by Jacob Albert
The opening article in this series, entitled "This 24 Year-Old Returns to Spokane and Everyone Wonders Why" -- at www.inlander.com under "Jake's Take" in case you missed it -- asked this very important question: What is there to keep me in Spokane?
The best way I could think to answer this question was to look at the options available in Spokane for young people like myself. And in order to apply a framework to this search for options, I'm approaching it as someone moving (or in my case, returning) here probably would. Therefore, the first important option is getting a job.
A good example of a city with employment options is Los Angeles. Three of my friends moved there after college. Within two months, one friend was working for Fear Factor, another was designing houses at a Japanese architectural firm, and the last found work as a personal accountant for a rich old man in the Hollywood hills.
The story of my return to Spokane and subsequent job search was not quite as exemplary.
The first place I applied was at a local bookstore. I had worked at Barnes & amp; Noble for two years in L.A. and had loved it. Three of my four managers were under 30, and most of the people I worked with were also in their twenties. Apparently that was not the case at this particular store. Glancing at my well-manicured resume, the manager explained to me the store's preference for older, more "permanent" employees, regardless of the fact I had given no indication of my future plans.
I spent the next three weeks applying to local school districts, publishers, ad agencies, newspapers and anywhere else I could think of that related to my English degree and varied experience. Finally, sitting on little more than a $20 bill, I applied to be a telemarketer. I was hired the next morning and spent the next four weeks in a "pod" unsuccessfully pushing phone service on suspicious Midwesterners.
This scenario is not uncommon for people in their twenties trying to find work in Spokane. Shortly after moving back, I ran into Ursula and Amy, two friends of mine I hadn't spoken to in a long time. Both are outgoing, well-traveled, college-educated and in their twenties. Ursula holds degrees in both anthropology and Spanish, and Amy's degree combines art and psychology to promote healing.
While both Ursula and Amy would love to find work where they could apply their unique interests and knowledge, they have been unable to. Ursula has spent the last 18 months working as a secretary in a law office, and Amy, fortunate enough to be one of only 18 people hired from a pool of 300 applicants, is waitressing at a downtown restaurant.
I have spoken to many people, from other long-lost friends to complete strangers at a bar, who tell very similar stories. Whether they are working construction, pouring drinks, washing dishes or activating credit cards, the common thread is that they would all rather be working somewhere else, doing something that stimulates and inspires them besides the need for cash.
After quitting my telemarketing job, I spent a lean month looking for other work. With persistence and a bit of luck, I managed to scratch up 16 hours a week at a youth shelter, along with some freelance writing work (you're reading it!). And I love these jobs. I love interviewing people and asking them their opinions and stories regarding Spokane. I love watching '80s movies starring both Coreys with the kids at the shelter. I love working with people who feel passionate about their work. (If they actually don't, they're putting on a damn good act.)
Unfortunately, I am barely breaking the $100-a-week plateau, and as of 7:30 am on Monday, March 15, I will have started a data-entry job I found through a temp agency. I am 147 percent certain that I will hate it, but I was simply too frustrated by not being able to afford eating out once or twice a week, of sipping my beers on Friday nights instead of actually drinking them, of telling my friends in Seattle I don't have the money to visit for a weekend. The reason I am looking forward to this job at all is the fact it will provide me more money and, therefore, more options. Unfortunately, and not only because it proves that bookstore manager was right, the most attractive option for me may be that of leaving Spokane for a second time.
The sad truth of the matter is this: Spokane simply does not offer jobs on TV game shows. I may meet the occasional 25-year-old working as an accountant or the manager of a restaurant, but they are few and far between. It is not surprising that so many people in their twenties leave Spokane for a city like L.A., a place that presents real options when it comes to getting a job that you can get excited about.
I have found one consistent answer to the Brain Drain epidemic. It is an option for the brave, an option for those who are willing to eat a cheese quesadilla -- hold the cheese -- and then wash it down with cheap wine. This option, covered in the next installment of my Take, is called "Making Your Own Job."
Stay tuned to Jake's Take every other week in this space. To offer ideas of your own on what Spokane has to keep a twentysomething here, e-mail him at [email protected]
Publication date: 03/17/04