Dear Mike Rowe: What dream do I pursue now?

[The video mentioned in the previous post inspired me to write Mike Rowe in hope against hope that he might have some wisdom to offer.]

I recently became a true fan of yours, and I only just this morning finished watching your interview on ReasonTV. I’m sold. In a sense, I always was, but I’ve rarely been able to articulate your message in such an entertaining fashion.

Please indulge me in telling my story. I came from extremely humble beginnings. I grew up in a household headed by divorced mother of three, who worked hard her entire life, often in sweat shops. We never had much, but we managed to get by.

Because of this upbringing, I was determined to go to college and learn a profession. While in school, I worked summer jobs as a shop laborer, office janitor, and a floor refinisher among other things. I saw this as temporary. I was going to college, dammit, to become a professional, and take over the world.

I eventually went to school to become a graphic designer, and embarked on that career in the mid-1980s with a measure of success, despite enduring a couple of severe recessions and a few other twists and turns.

However, as I was entering this career, I read this article in Esquire magazine that resonated with me. It was written by a Porsche mechanic with his own garage. He described a great life, fixing toys for the wealthy — people who drove their sick baby into the shop, caring only that they would drive out with a purring kitten. They didn’t tell him how much to torque the head gasket or angle the alignment of the left front wheel. They didn’t care what it cost or even when it might be done. They only cared that the car was fixed. He was king of his castle.

The mechanic talked about the fringe benefits of this life, including the invitations to his customers’ parties where he often found himself the most popular guy there.

Reading this I thought to myself that despite how much I used to love working on my old car, there was NO WAY I was going to shift gears now and become a “lowly” auto mechanic, even if I did work on the coolest cars in the world.

My 1973 Hornet in 1982, held together with bubble gum, rubber bands, blood, sweat, and love.
My 1973 Hornet in 1982, held together with bubble gum, rubber bands, blood, sweat, and love.

The story stuck with me, because I had trained myself so well on repairing my hand-me-down 1973 AMC Hornet, by the time I was done with it, I had switched out almost everything except the drive-train. Against all odds, I got that car to go at least 150,000 miles before I finally gave up on it. I actually loved the work and getting my hands dirty, but that to me was just a hobby, and I did it partly because I had more time than money. I called myself “Mr. Prettygoodwrench.”

Today, I’m 55 years old. I find myself aging out of my chosen profession as a website designer/developer, and I look back on that article and think to myself, What an idiot I was. If I had switched gears, I might be that guy today.

Mike, I have a 12-year-old daughter, and thanks to you, nothing would make me happier than if she came to me and said she was going to be an HVAC technician.

But what about people in my position? I think it’s a little too late for me to become a certified auto mechanic or a railroad engineer.

I have several friends in similar situations. We’ve spent the best years of our working lives pursuing a dream in some kind of creative profession, and it’s not working out. The prospects are frankly bleak. If I had a time machine, I’d go back to that day I read the article and beeline to the nearest Porsche dealer to find out what I needed to do to work there.

I know that I can always march down to the nearest Home Depot and get a job stocking shelves, but I don’t have to tell you how I fear that’ll affect my self worth.

What’s the alternative? What dream can I pursue now?

Thanks for reading, and please put your TV show on YouTube or start your own channel. We dropped out cable subscription years ago, and we’re not going back ever, even if we could afford to.

Hope to hear from you soon.


Randy Garbin
Recipe for an American Renaissance:
Eat in diners. Ride trains. Shop on Main Street. Put a porch on your house. Live in a walkable community.