The juggling act of jobs — Is coastal living in jeopardy? Part VI

Businesses large and small struggle with the boom and bust of a tourist economy

Dec. 27, 2017 — Blaise Khufu couldn’t find a job.

When he moved to the Siuslaw region in 2003 with his wife and kids from San Francisco, he had no idea the difficulties he would face.

“I was trying, but there was no employment,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’d never had problems finding work before. I went from getting a job anywhere and doing almost everything to even not being able to get a job at McDonald’s. And that feeling of, ‘Oh my God. I have a baby. I have to do something.’ It was really tough.”

Since then he’s been everything from a weed puller to a bartender. His most recent role is that of entrepreneur, owning the Siuslaw Riverside Eats & Drinks, located in Historic Old Town Florence. It’s the role he’s most proud of.

“I run a little sandwich shop,” he said. “We specialize in fresh made soups and sandwiches. Our specialties are sandwiches of the world: American, Vietnamese, Italian. We want to throw something new into the mix of Bay Street and Florence. That’s pretty much our mission.”

But it’s a hard mission to accomplish.

Khufu, along with other businesses in the region like Fred Meyer, Breen Marine and Top Hydraulics, have seen some tough trends in the community to overcome when it comes to jobs.

But there’s also optimism in the business community.

“This place has great possibilities and it just wants to burst into the future,” Khufu said.

“Sink or swim”

Teri Easton has lived her whole life in Florence.

“In the golden years in Florence, we had the lumber mills,” she said. “We had fishing. Tourism was not even really thought of back then. There were various mills up and down Highway 126 which kept this community going. When we lost that, it was huge. At that time, my dad was superintendent for one of the mills in town, and he was making far more than I would even think about making now. Slowly, little pieces of the pie are going away. We just don’t have the draw.”

When Easton was growing up, she did various service jobs throughout town until, in 2000, she was hired as a part-time employee at Fred Meyer, which is now one of the largest employers in Florence. Now, she’s the human resource manager and holds a unique insight into the “boom and bust” nature of the region’s job market. She also knows why the workforce decides to move to the area.

“If you're from Alabama, why do you end up in Florence?” she finds herself asking new applicants. “What did you do, pick up a map and pick a place?”

She finds two groups of employees come to work for her. The first is retirees.

“We hire quite a few retired people part-time who are looking to supplement to their income,” Easton said.

Supplementing retirement income is key to a city like Florence. According to numbers provided by Lane County Regional Economist Brian Rooney, 75.6 percent of American household income comes from earning, i.e. bringing in money from a job. In the City of Florence, it’s only 49.6 percent.

The largest economic driver in Florence comes from Social Security, which makes up 58.7 percent of a household’s income, compared to 29.8 percent in the U.S. Retirement incomes makes up 35.1 percent, such as pensions or 401ks, compared to only 18.1 percent nationwide.

But, as the pension system disappears and retirement savings accounts waiver in bull and bear markets, “retirees” find themselves working later in life.

A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that 44.6 percent of Baby Boomers continue to work. In the Silent Generation, those 72 and above, 3.7 percent work.

However, most older people are generally not looking for full time work, from what Easton sees at Fred Meyer. The part-time work they look for is just to supplement their income, or to provide a social outlet. The majority of the workforce at Fred Meyer comes from younger generations. Some of those younger workers have opted to remain in Florence after graduating high school instead of going to college.

“Not every kid is cut out to go to college,” Easton said. “There are the Fred Meyers and the casinos of the world that can offer a career to those kids. I was one of those kids. It’s not that I wasn’t smart enough to go to college, I just met my boyfriend and I wanted to stay here. This is where my family was.”

As for the others who come in? They’re moving in with their parents.

In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 32.1 percent of people age 19 to 34 years, known as millennials, were living with their parents. And it’s not just millennials. A 2015 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that close to 10 percent of 35 to 39 year olds and seven percent of 40 to 49 year olds were living with parents. In 1980, these numbers were 3 percent and below.

“Things don’t work out where the people are at, and they need a place to stay, so they come and stay with family members here,” Easton said. “Or, a lot of times, it’s an elderly parent that they come here and take care of.”

The young workforce isn’t coming just to provide amenities to the retirement community — they’re coming to support, or be supported by, the retirees themselves. But when those younger people come here, they find a sometimes-unstable job market that affects both employees and employers.

For Fred Meyer, the problems begin with the Rhododendron Festival.

“In a perfect world, we would be fully staffed by May 1,” Easton said. “Because from Rhody Fest, we go into Memorial Day, and then boom. We’re in the thick of it.”

In the summer, Easton estimates that her store needs to hire 30 percent more employees from her baseline. Except, she can’t.

“That’s when everyone else starts to hire,” she said. “The casino is ramping up at that time, and all the little restaurants around town are looking for people left and right. We can’t get enough people in here employed.”

When Easton is able to hire during that time, it can be chaotic.

“When you hire them on July 4, nobody has any time to train. So, you just kind of throw them in, sink or swim,” she said.

It’s only during the slow periods that Easton really takes time to train.

“When you find a good associate, you want to do the best possible thing to keep them here,” she said. “The hiring process is lengthy and it’s expensive. When you invest in somebody, you don’t want to say, ‘It’s not working, see you.’ We have a small pool that we’re fishing from. If you find someone who you feel is a great employee, you’re going to try and get them into the right position.”

Fred Meyer also invests in benefits. Health insurance coverage begins at 30 hours, and many of the store’s positions pay salaries well above the national average, particularly with the 30 management positions available in various departments.

But Easton has found it difficult to get people to advance in her store.

“To be honest with you, we’ve had a hard time filling a lot of full-time positions because we’re people’s second jobs. They’re not looking for that career,” she said. “A lot of times, people work for the school district and in the summer, they need a supplement. We have quite a few people who work for the casino, and then work for us.”

In her experience, Easton finds that people have second jobs because of the high cost of living in the area.

“I would say it’s just to be able to afford housing and cover basics,” Easton said. “With the average rent, and just your basics — I don’t know how people do it, to be honest. We hire above minimum wage, depending on experience. But even at that, it’s tough.”

And with the store as a “second job,” turnover is high at Fred Meyer, according to Easton.

“Sometimes we get someone who moves to Florence who has been here for two weeks, and they applied everywhere. Well, the first to (hire them) would be Fred Meyer. I bring them in, hire them at part time. But then someone down the street offers them more hours, so they end up taking that job. Then I’m back to square one as far as the hiring process goes.”

There are other reasons her employees leave.

“The ones we lose quickly are the ones who didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into when moving to Florence,” she said. “They can’t find a place to live.”

Easton could try and hire from places like Eugene or Newport, but Florence’s geographical isolation prevents it.

“If you can find the same job at the same wage where you’re living, you’re going to take that job there,” she said. “Or even for a little less money, you’ll take that job. No matter what, a commute to Florence is at least an hour in every direction.”

But the employee attrition does have an upside. Easton has never had to lay anyone off and rarely cuts hours. She also states that the economic health of Florence’s Fred Meyer is extraordinarily positive.

It’s not like that for everyone, though, particularly for untrained entrepreneurs in the service industry when winter hits.

“I had no idea what I was in for”

Khufu was gobsmacked by the lack of work and low wages when he moved in the region in 003. A new father, he was finding prices in San Francisco too high, and his wife was tired of life in the city. So, their eyes turned to Swisshome.

“It’s where my wife's family was from,” he said. “When it came time for raising the kids, she wanted to be closer to her family center.”

He hustled for work where he could, picking weeds and painting homes. This is common for many people in the area during the winter months, working for cash under the table. His first real job was at Siuslaw River Coffee Roasters as a barista, then the Florence Events Center as the building manager and supervisor. He couldn’t get the pay he needed there, so he became a bartender, building a reputation for himself in the food industry.

All the while, he was taking courses in computer science, majoring in networking.

“I was just about to go through finals when I was approached by a friend of mine who said, ‘Hey, Kelly’s Cantina is for sale,’” Khufu said.

His first response? “No way.” But his family and friends were now rooted in the area, and his computer science degree seemed useless in the area’s job market at the time.

“Either I try and find a job with computers that pays well, meaning moving to Eugene or Portland, or I stay here with family,” Khufu said.

With blind confidence, he jumped in.

“Oh my God, I had no idea what I was in for,” Khufu said.

Khufu had managed restaurants before, but actually owning one was an entirely different beast.

“Chaos,” he said. “First off, licensing. Insurance. Then comes building the menu. Then comes stocking all the food. Learning about payroll. Using Excel and QuickBooks. I have a very thorough education in computers, but not with Excel or QuickBooks. I’m still putting in a formula by accident and not knowing how I messed up all my paperwork.”

He bought the restaurant in June 2015. Not wanting to miss the summer season, he planned on opening July 4.

“For the fourth, we just had hot dogs and grilled cheese, and we were pumping them out,” he said. “It was very encouraging to sell $1,500 in grilled cheese and hot dogs a day.”

His expectations were high, but hot dogs and grilled cheese weren’t really his thing. He had a grander vision for his restaurant, which the community wasn’t really excited about.

“I was raised health conscious,” he said. “Comfort food was like tofu tacos. I always thought the general population wanted a healthier option, things you can’t find here. And the people pretty much spoke what they wanted.”

They wanted burgers and fries, so he put in a fryer and business was booming again.

“We were pumping,” he said. “Oh lord, we had fresh cut fries, we had burger patties. We had people saying, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had.’”

But one of the thing’s the customers didn’t ask for was the smoke from the fryers. He didn’t realize how bad it was until he received a negative Yelp review.

“It said, ‘Look, you’re filling the place with oil vapor,’” Khufu recalled. “’It stinks. We’re choking.’”

Being new to the business and without training, he thought that an electric fryer wouldn’t create much smoke. That might have been true if he had a ventilation hood, which he didn’t. He was forced to ditch the fryer, which meant he got rid of the fries.

“The profit on French fries is phenomenal,” he said. “You can buy a 40-pound bag of potatoes for $10. So, you sell 8 or 9 ounces for 8 bucks, you can’t beat that.”

But after the loss of the fries, sales dropped 40 percent.

At the same time, Khufu was having difficulty with his staff. Unlike Fred Meyer, Khufu had no troubles finding people during the summer, due largely in part to the fact he couldn’t afford background checks and drug tests.

“You don’t have a hard time finding people,” he said. “You have a hard time finding people that have a work ethic that aren’t alcoholics or drug addicts. It is unbelievable. We’re talking hard drugs.”

A few had illegal drug problems like meth and heroin. Others had alcoholism issues.

“Everything seems to be fine, then two to three weeks later, bam!” he said. “All the nasty stuff starts coming out. You confront them and they go, ‘Oh, no, I’m getting better.’ No, this is a pattern. This can't happen again. But it does. So, you fire them.”

Other employees who didn’t have drug issues seemed to get discouraged as summer began to wane. They lost interest in the job. As to why, Khufu said he really didn’t know.

“It’s a very poignant question,” he said. “Why is it so difficult to have people that are stable? I think it’s a behavior thing. Maybe they never found the joy or the fulfillment of working steady and making ends meet.”

As Florence Chamber of Commerce Board President, Bobby Jensen has seen issues with demoralization and addiction problems in Florence as well, some of it caused by the very boom and bust nature of the tourist economy.

“If I got left out and I have no work to do, what am I going to turn to?” he said. “You’re going to turn to different things.”

Employees find steady jobs during the summer, but get laid off during the winter. Repeat ad nauseum. The stress can be unbearable.

“We have the most challenged people in the country, and we have some of the most giving, prosperous people in Florence,” Jensen said. “We’re really both sides. It could be worse, but it could be better. What we need to do is balance it out.”

And like those extremes, Khufu has plenty of positive experiences with employees.

“Oh yes, you find great employees. Although, because of limited hours, I can’t give them everything that they deserve. I tell them, ‘I love you. You’re awesome. But there’s going to come a time when you want more hours. You can ask, but I can’t guarantee. If you find something better, just tell me. It’s going to be okay. Just be honest and up front about it. Just don’t quit that day. Give me a heads up.’ I let them go. Once you leave the cage open, some birds will return.”

He says he tries to give his employees whatever benefits he can, paying them a full wage and giving them all the tips, including the ones he receives. But as the fall comes, the hours get cut back. By winter, he can only do one thing.

“Cry,” he said. “You cut down on as much cost as you can. I have one person work.”

The one person is his cook. The rest of the staff? Just Khufu.

“We’re open seven days a week. I can’t work if I’m sick. So, I have to close. But I’m sitting at home going, ‘God, I could just be making a little bit of money today.’ But in the back of my mind, I know I have to stay healthy,” he said.

And then there’s the fact that there’s no capital coming in.

“How do you survive? There’s business owners I’ve been friends with who say, ‘You are going to end up taking out a loan. Believe you me, you’re gonna have to borrow money in this town come winter.’ That was very helpful, because otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed open.”

It took a lot of advice from small business owners. Khufu, who is in his early 40s, found the help of other young entrepreneurs vital.

“When I started up my business, Old Town Barber Shop had just opened up. La Bu La just started up. Spice was just bought and started up again. It was this core group of young entrepreneurs, and we were all rooting for each other and coming to see each other,” he said.

They would teach each other tricks of the town and give pointers on how to actually do tasks like payroll.

Using this network of advice, Khufu has remodeled the restaurant twice. It took him a while to figure out how to get the proper flow of his establishment — putting tables in the right place, removing the pool table that was taking up space. While he had to take out another loan to do that, he’s confident he’ll pay it back within two years.

Siuslaw Riverside has hired two new cooks since then, whom he credits for saving the restaurant after the French fry debacle.

Riverside went back to its roots, serving healthy food but doing so in a way that would attract a more traditional clientele. They have staples that will always remain, like the gyro and his Blast sandwich, but they’re always mixing up their specials, trying new things.

According to the Bureaus of Labor Statistics, almost 20 percent of new businesses fail after their first year. Khufu has beaten the odds so far. And he plans on continuing to do that.

“The future is always uncertain. However, I remain hopeful,” he said.

As a restauranteur, Khufu is somewhat regulated to the boom and bust of the tourism industry, but other businesses are trying to break out of the mold. They’re doing so by targeting key markets. 

“Boats and fancy cars”

“In order to have a stable foundation, you really need to have three legs to a stool, as opposed to two,” Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds said about the Florence economy.

Reynolds, along with Mayor Joe Henry, the Florence City Council, and the city's small but dedicated staff, have been working on building an economic development plan for the past few years.

“It’s very hard to sit on a stool with two legs,” she said. “While it’s been an incredibly positive experience in Florence to have tourism and the retirement community as our base, we realized very early on in these efforts that we needed a third leg to that stool. Not taking away the important tourism and retirees, but recognizing that we need more diversity in our portfolio.”

The Siuslaw region’s “third leg” may come from businesses like Breen Marine, owned by Jensen. The boat repair company touches both of Florence’s main industries.

“Everybody who retires here eventually buys a boat at some point,” Jensen said. “Most of our customers are retired. The retirement industry is solid, and it’s great that we have that.”

But the tourism industry can be difficult for employers. 

“Boat owners forget they even own a boat in the off season,” he said.

Because of that, he has had to lay off employees when winter comes.

“I hate the idea of laying people off and trying to rehire,” he said. “That’s just not acceptable. “

To offset his winter losses, Jensen is looking toward manufacturing a device he’s developed while fixing boats.

“It’s called a transducer shield,” he said. “It mounts to the back of a boat, kind of a technical thing, but highly needed on 40 percent of the boats on the market in the world.”

The product combines transducer blocks and spray shields together to protect sensitive electrical equipment from the spray of the water. He has a provisional patent on the device, and Jensen hopes he can produce it year-round — boat repair during the busy summer months, and global manufacturer the rest of the time.

One of Jensen’s inspirations for his fabrication business model is Florence business Top Hydraulics, a small manufacturer that ships its goods throughout the world, with its biggest clients coming from places like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. The company is owned by married couple Klaus and Maria Witte.

“Top Hydraulics could be called a manufacturer,” co-owner Klaus said. “We actually are remanufacturing, meaning rebuilding and repairing, hydraulic parts for fancy cars.”

Fancy cars, in this case, means convertibles.

Modern convertibles have automatic tops that, when a button is pushed, automatically opens and closes. But after 10 years, the parts can wear down and the convertible top stops working.

Owners can take the car into a manufacturer to fix, but that can cost around $7,000.

Top Hydraulics offers another solution.

Owners find Top Hydraulics through the internet, send in the broken parts and Witte’s team rebuilds them and then ships them back. The cost?

“We charge $550 to rebuild them, so it’s a no-brainer,” Klaus said.

It’s a complicated process. Top Hydraulics works on more than 30 brands of cars, with each brand having around 30 convertible models. With the millions of used convertibles on the road, that’s a lot of broken car tops.

“We’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Klaus said. “All of these fancy hydraulic parts started being used in the late 1990s, and now we’re really getting hit with a wave of these parts failing.”

The Wittes experiences in Florence have been extraordinarily positive, they said.

The business started in 2010 out of their garage, but last year they decided to expand.

They built their new manufacturing hub in Florence’s long-dormant Pacific View Business Park, which itself is seeing a renaissance with the recent sale of lots to businesses like Siuslaw Broadband and Component Central Inc., another online business.

The community rallied around the Wittes when they decided to have the building completed in 2017.

“The awesome part is the attentiveness,” Klaus said. “To see the excitement in everyone I interfaced with in the city about getting our business into the park, and the enthusiasm and hopefulness. We contacted the city in September about the lots around here. We were able to break ground in November and this had this facility ready to move in by late March. It was just amazing that it could have all fallen into place like that.”

And it’s not just the community and governmental support that the Wittes appreciate, particularly when it comes to being an internet-based business.

“We have an incredible post office here, along with the UPS and Fed-Ex carriers. As somebody whose business is shipping and receiving things, that kind of attention and care we get from the local carriers is not something you would get in Eugene,” Klaus said.

And then there’s fiber optics, a cable connection that can deliver internet speeds 20 times faster than broadband. Siuslaw Broadband, doing business as Hyak, is rolling out fiber to Florence businesses, which is unique for a small community. Currently, only 25 percent of the nation has fiber, according to BroadbandNow.

“It’s key to us,” Maria said.

It’s small businesses like Top Hydraulics that could be the future of the region, those interviewed believe — small manufacturers, graphic designers, telecommuters and boutique shops that sell face to face while shipping their goods out can thrive in an isolated area like the Siuslaw region.

It could be the third stool that could provide year-round jobs.

And the innovation and infrastructure that the Wittes see in the region will be vital in the coming years.

In a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, the challenges facing the entirety of the world's workforce is brought into stark view. The verdict? Life as we know it will soon find itself fundamentally different.

“We are today at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the report stated. “Developments in previously disjointed fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are all building on and applying one another.”

Because of those changes, 7.1 million jobs could be lost to disruptive labor market changes by 2020.

The World Economic Forum quoted an estimate that said, “65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t exist yet.”

The report stresses that the members of the workforce need to be dynamic in what they learn. Skilled workers should not be experts in just one portion of their field, but of the entire field so they can apply their knowledge to ever-changing trends. Interpersonal skills will also be highly valued. As technology changes rapidly, skilled workers will have to work closely and clearly with each other to navigate the future.

Top Hydraulics seems perfectly set up for this.

While the Wittes have the capacity to have 100 employees, they’re taking it slow. Their hiring process is exact. They’re not just looking for skilled workers, but workers who fit within the mold of the company. The decision to be hired isn’t made by the owners alone, but by the entire company.

“The type of employees that we now have are somewhat experienced,” Klaus said. “Some less, some more experienced mechanics. We’re looking for experienced machinists, but that’s a tall order because there’s only a few of those people around in this area. We’re constantly looking for mechanics that have some experience and enthusiasm for fixing things.”

The people Top Hydraulics hires are either highly skilled or extremely receptive to learning new skills. And, with the Wittes meticulous hiring process, the workers get along. These are exactly the types of dynamics the World Economic Summit suggested.

But finding the perfect employee can be difficult.

“It’s a retirement community, so you have a mostly older population,” Maria said. “You have people with those skills that, during the recession, went elsewhere. It has been a challenge of finding the right combination of the exact right skill set and the team family kind of connection that we’re looking for.”

Maria said that they’re not seeing everyone in town, but applicants have been coming in “dribs and drabs.”

They’ve advertised in the newspaper for workers.

“We’re constantly in contact with work source and elsewhere,” Maria said.

But again, she stresses, they’re particular.

Where will they find their extra employees?

“They are not all currently in Florence, to answer that question,” Klaus said.

But as of right now, attracting those skilled workers, particularly if they’re younger, is still a tall order.

“Because it’s worth it”

A recent article in Forbes reported that 22 percent of skilled manufacturing workers, or 2.7 million employees, are retiring over the next decade. The problem is, there aren’t enough new skilled workers to replace them. Unfortunately, the industry is projected to fall short of the workers it needs to replace them. Young graduates are focusing more on the humanities instead of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Forbes also stated that there’s an under-appreciation of the U.S. manufacturing business as a whole, even though jobs can average $77,500 a year in some markets.

As the market for skilled workers becomes tighter, communities will have to look for amenities to attract those younger skilled workers that are coming into the marketplace.

The Wittes are confident that younger workers will be attracted to the region because of its natural beauty, and current trends for millennials show that they are wanting to move from urban areas to more rural, pristine areas like the coast. But that doesn’t mean that beautiful hiking trails and the beach will fully capture the attention of workers when they come here.

“There needs to be something here they enjoy doing,” Khufu said. “Something that brings them together so they interact with each other. There’s gotta be something more for kids to do here in town. They have energy, but nowhere to put it. No place to really hang out.”

Because of this, Khufu and many others interviewed for this series see a lot of the young workforce leave the area all together.

“They usually make enough money to move to Eugene or Portland, because they’re just bored out of their freakin’ minds here,” Khufu said.

Easton agreed. “We’re not offering the things that are needed by the younger generation,” she said. “My son is in the same boat. He’s 25 and working at the casino. He’d like to stay here too, but there’s just not a lot to offer.”

The problem is, building businesses that attract younger people is a tricky proposition for investors.

For example, an entrepreneur wants to build a video game bar geared toward millennials, a style of business that’s currently popular in cities like Eugene and Portland. But in a retirement community, it’s fraught with risk.

“We don’t have enough people to frequent that bar to keep it in there,” Jensen said. “The market’s not there, the investors know that, and nobody’s going to throw money at it. Everybody is going to see it as a potential fail.”

But on the flipside, if establishments like that don’t exist, then a younger workforce won’t be attracted to the community, particularly in the winter months when outdoor recreational activities are limited.

It ends up being a chicken-and-the-egg problem, said Jensen who believes there are three ways to tackle this problem.

The first would be an investor making a bet that the Florence economy will grow, build these type of youth-oriented businesses and take a possible financial hit until the workforce arrives; The second way would have existing businesses expand their amenities to serve this younger population; The third way would entail having the entire community, along with outside investors, coming together and creating and implementing a vision that would cater to this group all at once.  

“You have to have a whole bunch of people somewhere, somehow saying, ‘We’ll go there as soon as we have this service,” Jensen said. “And then all the business developers saying, “’Okay, we’re all going to open on this day.’”

But to be able to convince investors to do that, the region has to go through a fundamental shift in how it views itself.

“As a chamber president, I’m all about building business and progress,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of people who come here to retire. They don’t want any of that. ‘We’re a retirement community, we have to keep it quiet.’ But, do we want to (keep it quiet)? That’s the real question.”

To keep the community viable in the future, the culture of the community has to become more inclusive, Jensen believes. This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.

“Progress is inspiring,” Jensen said. “Seeing things move forward and get better, it’s evolution. As a species, that’s what we’re designed to do. By not doing that, you’re dead. So, then it’s not sustainable. We need to get the groups together and start changing the direction of this community. We will still be able to keep our little town charm. But then we can grow in another area. We can all coexist very nicely. Everybody can have their place. It’s all about balance.”

It’s that inspiration of progress that keeps business owners like Khufu excited about the possibilities for the region. He envisions a place that would allow him to not only keep a staff on full-time, but grow.

“I would really like to expand,” he said.

Khufu’s restaurant overlooks the river, and it’s a constant solace to him, even in the leaner times.

“Every day I come in here and look out there and my troubles just disappear when I look out the window,” he said. “For a moment, my troubles are gone. And it’s very blissful. I’m willing to struggle to keep this.

“Because it’s worth it.”

Note: This is part 6 of a 9 part series. Find additional installments in the Special Series Archive, located here.