New York vs. California

After a year and a half of living in San Francisco, I recently moved back to the only place I call home—New York City. It’s been almost four months since I quit my job at Apple, and left the branding/advertising world behind. I like to romanticize my newfound self-employment as if I’m a professional basketball player who’s on strike from the league, playing ball in the neighborhood court, just the way it was played when we were kids: no refs, no fans, and no shot clock. I need to practice on my jump shot, and I’ll stay a free agent until the right team comes along.

People ask why I’d leave a place so beautiful and serene like San Francisco? And even more so, why I’d quit a job so plush as Apple after only a year and a half? While California’s culture is just as predominant as NYC’s, neither could be more opposite. The energy of NYC is unprecedented, and the decision to move back East made me think a lot about what makes California feel so different. Besides the weather, and the slower pace—or the fact that people strangely wait for the street lights to change before crossing the street—there’s a collective essence that is inherently different than the East Coast. But what is that exactly?

In mythology, once an adventure is over and the reward has been sufficed, the hero usually leaves the ‘special world’ to go back to the world where he/she first began. The final test for the hero is to realize what they’re bringing back to the old world, literally or metaphorically. When Jack steals the magic harp to help support his mother—where he climbs and climbs and climbs down the beanstalk away from the giant—he is not just running away from the giant, he’s running towards his position in society, towards the right for the life he deserves. Ultimately, I knew my adventure was over; I achieved the goal of the quest, and no amount of money, stock, benefits, or nice weather could change that.

As I wrote in a previous post, An Open Letter to Graphic Design Students, I believe we should all follow our hearts, despite the trends or fears, and to do so without regret. I’m grateful for the hundreds of people who responded positively, as I am now a walking example of what I preached. As a young designer, I believe there’s no better way to excel at my craft but to throw myself in the path of the unknown. But how do I know when that time is? How do I gather the courage to do so? And how can I see that vision clearly, without seeing the road ahead?

In 1939, a young saxophonist named Charlie Parker left a vibrant jazz scene in Kansas City to head for NYC. He wanted to do what he loved, with the people he admired most, in a city that had a capacity for it all. That’s why I moved here nine years ago, and that’s exactly why I moved back. The way I see it right now, being a designer is a duty, not a career choice. And for me, there’s no better place to honor that than in New York.

NOTE: As I mentioned here on my website back in December, I was discussing this topic with my neighborhood barista and he explained an old comic he once saw that perfectly articulated everything I felt about the two cultures. I rushed home and Googled said comic. After a long search, I unfortunately came up unsuccessful. So I did the only thing I could do. I tried to recapture the spirit of that insightful cartoon with the illustration up top. Although I still can’t find it, Joe Ollmann told be that it was done by the late John Callahan.


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4 thoughts on “New York vs. California

  1. rachel

    Really inspiring well written work. I’ve just finished my Masters in Graphic Design in England and will be moving back to the east coast in a few weeks. The idea of going back home seems a little daunting right now, but sharing what I’ve learned while away is something to look foward to indeed!

  2. Travis Tom

    I had almost the same experience. However, I am from Georgia. Right out of design school I interned in New York City for 6 weeks the summer I graduated in 1992. My professor happened to be working on a project for a restaurant in Times Square painting murals, interiors, signage and menu design working closely with the architect. I returned home and began my job search and worked for the Medical College of Georgia as an inhouse designer for 3 years. I moved on to a start up company in the travel industry. In 1998, the company relocated the offices to Novato, CA which is about 20 miles north of San Francisco (the last county in Marin). I too was there for about a year and a half. In 1999 the company was acquired and most employees moved on…I worked as an independent contractor for 2 of the staffing agencies on icon design and development. I decided to move back to Georgia and lived in Atlanta for a year and half before moving home to Augusta and worked at a few places then one small creative group as an art director for 6 years. The past 2 years I have been an independent contractor again. 
    Upon leaving the small group that downsized me I found the inspiration and time to write and illustrate an abc eBook, “Animal Alliterati – An Alphabet Adventure”. I wrote and illustrated it in 2010 and decided to self-publish the title as an ebook in late 2011 after no response from one publisher I thought would be a good fit (learning to create an ePub and finding the book reseller took nearly 4 months of trial and error). One of the reasons I purchased the iPad2 was to beta test the book on it. The book is written in alliteration for a fun and quirky tongue-twisting read and fully illustrated with animals from A to Z. The book was widely released the first week of January 2012. It’s available at the iBookstore, B&N NOOK and if anyone is interested in supporting an indie author and illustrator. The book is also available as a PDF coloring book at I think I have the publishing bug…I am thinking about concepts for my next eBook while still promoting “Animal Alliterati” (which is like a part time job in itself).
    Back to the difference in lifestyles. California was a really expensive place to live (Sharing an apartment for $1875 a month and my room was maybe 10×12 and no central air! I don’t miss it.). Parking is horrible and the bridge toll was getting expensive visiting the city on weekends (I hear it’s higher now). Being able to freelance from a home studio and closer to family and friends has been a great situation for me. So in your down time …you never know what creative idea might spring up and take you in a new direction. 

  3. Bob Calvano

    I have a short list, a very short list, of potential cities I would move to if the job were “right” for me and my family. I live in NJ and I’ve worked in Manhattan for half of my 20 something year career. San Fran is on my short list and many people say I would never last out there based on my love for NYC. I love the energy, the fast pace, the people, the crazy high standards, etc.

    I like to fantacize about the change and how it would do me good to slow down a bit and to stop and smell the roses from time to time. From what I hear you saying, that change is only good for a short period of time before you have to get back to fucking reality. thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. ben capozzi

    Great piece! You have a great story to tell, and I hope there’s more. To leave Apple to come home and freelance is powerful. As an illustrator, I really appreciate your attitude and encouragement.
    I’ve often fantasized about living on the West Coast, but it’s NYC I visit several times a year. Though I’m in rural VA, and have been my whole life, it was at the Brooklyn Bridge that I proposed to my fiancé!
    I’m off to your site, and going to share a couple of your articles with my own design students!