Along the way we’ve been trying to share some of our personal experiences from the road – the things we’ve been up to when we’re off the clock. Here’s a big update: ABQ / Dallas / Nola / Asheville / Raleigh / Durham / DC. It’s hard to believe the trip has come to an end. If you’ve been following our journey, thanks!
ABQ to Texas: Casey’s Home Turf
Amaris had to fly to Boston to move all her things from her old apartment across the Charles River to Cambridge, so Casey, Hicham, and I struck out from Albuquerque on our own for Dallas. The route between Albuquerque and Dallas is more or less featureless, but I kept myself entertained by blasting the Dallas Theme Song which got me through to our late arrival in Dallas at Miss Cox’s house, Casey’s Godmother and expert veggie sausage preparer.
After spending a week in Amaris’ hometown, meeting her dad, and learning more about her through our experiences in Albuquerque, Hicham and I were ready for the much-anticipated “tour de Casey” as we had been calling it. After a veggie-friendly breakfast from Miss Cox, Casey pulled out the family photo albums and gave Hicham and I a quick lesson in the history of the Gerald’s: including the churches his grandfather had been the pastor of, his sister and niece, and his mom and dad.
Hicham and I loaded up into Casey’s car, and he started driving us around Dallas, starting with the neighborhood that his family members had first lived in generations ago when they moved in from rural Texas, or as Casey’s Granny would say, “the country”.
We continued on to see Casey’s high school, the field he played football on, and then drove on to see some of the more expensive neighborhoods of Dallas with homes worth tens of millions of dollars. The contrast between these neighborhoods and the ones we had seen earlier in the day was striking. As Casey explained, Dallas is a city that has grown and thrived, but you can definitely tell where the wealth has collected and where it is has not.
The highlight of the time in Dallas was getting together with about 40 of Casey’s family members at his Granny’s house to eat and meet everybody. Highlights: Casey’s mom made me a special veggie casserole, and his Granny made a “sock it to me” cake. It was all delicious and tasted even better because it was homemade, something you come to appreciate when you are away form home for a while.
While we were there, we found this poster with Casey on it that evidently at one point hung in ever public school in Dallas. It was clear to us that Casey’s whole family was proud of him, but it was really cool to see how the whole community seemed to have been impacted by Casey’s decision to go to Yale.
Big Things in the Big Easy
None of us had ever been to New Orleans, so aside from Hicham watching “Treme”, me reading “Confederacy of Dunces”, and all of us seeing lots of post-Katrina news coverage of the city, none of us had any real experience with New Orleans.
I was surprised by how different the city of New Orleans feels from anywhere else in the United States. We’ve noticed in our travels this summer that certain cities downtown areas and definitely outlying suburbs have a very similar look, feel, and flavor. Not New Orleans. The architecture of the buildings, the live music that seems to drift out of every door, and the energy of the city make it feel distinctly unlike any other place I’ve been in the US or elsewhere.
One night after work our hosts Sarah and Alex were kind enough to show us some of their favorite things in the city. We ended the night at a bar and music venue called the Maple Leaf to see Rebirth Brass Band. The place was small, crowded, hot, and smoky, and we were right in front of the stage staring down a wall of trumpets, trombones, saxes, drums and a tuba. The sound was incredible: loud, soulful, playful, funky, and they didn’t seem to get tired, bouncing and sweating in that tiny space for hours without letting up.
Being in places like Montana and Detroit this summer, we haven’t seen many of our classmates, but in New Orleans we lucked out and by chance happened to be there at the same time as our friends Eric Sonnier and Broderick Mclinton who are bootstrapping a great crowd funding startup this summer called Equity Endeavor. It’s a great concept where they work with Small Business Owners (think a small restaurant) to scope out the funding required for a capital improvement (like a new patio area or a pizza oven) and then fund that expense through crowd funding of local customers who will then have the opportunity to enjoy the improvement themselves. We had dinner with Eric and Broderick and spent a lot of time sharing stories and comparing the challenges our two groups have faced this summer. It turns out that one we had in common was a lot of driving, because Eric and Broderick have been rushing back and forth between Austin and New Orleans.
New Orleans is beautiful at night:
We left New Orleans for Asheville and spent a night in between on the northern outskirts of Atlanta. In the morning we finished up the drive, winding through the Appalachian mountain roads and past the Blue Ridge parkway until we found our way to Asheville.
Our project in Asheville was with Highland Brewing Company, the first legal brewery in Asheville and my favorite. We got to “work” right away, grabbing dinner at Mellow Mushroom in downtown and asking the folks working there what they knew about Highland and what other breweries or bars they’d recommend for us to interview customers. We took their advice afterward and walked over to Wicked Weed, a newer Brewpub in Asheville that has an open, beautiful space, lots of very happy looking customers, and great beer.
Meeting the Brewmaster at Highland, John Lyda:
On to Raleigh and Durham:
When we announced the list of cities we’d be hitting, no two cities were more vocal about us having left them off the list than Raleigh and Durham. We were besieged with emails and tweets telling us we had made a “grave error” and that we absolutely had to come visit. In response, I worked with Anthony Pompliano, founder of Digaforce, who organized a list of activities for us to get into on Saturday in Raleigh and Durham. We visited the American Underground, a hub for startups, incubators, and thought leaders in Durham and Raleigh HQ a coworking space, and had lunch with a bunch of awesome people in the startup ecosystem. We loved Raleigh and Durham so much that we committed to sending at least one team back there next summer.
Last Week of the trip: Our Nation’s Capitol
We spent the last week of our trip in DC reflecting on the experience of the past 7 weeks and planning for what is to come next. We saw this summer as a test, a small bet that we could add value to an entrepreneur’s business in a week and that we would learn from it as well. The bet turned out to pay off, and we were blown away by how valuable this summer was to each of us but also by the uniformly positive feedback we got from the entrepreneurs we worked with.
Planning how to grow MBAs Across America at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business:
-Mike & MBAxAmerica Team