At every new job, you acquire new work friends. You spend a lot of time with your co-workers, and you often go out for drinks and get to know them pretty well. Then you move on to a new job, and it’s interesting how few of these friendships endure. It’s not that you don’t like your former co-workers, but perhaps the bond of working together isn’t enough to cement a friendship in the way that going to school is, or maybe it’s just that you’re at a place in your life where you have too many other commitments (family, etc.). So the work friendships that endure are notable.
Mike McGowan and I began working together in the summer of 1981, when I had a summer internship at a firm doing commercial projects in New York. Mike came from Boston where he worked as a welder for a few years, until he realized that he had reached the limit of how interesting that career was going to be. He moved to New York and attended Pratt, and headed out into the working world a few years ahead of me. We worked in that office together for a while, but then stayed in touch when we both moved on. (Even though he always lived in Brooklyn and I would have to venture out there once in a while.)
Cathie hailed from Chicago, and met Mike while she was working in the garment industry for Perry Ellis, and Mike was the project architect for the gut remodel of three stories in a 1920s building for the new Perry Ellis showroom and offices. (perhaps Mike is just really good a maintaining work-based relationships). They got married and lived in Park Slope, and we hung out together throughout the 80s.
Perhaps due to his background as a builder, Mike didn’t act like your typical young architect. He took me on a tour of the Perry Ellis project just before it was finished, and all the subcontractors greeted him warmly, which shocked me – subs usually have a very adversarial relationship with the architect doing construction administration. Mike always had a different perspective on the profession. When he got his architectural license, he observed that what you learn in architecture school has very little to do with what you do as an architect, and the licensing exam had nothing to do with either of them.
In the late 80s, Mike and I started talking about opening a firm together, combining my experience in housing and his in commercial projects, hoping that might downturn-proof the firm. But then the massive building recession of the late 80s happened; I moved to Oregon to teach, and Mike and Cathie moved back to his hometown of Scituate, where Mike took a job as the in-house architect at Talbots. They raised their son Patrick, who was educated in industrial design, and is now living in a converted schoolbus in Las Vegas, working on their startup designing hydroponic farming in shipping containers. Cathie has put her massive organizational skills to work in a few local organizations and businesses, and Mike has moved on to Bergmeyer Associates, a Boston firm where he is the wise old guy who has seen everything.
Mike and Cathie seem to be happily adjusting to being empty-nesters, and we started thinking about how to maintain the friendship as we transition to being old retired friends.