Don't Believe the Truth, Part 2

A day late and a dollar short. Actually, many, many dollars short. I’ve been traveling and couldn’t quite squeeze the post in on time. The youngest and I took a long weekend and flew down to Orlando. As a testament to my relative health and well-being, we hit four different theme parks in three days (five if you count the two sides of Universal as separate parks), and also hit Disney Downtown for dinner and a movie (Angry Birds: don’t bother). A brief assessment:

Legoland: An awful, horrid place where customer service went to die. I managed to shield the boy from most of it, but it sparked me to boycott: I will buy Lego products no more, forever.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade & Daigon Alley are outstanding in every way.

SeaWorld: Was the least anticipated stop on the trip, but an unexpected treat. The boy and I both loved it- even after getting soaked in cold salt water by killer whales.

The Magic Kingdom: We made a last second decision to head over for the late afternoon/night after SeaWorld. It was a rather bland time as we were both knackered. The light parade and fireworks, however, were a nice exclamation point to a remarkable three days.

 Despite the grueling itinerary, eating (relatively) poor food, and driving (a smidge) too fast in our shiny convertible rental, we managed to make it through unscathed. Not too shabby for a man with stage-four cancer and a second grader. 

When we left off last week (or was it the week before?), Stroud had just been removed from the Design Studio, I had just resigned in protest, our first child had just been born, and I was enjoying what proved to be some of the happiest days of my life.

Things were indeed great- it was just D, the little guy, and I. We played, we took naps, we ate, we rocked in the rocking chair, we walked around the city, and we slept through the nights (for the most part). That blissful period lasted for a few months. We both love what we do, so it’s tough to say that we enjoyed being away from our work, but it was nice to take an extended break. Neither of us come from money, however, and we eventually had to return to work- both for love of what we do, and to keep food on the table.

D slipped back into her job and picked up where she left off. Of course, it probably wasn’t easy to do after giving birth and having the new baby in day care, but she handled everything with grace and made it look easy. I, however, didn’t have a job to return to. I work in a niche field: not exactly architecture, not really planning, and not quite landscape architecture. The urban designer has to find a way to squeeze in. I had no job and no prospect for finding a job with a traditional employer. The Design Studio was really the only place in Chattanooga for urban designers to find work- and I had just quit them.

One of the last projects I worked on at the old Design Studio was the Downtown Plan- a massive and tortuous effort that resulted in a very good product. In addition to being one of the formative projects in my career, this was also how I met Jim Kennedy*. We hired Jim as a consultant to help us through the process. He was great- consummate professional, masterful communicator, and renaissance thinker. Jim and I hit it off and worked well together. During the process, he and I flirted a bit over me jumping ship and joining him in the consulting world, but it wasn’t very serious, and nothing came of it at the time. Shortly afterwards came the firings, resignations, and births I’ve already outlined.

So there we were in the summer of 2005, Stroud and I unemployed, and our friend Kennedy the lone principal in his firm (but with the formidable assistance of Ms. Puckett). The three of us had a couple of chats about joining forces, and things seemed to be headed in that general direction. When Jim mentioned that Ann Coulter might join us, however, things took off. Shortly thereafter, the four of us made it official and joined forces to create Kennedy, Coulter, Rushing & Watson (link). I was clearly out of my depth in comparison to the others. Beyond being green, I was also quite naïve as it relates to a great many things (which actually continues to be the case today). They managed to deal with that and look past my flaws as we put the firm together.

Nice haircut, sheesh.
Our angle was that through our broad and diverse skill set we would be able to provide clients with a full range of services from the initial visioning exercises through to actual project implementation. Some potential clients bought in to the concept- others choose to go with specialists. For the clients that we won, we did some  really  good  work. For several years we managed to keep the lights on and our families fed. Another Watson (no relation), joined us along the way and added that many more arrows to our quiver. In practice, however, our diverse skill sets meant that we often ended up working off in our separate areas of expertise. After a half dozen years, Stroud was eyeing Maine more frequently, I was off in my design / development phase, Ann was rocking the strategic planning scene, and Mr. K got an offer to return to academia. We decided to call it a day, had a big group hug, and finished that chapter of our professional lives. It was a good run, but it was also a good time for each of us to move on. It’s impossible to overstate the impact those three people had on me in those years.

While our skills sets were the least alike, I probably learned the most from Kennedy during the KCRW days. Observing him in his daily dealings with clients, while facilitating discussions, or just talking on the phone, provided invaluable lessons on how to be a professional. My ability to go on and make a living as a consultant and provide for my family is a direct result of watching Jim operate. I am forever grateful.

Ann was running RPA when I started there fresh out of graduate school and we’ve worked together in various capacities ever since. In fact, we’ve worked together more since we left KCRW than we did while we were officially partners. Our collaborations always produce outstanding work (if I may say so) and are always great fun (witness the Urban Design Challenge). Everything I know about integrating design processes of city building into the humane framework of how it impacts people, and why it matters came from Ann.

I’ve worked with Stroud my entire career- his philosophy and influence are essentially embedded in my DNA. I’m not a clone and we don’t always see things alike, but his influence is evident, undeniable, and runs deep. It doesn’t appear that I’ll get my chance to follow in his footsteps, but in a sense I’m relieved. There will ever only be one Stroud.

From a personal standpoint, it’s beyond impossible to adequately express what those three mean to me. I love each of them with everything in me. These are three very unique and special relationships that I’m fortunate to be a part of. They’re very different people, and they each connect with a different part of my personality. Before my diagnosis, they were the best friends a man could ask for- caring, considerate, and supportive. After the diagnosis, each of them has been an exceptional example of grace and love. (Of course, this will come as no surprise to any of you that know them.) This also provides an insight into why “work” has never been work for me.

I’ve spent my career doing fulfilling projects with people I love and who love me back. Who else is that lucky? I’m asked on an almost daily basis why I continue to work during my limited time left on the planet. It’s because I can’t imagine doing anything else. My work over the last year has been focused on respecting, protecting, and building upon the body of work of a friend and mentor. This is not work at all- it’s a privilege and a pleasure.

Unfortunately, I’ve kind of fumbled my way through 1,500 words trying to express my emotions for my friends. I wish I was capable of doing so in a more clear and concise way. (Perhaps they should have taught me writing instead of all those other life lessons). In any event, if you happen to see any of those three, please be sure to give them a big hug and tell them Christian loves them.

*Mr. K is also responsible for my wife and I meeting. When we arrived in Chattanooga, Jim was the head of the Chamber, which ran a program called Chattanooga Insight, and that friends is where the magic happened.

1 comment:

  1. I was heartened to see the piece about you and the studio in today's TFP; I had followed your blog a while back, but fell out of blog reading.