How I Landed Back in Hicksville
28 December 2019
I’ve worked in film, television & commercial production for 40 years— most of it based in Dallas–having spent 10 years running two different talent agencies and over 25 years as the owner of a producers’ services firm. Between the cheaper technological advances as digital overtook 35mm film production–then witnessing the entire production industry begin to cannibalize itself in the aftermath of the SAG/AFTRA commercials strike of 2000 (which dragged out for 6 months and became a virtual “how-to” manual for the industry to produce non-union everywhere in the world EXCEPT the United States, but that’s another story)—the business had become far less rewarding. We were working non-stop, back-to-back projects and it was exhausting. But an unexpected offer in 2012, made my partner, Andrew, and I make the decision to pare down, slow down and move into our next life chapter.
After my Dad retired in 1999, my parents decided to move back to my hometown of Jackson, Tennessee (officially, “Pop. 67,278” until the 2020 Census corrects it). They thoroughly loved being back among our large, extended family and so many of the friends they grew up with. My Dad was transferred to Houston in the early 1970’s; we moved there when I was in the middle of 8th Grade. It’s an understatement to say this was a devastating time for me personally, but it made me strong and provided me an incredible education in the power of the written word when paired with a sharp sense of humor. It has served me well in my business, but honestly, I’ve never had the guts to try to be a “professional” writer. The voices in my head had convinced me that I needed to make a living and had plenty of writing opportunities through work. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of pieces published in industry/trade magazines and several newspapers, both print and on line.
And although my parents wound up living in five different cities around the country after Houston, I stayed in Texas and wound up working in the Dallas area after transferring to University of North Texas as a senior in college. It was also where Andrew and I met. We moved to Dallas about 18 months later. Through the years, we had many successful adventures in Dallas and, being based from there, I was blessed with the opportunity to work in productions all over the country. The thought of ever leaving just had never occurred to us. Throughout our late 20’s, we often told people we’d probably wind up in New York. Then we went to my friend Mary Chris’ wedding in upstate New York and spent several nights in the city before and after. We returned shell-shocked at how insanely expensive even the most basic stuff was, compared to our then-current standard; opting quietly instead, to stay happily ever after in Dallas.
While visiting my folks over Christmas 2010, however, I remarked how incredibly fast the internet speed was in Jackson. Knowing my Dad, I knew that was not a luxury he would have been willing to pay extra for, so I asked my Mom to show me their utility bill. Turns out it wasn’t just “a little faster,” it was actually 10,000 times faster, and about a third of the cost of our service in Dallas! For that matter, their entire utility bill (which not only included internet, but also full cable, a land line along with gas, electric, water and garbage pickup) was about what our current Dallas Water Utilities bill alone, was. Becoming more curious, I asked what their property taxes ran; and found they were about 1/16th of what we were paying.
That Christmas morning, I kept wondering, “could we ever leave our beloved Dallas? Would Andrew even possibly consider these crazy thoughts of uprooting to move to, of all places, Jackson? Tennessee?” After returning, we started talking about the idea, and while neither of us got overly excited about it, the thought of a change of pace genuinely intrigued us both. Over the next few days, we kept circling back to it. Obviously, we realized that moving to Tennessee would put us much closer to my parents, which would be good, as they are getting older. Moving up to Tennessee would also give us two additional seasons during most years; not just a Summer and Winter that most of Texas gets.
But the most appealing aspect to us both, was that a simpler pace of life and lower cost of living would allow each of us room to nurture our “inner artist.” He, as an actual artist, and me, the wannabe writer. Just over a year later, who’d have guessed a stir-crazy New Yorker would take our keys and lure us to crawl out on this limb?
Our neighbor Lisa, who had left the film production industry to become a realtor about five or six years earlier, called me one April afternoon to say their firm had a guy in town from New York City who was “tired of living in a 900 square foot flat on the 10th floor and wanted more than anything to have a mid-century ranch house on a big lot with a pool.” Our house was not on the market at the time, but she knew we’d been flirting with the idea of moving to Tennessee, just having never moved past making eyes. Lisa told us her team had taken the New Yorker all over our part of town, but there just was not a mid-century ranch house with a pool available in all of Oak Cliff.
Lisa had asked her business partner to drive their client by our house, to see if he liked the look of it. If so, she told him she’d contact us, to see if we would be willing to consider allowing her to show it. The New Yorker loved it and she wanted to show it to him “day after tomorrow” if we were up for it. Three days later, we walked into a cash offer on the table, for asking price, but with one caveat: we had to close in 3 weeks. Apparently, the New York flat had netted 12 offers in less than 24 hours—and a Hawaiian couple had paid $1 million cash to buy it as a wedding present for their daughter. They had cash on the table and wanted to close ASAP, so, he needed to move quickly.
Since this guy from New York wanting to upsize appeared out of nowhere as we had been flirting with the idea of downsizing to move to Tennessee, we felt this was the universe’s way of saying, “Uhm, see?” Here was a cash offer, as is, no mortgage company to jump through hoops for, and more than double what we’d bought the house for almost 10 years earlier. Three weeks? The timeline was insane, but what were the odds we’d ever have such a “seller-friendly sale,” especially as the market was still trying to bounce back from the 2008 recession?
So, we took a collective deep breath, called Lisa and said, “Sure.”
We hung up, and looked at each other with that “what in the hell have we just done?” kind of look. I popped open a beer, called my parents and sprung it on them. They were excited, but also in shock, especially when instead of saying “bye” at the end of the call, I said, “see ya tomorrow!” Next, I called and hired our friend Lynne, who was my regular set art director, to begin setting up and staging an estate sale.
The following morning, I jumped in the car and drove 7 hours to my quaint hometown that I had not “lived in” since 1974. Within two days, I had taken a 2-year lease on a house, set up utilities, bank accounts, got a P.O. Box for the businesses and headed back to Texas to finish packing up. As a safety net, I opted to lease for 2 years to “give us that out,” in case it turned out we were making the worst decision of our lives. Instead, it’s proven to be one of our best. We love it here.
Culture shock? Definitely. But the transition was far easier this time, than moving from here to Houston over Christmas vacation in 8th Grade. Jackson lies between Memphis and Nashville—so pretty much anything we need that’s not available locally, is within a couple of hour’s drive, at most. Come to think of it, except for dealing with millions of people constantly trying to one-up each other, living here is just like living in Dallas today, only with better commute times and available parking. We bought and are restoring an incredible (also read: “incredibly neglected”) Danish-inspired custom mid-century modern home, just three miles from Downtown. Ironically, when our house was built in 1964, this area was called “Hicksville.” I embrace it.
Hello, my name is Robert and I’ve landed back in Hicksville. I still have all my teeth, gigabit internet, and dammit, I’m hooked!