In 1986, I’d just graduated from college and set my sights on moving to NYC to try and get a job in advertising. I was a first-generation kid of immigrant parents. The decision to move across the country, to a city where I knew no one, was daunting to me, but I was inspired my adventurous parents. If they could take a risk to better their opportunities in life, then so could I.
The first time I gazed up at the starry sky in grand central station, amid the mass of humanity that flowed through grand concourse in the late 1980s, when it was still the major commuter hub in the city, I began to wonder if I could find my way here. I had no job or apartment and little savings. I was lucky to get a job in my chosen field, advertising. I soon acquired an apartment in Astoria, Queens, above a blinking neon sign for the “Video Zone.” All night long I heard the noise from the bus stop outside my tiny bedroom – a room so small that my single futon would only fit one way - and wondered if this adventure had been a good idea.
I can still remember the rush I felt, looking down at the city below from the Time & Life building during a meeting with Sports Illustrated. The hundreds of taxies crawling along the Avenue of Americas were like streaks from a yellow highlighter across the page of the city and pedestrians spreading and congealing on corners and around street lights looked like armies of ants at a picnic feast. Looking down at the city from the 40 something floor, I finally felt I’d achieved the goals I’d set back in Seattle.
I joined the commuting crowd at the Steinway Street subway stop and wedged my way on to a packed subway car for the trip into Manhattan. I was wide-eyed and impressed and intimidated and inspired all at the same time. I did quickly realize that my easy going west coast style needed some adjustments so that I would not stick out like a tourist. However; I didn’t want to look like exactly everyone else. I had a limited budget, but calculated that a brief case, an item I would have with me every day, in every season, was probably the most important acquisition I should focus on. I needed to do some careful research before I parted with my hard-earned dollars. I looked at all sorts of classic black or cognac boxy, traditional, leather briefcases, but none of them were very interesting or appealing.
On weekends, I wandered endlessly, exploring all the neighborhoods in Manhattan. On Saturday, I stumbled upon Ghurka at the Abercrombie & Fitch in South Street Seaport. At the time, A & F wasn’t the over-perfumed Gen Y clothing store it is today but rather it was a store for the outdoor (and refined) adventurer. They had a safari/explorer vibe with pith helmets, expensive picnic baskets, and wool blankets. The store created this odd juxtaposition in my mind – inside A & F everything was beige, reds and earth tones, while outside, New York City was like a monochrome photo. And it was amidst this jungle within a jungle that that I found my briefcase – the Ghurka Examiner #5!
That brown leather and twill Ghurka bag – the classic Examiner #5, defined me as the explorer in the City. The kid who moved from little provincial, working class, Seattle to sophisticated, gritty, gleaming, teaming city of New York, and made it.
I’d be the Mad Man in brown versus black.
My Ghurka helped define me the day I first walked out of my apartment in Astoria, Queens with it confidently slung over my shoulder, and as I arrived at J Walter Thompson on 466 Lexington and rode the elevator up to my office.
This bag, this relic of my past still reminds me to be assertive, bold and absolute. Even now as I travel the world as Vice President of Scientific Marketing Strategies at a big data, artificial intelligence marketing start-up back in Seattle, my Examiner #5 does its job perfectly in both function and inspiration.
I’ve taken my Ghurka all over the world for business with travels to Sydney (31 times in 4 years), Mexico City (11 times in 3 year), Hong Kong (6 times in 2 years), Jakarta, (5 times in 2 years), Guayaquil (5 times in 2 years), Doha (3 times in 1 year), Barcelona, Auckland, Paris, Dublin, Cairo, Stockholm, Kuwait City, Dusseldorf, Nice, Montreal, and far away and (still) exotic parts of the United States like my old stomping ground NYC. While I have had to add pages to my passport, my Ghurka continues to serve me without fail.
For nearly 3 decades, now, my timeless Ghurka Examiner #5 has served me well in both purpose and distinction and helped ground me to my original thesis to be someone who thinks differently, and cares about the details with a constant willingness to be flexible to explore new places and engage with new people.
With my Ghurka Examiner #5 at my side, I always feel confident, no matter where my next jungle adventure might be.