I have been chillin’ at the Papa off and on since October 1998. This entry is about why. Why I started. Why I left multiple times. Why I came back. Why I wrote the song. Why I’m here now, and why I’ll leave again.
As you probably know, my mom passed away from colon cancer in 1994. I was 15. I started college less than a year later, and with the only household income at the time being what I made working at McDonald’s 8 hours per week, I was definitely poor. I could only afford one college application, so I applied to Miami University, knowing they had to accept me based on an agreement they had in place with Talawanda High School at the time. Had I been any less poor, I would have submitted to other schools and likely gone somewhere else. This is only relevant as I believe staying in Oxford lead me to some poor choices. Many (though not all; some are still good friends) of the people I associated with at the time were the wrong people. Because of my poor choice to associate with those people, I ultimately dropped out of Miami when I was 18 years old, 1 credit hour shy of being a junior in college (which hurt my financial aid status). I dropped out during the second week of classes, but didn’t officially withdraw until a few weeks later, so I was responsible for half the semester’s tuition. The combination of owing Miami and being a sophomore in terms of financial aid eligibility meant that I had to work quite a bit, first to pay off Miami, and second to pay for a class at Cincinnati State which I transferred to Miami making me a junior. That’s when I decided to deliver pizzas. I liked to drive, and it was the best job available to me at the time.
I drove for SDS pizza first, for a couple months in late 1997. My understandably poor decision making at the time caused me to quit there. I stayed on at a video store for a while, and in October of 1998 I started at Papa John’s. For the first couple of years, it was solely to pay my way through school. I received just enough federal loans to pay my tuition. Rent, utilities, car, food, and all other expenses were my responsibility, so I worked full time while going to school full time. I had to. I couldn’t quit school again. I was fortunate enough in the spring of 2001 to receive enough financial aid that I didn’t have to work for 3 months. I believe everyone should be able to do this, at least for one semester. I also believe everyone should have to work at least 15 hours per week while going to school, for at least one semester. By being able to see both sides, I understood where almost everyone was coming from. I appreciated the dream semester where all I did was take 16 hours worth of classes. The fall of 2001 was a much different story. I took 20 credit hours while working 35-40 hours per week. I barely remember it. The spring of 2002 was a continuation of working 35-40 hours per week while taking 19 credit hours. It made graduation day so much more fulfilling, to know that I earned it by working my way back to school, and working my way through school. I was deeply gratified. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job using my degree, nor could I open my own music studio (because I didn’t have collateral for the loan) during a bad economy, so I ended up homeless for a day.
For a couple of years, coworkers would often ask me if I was going to write a song about Papa John’s. I always thought the suggestion was a bit of a joke, so I usually told them no. One of my coworkers, Holly, even had a name for it, and would occasionally ask me “When are you going to write ‘Chillin’ at the Papa’?” It really was a joke for a long time. Then, for the Christmas of 2002, we had a secret Santa drawing. I drew Michelle’s name, and decided I was going to write “Chillin’ at the Papa” for her. I wrote the lyrics in 5 minutes. It was always just supposed to be a Christmas present, but after performing it at an open mic one night, a fan told me I should put the song on the website. I did, and that (along with open mikes at Stadium) is what led to my largest crowds ever, including one show where I drew over 100 people.
I stayed on at Papa John’s until October of 2006, when I quit to go on tour in promotion of “Indiependent.” I had no money saved up, and other circumstances allowed me to only leave for about a month. In 2007, I went back to Miami to add a BA in Mathematics and Statistics to my BS in General Business. I moved to Chicago in the summer of 2008, after completing my second degree. It took me 4 months to find a job, and I ended up in the second worst situation of my life. I gained 30 pounds in 6 months from stress eating, and for the first time I truly understood what real stress can do to someone. My job really consumed my life, as I would take the stress home with me and had little to no energy to put into music, or anything else. I simply ate dinner, watched TV and went to bed. The first 6 weeks I was there, I was sick every weekend. For the rest of my life, I’ve been sick on average once a year. Health became a major priority after leaving Chicago, which I had decided to do just a couple of weeks before getting robbed at gunpoint on the train on my way home from work at 7:30 pm on a Monday, one week after I turned 30.
I left Chicago, and after spending a glorious 9 days in Tokyo, I was intentionally homeless. I lived out of my car, performing at every open mic I could in addition to the dozen or so full shows I booked, ranging from Toledo, OH to Orlando, FL. It was an unbelievably amazing few months! It ended when all of my credit cards were maxed out, I had $5 in my wallet, and something like 36 cents in the bank, and 1/8 of a tank of gas. I went to Papa John’s that day to get my job back. After my experience in Chicago, I was truly happy just to be home, following my dream again, working a job that didn’t make me miserable, living a life that made me happy. I have been back for a little over a year this time, and I’m definitely in a much better situation now than I was then.
There are many pros and cons to working at Papa John’s. I see the best and worst of human behavior on a daily basis. More importantly, I have a job that allows me to live my dream. Sure, there are stressful situations at work on a regular basis, but those situations are just moments. They don’t last, and I almost never take them home with me. When I’m off work, I’m free to live my dream, whether it’s writing lyrics, recording music, writing this blog, giving away music to my fans, booking and promoting shows, brainstorming ideas to get closer to the goal of making a living from music, designing my website, creating fliers, ordering fliers, burning demos, distributing fliers, updating my Facebook status, performing, or any other number of things that go into being an independent musician. Yes, I could make 2-3 times as much money using my degrees, but they wouldn’t give me the freedom I have now. Money cannot do for me what music does. As long as Papa John’s continues to be the best way for me to continue to live my dream, I will stay there. My ultimate goal, of course, is to make enough money from music to support myself. The good thing about delivering is that because I’ve never made more than $30,000 in any year, I am used to living on it. I don’t need to make a ton of money to live the life I want to live. I believe it’s possible to make this kind of money from my music, even though I’ve never made more than $1500 from music in any given year, and overall I have lost at least $10,000 on it. Even if I don’t, as long as I get closer to that goal, I will keep chillin’ at the Papa. I am happy. I know who I am, and what I want from life, and right now I have that. For that, I’m tremendously thankful.