By the end of our first weekend in San Diego, Riley and I have impressively gathered just about everything we will need for the next three and a half months. My teal colored Schwinn road/mountain bike hybrid rests lazily beside Riley’s classic Bianchi on our porch. Beside our green, yellow and red striped couch a new printer (costing $5 on Craigslist) spits out paper like the first Pulitzer Press. And by the front door a used grey tennis basket filled with 80 or so tennis balls and a red agility ladder lean against the pale white wall. Oh, and we even have 2 new friends: Samantha and Jordan, who we got in contact with through Riley and Samantha’s mutual friend, Abbey. And of course, I’ve made time to play a round of disc golf at Balboa Park, the number one most played disc golf course in the world.
Our second week in this city of never-ending blue skies and an eerily minute temperature range (between 68 degrees and 76 degrees Fahrenheit) begins with work-related errands. Riley spends hours driving back and forth from various school districts, handing in her substitute-teacher application while I travel to all parts of San Diego and the surrounding towns interviewing for tennis positions and privately coaching aspiring tennis stars. In my free time I coordinate with our handyman, Hank, and our landlord, Ed, in attempt to fix the door which won’t close and internet which won’t work. “Миша? вы говорите по руски?” were the first words spoken to me by Ed, meaning “Misha? Do you speak Russian?” Turns out, he’s Russian and Jewish, like me.
It’s been barely over a week since we’ve arrived here and due to Riley’s endless network of friends we have another double date tonight. This time with Ainsley and Patrick. Ainsley is the sister of Riley’s good friend and former coworker at Dunwoody Springs Charter School, Courtney. Riley and I park our car down a dark street about a quarter mile away from this hopping brewery/restaurant. Ballast Point is the name, home to the unreasonably expensive Grapefruit Sculpin IPA beer. We arrive at the doorstep of this intricately designed boat-themed building. Another couple arrives simultaneously. Although I have never seen or heard a description of our soon-to-be companions tonight, my gut tells me these two are who we will be dining with tonight. Tall, blonde-haired and blue eyed, Ainsley is a beautiful woman, appearing about the same age as us. Her lover, Patrick, bears similar tall and handsome features. With long, fashionably imperfect hairstyles and wide, carefree smiles, both look like they belong at the beach. Probably why they reside, well, on the beach. The four of us spend a lovely night together drinking, eating and talking. I am instantly drawn to this couple and foresee many friendly times together in the future.
Our second weekend arrives before we even remember the first one ending. I play my first tennis league match and win. In the process I make a friend, Freeman, who invites Riley and me to his Super Bowl party in a few weeks. With few obligations and a bit more free time Riley and I spend a lot of quality time together. We bike together before the sun sets, take leisurely trips to the grocery store, and sit on our porch reading and writing. This form of time consumption passes just as quickly as when we were frantically driving everywhere within a 35 mile radius of our home, attempting to capture jobs and household items. Before I know it, it’s Sunday night and I’m staring at my computer screen, the mouse-arrow resting atop the “Submit Payment” button. After weeks, actually months, of contemplation this is the closest I’ve been to finally purchasing a drone. With the $2,700 commitment staring me straight in the face, a few beads of sweat form atop my shivering hand. I press down on the mousepad. The order has been placed. In two days I will receive my drone allowing Steven and my business, dubbed Sky Vision Studios, to take flight.
Monday, January 25 rolls around marking Riley’s first day of work. She bikes the 2 plus miles to the home of the woman whose three kids need a nanny. The oldest is 4 years old. The youngest is 5 weeks old. Monday also marks the day I find out if I passed the CBEST. For those who forgot or who missed it, the CBEST is the exam I took in San Francisco on January 10 in attempt to become a certified substitute teacher. The exam during which I illegally blocked an inch of a woman’s driveway with Riley’s car, resulting in the vehicle being towed and me paying $700 to liberate it. A bittersweet moment as I read my passing scores, wondering if it was worth all the trouble.
To put it bluntly, I spend the next few days bumming around. I ride my bike a good bit, exploring the local farmers market and some of the local shops. I run nearly every day and play tennis whenever I find a willing opponent. I spend way too much time cleaning our home of things that don’t need to be cleaned. And I get a fair amount of reading and writing done. On Thursday Riley and I attend the substitute orientation for La Mesa Spring Valley School District. In a few weeks we’ll be able to start subbing in this district located about 10 miles east of our residence. The next day we run 10 miles along the coast, from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach to La Jolla and back the way we came.
On Friday night my drone arrives. I spend all of Saturday piecing it together and watching countless hours of YouTube tutorials. Riley goes to Pacific Beach with Ainsley and Patrick while I continue working on my new obsession. Antsy beyond belief, around midnight I’m ready to take my baby on her first flight. That was my first mistake – flying at night. Not quite following the tutorials, I approach an area only moderately well lit. But to compensate, I ensure there’s minimal obstructions in the sky. I’ll merely start her up, fly her 5-6 feet in the air for a minute or so, land her, and call it a night, I tell myself. I turn the remote controller on, followed by the drone battery. So far so good. I place the controller in GPS mode and calibrate the drone, connecting it to the 7 nearest satellites. I then press the joysticks down and towards each other to start the motors and propellers. Wonderful. Slowly but surely I press the left joystick towards the sky, instructing the drone to elevate. And that’s exactly what she does. I stop at about 3 feet. Suddenly the drone begins to drift to the right towards a fence. That’s not supposed to happen, I panic. I zoom the drone to the left, but she begins to inch downwards towards the ground. I zoom the drone up. Again, she drifts to the right towards the fence. Panic blinding me, I’m unable to save the drone from hitting the chain-linked fence. Down she falls onto her side before bouncing up wildly and hitting the fence again. With the propellers flaying I have no option but to turn the remote controller off. Big mistake. Once the controller is turned off, the drone loses connection and shoots up into the sky at an unimaginable speed, slicing my leg in multiple places with its carbon propellers. Just as the drone is about to fly away into the pitch black sky forever, I manage to slap it down with my left hand. The propeller slices a chunk of my left thumb off, hovers in place for a second and then shoots up into the sky again. There goes $2,700 I think to myself holding back tears of pain and sadness. Just then, a miracle happens and the drone slams into the only thin sliver of telephone wire in the area. A spark of current as the two conduits of electricity merge and the drone comes toppling down before slamming against the top of a wooden fence and tumbling into a stranger’s fenced in yard. Silence. I climb the fence, smearing blood on the unvarnished wood, and jump into the yard retrieving my lifeless piece of technology. All 4 propellers have snapped in half and a bloody thumbprint resides on the drone body. Feeling agonizingly numb, I gather the shards, climb back over the fence and head home.
I have trouble sleeping that night. And early the next morning I have a tennis match in Coronado. My finger still bleeds and I can’t hold the racquet in my left hand, causing me to lose the match badly. The only redeeming aspect of the morning is meeting my tennis opponent, Ted. Ted is in his 50’s and a very skilled tennis player. After hearing about Steven and my start-up he offers me the names of 3 realtors in the area with whom I should network. He also informs me that his girlfriend works for a local CPA firm that may be interested in taking me on as a part time employee. I thank Ted for the offer but tell him I’m not interested.
The following week Riley begins substitute teaching in North County. These schools are a ways away (about 25-30 miles) and are attended by mostly affluent students. “The school lobby looked fancier than some of the nicest hotels I’ve been in,” Riley illustrates to me after her first day subbing in Encinitas.
Realizing it’s been nearly a week since I’ve spoken to my mom, I give her a ring. We shoot the shit and catch up on our lives, now separated by thousands of miles. Upon informing her about my encounter with Ted this past weekend (leaving out the missing chunk of finger), my mom’s tone of voice becomes very serious: “Misha, that’s an amazing opportunity. You can earn money, gain experience doing taxes and still have plenty of free time to explore. You need to speak to that man again and at least look into the job he’s suggesting.” And I do exactly that. I shoot Ted an email requesting the contact info for the owner of the firm. Ted gets back to me within a few hours with a name and an email address. “Shoot him your resume,” he tells me. So I do, along with a narrative explaining my desire to travel the country while avoiding going broke. The next day I hear back from the company’s secretary. She informs me that the owner, Mike, would like to have a phone interview with me the next day. The next day (Thursday) I speak with Mike and we seem to connect quite well. The secretary then calls me again informing me that Mike would like to meet me in person the following Monday, February 9. The farther along I get in this process the more I desire this job. Although I have zero experience doing taxes (I’m an auditor by trade), I believe this will be a wonderful skill to learn. Plus, some financial peace of mind.
The following night Riley and I have yet another double date. This time the victims are Rachel and Grant, close friends of another couple, Alana and Will, with whom Riley was close with in Atlanta. We meet at Rachel and Grant’s house on the border of La Jolla and Pacific Beach and chat for a bit over a Heineken before walking over to a nearby Italian restaurant. It’s a tradition of ours to eat pasta the night before a big race. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned the race yet. I’ll get there in a minute. So Rachel, Grant, Riley and I eat and converse. I am mesmerized by Grant’s epic tales of living on a pirate ship for nearly 2 years and his adventurous hobbies of spear fishing, paddle boarding and exploring the depths of Mexico.
“We need to hang out with them more often,” I tell Riley after our meal. “They are so cool!”
Riley and I go to bed early that night knowing that we have a big race in the morning. Riley set a goal about a half decade ago to run a half marathon in every state. The Mermaid Series San Diego Half Marathon will be run in her 10th state. If you haven’t gathered by the name of the race, the Mermaid Series is an all-women’s race. Unfazed by the pink website background, the pictures of women all over the website and the survey questions asking which women’s magazine she would like to subscribe to, Riley registered for this race thinking it was your typical co-ed half-marathon. But it wasn’t. I was one of 8 male racers. Not that I’m complaining about running along the gorgeous coast of Mission Bay on a perfect morning with over 1000 fit women scrambling all around me, but I certainly didn’t fit in with my fellow racers. Excited by the estrogen around me, I run my fastest half marathon time of 1:46:37 (an 8:08/mile pace). Riley finishes with an impressive time of 1:56:50. Exhausted yet happy, Riley and I drive home, eat a large lunch and head to Coronado Beach, where we meet up with Ainsley and Patrick. We sunbathe and talk on the pure, white sand to the background sound of waves splashing against the shore. A beautiful, yet moderately populated beach, I find much appeal to this place.
After a surprisingly energetic half hour of Frisbee toss, the 4 of us pack our cars and drive over to Coronado Brewing. The beer is delicious. I down 2 tasty IPAs while munching a glorious bratwurst burger while Riley and our companions enjoy quesadillas. Our bellies feeling content, we exit the brewery and part ways. Soon after arriving home, a coma sets in and we call it an early night.
I sleep way too many hours and wake up Sunday morning with renewed purpose in life. As I had been sporadically for the past week, I commit to spending most of today filming with my drone. I drive around all of San Diego, from Balboa Park to PetCo Park to Coronado Beach and film anything and everything that may appear impressive from the sky. As we do nearly every night, Riley and I cook again tonight. A mouth-watering trout, asparagus and rice meal is on the menu tonight.
While Riley babysits Monday afternoon, I prep for my interview. Glad I brought a suit and ties, I think to myself. Dressed in my fanciest attire, I print 3 copies of my most updated resume and hop in the car at 20 minutes past 1. My interview is at 2:00pm, but I get there fifteen minutes early. I take my time adjusting my unusually long hair and wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead. I enter the building and ascend to the second floor, where Mike’s office is situated. A woman with shoulder length black hair and a contagiously wide smile welcomes me in and seats me in the lobby. Soon after, a tall, wiry man in his 50’s with the friendliest of eyes and an equally pleasant smile comes out of the hallway. “Misha?” he asks.
I stand up and stick my hand forward. “Nice to meet you in person, Mike,” I say, looking my potential future boss directly in the eyes, as I was taught as a teenager.
We walk into Mike’s office and talk for about an hour. I come out desiring the job even more than before. I then am guided to the conference room where one by one I meet Olivia and Janet, two of the company’s managers. Some expected and some unexpected interview questions and discussions later the interview process is concluded. “I’m going to interview the final candidate today and you’ll know if you get the job by tomorrow night,” Mike explains before ushering me out. Feeling stressed from 2 hours of exhibiting professionalism yet elated from the prospect of working for these wonderful individuals, I descend the stairs and head back to my car. The following evening I have an employment offer in my inbox. A sense of relief encompasses me as for the next 2 months I will have financial security.