Soundtrack in my head: Nick Drake, “Hazey Jane II”
Today actually marks five years in Madison, Wisconsin as a full-time resident. Part I talked about what made me decide to move to Madison. Part II will talk about how I actually made the transition.
Starting in the latter half of 2001, I began to apply for jobs in Madison, and I would frequently make trips there to visit co-ops. Some friends of mine had moved up there a few years before and I’d occasionally visit them. But it was difficult to apply for jobs from another city, and part of me also kept on holding out hope that the situation with my job in Chicago would continue to work out.
In the summer of 2002, a friend of mine who owned a condo in the suburbs told me that she regularly rented out one of her rooms to people planning to stay only a few months. It dawned on me that this might fit well into my plans. I could see it being potentially very difficult to sublease my Chicago apartment and I knew that if a job opened up for me in Madison, I’d have to move quickly. I also realized that moving from my studio apartment into a room in her condo would force me to pare down my possessions—something that would be necessary if I were to move into a co-op house.
An opening in her condo finally came. It was difficult to sublease my apartment, but something did come through at the last minute. A mix-up at the truck rental placed forced me to scramble to find another truck. This left me with no time to take my extra possessions to Goodwill. Instead, a dresser, a nice coffee table, a couch, and a chair ended up in the alley. I think the dumpster divers named the alley after me. On August 31, 2002, I locked the door to my Chicago apartment for the last time.
On October 9, 2002, I got a call from one of the co-ops in Madison informing me that they had an opening, and they asked me if I was interested. I initially told them no, because I had no job in Madison, I still had a job in Chicago, and it was the busy season for us. But when I talked to my roommate about it, she said that when she was making the transition to her condo from the apartment she’d lived in before, she ended up living in both places until the transition was complete. I decided to do the math and see if it would be financially possible for pay rent at two places. I discovered that the two rents together would be equivalent to what the rent in my old studio would have been had I stayed in Chicago.
I proposed to the co-op in Madison that I live there on the weekends, and live in Chicago during the weekdays so that I could continue my job there. I’d be paying full rent both places. They asked me a lot of tough questions about my intentions, as any responsible co-op should. On October 28, I got the call from the co-op letting me know that they’d unanimously accepted me as a member.
On December 8th, I signed the lease on my room and sent the co-op my deposit. Legally, I would be in possession of the room on December 15th.
At work on December 11th, I was cc’d on an email from my board president letting me know that they were scheduling a meeting in to talk about the future of my not-for-profit organization. It was a meeting to which I was not invited. I picked up the phone and called my board president, referenced the email and asked him if I should be looking for a new job. He said, “Well, I don’t want put it that way, but yes.” I decided at that moment to schedule two weeks of vacation from December 26th to January 8th. I would spend that time in Madison getting my bearings there and doing some job-hunting.
On December 26th, I packed six boxes into my Geo Metro, and headed up to the co-op to begin my first day as a part-time resident of the co-op and of Madison. It had snowed on the day before, on Christmas, but as I drove north, snow gave way to greenery. My Geo was an old car, and would normally shake if it went much over 60 mph, but in the hills just north of Janesville that represent the “home stretch” enroute to Madison, my car suddenly found itself doing 70 mph effortlessly, almost as if it was excited to be moving to Madison. December 26, 2002 represents the day I first moved to Madison, even though I wasn’t a full-time resident yet.
Many housemates were out of town because of the Christmas break, but one housemate was nice enough to go out with me and celebrate my move over drinks. I spent the days researching job opportunities and the evenings writing in my journal. I walked the neighborhood to get acquainted with my new surroundings, and spent a lot of time reading in the living room.
Then on January 8th, I drove back to Chicago. I stopped at a Culver’s in Beloit, looked at my watch, and realized that this meeting about the future of the organization was happening right at that point.
The next day, I found myself back in my office, looking out at the tall buildings of downtown Chicago, as if the last two weeks in Madison had never occurred. At 2 p.m. that day, I got a knock on my door. Two of my board members arrived, and told me that they had come to ask for my resignation, and if I didn’t resign, they were authorized to fire me. I realized that my time to leave Chicago had arrived, and I offered my resignation.
I’d served five years as the executive director of the organization, longer than I’d expected and twice as long as anyone in that position had previously served. But my board members and I agreed that while I’d served the organization well and helped them get to a certain point, the organization now needed someone with a different set of skills, and it was time for me to do something different. I continued to work for the organization six more days, tying up loose ends and letting different board members come in and debrief with me over various aspects of the organization. It was, by every measure, an amicable parting. Finally, my work there was done and I walked over to the office of one of my board members and dropped off the key.
A week later, on January 26, 2003, I moved the last of my possessions to my little room in my co-op house in Madison.
I would later tell friends that this transition was my “intricately planned, well-choreographed crash landing.” But it wasn’t me doing the planning. These puzzle pieces could not have fit together by themselves. My friend’s room being available at the end of August. Getting the call from the co-op in Madison in October and having my roommate suggest dual residency. Signing the contract with the co-op in Madison three days before I first learned I might lose my Chicago job.. Being let go just two weeks after I started life as a part-time resident in the co-op, minimizing the amount of time I’d be forced to go back and forth between two cities three hours apart. And landing in a situation where, yes, I was unemployed, but my day-to-day expenses were now cut by nearly 50 percent. No, it definitely wasn’t me doing the planning.
So, Part II of this series talked about the actual transition from Chicago to Madison. Part III will talk about my reflections after living here five years…