it’s a song i’ve heard countless times, going back decades.
the “you should move to nashville” song.
and i’ve always had a readily available excuse…and a backup excuse, and a few more on standby in case i hadn’t made my point yet…
“there are dozens of guys in Nashville who do what i do that are delivering pizzas, and I’m lucky enough to be able to work regularly here…”
“all the session work is tied up with a handful of guys who get called for everything, and most of the folks running those sessions have a list of backups already, but they tend to go with a known quantity because they have to get the work done and they’re not prone to taking chances….”
“since the record business has died, a lot of the session cats have had to take road work to put food on the table, and the guys who used to get calls for road work are painting houses to make ends meet…”
“bands don’t really tour anymore, they go out for weekends or extended short runs, and you can’t make any money that way…”
“i don’t think i could play some of the crap that comes out of nashville for very long without wanting to put a pistol in my mouth…”
“i was born in tennessee. i grew up in tennessee. and that’s why i don’t want to go back. i don’t have a whole lot of fond memories of it.”
most (if not all) of you who know me have heard me say all this at least once or twice – and certainly, most of – if not all – of that is still true, to me…or at least that’s my perception.
but in my mind, the one constant – in the past, anyway – was that the only real reason to move to nashville would be for me to pursue some sort of foothold in the music business, to make some attempt to infiltrate the network of road musicians and get a steady gig with someone that i could feel good about playing with. and every time the thought has crossed my mind or the opportunity has presented itself, i’ve managed to convince myself that packing up my family (or more accurately in years past, moving away from my older children and creating a scenario where i’d see them even less than i did…since they were still in the nest at the time) was just a bad move on my part as a parent – especially with no guarantee of anything on the other end of the leap of faith to make it worth the sacrifice i’d be making to make it happen.
but there’s a shift in the tide, here.
it’s been gradual…i could point back a number of years, actually…and i’m not sure i ever saw it coming, but last month, the alarm went off and i woke up and found myself standing at the crossroads.
There is, of course, some backstory:
My five year old son was still in diapers when we moved to philadelphia from reading – a move precipitated by the fact that both jayda and dylan had flown the coop, i’d taken a job in IT working for Wells Fargo in Center City Philadelphia, and i was spending in the neighborhood of $750 a month on gasoline to commute to work.
So we found a cute house in Havertown – a single family, 3 bedroom house with a somewhat finished basement and central heat/air for $1300 a month.
i know that some of you reading this who might live in other parts of the country are already picking your jaws up off the floor. but that’s not really out of step with what the market was for rental properties at that point in time in the philly suburbs. it was not then, nor has it ever been, a particularly cheap place to live.
well, we fell in love with that house…danny grew up there, alongside four other houses’ full of kids his age, lined up in a row starting next door and continuing down the street where we lived. the back yard was expansive, covered with shade from a tree that must’ve been over fifty years old – i remember on a couple of occasions lying on our backs, danny and i, looking up at the leaves and branches over our heads and taking it all in.
when our lease term expired, the porperty management company raised the rent a mere $20.00 – which we saw as a good sign. at one point, we even asked their permission to reach out to the owner with regard to the possibility of selling the house, but the house belonged to a 94 year old woman named Frances Glenn, who was in assisted living at the time – so the oldest son replied to tell us that it was impossible to sell the house at that point, because it belonged to his mother and he didn’t have the authority to make that kind of decision about the house.
Not quite a year later, we received word from the proerty management office that Mrs. Glenn had passed away, and they’d be needing access to the property so that assessors could evaluate the worth of the house for the estate. Wendy and I started worrying immediately that the house would be sold and we’d be looking for a new place to live, after having made a much bigger emotional investment in the house than we ever should have, in retrospect. But our agent assured us that this was typical in these scenarios, that anytime this happened it was necessary to have the property assessed for tax purposes, and that we shouldn’t read anything into this.
So we took a nervous, deep breath, and continued on with life as usual.
Fast forward half a year or so – I was on the road with Boris Garcia in Northern California, and I woke to a text from Wendy at around 7am California time…the text contained a photo of a letter from the property management company, informing us that the estate had been settled, the oldest son – the one who couldn’t be bothered to have a conversation with me about selling the property barely a year prior – had bought out his siblings and he inteneded to occupy the property and we had 60 days to vacate.
in all honesty, i don’t think we’ve gotten over this to this day.
but, still – we had to accept it and regroup and move forward. but moving forward meant trying to find a house in the middle of the hoopla surrounding the US Open coming to Upper Merion Golf Club – which was mere miles from where we lived. so not onlly were rental properties at a premium, but there were people who were actually leaving for vacation and renting their houses out to Golf Fanatics for exorbitant prices. so we’re looking for a home for our family in the midst of all this…and needless to say, there was nothing anywhere in the neighborhood where we were that was even remotely close to being in our price range. there were houses that were literally renting for $6000 a week to wealthy golf fanatics from God knows where, and we were trying to find a reasonable place to live in the midst of all this.
we ended up settling for a house that was 200 square feet smaller in Morton – tucked in the corner of the intersection of I-95 and the “Blue Route” (the I-476 expressway). it was convenient to my day job at the time, but literally nothing else. it was 30 minutes one way to Danny’s preschool, which we were determined to keep him in for his final year there…farther from just about everything that was important to us.
Looming larger than any of that, though, was the fact that the rent for the new place was $1500.00 – very nearly a $200 increase in rent from what we were paying for a house we loved…for a house that didn’t really excite either one of us very much. not necessarily because it was that much worse a place to live, but because – well, it wasn’t the House In Havertown. it was, simply put, ill equipped to to compete with what we’d come from. It was three bedrooms, but the bedrooms were microscopic – and the upstairs bathroom was so small that when you sat on the toilet, it was nearly impossible not to be up against the wall…and standing in the shower, i could literally see over the shower curtain rod. I took to calling the place “The Hobbit House”.
We moved into the house a year ago this past June – while I was on the road with the Marshall Tucker Band. when I left, we lived in Havertown…when i came back off the road, we lived in The Hobbit House in Morton.
It was an interesting year, to say the least – for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with the house specifically, but when the lease expiration started to creep up on us, we didn’t really give any thought to moving, as i don’t think either of us had the energy to even consider it. we hadn’t looked for anything as the lease term was expiring, anyway…until a random conversation that Wendy had with one of the mothers from Danny’s preschool. It turned out that she and her family were moving back to South Carolina due to some sort of promotion from work, and they’d be moving out at the end of June. So we went to see the house, and it was awesome…4 bedrooms, a HUGE finished basement, a deck, a porch swing – but…BUT…it was TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS a MONTH.
Still, we seriously considered it – the logic being that we’d have available child care because we’d be back in our old neighborhood and we knew people we felt comfortable with that would LOVE to have Danny a few days a week, which meant that we could all work and we could likely make up the $500 difference between what we were paying now and what we would be paying.
But, after considering this for a few days, and after being prompted by this opportunity to take a look online and see what else might be available in our old neighborhood, reality began to set in.
Even when we first moved to town, and were paying $1340 a month, we were getting by. Certainly not saving money, not buying anything extravagant, not getting ahead…but getting by. And thanks to the occasional runs with MTB, we were able to make $1500 work when we had to move. But since the contract expired at my day gig at the end of the year, and with me staying home with Danny while Dylan and Wendy went to work, even $1500 had become taxing…there were late payments here and there (which, thankfully, the landlord worked through with us) and things became difficult as a rule of thumb. If it weren’t for my musical income, we’d have probably been out on the street at some point…but we always managed to make things work.
Now, we were looking at moving into a house that was $500 more per month than what we were already paying…and it didn’t take long to figure out that, even if I went back to work and Wendy either stayed home or found daycare for Danny, the math just wasn’t going to end up in the black.
Then, looking at the few other properties that were on the rental market in the area, one thing became clear – the whole “bump” that had happened as a result of the US Open spike obviously had something of a lasting effect. Havertown, as I’d seen it, was essentially a working-class neighborhood. Our street was a quiet, peaceful street that consisted largely of families with young children…folks with no pretense. approachable, good people. But the notion of finding another house comparable to the one we’d lived in before for a similar price was fading into a pipe dream. there were the occasional duplexes and the like to be found, but generally speaking, every available single family home with 3 or more bedrooms to be found was listing at a minimum of $1850 – and much more likely at $2k or up. It was a huge spike, and it was nowhere near being matched on the income side.
When I started working the Wells Fargo contract, I was making $23 an hour. When that contract expired and I went to work for Amerihealth Mercy, I was making $22 an hour. For those of you who majored in subjects other than math, that’s LESS money. And everything I’d seen or been presented with after the Amerihealth contract expired was even less than what I’d been making – mostly junior, entry level stuff that involved migrating data or moving PC’s from one office to another.
So let’s recap – housing is going up in the area where we want to live by hundreds of dollars a month on a yearly basis.
In the meantime, I’m being paid less and less per hour to show up at work.
Perhaps the federal government would disagree, but this can only have one end result:
THIS PATTERN IS UNSUSTAINABLE.
So what do we do, when faced with our preferred option being unsustainable?
You either find a way to make it sustainable – which doesn’t appear to be in the cards – or you choose another path.
So do we hunker down and suck it up and stay where we are, or do we do something drastic?
As fate would have it, my in-laws, Mark and Joanne, were passing through on their way to Maine just as all this turmoil was coming to a head, and after putting Danny to bed, we put the subject on the table…and the notion of picking up and moving to Nashville was thrown out for discussion – and they were surprisingly supportive of the concept. For them, it made sense on several levels that we hadn’t immediately considered – we’d be less than a full days’ drive away from them for nine months of the year, and with that being the case, it’d be easier for Wendy to take Danny to see friends of theirs that had moved to Tampa from Reading a few years back.
So, in keeping with the spirit of the discussion, we got out the laptops, went to Zillow.com and did a search for Nashville, TN for rental properties with a ceiling of $1500.00 – the amount we were currently paying.
To say that we were shocked to see what our Pennsylvania rent would buy in Tennessee would be a huge understatement. Sure, like any other major city, there were properties in the vicinity of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses that were double what we were currently paying, but some degree of that is probably to be expected. The Nashville economy is booming right now – lots of new construction, a HUGE healthcare industry presence (healthcare, is it turns out, is the largest employer in the city by a 3 to 1 margin over the next category…and where there’s healthcare, there’s IT, after all) – and due to the relatively small footprint of the city, it was easy and quick to get into the city from some of the outlying areas where the real deals on housing were to be had…and there were some deals to be had.
The other attraction to moving to Nashville was that we actually had a pretty solid number of friends there – from my musical associations, as well as a half brother who lives 90 minutes south of town. So there’d be a distinct advantage to being there, as opposed to throwing a dart at a map and blindly picking another city to move to, if we were to choose that option.
So we started the discussion, in earnest for perhaps the first time ever, of picking up, packing all our belongings, and moving out of state to Nashville, Tennessee.
After staying up very late and discussing this with Wendy and her parents, I got up the next day and placed a call to the Nashville office of Robert Half Technology, and spoke to a recruiter later that afternoon, and had set up a Skype interview for the following morning.
Yes, THAT quickly.
So, we made the call. We kept it to ourselves for a short time, but I began rooting out job opportunities and started scouring Zillow and Craigslist for potential rental properties and such – but after talking to a couple of realtors, I was advised that it’d be best to hold off on actually trying to nail anything down until I knew what my move date was going to be, and that if it wasn’t at the end of the current month, I’d be hard pressed to find something that someone wouldn’t be willing to move into before I got there.
So I decided that I was gonna make a trip south to start doing some of this legwork with my boots on the ground in town. I made arrangements to stay at my buddy Rob Snyder’s place (since he was going to be on the road for almost the entire last two weeks of the month of June) and got ready to head to town.
Danny had gone north to Maine with his grandparents when they left, and the following Sunday, I got up bright and early and got ready to head south…I managed to make the trip in 13 hours or so, on two fillups (at $60 a piece) and got to Rob’s empty house at around 11pm that night, armed and ready for my fact finding mission. I got online, compiled a list of places that I wanted to drive by the following day, and fell asleep. The next morning, I got up and re-checked CL and Zillow to see if there was anything I’d missed, emailed my list to myself, and hit the road.
I had scheduled a couple of interviews – one with the Tech company I’d done the Skype interview for, and another for a company that owns a bunch of Jackson-Hewitt tax prep offices and kiosks in the Southeast…and there’d be two more that would materialize over that week, as well.
I’d also do walkthroughs at houses and then walk through a second time to videotape the walkthrough and post it so that Wendy and Dylan could see it from back home.
Then, at the end of the day, I’d come home, decompress a bit, and go out to see music. And I went out to see music literally every single night I was there. Monday night, the Time Jumpers at Third and Lindsley. Tuesday night, dinner with my buddy Charlie (where we bumped into Dan Tyminski on the porch of the restaurant, hanging out with the owner), then to the Five Spot to see Shawn Byrnes’ surf-punk band, the Doke Ohms. Wednesday, dinner with Peter Rodman, then to Douglas Corner to see Steve Conn play a set…and bumped into George Marinelli and was introduced to Guthrie Trapp, a great player and subsequently, a good friend as well. In fact, he was playing the following night at the Station Inn with his band 18 South…so the next night, I went to a Nashville Sounds game, and went to 18 South afterward and saw a great band fronted by wonderful songwriters play to a packed house who fell absolutely silent when they played “Whiskey Lullaby” (a song written by Jon Randall with Bill Andersen). I hung out with Guthrie and some other new friends in the parking lot until the wee hours (after having been the last two folks to walk out of Douglas Corner the night before)…and this went on the entire week.
So I’d get home from whatever adventure I’d gone on that night and would sit down at the table with my laptop and go over job listings, as well as whatever might’ve been posted on CL or Zillow during the course of the day…and make my “list” for the following day. While I was there, I secured an interview for an IT position at the Frist Center, as well – which I stayed an extra day to attend. Then, later that day, I got an email from RHT asking if it’d be possible for me to work the short, pre-holiday week prior to the 4th of July at the company I’d interviewed for first…”just to see if it’s a fit,” the email said.
So I consented to stay another week and get in 32 hours with this managed services company in Franklin and see how it went, so to speak.
In the meantime, I was still looking at properties…including a place in East Nashville that had a great back yard and a deck, a full basement, and was in an awesome neighborhood – I went to see it and met Sarah, the current occupant, did a video walkthrough, and…well, the place felt to me like we already lived there, on some levels. And it’s walking distance from the river and an easy drive into the city.
So we’ve signed the lease, we’ve sent the deposit check, and…
…it’s a done deal.
The Hamptons will be moving to Nashville shortly after the beginning of August – all of us, including Dylan. (and I’m not convinced that I won’t manage to lure Jayda down eventually, either.)
and…perhaps the most ironic detail of this whole adventure…after considering the move for musical reasons literally dozens of times over the course of my life, we’re moving to Nashville for reasons that have absolutely ZERO to do with music or the music business.
We’ve put the news out there for everyone, and I’ve given up on trying to manage people’s perception – the universal response has been based on some vague assumption that I’m making this move for musical reasons, and I can certainly understand why folks think that way. I’ve tried to explain to the folks that are willing to have the conversation exactly what I’ve said here – that it’s much less a musical decision than it is an opportunity to try to create a better existence for my family. The job I’ve accepted pays $23 an hour (which spoils my theory that the reason the cost of living is so much cheaper there is because it’s harder to make a decent wage), and there’s no state income tax, which means that I’ll keep an extra $54 or so PER WEEK from that hourly wage than I did in PA.
AND we’re paying almost the exact same amount for a 1,700 square foot home in a great neighborhood that we’re paying now for an 1,100 square foot Hobbit House in a place where none of us ever really wanted to be in the first place.
The weeks ahead of us scare the hell outta me – we’ve paid the security deposit, but we now have to come up with money for the move itself (the base rental rate for the truck is $1500.00), and work out the logistics of the move, between clearing out the storage space in reading, picking up dylan’s remaining belongings at his moms’ house, and possibly piggybacking another friend onto the move as well)…then just the sheer manpower of getting everything onto the truck, getting everyone to where they need to be and such…AND Danny starts school the second week of August, and I have three gigs in New England the weekend prior to that.
My head hurts just thinking about it.
But I do honestly believe that by the time August has come and gone, we’ll all feel that we made the right decision.
Send good thoughts our way, folks. We’ll need ’em.