By Kolbe Nelson
I was sitting in a bar in Manhattan with my friend Kyle Johnson late this past February. That’s when this grand adventure that has been my move from South Dakota to New York City got started in earnest.
Kyle had been one of my best friends since elementary school at Alcester-Hudson and we were pals right up through graduation from South Dakota State University in 2011. He went to school for turf management, learning how to make golf courses and baseball fields look the absolute best. It’s what he was born to do. It brought him out here to work the courses at Winged Foot Golf Club, the home of the 2006 US Open where Phil Mickelson served up a choke job on par with the monumental ones Greg Norman had produced decades before. It’s one of the toughest courses in the country. Kyle’s one of the guys who makes sure it stays that way.
I was working as a weekend sports anchor for a TV station in Sioux Falls, a job I had held for a little over a year, and was using the small amount of vacation time and spare cash I had saved up to visit Kyle in New York and a few friends in Montana over the span of a week. This was a pretty new experience for me. Not only had I never seen the Big Apple before, I had never even flown in a plane. The excitement level for me was unequaled. We had plans to see the Knicks the next night at Madison Square Garden, but for the time being we were taking it easy, having a few beers in Midtown.
New York had always been the gold standard for me. After 9/11 David Letterman opened all his shows by calling it “The Greatest City In The World” and I believed him. Just visiting it had always been something I craved; actually living there seemed like too much to ask. I felt that experiencing the art and music, taking in the comedy, seeing the cathedral that was Yankee Stadium (the one Ruth built, not Steinbrenner) just one time would have been enough. I may have been too late for Old Yankee Stadium, but simply sitting in that bar with Kyle was a dream come true in and of itself.
Kyle and I talked about a lot that night, but the focal point of our conversation seemed to be what the next steps were for our lives. The big fella was pretty set with where he was at for the time being, but he admitted he wouldn’t mind having a friend around from back home. I was fairly receptive to that idea.
Things weren’t exactly perfect for me at that point. The TV station I was at had been good to me in the beginning. They took a substantial leap of faith and gave me a job with a significant on-air role before I was even halfway through my final semester of college. I will be forever grateful for that. However, a number of circumstances had led to me having a pretty sour situation at work and I was ready to move on.
So that night I asked Kyle what he would think of me moving out to NYC. He told me to make it happen. It was still a pipe dream, but it was one I was about to start striving toward.
I flew back into Joe Foss Field that Sunday evening and went to work the next day at the Summit League Basketball Tournament. I covered the incredible championship victories for the SDSU men’s and women’s basketball teams and followed the women to the Hoosier State where they took on Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. After the Jacks bowed out in West Lafayette, track, golf, baseball and softball went into full swing. I don’t think I caught my breath for two months and I loved every second of it.
As fun as that stretch was, I was still ready to go and the thought of New York was stuck in the back of my mind. When I would muster the ambition on my days off, I’d hop on job search websites. I knew I didn’t have what it took to get in at WCBS or NBC4; my only hope was to find a starter company that took mass communication majors just out of college. It was a longshot at best, but I started submitting my resume for advertising and PR jobs in the five boroughs. I was conceding the career that I loved, broadcast news and sports, in order to get out to New York. Fair trade.
One day, I was sitting at home watching TV when I got a phone call from a 212 area code. Thinking it was a telemarketer I let it go to voicemail. It turns out it was one of the small ad agencies I had applied to. I called back and did an impromptu phone interview for a sales position while wearing a pair of basketball shorts and a pizza-stained T-shirt. About a week later I did a second interview over Skype with the CEO. Yes, I did wear pants.
The company told me they liked what they saw, but they wanted to meet me in person. They said they wouldn’t be able to fly me out to New York. I would have to pay my own way, so if I was going to come then I should see if I could get interviews lined up for more than just the job they were offering. This was a pretty big test of commitment on my part. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get an interview with anyone else when this ad agency was the only company I had heard anything from. And the cost of the plane ticket would clean me out; I’d barely have money for rent.
I consulted my friends and my parents, asking them for advice, but ultimately the decision was mine. I was at a crossroads. Even if I did fly out, there was no guarantee I would get the job. I couldn’t stand the thought of burning $600-$800 and coming home empty handed, but if I didn’t go, I knew I’d be miserable for the rest of my life. I had to see if I had what it takes to make it there. So I called the company and I set up the interview. I booked the plane tickets that night.
My days off were Tuesday and Wednesday so I planned to fly out Tuesday morning, do the interview on Wednesday, and fly back in time Thursday to make it in for our 2 p.m. newsroom meeting. I told a few people what I was planning, but the main people at the station were kept in the dark, I didn’t want them to know for fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t get the job. A breaking story that they might need me to come in for or a flight delay would put me at risk of being made, but I was going for it.
When the day came, Justin Wulf from the Argus Leader dropped me off at the airport. As I got out of his Impala he shook my hand and told me to, “Show them what South Dakota’s all about.” Then he cranked some Jay-Z and drove away. It was awesome. That’s when I knew I might just pull this off.
I stayed with Kyle in the greens-keeper dorms at Winged Foot. After flying in and grabbing a bite to eat, he drove me to the train station so I could go into Manhattan and find the office where the interview was. He wanted to come with me, but they were getting into the heart of their work season and he had been putting in 16-17 hour days. The guy was exhausted, so I went in alone. I found the office at the corner of Broadway and Rector, a block away from the New York Stock Exchange, in the shadow of One World Trade Center. It was surreal.
The next morning I got ready and Kyle gave me another ride to the train station on his break. I messed up on my timing and wound up getting off the ‘4’ train at the Wall Street station about an hour early. It was pouring rain so I stood under the large façade of a building and people watched for about 45 minutes.
Finally it was time for me to go up for the interview. I went up to the 30th floor of the building and was met by one of the sales managers. She brought me into a corner office and explained to me that I would be doing a mock sale to her and the CEO. She gave me some materials and told me I had about 15 minutes to prepare. As soon as she was out the door I started sifting through the information she had given me, seeking out the most relevant items that would help me make a sale and scribbling notes in the notepad she had given me.
After about 10 minutes I had about two pages of notes and felt I was ready to make a sales pitch. I sat back and looked out the window where a view to the north greeted me. Looking past the World Trade Center I could see all the way up to the Empire State Building. I was in awe; I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. I was so far out of my element it wasn’t even funny.
The sales manager came back in along with the CEO and the administrative assistant who had given me my original phone interview. I gave my pitch while trying to steady my nervous, shaking hands. They threw me a few objections and I did my best to maneuver around them and make the sale. Finally the CEO, also playing the part of a potential buyer, confronted me.
“Kolbe,” he said. “You say this magazine is only on newsstands for a week, and I know people that do read it will only glance at my ad in passing. So why would I sink so much money into an opportunity that will only provide a brief moment of publicity.”
“Well Steve,” I said, “the fireworks on the 4th of July only last for a few brief moments, but if you can make them great enough, I guarantee you that people will remember them until the next year.”
It was unbelievably cheesy. And I have no idea how I thought of it, but I tried to say it as calmly and as smoothly as I could. The CEO started to laugh.
“Do you pick up girls with that line? Because I think it would work.”
I have no idea what kind of girls he talks to, but I felt like the job was mine.
We talked for a little while longer and then I went on my way. The next day I was back in time for work in Sioux Falls. After a couple days I felt confident enough to tell my news director and sports director what I had been up to, and why I was doing it, and they told me they understood.
A week later I was in an editing bay cutting a tape when I got an email alert on my phone. I had gotten the job. I shamelessly whistled “New York, New York” in the newsroom and did victory beers at Rookies that night. We had way too many victory beers.
Finding a place to live was hard, but I caught a break when a buddy of mine from college who was already working freelance production out here told me he was looking for a roommate. Now I live in Astoria, Queens with him. It’s funny how it all fell into place.
I’ll admit, it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops. I miss my friends and family a lot. And it’s tough to meet new people.
But the people at work are nice and I’ve been able to make quite a few good memories in the short five months that I’ve been here. I’m happy to say that I still get a kick out of all the pretty girls out here. Some have even been gracious enough to talk with me. And this past Saturday I threw caution to the wind and did standup comedy. I told Fury I’d do a post on that too, so watch for it. Hopefully I don’t get as long-winded in that one as I did in this one.
Sometimes I think about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t decided to fly out for that interview. Would I still be at that TV station? Would I still be in South Dakota? I try not to dwell on it too much though, because I’m having a lot of fun out here right now. Living the dream.
About the author: Kolbe Nelson is the most successful South Dakota-to-New-York-City transplant since January Jones. He likes long walks on the beach and believes President Whitmore from Independence Day is a great American hero. Follow him on Twitter. We’re hopeful he’ll provide more dispatches for TVFury.