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How I got into yo-yoing 20 years ago

Today is my 20th anniversary of yo-yoing, so I wanted to share this story of how I got into the hobby and the strange ways it has changed my life.

On March 3rd, 1998 I flew out to Seattle with dreams of getting signed to a record label. It was a week before my 21st birthday. I was living in Lewisburg, TN and had been communicating with someone at K Records about my music. I sent them some tapes and they said “These are great, you should come visit us sometime.” I took that as “Come get signed to our label!”.

My plan was to spend most of my stay in Olympia, but the first thing I did when I arrived in Seattle was head straight to the top of the Space Needle. I was a big World’s Fair nerd at the time, and was trying to visit all of the old fairgrounds in the US. After enjoying the view, I stopped by the Space Needle’s gift shop to buy a little souvenier for my collection.

A Space Needle yo-yo was $1.49. A Space Needle snow globe was $1.99. So I went with the cheaper option.

During my week in Olympia I carried my new yo-yo everywhere. I was terrible and the yo-yo was just a cheap wooden yo-yo, but it kept me busy as I walked around town each day.

I obviously didn’t get signed to K Records. I met with the dude, who just worked in shipping or whatever, and we just chatted. He played in Godspeed Ye Black Emperror half the year, and worked the warehouse the other half. I met several folks just like him. Folks that I idolized for their art, zines, and/or music. Many of whom were homeless. Well technically homeless. Some lived in vans, or couch surfed, and just made albums and played shows all the time.

I realized on that trip that there were many super talented people out there who were just more passionate about making music than I was. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but I love having a place to stay too. The nomadic lifestyle was just not something I was interested in.

I left Tennessee with dreams of getting signed. When I came back I decided what I really wanted was just to find some job I didn’t hate, so I could afford to make my own music at night. A big change, but it probably made me a happier person in the end.

On the day I came back from Seattle, the day after my 21st birthday, I made a quick stop at Cool Springs Mall for a quick bite to eat before I headed back to my small town. The mall was just opening and I noticed a man opening a brand new kiosk called “Yo Momma’s Yo-Yo Store”. As he was opening up shop for his first day, I walked up and asked if I could try one of his toys. He handed me a Yomega Fireball, which was one of the new wave of trans-axle yo-yos that were just catching on in Hawaii and California.

Impressed with my skills (and the fact that there weren’t any other 21 year-olds who carried a yo-yo with them) he offered me a job. A month later a huge yo-yo boom hit the nation and we could barely keep them in stock. 3 months later he was opening his second shop and made me a manager of the Cool Springs location. 6 months later I was the regional manager, traveling to new cities to hire and train staff for his growing empire. 12 months later I entered the World Yo-Yo Contest and got 3rd place. I was lucky enough to there right before the yo-yo boom and it was just the beginning.

I moved to Virginia, then Chattanooga, then bought the business and opened my final store in St. Louis. When the dust settled down, I moved to Minneapolis to manage a toy store in the Mall of America. I lived there for about 4 years when I was asked by a friend to to do one quick show in San Francisco, where I fell in love with the town (and weather) and decided never to leave. I met Christine here, made some video games and a bunch of art, and kept making music in spare time, just like I decided to do 20 years ago.

All those cities I lived in, people I met, opportunities I had, all came down to a little green souvenir I bought in Seattle right before my 21st birthday. Sometimes I wonder how completely different my life would be right now if that snow globe had been 50 cents cheaper.

space needles