Recently, I found myself at the AVIS desk around midnight at the Oklahoma City airport. Tired and weary, I chatted up the nice young man behind the counter who was doling out driving tips for my final trek to Fayetteville, Ark. When I told him I ran a boot company, his response was, "You don't look like you run a boot company!" I took no offense because the reality is, to look at me, it would be hard to say, "Yeah, she's country." But to know me, you'd find out that I'm a lot of things... and country is one of them. It all started almost 20 years ago...
Originally, much to my parent's dismay, I was never an academically inclined kid growing up. Art and music was my path of greatest acceleration. After finishing high school in Honduras, I had a short lived semester at Rhode Island School of Design. I discovered in a very short period of time that not only was I not cut out for the extreme weirdness of art school, I had missed out in my most formative years on the unique "American" high school experience. I wanted a real American college experience and since I only had the foresight to develop my design skills, I had limited options on where I could live like a normal American college kid and get a decent education in the liberal arts. This is how I ended up, of all places, at Florida State University which at the time had a decent design program, but more importantly, was the number one ranked party school in the country. It essentially met all my qualifications.
FSU did not disappoint and my youth was far from ill spent. It was fun, it was liberating and I made sure I did my part to keep FSU ranked in the top 5 in Princeton's reviews in the only way I could. I made incredible friends, all of whom were good country girls and as our first break from school came around, all 5 of us piled into my room mate Carrie's two-door teal Honda civic and drove south to take me to the Miami International Airport only eight short hours away.
Four hours into the trip, we stopped in Orlando to get gas and snacks and when we got ready to load back in and continue our journey, I refused to get in.
4 Friends: "Jane, let's go!"
4 Friends: "'C'mon, we have to get going if we're going to get you to the airport in time."
Me: "I don't care, I'm sick of listening to country music, I'm not getting in unless you promise to play something else."
4 Friends (after much cajoling): "OK, we promise, now get in."
They lied. I got in the car, sitting in the middle of the back seat and suffered through four more hours of the rest of my life I'd never forget.
And thank the good Lord. By the time they drove me up to the international departures at MIA, I knew every word to "Sold" by John Michael Montgomery. That winter break, I went home to visit my family in Honduras and missed my friends in a way only a country song can truly convey. It would break your heart. Every day I listened to the only CDs I could get my hands on: John Michael Montgomery, George Strait, Alison Krauss, Mindy McCready and Garth Brooks all day until I got back on the plane and arrived back to sweet home Tallahassee where my friends awaited with hugs and moon pies. Now, moon pies may be "country", but what has lived with me all these years -- what's really "country" -- is the way we create a life wrapped up in and interwoven with love, friendship, family and memories that money just can't buy. That certain things simply never leave you, because they turn out to be the very thing you believe in and live by. (Even if you were sure you hated it.)
Nearly 20 years later, most of my iTunes is still country music, my extended family is all from Tennessee and I work for the most brilliant cowboy boot company on the planet, and yes, I still know every single word to "Sold." It seems to be of the greatest irony that my first love affair with a country song is the very way our fans describe their first pair of Old Gringo's.
"Yeah, I went down to the Grundy County Auction
And I saw something I just had to have..."
Follow Jane Pak on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@OLDGRINGOJane