my tools and chair prototype parts out to the bus in about 15 or so trips.  About mid way I managed to say to Bob, "I'm sorry for any misunderstanding, and I won't try to change your mind because you are within your rights, but I was just trying to start a business and move here.  It would help out Lonnie and it would help me out, and 'man to man' it's too bad it's not working out."  This got no comment in reply, so I kept packing.  Well there was some comment actually, about me watching TV... I said "I don't mean to contradict you, but I was doing e-mail, to promote my business.  I don't have any TV."  But, this got no where.

About mid way, I asked Renee to ask permission for me to pee, and to say I have an enlarged prostate, "May I use the bathroom?"  This, of course, was to emphasize the humiliation of the situation.  I apologized to Renee for putting her to it, but I had to pee.  I was given permission.

After I was packed, I motioned for Lonnie to come over from the group and I gave him a hug and said "I'm sorry," and "You are a great man," I chose "man" instead of the more common and milder "guy", he had treated me wonderfully these last few days and was still being classy even through this, "and I want to be your friend."  He understood and smiled and said "we'll talk."

A few moments later, he came over to the bus and handed me my rent check and noted with characteristic gentle humor "good thing I hadn't cashed it yet!"

I drove out of Jerome and down to the Cottonwood WalMart, where I am now.

Bottom line is, I've been evicted for having a good work ethic and parking 12 and 14 hours.

I think it's unlikely Jerome will work out; without the shop, there is no point.  But I know what I want now, I just have to find a place to do it.


Chair Progress

Click here for a Flickr slide show of my full size mock up construction progress.

(Lots of compound angles in that seat, and especially because the front of the seat will be higher than the back, but the plinth blocks must come out vertical... I calculated a lot of Pythagorean triangle solutions.. using the calculator in my cell phone!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Americas Favorite Chair...

Here are our three finalists.  First sketch has a square seat, but imagine it has a seat the same shape as the other sketches.  The differences are in the way the legs are attached  (Click the pics for larger view)  Please pick your favorite and let me know... 1, 2, 3

Friday, July 2, 2010

Studies for Two Versions of a Chair

One is hard to build (first drawing), the other a lot easier (second drawing).  I bought inexpensive wood at Home Depot to build a full size test mock up of each. 

(click the pics for larger images)

I rented a Wood Shop in Jerome, AZ

Well, I rented a wood shop!

$300/month.  40 x 40, great machines, table saw, drill press, band saw, lathe, 8" jointer, 30" wide sander, all excellent industrial grade, cast iron, 220 volt 3hp and up, super dust collection system.

I have first right of refusal to buy the equipment at estimated $15,000 (negotiable?), with up to 3 year lease at $550/mo for the 40 x 40 room.

Let's see if I can make anything that sells in the next month or so!

The town is adorable, full of galleries and artists; painters, potters, leather workers, glass blowers, iron workers, a foundry (good for furniture parts :-)

The houses that have been renovated go for $600k and up.  20% of the town has not been renovated.  Nothing under construction now.  A lot of wrecks available for about $100-120k, so in a year or so,...  I met two people on the Arch review board so far, and they loved my portfolio.

Met with a local furniture manufacturer and offered to design a "Roy Pertchik, Signature Collection", the CEO likes the idea.

Going to a town party tonight.

(click the pics for larger views)