A little bit about Robin

I was born in raised in Alabama and am proud of my Southern roots. I love to write and share life experiences, thoughts, and crafty ideas about interesting things past and present. Welcome to my neck of the woods. Sit down and swing a while.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

PART 2 : Confessions of a 23 Year Old, My Journey to Vail and Back

Part Two:  God Bless Colorado and All that Other Stuff 
I was starting to clean my house today in preparation of my brother’s family flying into Birmingham for Thanksgiving this weekend, and it oddly facilitated a thought on how to start the second part of this blog.  You see…. my brother is a special person in his own right.  The things he did after college were extraordinary and the life he has led up to this point impressive.  Because both my parents have interesting and unique stories about their lives, what shaped and molded them, how they met, along with my brother’s unique and gifted ways, I needed a story too.  I knew driving up Vail Mountain that day in September 1999 my story had begun.

My narrative started with God, and even though I never doubted there was one, the Rocky Mountains are evidence of his creation.  I had never seen ledges so high, mountains so steep, such a blue clear sky.  Seriously, clearest sky I have ever seen with big white clouds and snowy peaks.  I could actually feel the air start to thin into this crisp breeze that made me feel alive as I got higher and higher.  John Denver was not kidding about the Colorado Rocky Mountain High, or maybe it was just altitude sickness. Regardless it is was amazing. 

When you look down the mountain towards Denver you can see where the city just stops at the foot of the Rockies.  It’s as if the settlers were all be-bopping along in their wagons and when they saw the Rockies in front of them they just paused and said, “Ok let’s just rest here for a while, or maybe forever.  That is one hell of a mountain to get our wagon over.”  I was not the settler, I was venturing over the mountain.  I longed to be away for the city and nestled in a small mountain town.

Carmella and Robin Skiing in Beaver Creek
When I arrived to Carmella’s house that day in September I felt liberated, overwhelmed and nervous all at the same time.  The first thing I wanted to do was, well, EVERYTHING.   I wanted to learn to ski(but there was no snow yet), go out on the town, meet the mountain man of my dreams, go shopping, explore Vail and the towns that surround it like Beaver Creek and Edwards where Carmella lived, oh and I needed to find a job.  But I think the first thing we did was go to Starbucks in Beaver Creek.  That was my first Colorado adventure and my first latte ever. Baby Steps.

After Starbucks, finding a job was looming over my head.  As luck would have it, the real estate company that Carmella worked for had put an ad in the paper that week.  Their Vail Village Office needed a front desk secretary.   So I applied and three days later I had an interview. I remember every outfit I was wearing in most major moments in my life, and my first interview was a major moment. I walked in to the HR department at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and the head of HR said with a smile,

“I heard they dressed up at Alabama football games, but here you are in the flesh. Y’allllll do dress to the nines down there.”

Her name was Diana and I think she was from Kansas.  I had never met anyone actually from Kansas or the mid-west.  She even looked like Dorothy.  She was wearing jeans and these cute little clogs and a bluish and white sweater with silver buttons that looked like it came from Austria or Sweden. A mountain look true to Vail that I would eventually become accustomed too.  

My Office on Bridge Street in Vail Village
Diana told me there were about 15 odd some Vail Valley offices and I was interviewing for the office, which housed Rod Slifer, himself, and about 20 other Real Estate Brokers. I landed the position but I think the head of the Vail Village office was a little wary of my southern accent and my Microsoft Word skills (I kinda told a white lie and said I had them, but I had to learn on the job) but he gave me a shot anyway, thanks Larry!   Along with working on Bridge Street in Vail Village right next to the slopes, I also got an amazing benefit package (happy parents) a great starting salary (enough to pay the rent) and a ski pass (SCORE).   It was the first time since my days dancing in Huntville Community Ballet ‘s Company that I felt like I landed on my feet.  I wouldn’t just be answering phones either.  I was the first person people saw when they walked in the door and considering the price of real estate out in Vail, my PR degree and people skills would actually be put to use.

My Desk at Slifer,  Rod Slifer my boss,
Manders and me(still have the vest!!)
Answering phones and trying to say "Slifer Smith &  Frampton Vail Associates Real Estate" in one breath, was the first thing I learned. The second thing learned/warned was to stay away from the boys.  When I was plotting my escape to the mountains I would dream of meeting a mountain man and raising little Patagonia babies by the fire in some log cabin strategically placed by a glistening stream.  I was coming from a place where everybody was getting engaged, buying their first home, and leasing their first new car.  Here in Vail - not so much.  The boys were transient; they worked hard and played hard.  They all had girls back home, and to them I was the new girl in town or a ski buddy.

I met the ski instructor, the snow border who showered once a week, the rich boy staying at daddy’s ch√Ęteau “sorting things out for the semester”.   The vacationer who said he fell in love with my smile from across the room, only to leave on a jet plane the next week.   The 23-30 year old Vail boy does not commit until he has conquered the entire mountain and I realized and decided that I was not going to be a part of that trek.  I finally grasped the concept that I did not need a man to define me.  The guys out there are the best when they are just your friends, and they come in handy when learning to ski or singing on stage at the favorite watering hole The Club.

When I got over the Vail Male, the next thing I realized, and almost too late, was if I was going to survive in this crazy resort town with all these crazy rich people coming and going bringing their shenanigans, my friends and my job were going to be the only thing to keep me grounded. I coveted my job at Slifer Smith & Frampton Real Estate and have placed it neatly inside a shadow box in my head and heart for eternity.

Jobs plural was the name of the game out there.  The price of living in Vail is really high so we all wore many hats.   On top of my real job, I worked two and three jobs at a time, best experience of my life besides waiting tables in college.  Everyone needs to be on the other side of the money.  It is eye opening.  I house sat, worked in a ski shop, was an actual personal shopper for a catalog called Gorsuch Outfitters.  Over-the-top fancy ladies and men from all over the world would call in and we would help them shop the catalog. It was insane, and fun, and I did it at night and on weekends with the best friend I met out there - Manders -which leads me to the most important part of my story.

Amanda Jane Barnard (now Brady) was my first girlfriend in Vail besides Carmella.  We had been invited to go out with some other Slifer Smith Frampton folks and when we arrived at their house Mandye, whom we all called Manders, instantly became like a sister.  Carmella patiently taught me to ski Vail Mountain, Manders, well she became my partner in crime on the ground and on the slopes.  Make new friends and keep the old right?  I found my self drifting away from what I was when I first arrived in Vail and what I was trying to be.  Carmella showed me the ropes, looked after me, and is one of the most caring people I know, but as we grew we took separate roads.  I am thankful for the time I lived with her out there, and also for the time I chose on my own finding my best self.  It felt like a double edged sword when I drifted from my childhood to what was waiting for me on the other side. 

My best in the west Manders aka sista' golden hair, well we got ourselves in more trouble than the ladies on Designing Woman.  One little predicament skiing the back bowls is our most famous feat ever. If you are familiar with Vail, you will know the name Sundown Bowl.  Well let’s just say, the sun was going down when we finally got out of there.  We were following behind two guy friends that were way faster than us.  Somehow Manders and I got off track and lost the boys.  We had crossed over into a no ski area and were seriously lost.  The last thing I remember about that day was taking off my skis and literally catapulting them down a rocky hangover so we could traverse on our bottoms down the side to a ski run we spotted below that would take us home.   Getting out of that mess and then accidently ski-biking off a 15-foot cliff a couple months after that are my Vail war stories.  There are more, but they conclude with laughter and tears and all end up on September 11th 2001 where my story starts to come to an end.

I was half a sleep in my down covers that morning. I could smell someone was making coffee downstairs and Manders came in my room and touched me on the shoulder.   A plane hit the one of the twin towers in New York she said.  It took me a minute to even remember what the twin towers were.  She turned on my TV and Katie Couric was shaking, talking fast, and repeating over and over another plane just hit the World Trade Center, the second tower has been hit.  She said something close to,  this is not just an accident we are now linking this to a terrorist attack. Everything after that was a blur.  I know I went to work that day.  I watched the towers fall standing hand on shoulders with the brokers in my office.  Many of them with clients who lived and worked in New York, we had no idea what to think, what to do. That was the start of the end of an era.  I know they took tough hits in Real Estate after that.  It was when our world was slowly drifting from the big bang of the 90’s and creeping down the hill towards an eventually a dying economy.

Before 9/11, I had been getting homesick for the South.  After the events of 9/11 I took it as a sign that it was time for me to go home.  It was my last dance,  one heart break away from giving up on love, one penny away from being broke, one reality check away from experiencing life in the real world. I was the most selfish version of myself in Vail.  I did what I wanted, worked and played for myself, made decisions based solely on myself.  I met some outstanding people young and old, rich and poor (well poor for Vail).  People who loved me for my mistakes, who shaped me into the woman I am today and who taught me how to just grab life by the bullhorns and fight for what I wanted. I am very lucky and blessed to have had the experience I did in such a unique setting.

I try and use the word blessed sparingly.  People down here in the South use the term “blessed” a lot. She is blessed, you are blessed, bless her heart, bless this bless that. We say it so much that I personally start to feel like being blessed is just a trip to the Winn-Dixie and back.  When Michael and I started trying without success to have a baby a few years back one of my pregnant acquaintances said to me, “My husband and I feel so relieved that we did not have to go through what you are going through, we just got pregnant right away. We are so blessed.” I know she meant well, bless her heart....but I was thinking so you are blessed, but I am not?  What does one have to do to be blessed around here? 

Rafting on the Colorado
Well, in my opinion one has to live. We have to be happy with the decisions we make, the life we lead.  We have to act alive and love and be loved in return.  I am grateful for God yes, I was taught that I am created in his image.  The things I have done in my life, like moving to Vail, or living in Atlanta working in Advertising for 6 years, or meeting and falling in love with my Michael. Those are things I did on my own, decisions I made or circumstances I came across that God oversaw to get me where I am today, satisfied.  I did it by myself without his blessing, but with him overseeing my choices. My mistakes and triumphs in life in the past and present are what I believe to be God’s lessons, and for that I am truly, in my heart, blessed. As a wise friend told me once, God's best for you is yet to come.  I feel I have lived my best, and I can't wait to see what is next. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Confessions of a 23 Year Old, My Journey to Vail and Back

Way, way before I was a real adult, a responsible friend, or wife I was a fifth year college senior sitting in my apartment on 11th street in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, making plans for my life after graduation.  I was a summer grad, working at Wings in between semesters, taking my sweet time while most of my other friends had zipped it up in four years and made the move to Birmingham or Atlanta to find their first jobs. I was coasting, finishing up my last group project and planning my graduation dinner with my parents at Cypress Inn.

My fellow Communication Major classmates were looking at big advertising agencies in Atlanta and cities all over the southeast. The PR major was never without her Jennifer Anniston haircut, three-button suit from The Limited and Steve Madden Mary Jane heels. The Business Major/Advertising buying his first Brooks Brothers suit and Johnston Murphy’s was always ready for that big opportunity. All of them lined up outside the Ferguson Center (student union) with their portfolios waiting to go to some gray cubicle to be interviewed by overly enthusiastic college recruiters from all over the Southeast.   It was the end of the 90’s and the Clinton era when everyone got a job, a starting salary and chance to work their way up the corporate latter. A time our now Gen Y would scoff at.  They expect more by working less and the starting salary they anticipate would have been professional suicide if even suggested to companies interviewing my generation in 1999 where 18-24k was what you took regardless of how “Special” you were.   And you wonder why they can’t find jobs? But that is a story for another blog.

Being non-conformist I had different plans.  I did stand in those interview lines, I had the heels the hair and the suit, but I did not have the same drive they did.  The last thing I wanted in my gut was an office space or a city where I would be surrounded by the same people I knew the last five years.  I wanted to be successful in my own right.  Competing for the same jobs, the same lawyer boyfriends and the same seat at happy hour was not meshing with me. What I did take from my communications classes was that is was all about the presentation.  So I played the part.

Playing the part bought me some nice interview clothes and a proud earned A on my Campaigns Project.   Secretly I was listening to John Denver CD’s, wearing puffy vests, lighting woodsy candles in my apartment bedroom and planning my escape to Colorado. My childhood friend Carmella, who had recently graduated from Randolph Macon, moved to Vail, Colorado, after college because her family had skied there and she fell in love with the Rocky Mountains.  She had a steady job out there and was making it work.  She sent me brochures of the Vail life and we talked endless hours about me moving to Vail and how I could stay with her until I got a job.  I owe a lot to her encouragement.  Usually people who moved to Colorado after college in the South where “lost” trust funders (what Carmella called Trustafarians) or pot smokers trying to “find” their way.  I was neither.  I can’t speak for Carmella personally but she landed on her feet there and had some honest parental support if she needed it.  She was not the typical 90’s grunge either.  We were raised strong and right and wore our pearls with pride mixed with our corduroy pants and luggage tag earrings.

When I told my parents about my plan they pulled back at first.  We were not a ski family, it was just not part of the May family vacation budget.  Colorado was expensive.  The family ski vacation was as foreign to me as a backwoods farm in Alabama would be to California girl.   Our vacations consisted of the Alabama State Park in Gulf Shores and trips to my Grandfather’s farm in Eutaw, Alabama.  Visiting my brother in New Orleans where he had his first job with Arthur Anderson Consulting or Mississippi for our Family Reunions.  We made the flight to Boston twice to visit my mother’s family but that is as far north, east or west I had ever been. My parents are educated, worldly and open-minded so they finally agreed to let me spread my wings and fly.

On September 8th 1999 along with my father and five hundred dollars of graduation cash in my pocket we packed up my new, but old, gray beat up GMC blazer that my dad got a good deal on from one of his dart playing buddies and headed out West. Those two days in the car with my father will be some of my best memories of him one day. My dad is somewhat of a southern mixed drink.  Part Atticus Finch, part Jack Ryan from The Tom Clancy novels, part 1960’s beach party bass player.   He was my hero, he was cool with his Benson Hedges and his L.L. Bean corduroy blazers and Gant ties.  He was tall and handsome, stern yet sensitive, high expectations for his children, but realistic expectations because he himself was never perfect. 

The image I take of my father and share with people is the image of him on this Colorado trip. He was still relatively young and living vicariously through his 23-year-old daughter’s experience.   Living through his children is something my dad relishes.  My brother who is eight and a half years my senior got a different father.  He got the 26-year-old returning Vietnam solider just starting the process of making a life for his family.   I got the father who had come into his own, the more settled version. But both of us would agree he is jack-of-all-trades way of life rubbed off on us in a positive way.

On our drive West we crossed the Mississippi, saw the arch in St. Louis, we drank a beer together in Kansas and actually saw tumbleweeds crossing the highway like in the old John Wayne movies. It was the best adventure of my life.   The deal with my dad was that I would drop him off at the Denver Airport where he had a one-way ticket back to Alabama.  I would then drive the 2-hour jaunt by myself up highway 75 to Vail Mountain, elevation 8150, where I would meet Carmella and start my job search. My parents told me that if I did not find a job that could support me, when the 500 plus some dollars ran out I had to come home and figure it out in Alabama.  I had three weeks to make it work; this was my one big chance to be different.  If it did not work out I would chalk it up as an adventurous graduation trip.

When we finally arrived at the Denver airport I was so ready to break away. This was the girl that cried when her parents left her at Tutwiler dorm before sorority rush 5 years before.  I was free, free at last!   Bring on the slopes, the mountain boys, the job I had not found yet!!!  I was free until I hugged my dad and saw him walking towards his pre-9/11 terminal, canvas tote bag in hand.  My heart let go and I started to cry, I felt like the 18 year old being left at the dorm, the six year old on her first day of kindergarten, the 3 year old in the “way way” back of our 1976 ford station wagon watching the world go by backwards. I was still a child, and I was about to make a two-hour treacherous mountain drive to becoming an adult??  All of a sudden I was not ready.  It took everything I had not to run after him and jump in his Eddie Bower tote bag to sneak a ride back to the comfort of my mothers down couch and wood stove fireplace, sitting next to her while she graded papers.  My life was about to begin, and I was alone in this so far.  A long way from sweet home Alabama with the white peaks of the Colorado Rockies hovering right in front of me.   

To be Continued….

Picture taken September, 10 1999, on my drive
up to Vail Mountain for the first time