An oddball of a life

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Warning:  This is not a travel post.  Proceed at your own risk.

I was having a drink the other night thinking about lots of stuff, but mostly musing on one primary question;  “What path led to being here, now?”  The “here and now” part wasn’t just the specific here and now (sitting in a hotel bar in Seattle, late at night, after a great day of thinking up ways to bolster the state of Washington’s cleantech ecosystem), but the more general here and now:  somehow finding my life/adventure mate in KR; traveling to 27 countries and counting; doing something important and difficult at an age when most (all?) of my friends have hung up their spurs; living in downtown LA in an 800 square ft. apartment while building a wonderful house in PV (yet not seeing it much:); getting stuck in a Mexican desert for five hours when the Iron Duke broke down on our most recent trip north; and deciding that ultimately KR and I were going to live in an RV for a lot of our going forward time.

A few more screwdrivers and a theme began to emerge: I’ve been an oddball pretty much most of my life, I just didn’t know it:)  This has turned out to be a good thing.

I was out of sync from the start as both my parents were over 35 and my nearest sibling was 10 years older.  I was an accident.  Being an accidental child has its advantages.  No brothers and sisters to fight over things with. Christmas presents targeted at just you.  And parents that feel guilty for all the mistakes they made on the planned kids tend to ease up on you.

The first time being out of sync had not so good consequences was as a “professional” motorcycle racer.  I started racing at 22, competing against kids that were 16, 17, 18.  I was married and working two jobs when my competitors were still doing homework:) Despite winning more than 70 races, I was never the “it” guy because at 22 I was just too old to be viewed as an up and comer.  What the f__?

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Boy racer

I went from motorcycle racer to Madison Avenue account guy.  I worked at an agency on Madison Avenue that had a company bar, company chef, a conference room for any setting (from living room to conference center), and more guys from Harvard/Yale/Princeton than you could count.  Girls were strictly limited to either copy writers or secretaries.  I read a book called How to Dress for Success and learned that corduroy suits and maroon shoes weren’t as cool as I thought.  How could that be?:)

By definition, if you spend five years racing motorcycles, you’re going to enter the “real” business world a touch late.  I was an old young account guy who had a penchant for corduroy suits:)   I quickly ditched the corduroys and shifted to a white-hot focus on catching up with everyone.  Two brief cases to work, going to graduate school at night, working seven days a week, every week, were the routine for my early years on Madison Avenue.

Being a motorcycle racer, Teamster, and old young account guy made me an odd ball in a good way.  I outworked and out-thought and out-planned everyone else.  I became a very determined, competitive SOB who wanted to win in business just as much as I liked winning on the track.  I rose up the ranks of the advertising business, eventually running the Apple account in the U.S., running an office for a big agency in San Francisco, and making more money than I had ever dreamed about.

Along the way I got fired more times than anyone else I know.  The best “your fired” line: “Fred, you’ve seen the movie Good Fella’s?  Know the scene in which Joe Pesci walks into a house thinking he was going to be a Made Man only to get shot in the back of the head?  Well, that’s you…”  Thank you Steve for the most creative axing ever:)  Somehow I never worried about being fired — either being scared of it or worrying too much about it after the fact.  I was becoming an accomplished eat-what-you-kill guy and had confidence I could make it happen, no matter where.

There is a case to be made that the “being out of sync” gene runs in our family.  My sister was a successful business woman with hundreds of people working for her at a time when women just did not work in anything other than secretarial jobs.  My brother quit his job as an aerospace engineer to start a company selling and eventually making mini computers back in the day of Radio Shack.  He was the first person I had ever known who was a successful entrepreneur.

Sometime in the early ’90s I came to an important decision:  I didn’t want to be an accomplished traditional ad guy, I wanted to somehow become part of what people were calling the New Media.  No one knew what it was, heck  I didn’t even know how to spell I_N_T_E_R_N_E_T, but I knew I wanted to be part of it.

Bye bye ad guy, hello tech guy.

I became the most out of sync guy around.  I started an Internet company out of my house, drove a 13 year old Fiero (known affectionately as the American Ferrari), began telling corporate titans they were sorry-assed losers if they didn’t get on board the coming Internet revolution, and transformed myself into a pretty accomplished technology startup guy.

I’ve liked building things my own way from the beginning.  I’ve started or tried to start 11 companies/projects/things, five of which actually went somewhere, three of which actually made money, one of which made a lot of money.

Speaking of money, I was once an Internet Titan worth $40M on paper.   That’s a feeling I recommend to everyone provided you can handle when the $40M suddenly goes away.  But there’s definitely a rush associated with being rich.

Always being out of sync slowly transformed me.  I stopped caring about what other people thought.  I developed a lot of confidence in being able to take care of KR and myself no matter what the f__ happened.  I got comfortable in being a weirdo.  I got comfortable in being me.

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Wreckage of Casa Loca on an East Texas highway. Like the Subaru commercial, “We lived.”

After my various Internet and technology forays, KR and I sold our Hollywood house of 16 years and I turned to trying to figure out how to rewire our life so I could make a living while on the road.  We had a custom 4WD RV made to roam the earth only to find ourselves spewed across an East Texas highway, giving KR a broken back and Lotus a brain tumor.  Eight years later we tried it again, this time on a motorcycle in South America.  Then LACI called while we were in Bolivia and we rushed back to Los Angeles to start a whole new chapter of being out of sync with life.

We now live in an 800 square feet loft in downtown Los Angeles.  It’s called the Arts District because all the hipsters are moving in.  Talk about being out of sync?:)  I’m trying to convince the world that a new industrial revolution is coming called cleantech and getting similar responses to the mid-90’s Internet phenom,  “What’ the business model?  Will anyone want a sustainable widget? You’re inventing a solution to a non problem!..”  Yada yada.  Heard all of it before.

 

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“We need to remodel a little” KR says to FW…

We’ve also moved our base of operations south of the Border to Puerto Vallarta Mexico — the safest country on earth:)  Most of  you reading this think we’re crazy for doing this as well.  Drug cartels.  El Chapo is now roaming around again.  Murders left and right.  Corrupted police and government officials.  All true, except that’s not what we see.

We see a neighborhood full of playing kids, of young men and women walking to work at 6AM on a Sunday, of neighbors chasing down a truck which sideswiped the Broken Arrow and didn’t stop.  Our neighbors caught him and called the police.

Mean streets of Puerto Vallarta

Mean streets of Puerto Vallarta

On the way driving up to LA a couple of weeks ago the Iron Duke broke down in the middle of the Mexican desert.   We barely coasted into the only Pemex station in Mexico that didn’t have anything but gas pumps.  We’re talking Nowhere’s Ville.  The attendant got on his cell, called his expert “Mechanico.”  Forty-five minutes later the Mechanico Team showed up in a beat-to-an-inch-of-its-life Toyota with a tool box that would make mine look impressive.  After five hours of on-again, off-again theories of what was wrong — and giving them $500 cash to buy parts — they fixed the Iron Duke and we were on our way.  There are few things more creative than Mexican’s keeping their vehicles running long past their Use By date:)

Mary Douglas, a famous British anthropologist known for her writings on human culture and symbolism, came up with a term that kind of described my life: matter out of place.  Dirt on the ground is called earth, but when its on your sleeve its called dirt because its matter out of place.  Things that are out of place are more often scorned than celebrated.  The trick is to always think of yourself as the earth:)

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13 Responses to “An oddball of a life”

  1. Caryn Goldsmith August 2, 2015 at 4:58 PM

    How introspective of you, old friend! You might be out of sync with others (your words, not mine), and not always the most humble/modest guy, but you forgot to say you’re exceptionally loyal to your band of brothers. Glad to have been a fellow warrior for a couple of these steps along the way. Give my best to KR.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. What a career! Or I should say, “careers” since I can count at least 11 so far: motorcycle racer, NYC ad guy; devoted husband; SF agency manager; entrepreneur; multi-millionaire internet tycoon; explorer; Mexican real estate developer; pioneer in Arts District gentrification; clean tech mogul; and blogger extraordinaire. And to think, when I first met you, I thought your ownership of the unique “American Ferrari” was your most note-worthy attribute! How wrong I was.

  3. As one who has also seen my own life’s adventure to be that of a contrarian, there is an understanding to which I am in sync. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Tom Nanomantube August 2, 2015 at 11:10 PM

    Fred my friend,
    It takes an oddball to be the leader who can change the way people interact in your specific environment. From what I can tell, you have been a leader all of your life. The world needs leaders, there are too many followers already.I too am an oddball, with a very strange set of values. For me looking back and looking forward raised the issue of how to measure success. When I was young it was easy, how much money did I make and how many women did I lay in comparison to my peer group. Then it changed, I became a corporate warrior/philosopher, I measured my success by the amount of change/improvements that I could make in my environment(banking industry) and now many neophytes would sit and listen to my views. Did you know that I sold/supported the very first ATM in California. Citibank had them in NY, but no commercial banks in CA had any. Since then I can say that I was part of the initial founding fathers of many of the standard bank practices in place today. Is that a good or bad thing and in reality most people could care less? As you know,I have been up and down from a money standpoint. I have never been worth $40M, but in 2003 I W-2ed $1.06M and today I have less than $200 in my savings account. Money is not a KPI for me any more. Currently, I don’t know what my set of KPIs should be. all I know is that I am not ready to give up, I feel that there is something that I am suppose to do, I just don’t know what it is.

  5. I know of a really nice RV…..

  6. Name (required) August 3, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    This was a great read. Have a few more screwdrivers and tell us more! I am serious! Love to KR.

  7. This was a great read. Have a few more screwdrivers and tell us more! I am serious! Love to KR.

  8. Fred, your blogs have always been terrific, but this one takes the cake. You’re a guy who has consistently just flat out done things–not just talk about them, but doing them. For as long as I’ve known you I’ve admired your courage, your initiative, your never-say-die attitude (and your “anything but the middle of the road” approach to life) and lately, your visionary success with clean tech. Bravo, my friend. Bravo!

  9. Great writing amigo!!!!

  10. What a great read by a guy who leads one interesting life ! Thanks for writing and sharing. Love to you and KR ?

  11. Written by a guy that I love and respect. You have lead an interesting and gratifying life with more adventure and success than most will ever experience ! Thank you for sharing, sending love to you and KR .
    Debbie

  12. Peter and Aneth August 4, 2015 at 10:46 PM

    Your tales ARE WONDERFUL TO READ. SORRY FOR THE CAPS, BUT REDOING THIS IN THE LOWER CASE IS FAR TOO MUCH FOR ME TO UNDERTAKE.I REALLY ENJOY YOUR TRAVELS OH GREAT GULLIVER. REGARDS TO KAREN AND YOU..OF COURSE. PLEASE KEEP YOUR JOURNALS A COMING.
    PETER AND ANETH

  13. Screw it!

    Or toast a glass of the fermented grape!

    Good stuff Fred!

    Yeah, join the club…the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. …not fond of rules…no respect for the status quo.…quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

    Sweet. Stay curious, my friend.

    “The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do.” — Rob Siltanen