In January of 2007 I was 20 years old.
I had no job.
I could no longer afford to pay for college and simultaneously failed out.
Then I got a D.U.I.
Then I wrecked my car.
With no license. And no insurance. And in an accident with another vehicle. I had to beg my brother to loan me money to fix the other car. Meanwhile, my car sat unmoving and wrecked, collecting parking tickets until I sold it, as is, for next to nothing.
When I did get a job, it only paid $9 an hour. For 32 hours a week. Technically part time.
In 2007 I didn’t have health insurance. In January, I had a three day fever and my tonsils were swollen enough to justify visit to the Emergency Room without health insurance. I watched Prince’s infamous Super Bowl halftime show in the ER waiting room.
It would be three years before I would pay the bill for the hospital trip that night, which would ruin my credit and follow me for years afterwards.
In 2007 I owed the University of Colorado $12,000. The tuition for the semester that I didn’t finish. Eventually, it sent to collections, which I ignored while it accrued 20% annual interest for four years.
In 2007, my girlfriend and I became very good at grocery store math, because having to put stuff back after it was rung up was mortifying. A year earlier I had been living off a trust fund; the payments had stopped that winter.
2007 was the worst year of my life.
But it was also one of the best.
2007 was the year I moved in with my then-girlfriend (and now-wife.)
I got promoted to assistant manager at the retail job. My pay was raised to $11 an hour, and I would get 36 hours a week on the schedule. That extra $108 a week was a lot of money. It meant less math at the grocery store.
My wife and I adopted a beat up little shelter dog that winter and named him Jack. He’s still here, but now he’s old and cranky after 10 years of being doted on and loved unconditionally.
2007 was the year I started riding a bike (at first for transportation, then for fun) and picked up skateboarding again (for fun, then transportation.)
2007 was the year I started taking any job on any film shoot I could find that would take me. Most of them were unpaid, on the hope of paid gigs in the future.
And 2007 was the year I started to code.
I used the money from selling the car to buy a white plastic MacBook. My PowerBook from college had finally died that fall. I remember tracking the shipment from the pc in the back office at work and racing home on my bike during my lunch so the package wouldn’t get stolen.
It was the first computer I would get paid to write code on.
I was so excited to get that computer. I used it to climb out of debt and into a career I love. In 2007 I would write my first website and re-discover the love of building stuff on the internet that I had honed a decade earlier on Geocities and Tripod and Angelfire (and later, MySpace profiles.)
That year I listened to MGMT, Peter, Bjorn and John, and Kanye West. I can remember riding my bike to those albums as fall in Boulder started to turn cold.
Across town, TechStars was hosting its first class. A year later one of those companies would be acquired by AOL for seven figures. One night at a local meetup the founder of that company, who was only a year or two older than me, ended his presentation by throwing $500 in singles into the air. For him, it must have been a moment of jubilant celebration, but I don’t remember the point I was trying to make. From the back row of the auidence, as a 22 year old college drop-out still working in retail and trying to get in to the Boulder tech community, I only remember the hot pang of shame and regret for not being “in” already. For not having $500 to throw in the air.
That guy is still around and I still hate him for doing that. It made me feel so worthless in that moment. I didn’t have a job in tech yet, despite wanting one, and was only slightly better off than I had been a year earlier. And here comes some jerkoff that was first given money for a fucking idea and then turned around and sold it for even more money! Why couldn’t I do that?
A year earlier I was excited to get a raise for less money than he just threw on the ground.
That night fueled my resolve to work as hard as I could to never feel that way again. Poor and put out. An outsider looking in. And it gave me a model of something I never wanted to do.
I saw a tweet from that guy today. It got me thinking about that night and the terribly un-fun year before it. The funny thing is that he doesn’t even know me. But he pissed me off so badly a decade ago that I’m still stewing about it now.
But that night wasn’t all bad.
That was also the night I would meet Ingrid, who would eventually be my co-founder at Quick Left. But we wouldn’t know that for another year. We just hung out and talked about bikes and software.
And maybe I owe something to the guy who threw the money after all. After that I started hustling for web design jobs on Craigslist and less than a year later I would have a full time job. That job turned into Quick Left, a company that I would become a founder of and lead for 6 years.
2007 and 2008 were when I started to read a lot of science fiction.
The second retail job had me unpacking boxes, lots of boxes, in the back of an American Apparel. I listened to Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein for the first time back there. I would fold t-shirts thinking about Psychohistory and the Seldon Plan.
I found a used bookstore that my girlfriend and I would ride our bikes to, our backpacks bulging with paperbacks on the way home. Science Fiction was a great way to escape my broke-and-scary Non Fiction reality.
Then I fell hard for the work of Philip K. Dick. A Scanner Darkly had been made into a movie by Richard Linklater the year before. A well-adapted and underrated movie, it’s still one of my favorites. I listened to the audiobook version, recorded by Paul Giamatti, and then devoured the paperback.
I was so desperate to have a copy but I couldn’t wait for a copy to show up at the used bookstore, so I condescended to buy it new from Borders. The only copy at Borders was the kind with the movie poster on it, the type that everyone hates on because it’s the most backwards type of marketing, and never lasts for more than one edition. The one way you can make a good book less good is by forever shackling it to the most recent film adaptation. If the book has something to gain via association with the movie adaptation, you can safely skip the book.
I still have that copy of A Scanner Darkly, with Keanu and Winona and pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. on the cover. I hate the cover, but I love the book so I can’t get rid of it.
The text inside is too good.
— A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick
But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing.
Good things and bad things can happen in startlingly close proximity. 2007 was a “bad” year, but I wouldn’t trade any of the lessons it taught me.