Five years ago, amid bursting fireworks of Red White and Boom, the sizzle of grilled meats and sparklers, and the unmistakable patriotic croons of J. Cougar Mellencamp, The Boss, and Jewish Elvis—Neil Diamond—a skinny, already washed-up twenty-something limped from New York City to Columbus.
I know what you’re thinking; ‘Neil Diamond’s Jewish?’
He is. (Outtakes from the Album ‘Hot August Night’ contain a little ditty called ‘Schvitzing in Blue Jeans’…Ho!)
I hear it all the time, “Mike, why would someone move from New York City to Columbus? Was it because you’re a terrible comedian?”
Yes. And because of it, I was fucking broke.
You see I’m what some people (two, my parents) would consider a “late bloomer”. One of those questioning types who always scoffed at the concept of going to “college”, getting a “degree”; getting “married” at 21, having babies named “Lipitor” and “Resentment” hitting a mid-life crisis by 30 signified only by using quotation marks for everything à la Matt Foley.
To side step this potential lifestyle, I packed up my van with Cleveland sports t-shirts and headed to shiny Manhattan to live off ramen noodles and grade-P dirt tacos, perpetuating the highly fashionable heroin chic. Got chewed up, gut-punched, money-bled by the Big Apple working as a bartender/promotional model under the guise of ‘actor’.
After five years, with nothing to show for but emaciated yet squishy skin from perpetual barrages of MSG in ramen packets, reality struck, then panic.
To quote the Talking Heads, “My god, what have I done?”
Then, “My god, what should I do?”
Then, “No, seriously, god. What should I do?
Move back to Cleveland? Back in with the parents? Impress the ladies with my parents’ sweet basement set-up?
I chose Columbus.
Or did it choose me…?
There were whispers from my Columbus friends (mostly Paul) who saw bands like Man Man, Fleet Foxes, Silver Jews in concert at the Wexner Center/Milo Arts (RIP)/ The Summit — ate at this sweet Ethiopian restaurant, and drank at this particular bluegrass bar. They said I should move here.
“You should move here.”
They promised diverse foods, cheap beer, and open arms for this failed actor.
I moved to Columbus July 4th weekend 2008, digging in, finishing-off a half-consumed English degree in two years, leaving heroin chic for micro-brews. After college, I was lucky enough to nab a legit writing job downtown.
Here I am, five years later—the same amount of time spent in New York— comfortable, moderately successful, formulating a proper way to communicate why Columbus is such a great place to live.
I could use the jaded peer approach:
Me: “It’s a great place! Cheap cost of living.”
Friends: “Sure. I’ve been through the Columbus airport; seen the ‘Cow-Tipping USA’ shirts.”
Me: “It’s not like that. Promise.”
Friends: “Why would they go through the trouble of making the shirts, then?”
Me: “Stupid cows.”
Then there’s the broken national marketing record approach, stuck on songs of ‘foodie destination’, ‘fancy drink holes’, and ‘our lovely patron-lady of delicious whipped cow juice’.
Which still sounds oh-so-smooth, but not this round.
Rarely do transient authors and bloggers penetrate the arterial spirit that drives Columbus.
And perhaps everyone knows this already and I’m just naïvely late to the pool of epiphanic rapture, but here it is: you can do anything you want in this town.
Really, you can.
You can hone your craft/excel within your designated creative arena.
You can have a day job, and a crazy artsy night job, like Batman, or a stripper, or a Batman Stripper.
You can multi-art, and live comfortably.
There’s no oppressive $2500/month rent hanging over your head, unless you purchased a gilded loft, to which I ask, “May I have a thousand dollars, please?”
There’s no soul crushing bottleneck of talent doing the same thing you’re trying to do in a place where success is in being a Coppala, scientologists, or knowing Bobby DeNiro.
Even in some of the more competitive fields, like the surging Tech industry, there’s a sense of camaraderie and collaboration and not violent, shiv-wielding hacker blockades.
You can do anything you want in Columbus and be successful at it because Columbus’ leaders and movers are accessible people. They’re out there, mingling, waiting to meet nice, artistic folks brimming with fresh ideas like you. Not in a creepy ‘you’d-pair-nicely-with-a-Chianti’ kind of way, but they will talk to you, co-inspire.
Sure, there are the detractors who bemoan: A. Columbus isn’t New York, or L.A. B. Opportunities are less available.
To which I say:
A. So what?
The opportunities are HERE for the taking.
This is a universal sentiment, but everyone who moves to/is born in Columbus has a blank dry-erase board to draw upon.
Even if some of the ideas or thoughts aren’t taking off right away, you can re-shift in pursuance of passion(s) without instantaneously hitting rock bottom i.e. moving back in with the parents, drinking 40oz King Cobras, crying yourself to sleep every night on a ‘Return of the Jedi’ pillowcase from childhood. Stupid Ewoks.
The question now becomes, not why I moved here, but why I’ve stayed.
It’s easy: Columbus has inspired me. I’m just realizing my potential in a city apprehending its own place as a ‘top-spot’ domestically. The city—like an old friend—accepted me as a person, positively reinforcing exploration with little pockets of innovative goodness from the proverbial artery (and subsequent capillaries).
It’s not often people are afforded such an opportunity to grow with a city they love.
Take advantage; it’s a rewarding, pride-inducing feeling. So get on that creativity mule, finish up that screenplay, dust off that camera, warm up those throat pipes, or just keep doin’ what yer doing, and get yer ya ya’s out.
This Independence Day, as I stand barefoot in my backyard grilling salty meats whilst jamming out to the three wise men of American patriotism below the boom of awe-inspiring firework displays, I’ll raise a frosty beverage to celebrate year five, but mostly, to our fair city of rapid ascension.
Here’s to you, Columbus. Thanks for all you do.
Happy 4th of Canadinco de Murica, everyone.