As Jack’s recent post, What Happened to Wallyhood?, alluded, I’ve bowed out from contributing to this blog. I want to apologize for the careless way I did it.
A little explanation is in order. I feel like I’ve been personal enough on these pages over the years that this won’t seem out of place.
I lived in the same house in Wallingford, just across from the John Stanford International School (or Latona Elementary School, as it was named when I first moved in) since early 1993. I went from temp secretarial worker to graduate student to Microsoftie to property owner to husband (and back to single and to husband again) to business owner and finally, and most importantly, to father in that house.
Our son, Zevin, went to a succession of schools in and around the neighborhood, wrapping up his final year at UCDS, just over I-5 in the University District this spring. As we were looking around at middle school options, public and private, we came across one that we fell in love with: Hyla. It had everything we were looking for: small class sizes, a pastoral setting, engaged teachers genuinely enthusiastic about crafting the next generation, and an empathic, kind student body. Set on a forest road on Bainbridge Island, though, it was a bit further than a daily commute from Wallingford would allow.
I want to pause here and emphasize that what motivated our family to move from Seattle was a desire for Bainbridge and Hyla, not any dissatisfaction with Seattle. When I tell people about our move (especially people we meet out here “on island”), I often get a knowing head shake, with the assumption that we were trying to escape the changes that are sweeping Seattle and other urban areas. That really wasn’t it for me. I loved living in Seattle and in Wallingford in particular.
I loved taking walks in the neighborhood, watching the little updates and improvements people made to their yards, stopping to chat with neighbors out to work in their gardens, peddling up to Al’s Tavern or over to the Union Saloon for a drink with a friend, grabbing a slice from Pudge Brothers or a burger from Dick’s. I loved sorting through the albums at Fat Cat Records, picking up neighborhood news in the chair at Spin’s Barber Shop. I loved how close Dunn Lumber, Tweedy and Popp and Stone Way Hardware were when something around the house needed a quick fix.
Sure, the neighborhood has its problems. Someone recently stole the solar panel off the little free library I built, leaving it unlit at night, as well as the (nearly worthless) lawn mower from our garage, leaving our small scrap of lawn scraggly. Then, just after we moved out (but before our new tenants moved in), we found our backyard hot tub doubled for a bath tub for the local unwashed (despite the presence of a perfectly serviceable outdoor shower just a few feet away.) People with dogs do things people without dogs prefer they wouldn’t and people with cars do things people with and without cars wish they wouldn’t.
But none of that tarnished my affection for Wallingford. All of that is a call to draw together as a neighborhood and find ways to hold onto and improve the things we love, not gather marbles and leave the game.
But this new school offered something dreamy to our family. It was so easy to see Zevin debating his class mates in history, collaborating on a science project and running among the apple trees, that when you added to it the promise of exploring the local bays and inlets on paddle board or boat, the decision was inescapable. So, after a few weekends of camper van exploration of the island’s neighborhoods, we decided to make the jump.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
The epidemic changed everyone’s lives, most profoundly for the worse. As a small business owner, I had a very unusual experience.
My day job is running Pathable, the software company I co-founded twelve years ago. Pre-pandemic, we produced mobile applications for conferences and trade shows. If you’ve ever been to a large event, you’ve probably downloaded one like those we made: each app contained the agenda, maps, speaker bios and other key information about the conference, along with bespoke branding for the particular event we sold it to.
As you can imagine, the strictures of social distancing up-ended this business. In the space of a few days in late February, I realized that my entire clientele, every contract I had, every piece of business I was set to deliver for at least the next year if not more, was gone. In a heart-sinking few days, I began to make a sad peace with the notion that I would be shutting my business down, letting go my 20 or so employees, and puzzling through the thoroughly unsatisfying work of shuttering a bankrupt business.
Then, I had a live-changing insight: I could take the infrastructure we had built to deliver mobile apps and adapt it for “virtual events”, integrating Zoom and other technologies into our desktop website side of the business and license it to conference planners to enable them to operate entirely online. This proved to be a valuable, very valuable, insight.
Not only was I able to salvage the business and the jobs of my 20 or so employees, but by arriving at a solution before the rest of the conference industry, we became the market leader in a nascent mega-industry. As of this writing, our revenues are up over twenty-fold from last year and we’ve grown to over 90 employees (and if we can fill our open positions, we’ll crack 100 within weeks), all within the space of just a few months.
This kind of growth is demanding, and has necessitated an almost unbroken string of 14-hour workdays to deliver on the promises we’ve made to our new customers and colleagues, all in the midst of packing up and disposing of 27 years of accumulation for my family’s move to our new home. I suppose it’s a flavor of that old curse, “May you get what you wish for.”
Which brings me back to the point of this writing: a belated explanation for my seemingly careless disappearance from Wallyhood.
I created this blog in the months just after my son was born over eleven years ago. I had lived in the neighborhood for fifteen years and realized with embarrassment that I could barely name my neighbors just one or two houses away, that local businesses that served my community came and went without my notice, and that whoever was making the decisions that would shape my life here in Wallingford were unknown to me.
So I set up a WordPress site, took my wife Michelle’s inspired portmanteau of “Wallingford” and “neighborhood” as a moniker and set off down 45th Street with some printed signs and stapler (this was before one could rely on Facebook to “get the word out” locally). In the beginning I would write three or four articles a day, every day, on whatever I discovered in my daily walks and rides around the neighborhood, and I loved it. I learned about the people I lived with as I wrote about them, and, just as important, they learned about each other.
My dream had never been for Wallyhood to be a one-man show, though. I had envisioned it as a community blog, produced for and by the people who lived and worked here. Readership grew to over 70,000 pageviews and 20,000 visitors every month, but getting people to write for Wallyhood with the same enthusiasm with which it was read proved more challenging. Margaret Steck co-produced it with me for a while, then Eric Fisk the took the reins while I was abroad for a few months, and shared the editor role when I returned.
Most recently, a trio of co-editors, Jack McLaughlin, Katy Portier and Ben Robinson, along with a small cadre of regular contributors, shared the burden of article production with me, which worked well, I think, until the recent turn of events. Ben had to take a leave of absence, but Jack, Katy and I had several meeting where we talked about how to usher Wallyhood into its next stage. They were both interested in carrying on, and I promised I would write a final farewell post that would double as a recruitment call for Wallyhood 3.0, reborn with new input as a truly community-driven enterprise, with new writers, new editors and maybe even a new model for crowd-sourced article submission.
But I did not. I just, well, disappeared.
I hope you won’t mind one slightly more personal turn: my failure to say goodbye, to give closure and introduce the opportunity for renewal, wasn’t just due to the fact that I was busy with running a business and moving at the same time (although that really is a thing.) It was also emotional. Each time I sat down at the keyboard to write, I just felt an overwhelming sadness and anxiety. I didn’t want to say goodbye, and then, as days turned into weeks and I had still hadn’t gotten past the first sentence of my farewell, I started to feel ashamed at my fumble and simultaneously overwhelmed with the effort.
But regardless the reason, leaving the way I did, without a farewell or explanation, and without delivering on promises I had made to Jack and Katy about a final recruiting post wasn’t fair and did a disservice not only to them but to the Wallyhood readers.
It also gravely undermined the legacy I had hoped to leave with Wallyhood. I would very, very much like this blog to continue and thrive. It’s not mine, it belongs to the community. The mission it served, to connect the community, to enable the kind of discussions and relationships that a neighborhood needs to stay healthy, is still vitally important. It would be tragic if my inability to step up when it came time to step down destroyed the thing that I wanted to preserve.
So, if you’ve gotten this far, I think you care about Wallyhood. It’s not too late to save it, but Jack and Katy need help from you all if they’re going to do it. I’d like to use this final farewell post as a call for renewal: if this is going to continue, and it should, it’s going to need people like you to contribute not just to writing articles, but to organizing and running it. Jack has offered to spearhead this effort, but he and Katy need help.
If you would like to contribute and participate in the conversation about how Wallyhood evolves from here, please email [email protected]. There is already an email thread going among contributors and supporters on how this happens going, and we’d like you to join it.
And with that, let me wrap up with a simple thank you for being such good neighbors over this year. I miss you.