Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Highway to Hell

We think of freeways or highways or thruways as high speed roads that take us to the places we know we are going. Nothing is left to chance. We can see our destinations clearly on a NAV system or on our iPhones.

But this is the story of unknown destinations.
And how the 405 freeway saved my life.

Back in 2004, I was working as Group Creative Director for Y&R in Irvine, CA. By all accounts it was a decent job.

I enjoyed the company of my boss, a legendary art director with a very quirky and dry sense of humor.

My sometimes difficult client, Jaguar, had been experiencing record setting sales.

And I was bringing home a healthy paycheck.

That is when I could get home.

You see, 53 grueling miles stood between the front door of my house in Culver City and the front door of my office behind the Orange Curtain.

If you've ever tried to leave Dodger Stadium at the top half of the 8th inning, when everyone is scurrying for the exits, you know exactly what the 405 or as I like to call it -- the Asphalt Ribbon of Death -- feels like.

It's a parking lot that's about 5 mph past parking.

I would often look over at my fellow commuters and see that my pain was their pain. Hands flailed. Steering wheels were pounded. And silent screams muffled by the A/C and laminated windows, were heard only by those doing the screaming.

I would tell my wife, "I was one Sig Alert away from going on a mass roadside murder spree."

Fortunately, I do not own a gun.
And recognizing my own short fuse, never will.
I call that responsible non-gun ownership.

One night the 405 got the best of me. And my wife, a fount of wisdom (even though marrying me puts her sagacity in question), told me to quit.

"Quit?" I said, "I've got nowhere to go. I don't have another job. And there aren't many ad agencies looking to hire a 34-year old timer."

But it wasn't what she said as much as it was how she said it that put me over the edge.

If she had to sit through one more meal listening to me gripe about work, the god damned drive to Irvine and the over-abundance of chain restaurants in Orange County, she was going to assemble a crack team of divorce attorneys and I'd never see my jacuzzi again.

And so I informed the creative leaders at Y&R that they would have to do without my creativity. And my surly demeanor.

In a couple of weeks I will be celebrating 10 successful and quite happy years as a freelancer. All because I decided to get off the freeway and allow myself the freedom to get a little lost.

I read a great piece of writing advice about the importance of spontaneity. A famous author said, "Never write the ending of your story beforehand. It has to be earned." She was right.

For me at least, the Highway to Hell turned into the Highway to Heaven.

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