On a late 1990’s afternoon, I left my house with no idea where I was going. Somehow, I’d managed to grow up without becoming anything I’d ever wanted to be. Astronaut, uncheck. Professional skier, nope. Lego set designer, not even close. That afternoon, I ended up at a Borders Bookstore. Borders didn’t have as good a magazine selection as Tower but it was close to my house and smelled less gross. Browsing computer and design magazines was a hobby and I was good at it. I liked the big magazines. The ones imported from Europe that came with a CD-ROM full of software demos. I was flipping through one of these rags when, on a nearby bookshelf, I spotted a 12 tape, clamshell packed, cellophane wrapped VHS training series on HTML. “Make Your Own Website!” the cover screamed. “Interesting.” I thought. “Can anyone just make their own website?” These tapes held the answer to all my wildest creative visions. Unfortunately, at $149, they were priced well above my unemployed twenty-something budget.
Turns out there was some room on the old credit card. I ran the tapes home and freed them from their cellophane wrappers. After slamming the first tape into the VCR, I mashed the play button expecting magic. A few seconds later, a man and woman dressed in business clothes and standing behind a newscaster’s desk appeared. I didn’t know it just then, but these clean cut, khaki draped fun’sters where about to give me something I desperately needed, direction.
I fell in love with the web that day. I bought every coding book I could from a crazy website that would ship books right to your door. I learned design, code and marketing. I’ve built the online presence for schools, radio stations, tombstone makers, comic book creators, rock bands, start ups and my mom. I’ve made a good living building things online. Websites, apps, video games, publishing platforms and podcasts. I started a summer camp to teach kids how to code and produce original entertainment for families on the road. As it turns out, I didn’t become anything I’d ever wanted to be, because everything I wanted to be needed a little time be invented.
I often think about the irony of bookstores being put out of business by the skills taught inside the books they sold. It’s easy to champion the technology of Amazon while scoffing at the inability of brick and mortar stores to adapt. It makes me sad, because lots of us became who we are because of something hidden on a bookstore shelf. So, I’d like to say thanks to Borders, Tower Books and Waldenbooks for helping me figure out where I needed to go.