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My great Election Day escape November 3, 2009

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.

The trip west, which started at my parents' house in LeRoy, N.Y., on Nov. 2, 1999, ended seven days later at my sister Pattie's house in Valley Center, Calif.

As Americans return to the polls today, I find myself reflecting on the Election Day that took place exactly 10 years ago. For me, there was none more memorable. It had nothing to do with the election. Heck, I didn’t even vote that year. But Election Day 1999 was the day I made my great escape.

About 2 months prior, I made a decision that forever changed my life’s trajectory. Disillusioned with every facet of my existence—personally, professionally and spiritually—I decided, at the age of 35, to throw it all up in the air and accepted my sister Pattie’s invitation to come live with her in San Diego. I had been a frequent visitor there for 20 years, so the area had already become somewhat of a second home to me, but making it my primary residence represented a major shift.

Of course there was a lot to get done before leaving. First of all, I had to quit a job. Doing so, without having another job to leave it for, felt highly out of character. But everything about this period in my life was a leap of faith, so I figured I’d better get used to it. Eventually I found someone to rent my house—and then there was the decision of which possessions to take with me and which ones to get rid of.

Finally, there was ‘good bye.’ That’s the worst part. I’m clumsy at leaving a party, so imagine how poorly I managed my personal interactions while preparing to leave town. Reactions to my decision varied. I’m sure quite a few people thought I was nuts. But more of them, I believe, viewed me with great admiration (and maybe even a little envy). This took a lot of guts on my part, and they knew it. That gave me strength.

So on Nov. 2, 1999, I hitched a U-Haul trailer to my Ford Contour and headed west. The map above represents the route as best I remember. I hit my first real obstacle that very first day. Having left western New York in 60-degree weather, imagine my surprise to then drive through a snowstorm in Columbus. Good thing I know a little bit about winter driving.

My first three overnights were all spent with former coworkers—in Huntington, W.V., in Nashville and in Dallas. Reginald Hardwick (a big fan of both Stellavision and Terrell Owens) was kind enough to let me spend an extra day in Texas to recharge my batteries. From there, I spent an overnight in Albuquerque before getting my first look at the Grand Canyon. It’s true, pictures do not do it justice.

At the end of Day 7, I rolled in to my sister’s house to begin a new chapter. And although I would only spend eight months there, that time proved both exciting and invigorating. I found a job working in creative services for a local TV stations. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do long term, but at the time it was new and different. Freetime was occasionally spent at the beach or at a San Diego Padres baseball game. I even helped chaperone a ‘Sweet 16’ birthday party at Disneyland for my niece. Not nearly as painful as that might sound. 🙂

“So why’d you decide to come back?” My friend Jon asked me that familiar question a few days ago as I reminisced with him about my westward escape. “I don’t know,” I recall saying. “I was just operating on instinct. My instincts told me when to move out there, and they eventually told me when it was time to come home.”

I found that my instincts were good. The timing of my return allowed me to fall (pretty much) into a job at RIT. I can’t begin to summarize the opportunities it has presented me in directing my life forward nearly 10 years later. And coming home also allowed me to be available for the final year of my mother’s time on earth. I think some gnawing sense of that window closing provided the primary force to draw me back.

Operating on instinct—it’s the most important lesson I’ve retained from my great escape. Sometimes, we have to overcome our fear and just pull the trigger. Believe me, it’s not easy, but it sure as hell beats wondering, “What if?”



1. zachmyrow - November 3, 2009

Paul that’s really cool.

2. Frank Battaglia - November 3, 2009

Geez! It’s hard to believe that was 10 years ago! Not to sound overly saccharine and trite, but things did work out for the best. Plus it was pretty cool to have the privilege of joining you on that whirlwind trip back…

3. Thankful for what I have—and what’s to come « Stellavision - November 22, 2009

[…] I described my “leap of faith” 10 years ago that led me to quit my job and move west. I mentioned how, in a bizarre way, it opened me up to […]

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