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Life in Transit – Finding Home at 30,000 Feet


The straightest line from most places in the US to Europe isn’t a straight line across a map, but it’s an arc that follows the natural curvature of the Earth. The flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt seems to go almost due North, well into Canada and over Greenland before finally following its arc back down into Northern Europe. The pilots really do understand that taking the shortest distance between two points often looks counterintuitive to the uninitiated.

I’m in the air over North East Canada right now, flying home from London. I’ll stop off at George Bush International in Houston, before connecting to San Francisco. I’m in an aisle seat, but if you were here with me to crane your head to look out the window, you’d see an ethereal turquoise glow casting itself across the wings, and coming through the windows.

The glass on the Dreamliner might be polarized, but I think it’s because we’ve just passed over Greenland, and are still very close to the North Pole. The color is what you would imagine flying through the northern lights must be like.

I’ve just spent time with people I know in Eastern Europe and in London. People born in Eastern Europe, people born in France, people born in New Zealand, people born in Egypt. As I fly over Canada, I’ll pass by Toronto where I have a number of friends. I’ll land briefly in Houston where my closest friend lives with his wife and brand new daughter, where girls I have loved in the past live. I’ll stop off for a moment, gather my suitcase to present to customs, and then hop my final flight back home. All told, I’ll be traveling for nearly 17 hours, not counting an hour and a half on the Tube in London.

Traveling over and through these cities makes me think of the strong connections I share with people in each of these cities. When I visit, I immerse myself in their lives as much as possible, wearing their local culture like a jersey. But I will eventually be back up in the air again, globally disconnected from each of them, looking at them from a reserved place flying overhead, connected with a line on the map.

I feel at home on the plane. In transit I feel more at peace than anywhere else. Moving from place to place, but not quite settled ever, or at all. I like being up in the air watching turquoise from another world peek through the windows, telling me we are safe in a place beyond time and where the normal rules do not apply. We are up in the air and distant and safe and removed from the daily toil of life on the ground. We live in the clouds, and do not have to face the reality of gravity, or coming back down.

I love to travel, but need a good 4-6 weeks on the ground between heavy bouts of plane time. However, once I have been in one place for more than a few weeks, I start to grow restless. It’s time to board a plane again. I’ve always had trouble sitting still, but I don’t know that I ever suspected I’d grow constantly restless for travel. Even turbulence, which used to make me wish for Valium, has begun to feel relaxing.

With all this travel, there is a yearning for a place to belong. When you have a sense that you haven’t discovered where you’re supposed to belong, you always feel in transit. If you don’t know where your home is, you’re always on your way there. Being in transit is as close as you ever get.

The road home winds me from place to place. From Bulgaria to London to Canada and to San Francisco. Home seems to be getting closer, but never quite arriving. Like the last leg of a transatlantic journey, the last few hours take the longest.

I keep looking at the map to see where the plane is. Now over Canada. Now over the Midwest. The arc of the map from London to Houston takes you so far North it seems like the pilots are taking a detour. It’s actually the shortest route back where you came, and you will arrive.


But in the meantime I wonder, “how  can I actually find my way back home?” How do will I recognize a place that I’ve never been before? Will the sense of belonging seem foreign? Would I grow restless and wish I was on the move again? Somewhere in transit between point A and point B.

How does anyone find a single place on the map to call home? Is it possible to arrive at a place and a people you’d be grateful to rise and meet the day every day alongside for the rest of your life?

I keep hoping to find an answer to the following question: “what is it that makes us belong somewhere?”

The best answer I have is that it’s the people. The people who you rely on. The people always have a couch for you to crash on when you need a place to stay (London and Bulgaria). The people that you love and who love you back (Houston), and who you can be yourself around (Every stop along the way), the people who let you make a mistake, lose your cool, and are there in the midst of all that life can throw at you. And you’d do the same.

The common thread weaving everything together is remembering that they love you and you love them, and you stay committed to that love. No matter what, you remain certain that they’ll be there for you, and you’ll be there for them.

This place called home exists somewhere. I believe that we’ll all find it if we look long enough. That’s why I’ll keep wandering at 30,000 feet until I finally arrive. Until home finally arrives as well.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Leg 3: Bakersfield to San Francisco, a few weeks after arriving

My desk in the Mission

My desk, now that I’m all settled

Shame on me for not finishing this post sooner. I’ve officially been in SF for a month, and I’m getting settled into my routine.  It’s been an intense few weeks. My highs have been high, and I’ve had a few lows and “Oh shit, what did I just do” moments, of course. Packing everything you own and driving across the country with no backup plan will do that to a person.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that the lows in life are inevitably followed by a high. It’s almost as if we need to go down hill for to pick up enough velocity to reach the next summit. That’s another blog post for another time.

To arrive in San Francisco, my last leg of the 5-day journey, I had to drive North, and follow the California Coastline. I left Bakersfield, outside of LA, after some amazing hospitality from Jason Cosper and his lovely wife Sarah. They put me up and fed me before I made my final push into SF.

I hit the road about 9AM, and drove through the farms outside of Bakersfield, making my way over to the Highway 101. It’s not the fastest way to drive from SoCal to NorCal, but it’s the more scenic route up, taking you along the coastline and through the California farmlands before you hit the Peninsula and drive into San Francisco. You can even drive by the spot in the road where James Dean wrecked his Chevy that fateful night. It’s an unassuming spot where 3 farm roads meet. There’s just a small sign and a tiny plaque to commemorate his life.

The drive up the coast was one of my favorites. The farming operations that I passed along the way stretched for miles and miles, bookended by the Sierra Nevada range, with clouds and fog looming over everything I saw. The state of California matches the lyrics of America the Beautiful very well. Every single type of beautiful ecosystem is present in the state. I feel like I’m going to get an eye roll for saying this in such jaded times, but I spent hours on the road driving North through Cali, and I kept thinking, “purple mountain majesties,” as I passed through. The drive was a great time for me to just let go of my cynicism and be inspired by the natural beauty.

Rolling into San Fran, I had the new single from Tegan and Sara, Closer, on repeat. I probably listened to it 10 times that afternoon. It was a love song about the infatuation stage of a relationship, and connecting with someone those first few exciting times. My car explored the curves of the highway the same way our hands and our emotions travel the curves of a new lover. That track, and the rest of the songs on my road trip playlist, which transformed into a NorCal hip hop mix, are on Spotify.

It was raining hard as I started seeing signs like, “San Jose,” and “Cupertino” through my windshield. Driving North on the 101 is like thumbing through the tech industry’s greatest hits album. You get a rush seeing all those famous names flying by. As each city flies by, you realize you’re on the same highways that millions of men and women have driven, searching for the same Gold Rush that the 49ers were after. That afternoon, I was driving directly into the epicenter of the last 40 years of tech innovation and I could feel the energy.

San Jose.  Cupertino.  Palo Alto.  Stanford.

The best way to describe what was going through my head is to explain that I realized that I was literally behind the wheel, driving myself into the best place in the world for tech entrepreneurs. A place full of history and momentum. And a place where many of the best minds travel to make their vision into reality. I had found an opportunity to live in the thick of Silicon Valley. I was incredibly excited. I was also wondering WTF had gotten into me that I wasn’t afraid to leave the last 16 years of my life behind, forsaking the past for an unknown future. I wasn’t holding myself back psychologically, or holding onto the past.

Jonas and Mayor Ed Lee

Jonas Lamis and Mayor Ed Lee at the RallyPad

Many times in the past, I second-guessed any sense of entitlement that I *could* have the life I wanted.  That I could live at the epicenter of the most creative people on the planet, and that I would belong with “the cool kids.” Since I practice honesty on this blog, I have to confess that the move was striking a mortal blow against the part of me that used to whisper, “that life isn’t for you, it’s for ‘other people.'”

As I was driving into San Francisco, I knew that I was driving home, and that I was in the process of claiming my rightful place among the “other people” that I used to fear. It was liberating. The only thing that had held be back before was my own thoughts. Confronting those was the only obstacle to having this adventure.

After weaving through rush-hour traffic, I finally got to my place in the Lower Mission, and met my new roommate and her spaniel, Zorro. I found a nice place to park within 3 blocks of my apartment. Turns out I may not have to pay for parking. That’s $150 a month I can roll into other stuff.

My boxes from UPS had arrived that day. Completely trashed. My stereo looked completely broken, but it still worked. I began the process of unpacking and organizing my life. I have a list of things to set up in my new life in the city, from getting a Tai Chi dojo (check), to finding a doctor (check), to getting started on dating so I can meet someone  (double-check), find good coffee shops to work at, etc. I set goals for things I want to achieve every week that gradually build my life here.

Knowing that I can make my life exactly what I want it to be is liberating. San Francisco is the place where people go to live to the limit, so I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to re-invent myself. When faced with a choice, I ask myself, “what do I want my life to be like in a year, and how do I make that happen?” Then I go do the thing that makes me happy. I’ve made a list of the things that I want, and I’m going after them week-by-week.

The final thing I did was head to the WordPress meetup at Automattic HQ in the Mission. Evan Solomon and Daryl Koopersmith were presenting on 3.5 and going deep into the code

More Friendly WordPress Folk

More Friendly WordPress Folk at Dolores Park

changes for WordPress this time around. They were kind enough to hang out for a while afterwards to show me some cool places on the map, and help me get settled. It’s great to have new friends in place as I’ve arrived. The Automatticians have all been incredibly hospitable since I’ve arrived, and I’m glad we’re connected.

The weeks are flying by, and my life is completely different, but it’s still me. I’m changing incredibly quickly, and learning so much. Look for for more changes, more ideas, and more adventures to come.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter



Things I Forgot: How traveling teaches you about yourself

Austin Gunter Learning by Traveling

Same boots, different cities

Since June, I’ve been on a plane at least twice a month. I’ve hit New York, San Francisco (twice), Kansas City, Columbus, and I’m currently in the Phoenix airport returning to Austin after spending the weekend in Portland.  Now, don’t let all the travel talk go to my head. I had to get up before 5AM to catch a taxi, and I’m sitting in the airport a bit delirious from lack of sleep. Now I’m blogging those thoughts instead of passing out ingloriously in the airport furniture.

I forgot how much being in different cities can teach you about your identity. Just the simple act of being in another city for the weekend, experiencing its variety, understanding its preference or not for the Mexican food you love (or don’t); appreciating the local climate and then observing how said climate affects the way the locals treat one another, and by default YOU, the stranger; comparing your home city to the new city you’ve found.

What has taken me by surprise is how much variety I find from city to city. The variety is wonderful. In Portland this weekend, I felt like a man at a banquet of culture. The chef was serving up another slice of a great American city, this one, a bit heavy on the tribal tattoos and coffee shops, incredibly walkable, rather liberal, and more populated by bicycles than even Austin, Texas.

Compare that with Kansas City, where I was a few months ago. Instead of tribal tattoos and punks from the 1990’s, I found young families with conservative-leanings, plenty of cars, fewer coffee shops, but a similar number of artists and entrepreneurs.

Each of these cities has a different feel that becomes more and more pronounced as I develop a palate for experiencing their variety. Much like appreciating the subtleties of indie rock requires a hipster-like intensity to spend hours pouring over the tracks until, with Pitchfork-esque aplomb, you become capable of claiming that Arcade Fire’s second album was heavily influenced by Springsteen, himself, and that Santigold is a wholly underrated musician.

When I travel from city to city, everything changes. I am the only constant. When I arrive in Portland and notice how clean the streets are, and how the trees that fill downtown make me feel, I’m experiencing the city in direct contrast to all the other cities.

I’m the same person, but I am having close encounters with widely different cultural segments of the United States; cultural segments that I took for granted three months ago.

It’s not all just “The United States.” There are enormous differences, and nuances from city to city.

I’m not talking about the painfully obvious political ones. This is a lot more subtle than me saying, “Golly, San Francisco sure is more liberal than Dallas, Texas!”

Without a doubt, political differences are part of what I’ve been experiencing, but they are just the most obvious differences. I’m asking more interesting questions than “which cities are liberal or conservative?”

More interesting would be, “What makes Portland a mellow city, fully of people content to get around on bicycle when cars would be faster?”

Does the climate that gets plenty of rain part of it? Does the lack of sunlight for 8 months of the year slow the pace of the city down dramatically?

Here’s another question: “Why is Portland better known for it’s bicycles and for the dream of the 90s than startup companies like San Francisco is?”

At this point, I start making biased conjectures. I have inferences about each of the cities I’ve spent time in over the past few weeks and months based on what I’ve observed. I’m not sure I can put my finger on any of it. Other than I can tell you where I would live based on the things that I might want to do with my time.

What I can tell you is that each city changes certain surroundings, but I remain the same. There are more bicycles in Portland than in Austin. How do I feel about this? Do I jibe with the values of biking instead of driving? Would I give up my convertible for a bike?


Do I want to come back to Portland on vacation?


What about Kansas City? When I spent my weekend there, I felt palpably how well-suited the city would be to start a family. Apart from the WordCamp, all I saw were young couples learning how to raise their first child. Part of me soaked that up.

And then what about a city like San Francisco? Surrounded by its Bay, the city is a pressure-cooker for Startups. Austin, Texas has an incredible startup scene, but in San Francisco, you’re forced to fit everything in your life, including your business, into less space. I think this makes the people more focused, more intense, and it makes the results more volatile.

It’s funny how each of the three cities that I’ve mentioned, I have also injected with a bit of purpose or utility. Want to have a family? Go to KC. Want to start something and make it huge? Head to SF. Want a bit of both? Come here, to the ATX.

Each of the cities calls to me in a different way, and I learn something about my own desires by experiencing the city.

When I spent 6 months living in South America, in Santiago de Chile, I was forced to question a million assumptions about what “normal” meant, and how different different countries also had different cultures.

Staying inside the United States means the cultural differences are less extreme, but still important. You realize that you can make your life look like whatever you want if you choose to move from where you are to where you want to go.

I talked to a friend recently about wanting to move from a bigger city to Austin recently. It was a happy medium for her between the career she created for herself, and the life she wanted to have outside of work. She was looking for balance that didn’t exist in her current city. Austin fit the bill, and she was ready to leave the rest of it behind.

Actually, leaving certain things behind is part of what you’re doing when you create new opportunities. You’re leaving the things you don’t want. Only then do you have enough space for the things you do want.

What we want and don’t will change in our lives. I think the point is being able to move when what you want changes into what you don’t want, and the things you do want are the next city over. Or the next country.

Once you’ve realized what you might change by making the move, it is courageous to realize you actually can. Suddenly life becomes a new adventure again. Ripe with your fear bubbling to the surface along with new opportunities.

Are you ready?

Austin Traveling in the United States

Same Austin, different states, different perspectives