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Borrowed trouble: My 30 days inside a payday loan office

The cursor blinks and a man hovers over my computer. American flag t-shirt, sleeves off — he coughs into his hands and rubs them together. He’s nervous. On my desk lies his bank statement, three pay stubs and a driver’s license. They are the only items he has in the world.

“You can do $200?” he asks. “All I need is $200.”

“I can do $200,” I say, but I’m falsely distracted: I’m typing — clicks and clacks without regard to timing or rhythm. The store is stuffy today. I’m thinking about going home. Or crawling under my desk, holding my knees and rocking. I’m feeling loansome: i.e., the mental weight from a month’s work of digging irresponsible borrowers under insurmountable debt.

“Yeah,” he says, “that all?”

Sam, who sits next to me, swivels over. She reaches to tap my computer screen, making the monitor shake, her chubby finger with a fat force. Where she taps it reads,

TOTAL LOAN AMOUNT APPROVED: ………………. $750.00

Sam turns her head, smiling at me, nodding, as if to say, “Go ahead, Kevin, you got this. I believe in you.” So I swallow. I have to find my voice again, like a shy 12 year old being forced to sing the National Anthem in front of his friends; it’s in there, but it doesn’t want to come out.

Below my computer screen is a motivational sign:

GOAL: 100% of TLA

Next to the letters is a picture of a steaming coffee cup with a pastry.

The man, waiting, now growing impatient to my silence, stretches. He looks to his right, at the signage hanging on the wall. Big, beautiful green letters,

BE A RESPONSIBLE BORROWER, TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED.

“You’re approved for $750,” I say.

He pretends to think about it: “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll take it. All of it.” (more…)

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Carrs in the car across the USA: Tornados, Volcanos and Floods

My wife and I just Prius’d acrossed the USA. Yes. I’m using Prius as a verb. After two successful cross-country trips (overloaded and overstuffed, might I add), I’m allowed to brag about my Toyota. Aren’t I?

Nine days, six stops. And affordable gasoline! Guess how much gas we spent?

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our most recent trip was actually a move: Rochester, New York to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (or the close by Spokane, Washington, where I’ll be working).

That’s a bunch of map

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Rochester -> Louisville -> Nashville -> Memphis -> Kansas City -> Denver -> Yellowstone -> Ceour d’Alene

It’s a crazy mess of a road trip. I know. Here was the thought process:

Kansas City and Denver had family. Admittedly, Nashville was completely out of the way, but we really wanted to see it. And if we timed it just right, we could lock down two nights in Yellowstone. Louisville and Memphis were convenient stops in between.

Most nights we would camp, others we’d stay with family.

Little did we know what we’d discover along the way; little would we see out of our blind spots.

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A quick note on the photos: We shot hundreds, some with our new Cannon Rebel T5, others with our iPhones. My wife took all the good pictures. I took all the weird, squirrelly ones. Also, since there are so many, and we just go home, please excuse the lack of editing. 

Okay, so, you ready? Me neither. Let’s go! (more…)

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Skate and Surf Fest 2015 Recap: Rewinds and New Finds

Last week, (instead of attending college graduation), the wife and I skipped town and headed to Asbury Park, New Jersey to attend Skate and Surf Fest — a two day music festival.

The festival featured a mix of contemporary indie-rock bands: mewithoutYou, The Gaslight Anthem, The Front Bottoms. It also included some new acts I was excited to see: Rozwell Kid, Cloud Nothings, Diamond Youth. For some reason, I don’t know why, Skate and Surf Fest was the place to be to see some of my favorite high school bands reunite: From Autumn to Ashes, Poison the Well, Thrice, Acceptance. #oldguycrowd

If Asbury Park sounds familiar, it’s probably for one of two reasons: Bruce Springsteen’s classic album, “Greetings from Asbury Park” or Sandy, the devastating 2012 hurricane (or superstorm). Just walking around the boardwalk and seeing the damage hit me hard. It reminded me that communities like these are affected long after the news cameras turn off. But even in its destruction there is new life in Asbury Park, and it’s beautiful.

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For the first day of the festival we were joined by a couple west coast friends, Scott and Brook. We stood in line, ate pizza, stood in line some more, watched a boardwalk magician get arrested, stood in line some more, and finally, got close to the front of the line.

Eventually we made it inside.

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Skate and Surf Fest 2015

My first impression of the festival was, “This is it?” (more…)

The Militia Group

Scratching the Niche: The Militia Group’s Massive Year, 10 Years Later

Author’s Note:

Initially, this blog post was a ten year retrospective of the 2005 indie/alt rock music scene, like a reunion of sorts. I was going to pun Gross Point Blank and we would’ve had a great time. Kings of Leon, Acceptance, and Bright Eyes were all going to be on this list. But when I finalized my top ten choices, I realized that five out of ten albums all came from the same indie record label: The Militia Group. So here we are.

Let’s reminisce, shall we?

Scratching the Niche

Once upon a time — when Dashboard Confessional ruled the earth — there was an edgy little record label out of Orange County, CA called The Militia Group (TMG). Their roster of bands lay somewhere in between what you’d hear on, say, Drive-Thru Records and Tooth & Nail.

For their origin story, you can visit Wikipedia (or this blog). What is appropriate is this: TMG started signing bands and releasing records in 2000-2001: Rufio, The Lindsay Diaries and Noise Ratchet (a personal favorite) were some of these early artists.

Most of TMG’s roster is now gone and left forgotten in the used bin of your favorite closed-down record store, but you might recognize some of the bands that hit major label success: Copeland, Cartel, Acceptance. Back then, there was an intensity in the music that TMG was signing. Noise Ratchet, for instance, was angst-fueled and Christian emo, i.e., perfect. Unlike the deliciously glossy (Sprinkled) Tooth & Nail releases, TMG was a little more unrefined, a little riskier.

They broke into my scene with Copeland’s debut record, Beneath Medicine Tree. We had known of love songs, and of rock songs. We had worn our hearts on our sleeves. But back then, when I was in high school, there wasn’t a better record you could buy. Beneath Medicine Tree did everything we wanted in an album, including the stuff we were afraid to admit we wanted: it taught us about the beauty in pain. It was thought-provoking and refreshingly transparent.

TMG was gaining momentum and we were all paying attention. When 2005 hit, this tiny record label stepped up big. It was a perfect storm and the timing was right.  (more…)

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Rockstar Entrepreneurs: Beware the Narrative

Post originally appeared on RocNext blog.

Localized small business is the antithesis of vogue; today, the rags to riches entrepreneur—the Open Source American Dream—is what’s trending. 500,000 startups are launched each month in the United States, and popular culture is actively responding.

We see ABC’s Shark Tank. We listen to startup podcasts. We read magazines (and some of us dream of making INC’s annual 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs list).

And while the myth of the young adult entrepreneur as the dominant demographic has been busted (over 80% of new entrepreneurs in 2013 were age 35+; 67% were 45+), one cannot deny the impact young entrepreneur success stories are having on other young adults: Mark Zuckerburg, Drew Houston, Jordi Munoz.

Instead of learning guitar, writing music, and starting garage bands, millennials are now learning code, writing software, and starting garage businesses.

This is good, of course.

We want our young people innovating and raising capital. We want our young minds creatively destroying customer pain.

But the rags to riches narrative, left unchecked, can mislead some talented young business men and women down distracted paths, blinding them for many years to more immediate, local opportunities. (more…)

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Why English Majors Should Pursue Business Careers

As a full-time English major who freelance writes for businesses, I often forget that I am an anomaly. Businesses everywhere are looking for writers and clear communicators; I’m surprised, however, that all my classmates have no idea how desperately they’re needed.

Last week, I was sitting in my creative writing class, killing time before the professor showed, and I overheard a conversation between a few students. They were discussing the frightening realization that college will soon be over, and that their academic security blankets will soon be ripped away, like a determined mother fed up with a binky, et cetera, et cetera.

They talked of the real world:

“What will you do?”

“I have no idea.”

“What will you do?”

“I don’t even know where to begin.”

“What will you do?”

“Me?” I paused, searching. “I’ll be looking in marketing, probably Seattle, San Francisco. Pull from my copy editing, blogging, freelance work. I’d love to find something in digital media, though I would settle for pure technical writing. Ideal, for me,” I continued, in the zone now, “a project manager or business development position within a small to mid-range company.”

I stopped because I sensed the whole room was now listening.

“Wow,” some girl said. “Aren’t you an English major?”

This is a problem.

Private academia can often coddle its college students. English majors, especially, are trapped in this bubble: canons, anthologies, theses. We read the world’s greatest literature spanning from Beowulf to Blood Meridian; we explicate and extrapolate; we read between the lines and find messages that the average reader misses; we communicate clearly, or edit and elucidate incoherent documents into well examined ideas with organization and structure.

English majors have no idea how well their skills translate into business.

I’m an English major and a business major, so I have love for both studies. That said, if I had to pick between hiring two different candidates—all things considered—I would choose the English major. Hands down. Every time.

Let’s make some sweeping statements. 

Here’s what I’ve observed about business majors: (more…)