Road Warriors: Commuting for Work in South Carolina
Author: Denise K. James
We’ve had a rough go of it with the economy, haven’t we? Right when it seems that the recession has finally come to an end, there’s another headline exclaiming that an alarming percentage of Americans are still without work. They can’t find any kind of meaningful employment, even something simple or something that doesn’t excite them. And don’t get us started on the array of websites that constantly publish lists of “the most useless college majors today” or “the most useless career paths.” As a writer, I’ve taken to looking up these lists just to snicker at them. After all, we know that if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, even if it means putting a few miles on the car.
Each morning and evening, the roads of South Carolina are crowded with diligent motorists who commute to and from various locations in their never-ending effort to make a buck. Sometimes you can spot them on the highway—changing the station between songs, sipping a gigantic tumbler of coffee or an energy drink—and you’re certain they have farther to go. But some of the travelers choose this lifestyle for the sake of doing what they truly love, rather than because they couldn’t find suitable work in their own communities. In fact, here in South Carolina, more and more people are hitting the highways to find career satisfaction.
The larger cities in our state, including Greenville, Spartanburg, Charleston, Hilton Head, Columbia and Myrtle Beach, are beckoning a new generation of determined followers of the dream. These road warriors include entrepreneurs, writers, filmmakers, chefs, photographers and choosers of other careers known as creative that are, therefore, tougher to cultivate. How many times did we creative folk hear our relatives and friends insist that we should carefully build a metaphorical box, stow our dreams inside of it and pursue something more practical?
For Jake Cambron, a filmmaker who finished college in December 2012 and has been making movies since the age of 16, passion for something means wholeheartedly studying and immersing yourself into it to prepare for results, despite naysayers.
“My advice is to study your craft,” said the University of South Carolina graduate and Hilton Head native. “A lot of times, the opportunities come out of nowhere, so you have to be prepared to effectively present yourself. You have to be ready every second to get out there and show what you’ve got.”
Carl Miller, a chef who lives in Folly Beach, S.C., and commutes to Kiawah Island, S.C. for work, agrees that preparation is one of the keys to success in a creative field—and one aspect of preparation means a cheerful willingness to go where the work is.
“If an employer is looking at your cover letter and résumé and knows you’re willing to commute, they know you’re a positive person and that you are willing to offer your time,” Miller remarked.
Heather Haselden, who also resides on Folly Beach and is opening her chiropractic business in Port Royal, S.C., has prepared for possible long days on the job by reaching out to friends who happen to live near her business and can offer her lodging in a pinch. She is also keeping a few essentials on hand at her office, such as a small refrigerator and a burner, for those later evenings when she might not make it home for dinner.
The reason people commute isn’t always just the lofty pursuit of a dream. Other benefits could include more practical matters, such as finances and proximity to loved ones. And living in a place you can afford—even if you’d rather work elsewhere—is obviously wise. Miller doesn’t have a home on Kiawah Island, but he enjoys the opportunity to work in fine dining. Luckily, when he submitted his résumé, the folks at the Kiawah Island Club remembered Miller from a previous stint several summers before.
Haselden, meanwhile, knew that maintaining her practice outside of Charleston, where rent can be expensive, would be a good financial decision.
“I can’t get anything close to that price in rent around Charleston,” she said candidly. “Also, my mother has multiple sclerosis; I don’t want to move away from her.”
Of course, the old saying that creative people are always in need of fresh material is a terrific reason for commuting. Cambron says that moving around to work on movies in other cities keeps his life and his career entertaining and interesting. “Moving around to different locations is good for creative types,” he said. “You’re able to see different things and different settings. Commuting has inspired me to come up with new ideas. As a filmmaker, I can always alter the script!”
If long, frustrating drives are what you immediately think of whenever someone mentions commuting, you might be surprised to know this isn’t always the case. Traveling the highway to a job you love can mean an opportunity to clear your head and enjoy some solitude. “I personally enjoy being alone in the car,” Haselden said. “I put on some music and just riffle through my thoughts.”
Miller makes use of his time while driving between Folly and Kiawah by enjoying the natural beauty of South Carolina. “Keep your eyes open and enjoy where you’re going,” he said. “I cross a few different bridges and enjoy the surroundings—there’s even wildlife such as bobcats, opossums and deer. The trick is to keep your mind engaged while you’re driving.”
But is commuting truly necessary for people to obtain job satisfaction? The folks I spoke to thought it may be the best way to compromise between where one chooses to live and what one chooses as a profession. And regional commuting can be a way to weather the economy’s highs and lows, particularly in more creative fields. The key, it seems, is courageously exploring new territories.
“I would agree that commuting to find creative gigs is becoming more necessary,” Cambron said. “If you’re a filmmaker in the South, there aren’t a ton of opportunities, so you have to move around to find them. The art scene is different wherever you go, and you never know what you’ll find when you move around, which is a good thing.”
“I heard on the radio the other day that less and less people are relocating for work,” Haselden mused. “But they’re willing to travel. People are staying together and staying near family.”
So how do you conclude whether embarking on the highway in search of a gig might be right for you? You could start by asking yourself if the opportunities close to home are what you really want. If not, then take your cue from these road warriors and explore to your heart’s desire.
“Go where you have to go for your own integrity,” Haselden said. “I would have lamented a 15-minute drive more than this hour-and-a-half drive to Port Royal. This is what I want, and I help people the way I want to help them.”
“Most of the artists I know, including myself, are willing to travel at least an hour, maybe more,” agreed Kim Thomas, a sculptor and resident of downtown Charleston. “It’s a sacrifice we make to take part in a project that pertains to our specialty.”
Denise K. James is an independent writer and editor based in Charleston, S.C. Find her at wordsbydenisek.com.