In February of 1989, I learned that the software company where I worked was being sold to Microsoft, and within a few weeks, I would be without a job. I did what any recent college grad with lots of bills to pay would do; replied to every newspaper help wanted ad for which I was even vaguely qualified. I got a bite from a Chicago-based company that stocked sporting goods stores with fishing tackle. The title was Regional Sales Representative, but the job was to drive around with a van full of fishing equipment and keep the shelves filled with the latest gear.
I could certainly think of worse ways to make a living, so I was excited when the company contacted me about an interview. The catch was that it was scheduled for early Saturday morning at a meeting room near the Akron/Canton airport, a long drive from my Bowling Green home.
As is typical for Ohio in February, the weather was iffy, with bitter cold, snow, and wind predicted. Janet decided to come along and share the driving so I would be "fresh" for my meeting. We left at sunrise and managed to get to the US 250 exit on the Ohio Turnpike before encountering any snow. The remaining hour on the road, however, was a white-knuckle ride. A famous line from a Cleveland-area band's song goes, "thank God for the men who put the white lines on the highway," and if you live up that way, you understand.
The first part of the interview went pretty well, but then the interviewer pulled out a "fishing test." I'd been wetting lines since I was 5-years-old, but most of my angling experience was in the very narrow category of live bait casting, and during those next 15 minutes, I realized how little I actually knew about the larger world of fishing. I headed back to the car a little sad and pretty sure I wouldn't be getting the job.
The snow was still swirling, and neither of us was overly anxious to get back on the road, so I had an idea, "the Pro Football Hall of Fame is just a couple of miles down the road; why don't we check that out." I recall the Hall of Fame experience as somewhat underwhelming, but that may also have had something to do with my being bummed out about the interview.
We all have inflection points in our lives where a simple choice or circumstance has a profound impact on everything that comes after. I have always considered that day to be one of those points. A few weeks after that trip to Canton, I interviewed with another company, High Quality Plastics. I have previously examined the humorous aspects of that interview in this column, but the crucial point is that it led to an executive position in the auto industry, then a job with a Charlotte-based manufacturing consulting firm, and eventually to my current role as a rural economic developer.
Had the fishing sales rep interview gone better, I probably wouldn't have had some of the work pressures that caused me to abandon my vision of a self-reliant rural homestead, I likely would never have moved to my suburban Perrysburg condo, and it would have been far more difficult to pick up and move south to Charlotte.
As I get older, I realize that opportunities for those sorts of life-changing trajectory points become fewer and farther between. Sure, I could change jobs, or buy a new house, or adopt a new dog, but those are just course corrections, not the sort of life-changing pivot I experienced that cold, snowy day among the torn jerseys, battered cleats, and bronze busts of football greats of years gone by.