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America Me Work

Reedsport Life

I’ve moved my family from North Africa to Turkey back to North Africa to California and now to Reedsport, Oregon. From here, I’m not planning on moving my family again. Sure, life in the USA isn’t as great as it once was, the days of children having more opportunity than their parents have never existed for me, but I hope they will exist for my daughter.

We have a nice life here. I’ve rented us a pretty house with a pretty yard, a nice garage, plenty of space in a nice neighborhood. Somehow, we’ve filled our little house up with nice things that make us comfortable and happy. We have everything we need – luckily, neither Hanane nor I need to have a lot of friends around all the time. She is happy to talk to her family and friends on Skype when she isn’t working and I’m happy to have the chance to hang out with Sophia, cruise around exploring the area, and once in a while to have an interesting conversation at a shop or a garage sale.

It’s nice that we have friends that will come visit and it’s nice that we live in a beautiful place where people will want to come visit. I am staggered by the beauty of this place. Equally amazing is the fact that this is a dying town – there are 4000 people in Reedsport and most of t hem are senior citizens who live in RVs and come for the good weather and leave with the bad. There are a dozen mediocre restaurants and dozens of empty shops and storefronts both in the old downtown and in the new. This town lived on timber and mills and those days are gone. There is no industry here.

But there should be – I’ve been all over the world and there are few places that have floored me the way this area has. Twenty miles south is Coos Bay and North Bend with cute little downtown shops, a nice bay, and many of the same problems we face here, but with a more diverse population. Twenty miles north is Florence where the snowbirds have built RV colonies   like Florentine Estates where every house has an RV barn. Both are good sized towns with healthy tourist industries. In  between are Reedsport, Gardiner, and Winchester Bay and forty miles of the most scenic lakes and forest of the Oregon coast along with the Smith River, the Umpqua River, the Siuslaw River and streams and ponds beyond mention. Tahkenitch Lake, Ten-Mile Lake, Siltcoos Lake, Woahink Lake, Clear Lake, Eel Lake, Saunders Lake, Beal Lake, Snag Lake, Spirit Lake, Horsefall Lake, Bluebill Lake, Three mile lake, Elbow Lake – and just in case you forgot – Unger Bay, Winchester Bay, Umpqua Beach, the Oregon Dunes. Yeah, the Oregon dunes – the largest expanse of coastal sand dunes in the North America. Frank Herbert was inspired to write Dune by being here!

This is my backyard! And it’s populated by pensioners and retirees. I am literally in the vacation wonderland of the Pacific Coast – sure – this isn’t a winter sports or surf mecca – but it is a fishing, hunting, motorcycling, hiking, bird watching elk watching, canoeing, kayaking, horse back riding (Dean Creek has two of the largest Elk Herds on the west coast and viewing areas where you can watch them year round). It’s not unusual for me to see elk, seals, salmon, crabs, deer, or countless birds every day.

The down side is that the garage saling here is definitely not as good as in San Francisco or Sacramento – the retirees live in RVs and have mostly already gotten rid of the junk I like to find and sell and in a rural place – people tend to value their junk a bit higher – but, that’s a small price to pay. The truth is I amassed a nice horde in California that it will probably take me a while to sell anyway (check out Vago’s Treasures). And besides, if I’m going to do this for a living – it’s more fun to go on missions to different places for great sales and rare finds anyway.

So, that’s the reason why there is no one here but me, my family, the retirees, and a few people I haven’t met or figured out yet.  No jobs, no industry. But, the schools are good but small without crowded classrooms, the people are friendly, the crime is almost non-existent, and I’m loving it. My goal though – is to become the tourist bureau for Reedsport. Hell, maybe if i succeed at that, I’ll even become the mayor. To start all that out, I’ve bought a couple of domains for Reedsport, Oregon – coming soon.

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America Family Me My Mission Work

The Relief of a Home

I’ve secretly been carrying the weight of the world around on my shoulders but wasn’t able to tell anyone about it. Finally, I can relax.

Deciding to bring my wife and daughter to the USA was a huge decision and not one that I made lightly, the visa process to get my wife permanent residency was a struggle that took everything I had, especially doing it from Morocco, not having a residence in the USA, and not having a traditional source of income – at times, while we were going through the process it nearly ended things. We had some stupendous donnybrooks and when we finally got to the USA, I thought we could finally move forward.

I’m an extremely goal oriented person and even though I don’t talk about it much, most of my life and my accomplishments are mapped out and scheduled – for example – a year ago, without the visa, without the money to come to the USA, one of my goals was to have my family in the USA by May 1, 2013. We arrived on April 17th. As I said, I thought that I would be able to move forward easily – and, not surprisingly, I had a plan.

Over the past five years, I’ve supported my family and our adventures with the business I built from scratch, Vagobond Travel Media, LLC. Granted, we haven’t earned a six figure income, but it was enough to support us in Morocco, pay for some great trips, bring us to the USA, and put about $10k in our savings by the time we got here.  It’s fair to say that I am one of the world’s top experts on travel blogging, web development in the tourism sector, travel public relations, and most certainly in travel social media. I am one of the pioneers in these fields. In addition, I have a degree in anthropology that focused on how the world uses the internet to make connections in real life and a strong background in hotel management, project management, and mass media.

My plan was to use these assets to land a job in the tech capital of the world, San Francisco. I figured that in the modern tech world, my work would speak for me and that I would be able to find a decent position with a travel or social media start up, find a house in the bay area for my family to move into, and then, to move forward gangbusters and take the world by storm. Longer term plan was to use my start-up experience (and capital) to create a ground breaking travel social network.

All of that plan fell to shit.  Here was the plan:

Arrive and recover from jetlag for two days in a hotel. April 17-19

Stay with my sister for 1-2 weeks while job hunting. April 20- May 4

Visit my mother in Redding in late May, introduce my family to my family. Road trip to Washington, Oregon to see friends and more family.

Begin job. Locate a house in San Mateo area. June 15.

Have a garden in my backyard by July 1 and be growing vegetables and doing worm composting.

For a variety of reasons, I failed almost all of that. Things changed and didn’t happen the way I had planned. I adapted, but man, I hate it when that happens.  Our hotel recovery was interrupted and I accepted an offer to take us to Redding before I really had time to think about what I was doing, while in Redding my mother had an accident and we found ourselves feeling like we needed to scrap all of our plans and stay to help her but then we were made to feel less than comfortable with that decision and I grabbed my family and took us away as soon as I was able. The first opportunity after we knew my mom was okay and I had a car, we split. A friend offered us a two week house sitting gig in Sacramento in early May and I figured that was close enough to San Francisco that I could follow my original plan.

That’s when I was slapped in the face with an ugly reality. Tech start-ups don’t want to hire a guy in his 40s who has been calling his own shots for the past five years. My accomplishments didn’t count for enough with the start-ups to get past the fact that they could hire a fresh college grad with a social media or advertising degree for far less than I could support my family on in the Bay Area. I made the two hour trip from Sacramento to SF for multiple interviews but every time, the interviews ended with slightly apologetic/slightly arrogant remarks about how it was an entry level position and I was over qualified – i.e. my resume didn’t have a tech giant on it they could list on the company website as they sought funding and I wasn’t willing to accept less than I could support my family on. Fail.

But, adapt and overcome. I decided we could stay in Sacramento. Our friends returned from their trip and offered to let us stay in their house rent free for as long as we wanted – or until the courts evicted them – whichever came first. For the past three years, they have been fighting to overturn a foreclosure – and, aside from all the work they put into learning how to manipulate the courts, filing motions, and sending out documents – they have been living rent free. The house belonged to my friend’s cousin and was foreclosed on by the bank, she wrote a quit claim deed to him, and he and his partner began their fight to say that the house was really theirs and so it couldn’t be foreclosed. Three years of free rent, but the threat of eviction hanging over their heads every day.  That’s no situation to have a two year old and a new immigrant wife in, so I agreed to stay but only for as long as it took me to find a place to live.

I liked our neighborhood in Sacramento and the rents were modest for the area at about $900-$1200 per month for a house with yard, 2 bedrooms, etc. I found a couple of likely houses and filled out applications – now here is the thing, I had money in the bank, I could show my income from writing/blogging/book sales and I was willing to pay first/last/deposit which came to about $3600 up front, my credit is not stellar, but the only flaw on it is that I don’t have any credit cards but do have $40k in student debt – the landlords, however, were so scared of renting to someone without an outside (not self-employed) source of income and not one of them agreed to rent to me even after we met and I showed them my paypal payments from clients, records, etc. One jack-off slum lord met solely for the purpose of getting a business consult on his website and had someone moving in the next day…FAIL.

Also, living in someone else’s house isn’t an ideal situation for me to write, maintain websites, or even buy and sell estate and garage sale items since all of our possessions were in boxes and needed to be put back in boxes, kept tidy, and stored. My wife and two year old spent lots of time in our temporary bedroom and I tried to work in the living room, but since both of our friends also worked at home, I didn’t really get anything done in the almost 3 months we were there. Yes, we were there for 3 months while I tried to find work, tried to find a house, and tried to figure out how to take care of my family the best way. I am deeply grateful to our friends for letting us squat with them while I figured out that California just wasn’t going to work for us.  We made frequent trips to the Bay Area and Redding and I took us on a road trip up the West Coast so we could scout other locations, so my wife could meet my friends, and so we could be away from the squat and give our friends space.

By the end of July, I knew we had to leave. The women had begun to squabble over toilet paper and tampons and anything else, our two year old needed more structure for her development, and I needed to have a dedicated space to work.  For Sophia’s 2nd birthday we went to Redding to see my mom and so I could help my friends Matt and Amber with a garage estate sale and then I got in the car and drove to Reedsport, Oregon – which I’d picked out as the perfect spot for my family to live.

What makes Reedsport perfect? Violent crime is zero. There are no registered sex offenders. The town sits slightly inland on the Umpqua River and is safe from tsunami, the coastal region is wet and safe from forest fires, the town is a completely undeveloped tourist mecca which has the  Oregon dunes, the Oregon coast, the Smith River, the Umpqua River, and Winchester Bay all within a stone throw. Coos Bay is 20 miles south and Florence is 20 miles north. Because it is inland it doesn’t have the wind you find along the rest of the Oregon coast. The climate is mild with lows in the winter around 37 degrees and highs in the summer around 80 degrees. It has good schools, good fishing, crabbing, and a health food store.

So, I came up here and went to a property management company. I filled out the forms, checked into a hotel, and began my search. Here’s the thing – there aren’t all that many houses in Reedsport and most of them are owned by the residents – there were no 3 bedroom single family homes available – but there was one coming up mid-month. I looked at the outside, filled out the application, and gave the agent deposit and first months rent. She couldn’t get in contact with the owner. For three days we tried and I searched for other houses…I didn’t find any. This was my only option.

It was time to go anyway. I went back to Redding and picked up my family and we went back to the squat in Sacramento where we packed our things. I’d bought an $800 jeep a few weeks before and had a hitch and ball put on it so I could tow a U-Haul trailer. I rented the trailer, we packed our things, we said goodbye to our friends, and we set off. The trailer was too big and too heavy for the jeep but we made it anyway after reversing the ball so the hitch didn’t drag. I reserved a hotel for a week in Reedsport and up we came not sure if we had a place or not.

A week in a hotel room with a two year old is a long time. Long story short, we got the house and yesterday we  moved in. I signed the lease, set up my office, transferred the utilities (deposits on utilities are a big moving expense you don’t think of but should), and here we are! Last night was our first night in the house. We barbecued steaks in the back  yard and slept in our own bed in our own room in our own house filled with our own things.

Not having a home for my family and not having a job were a heavy load to be carrying – missing that June 15th deadline was a challenging blow. Now I can rest and get to work building my business again – my family has a home, I have an office, we have a life. It took me two months longer than I expected, but the funny thing is that during that two months – we managed to gather everything we needed (except couches and some other furniture) to make this house into our home.

I have a job – taking care of my family, writing, and continuing to develop Vagobond Travel Media, LLC – and here’s a bonus – my wife got a job at the hotel we stayed at – when things like this happen, you have to know that you are in the flow and the flow is good.

Our hometown is now Reedsport and it just might be the coolest undiscovered place in the USA.

Categories
America Me

Leaving California and Heading to Oregon

It’s been wonderful to be back in California. The time we’ve been able to spend with my sister and my mom, the ability to reconnect with old friends from high school, and the chance to sort of decompress and reconfigure ourselves for this American life has been invaluable. The amazing thing to me is the ‘stuff factor’. We’ve gone from five suitcases and a couple of boxes to a big 12 foot long Uhaul trailer filled with stuff. Everything from furniture to fishing poles to jewelry and baseball cards. No, we haven’t become robbers – but we have been filling up our buckets from the well of over-abundance that exists in the USA. That big trailer full of stuff cost us almost nothing because in addition to buying stuff to keep, we’ve been buying stuff to sell too – between Ebay, garage sales, and some craigslisting – the total price on our huge trailer of stuff is less than zero. That’s how it is in the USA and we haven’t even really begun to properly sell yet.

My wife has been learning how to fix and make jewelry while also learning about using Ebay and Etsy – I’ve been treading water a bit while we wait for a place of our own so that I can do my work without having to put everything back in the boxes when I’m done. Along the way, I’ve been learning tons from the people I’m selling to – whether from Ebay or Garage Sales. I can now accurately judge and evaluate bakelite, gold, silver, furniture, ceramics, and other collectibles as well as tools, fishing gear, books, and china – I wouldn’t say that I have reached the status of an antiques roadshow expert yet – but I’m far closer to that than I was a few months ago.

I helped a friend out with a couple of garage sales after it fell on him to dispose of grandparents and parents accumulated possessions – it was overwhelming! They were incredibly interesting people and collected things from England, France, Turkey, Italy, and the USA. It was a self-run crash-course on antiques, collectibles, and the complexity of pricing. Not to mention a great refresher on the art of the sale. Our two sales yielded more than $5000 and cleared out an incredible amount of stuff that might otherwise have all been taken to the Goodwill.  Along the way of evaluating, we held back everything that could bring in high dollars for a future estate sale or a “Vago Roadshow” down to San Francisco – after all the market for Japanese woodblocks, 17th century French furniture, and fine Turkish carpets is fairly limited in Redding, California. However, we still managed to sell some huge volume and some surprisingly valuable things for retail price or better.

For pricing, I generally used Ebay – I would find the items under SOLD listings and we would make the garage sale price around 50-75% of that – if they were particularly desirable items, we would price them higher knowing that there would be a future sale with more qualified buyers and that the value of the items wouldn’t go down. Case in point, a Royal Daulton pitcher and washbowl – as long as we can keep it from chipping or cracking – which is one of the many things I learned – a chip or a crack, no matter how small, takes all the value out of ceramics (for the most part). For this reason, we were able to sell a huge amount of beautiful art pottery for low prices which fit with Redding’s economy and aesthetics. People left, thrilled to have fancy ceramics and not caring about the chips or fractures.

To be honest, I was worried about some of our prices – because there was so much volume, I didn’t have time to accurately price everything but on subsequent trips to antique shops, I’ve discovered that our prices were generally close to antique retail – which explains why the dealers grumbled so much – but that was another story. Dealers were a huge segment of our customer base – the key to dealing with them was to know what we were selling and know the value – also to know what wasn’t selling so that we could cut the prices to the dealers thus giving them room for markup and profit and clearing out our own inventory. The way to do that was by having multiple and multi-day sales. The first day we marked things at high retail price just to see if we could get it. The second day we dropped that price by 50% in some cases. For the 2nd sale, we brought items that hadn’t sold from the first sale – and dropped prices even further. Since my friend’s primary goal was to clear stuff and my primary goal was to make as much as possible (I worked for a percentage) – we  needed to find a sweet spot where inventory moved at the highest possible price – the key to that is the story.

Stories are what sell stuff for the best prices. For example:

Old Turkish plates with beautiful calligraphy.

or

Turkish plates bought by my friend’s grandmother back in the 1950s when she and her husband worked on air bases in Ankara. She was the first woman to get a driver’s license in Turkey. The plates themselves come from a region where the Turkish Ottoman Sultans had all of their pottery made for thousands of years – a region famous for the vibrant blues and mellow greens used in the glaze.

See what I mean? We sold the plates for high retail beating the prices on Ebay. Without the story, we would have been lucky to get 25%. A dealer wouldn’t have paid us that price, but a lady decorating her house did – she wanted the story as much as the plates. Our stories, by the way, were all true – people can smell bullshit and it scares away their wallets.

So, we did alright and along the way, I tried to learn something from every person I talked to. The people buying stuff were my teachers. Life is a bit like that – it runs on stories and the people who you are telling the stories to, usually have some pretty great stories of their own.

Categories
America Work

No Se Pickers – Yo Se Pickers

I know pickers. Man, I know a lot of pickers. I know glass pickers, gun pickers, fishing pickers, fish pickers, antique pickers, advertising pickers, and toy pickers. I know nose pickers, too. No se pickers? I know pickers. I read about the economy of the USA and how jobs have increased but those jobs are mostly part time or less than average pay at a time when prices are higher than ever for gas, food, rent, and homes. All of that has led to a huge number of people turning to non-traditional ways to make money – among them, working online with blogs, websites, and online business along with pickers doing some serious picking.

I’ve been helping friends with garage sales and holding a few garage sales of our own as we get ready to move and I can tell you that the first twenty people to any garage sale are pickers that are either wheeling and dealing on their own, own a shop, or sell the stuff on Ebay. As a matter of fact, most of the rest of the people who hit garage sales are selling on Ebay, Amazon, or Craigslist too. While almost all of them complain about the rising cost of things at g-sales, due to g-salers using Ebay to look up prices, I would say that there has probably never been a better time to be a picker.

The reason? Baby boomers were hoarders of the cool stuff their parents left them and they are dropping off like flies now. In addition, those boomers whose parent’s still were alive, are mostly dying right now too. It’s sad, for everyone – everyone except the pickers who are loving it. On the table are vintage antiques from the 1890s to the 1940s plus tons of the ultra-hot Mid-Century Modern furniture, Modern Danish furniture, and incredible Mid-Century glass, ceramics, and decorative items.

Ebay and shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and Storage Wars may have encouraged millions of out of work Americans to join the picker force thus making the picking more competitive and educated sellers about what they have so they don’t give it away, but is that very terrible? Not really. The reason is that the internet and those shows have also made millions more collectors and the education of sellers is a good thing – unless you think it’s cool to pay struggling families low dollar values for high-end items. Personally, I don’t think that’s cool at all.  I’ve always tried to be fair when I buy stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t say – “Hey, I think I can sell this for $100 so maybe you should charge me more…” but I do say “Hey, this thing might be valuable – are you sure you want to sell it for a dollar?” and a couple of times “Hey, don’t sell this before you check it out.” It was painful a few times..I found a signed Hawaiian Ukulele from the 1920s that was for sale for $100 and insisted that the owners check it out – It was worth nearly $12,000!  I  really wanted that Uke, but I couldn’t afford the higher price…still, I don’t think I could have afforded the bad karma from knowing I was stealing it either.

Still, I have ended up with some amazing bargains. Most of the time, people just want cash in hand and since there are so many pickers and collectors out there now – there is a market for just about anything cool you might buy. I bought a monkey wrench for $8 yesterday at a thrift store (by the way, no need to tell thrift stores that something is valuable) – it’s selling online for nearly $100 – but I’m not worried if I don’t sell it – it’s a working monkey wrench! I love that…btw…never mind Old McDonald sitting on a fence – I’ve washed it…

Anyway, it’s a picker, collector, and seller heaven right now – which is funny, because aside from that, nobody seems to have any money at all.