About a month from now, thousands of sleep-deprived college graduates will look to the night sky (perhaps with a swig of tequila) and ask, “What should I do with my life?” Often, the answer to that age-old question seems scarily singular: get a job, buy a house, start a family, etc. But today, more and more Millennials are cutting their own path by pursuing multiple passions to fulfilling ends. Take Aimee and Jesse, for instance. This week’s Millennial voices (and Drive All Night’s inaugural Millennial couple) fell in love while attending high school in NY, tied the knot, and embarked on a professional journey that would literally take them coast to coast. Today, Aimee can be found hiring and training new staff at Joanne Chang’s prestigious Flour bakery locations, while Jesse serves as the brains behind Coolidge Corner Theater’s eclectic repertory film programming. Not a duo to rest on their laurels, the two aim to open an artisan cheese shop within the next decade.
This is Aimee and Jesse’s story.
Let’s start back when it all began. How did you two come to meet?
Aimee: We literally met in high school – I was a junior and I had just transferred to the school that Jesse was attending. In senior year, we had a couple of classes together and we ended up going to prom together (chuckles) and were basically inseparable after that!
I know it was a long time ago, but heading out into the world, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do with your life?
Aimee: Yes and no. I always knew that I wanted to be a painter and have art in my life. I still do. But I didn’t know what I wanted my day job to be, and I knew that I’d have to get one – as is typical for artists.
Jesse: I was interested in film from an early age. There was this film appreciation class offered during my freshmen year of high school – for seniors only, taught by a university professor – and I fought like tooth and nail to get in. I was able to, and the class just changed my outlook on what film could be. Being exposed to experimental and horror film in the context of that class was transformative.
What artists did you two admire at that age?
Aimee: I also feel rather influenced by films in my work. Jessie and I would often see films together.
Jesse: Yeah, it became kind of reciprocal. When Aimee would go to see museum shows for her internship, I’d often accompany her
Aimee: Well, after high school, I knew that I didn’t want to go to college formally. I’d heard about taking a gap year, and when I decided to try one, I knew that I wanted it to be either culinary, involving horses (I rode them for most my young adult life) or painting related. And it happened to be that my parents were friends with two professional painters who lived in the area. They were looking for an intern and it seemed like a natural fit, so I did an internship with them for my last semester of high school and decided to continue doing that for my college years.
Can you make me a sketch of the internship?
Aimee: It evolved over about five years – I actually took one semester off to attend college: almost to prove to my parents that it wasn’t a great fit for me. Most days would be split between doing work around the artists’ property and then having time to concentrate on my own paintings. They were really generous in allowing me creative time in their studio. We’d eat lunch together every day, which was prepared on-sight. Sometimes I’d even stay for dinner. I definitely adopted them as parents! Not to devalue my own family, of course, but that’s the way these kind of things often go.
Jesse, where did your post-high school road take you?
Jesse: I attended Sarah Lawrence College. I’d decided that I wanted to pursue filmmaking but I also didn’t want to forsake a liberal arts education. I still had a love of literature and I didn’t want to be confined to one trade. So I definitely focused on film while I was there, but I also worked in music, sculpture, and photography. Wherever my interests led me, really. And upon graduation, I’d already decided that I wanted to attend graduate school to refine my technical skills in filmmaking.
Was there a particular filmmaking department that spoke to you?
Jesse: Yes, I wanted to be a cinematographer. That was…
Aimee: That was going to be the day job. (Laughs)
Jesse: Exactly – the visual eye of filmmaking was what appealed to me. It’s kind of the basis of making experimental films, and I felt like focusing on cinematography would make use of my undergraduate experience and allow me to support my own filmmaking efforts.
Did you both stay in New York or was the call of California too much to resist?
Aimee: We went west. When my internship ended, I’d gotten a day job as a framer in Boston, so when we moved to LA, I was able to find a similar position at a frame shop.
Jesse: I was accepted into Cal Arts for film studies and between attending classes there, I also worked in a film development lab.
LA is famous for polarizing incoming residents. How did you both take to the city?
Aimee: It sort of felt like a one verse town. Film is THE dominant industry and it felt like everyone was talking about it. You’re barraged by it in cafes, wherever you go. There are billboards everywhere that pertain to industry consumerism. It was really hard to find community outside of that, though we eventually did. We both became heavily involved on the No On Prop 8 campaign and I actually spent the last six months out there working for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. So we found our niches; Los Feliz, The Huntington…we lived in Koreatown; mainly because it felt the most like New York City.
Jesse: Once we made it to LA, it didn’t take long for me to get close to industry. It was the age-old dilemma of “should I sell my soul for a comfortable life” and I wasn’t prepared to do that. The combination of working at CalArts, making independent films, and working in a film development lab really opened my eyes to all the backstabbing that pervades the film industry. It’s truly “every man for himself” and I was uncomfortable with the idea of ruthlessly pursuing personal gain, no matter whom you hurt. Even in film schools like AFI or USC, I got a sense of this mindset.
So the SoCal lifestyle was baring its teeth…
Aimee: Well, it was always going to be a limited time visit. When Jesse was getting ready to move out there, we said we’re going to relocate for a fixed time period and then come back to the east coast. It was always going to be short-term.
Jesse: Yeah, it was never going to be long-term. I mean, if things had worked out the way we were imagining them, we might have been bi-coastal at most. We left LA in 2009, and we’d been thinking pretty seriously about that relocation for a year leading up to that point.
Aimee: Really, the only thing that kept us in LA for that year was the No On Prop 8 campaign. That, and we didn’t want to move during the dead of winter! And as a sort of capstone on the whole experience of being out west, Jesse decided to do the AIDS LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to LA.
Jesse: It’s a yearly bike ride that helps raise money for centers in LA and San Francisco that offer free to low-cost AIDS prevention care and testing to the community.
So you both moved back to Boston without work lined up. How did that feel, to be making a big leap with no guarantee of a job at the other end?
Jesse: It felt fine to us…
Aimee: It really did. Before we left, something horrible happened: Jesse got hit by a car as a pedestrian, crossing the street. He was okay – just a dislocated shoulder and banged up arm – and he got a settlement from that.
Jesse: Yeah, but it didn’t support us on this side of things exactly. (Laughs)
Aimee: True, but it got us through the moving period. Otherwise, I think we would have had to sell everything and buy new stuff once we arrived in Boston.
Jesse: And moving back to Boston felt like a very natural move. After all, we’d both lived there before coming to LA, and we had a lot of friends in the area. It was a better place to live economically than, say, New York. It was reliable in many ways.
Okay, so once you landed on the east coast, how did you get settled and find the essentials? Place to live, jobs?
Jesse: It was mostly easy, but a lot of work went into the process. Our first week in Boston coincided with a friend’s marriage, so we were able to stay in their house while they honeymooned. And that gave us a base from which we could apartment hunt. Sure enough, we were able to find a good two-bedroom place.
Aimee: That’s a living tradition we’ve carried forth over the years: always a two bedroom apartment. One of the bedrooms becomes a studio.
Jesse: And then from there, it was a 2-3 month period before we both found jobs.
Aimee: I actually found my job at Flour on Craigslist! And I think Jesse found his on idealist.com
Jesse: That’s right. And luckily, both of these jobs were very much within our field house in terms of personal interest. And with Aimee’s job, we had thought it would be good for one of us to move into the food industry at some point – we’d been constructing this idea of opening an artisan cheese shop further down the road, so getting a foot in the door seemed like a good idea.
Did you two start with the same positions you hold today?
Jesse: Mine was basically the same position: program manager at the Coolidge.
Aimee: And I was actually hired as front of house counter staff. From there, i worked my way up to front of house manager, and then my current role as HR head and FOH trainer.
What’s an average day at work look like for each of you?
Aimee: (Laughs) I think we should describe each other’s job!
Jesse: You go first.
Aimee: So, Jesse’s able to go to work by 10 each morning. Most days, he’ll stay till about 5 or 6. Some nights, he’ll have to work late if there’s a special film program being hosted. But for the most part, he has a pretty flexible schedule. In general, he’s organizing upcoming film series screenings and handling theater rentals. Monday and Tuesday are the busiest days behind the scenes. And luckily, he’s working with very like-minded people in the same office.
Jesse: Aimee’s day begins…at the crack of dawn. As the FOH trainer, she’s moving between Flour’s four locations across Boston, depending on what the needs of each one may be. She meets with all the new hires, compiles their paperwork, troubleshooting potential problems before they arise, etc. If nothing serious comes up during the week, she tries to make it to each shop to see how everyone’s doing. And then of course, every other week, she spends a pretty solid block of time doing payroll paperwork, lest a bunch of people start banging on the door demanding to be paid.
Aimee: I think the biggest difference is that once in a blue moon, Jesse will have a day when he has to work 60 hours. Whereas that’s my norm! So, it can be hard sometimes. But Jesse’s so good – he’ll drive me to the first Flour I need to visit almost every single day and he’ll pick me up wherever I end up by sundown. It’s pretty wonderful. I have a good husband!
Jesse, you mentioned a shop that the two of you would like to open in the future. Tell me a little more about that.
Jesse: So the idea for this shop came from one of Aimee’s former framing employers. She’d been looking at new spaces to lease, and in the middle of our job hunt in Boston, she called us up after seeing this place on Newbury Street and said, “Do you want to open your own business? Forget about finding a job-”
Aimee: “You can start your own job!” And of course, we weren’t ready at the time.
Jesse: But we started throwing blue-sky ideas around and thought, “Okay, well what sort of place would we want to open?” When we were in LA, we’d really gotten into a lot of the local artisanal cheeses made in Napa Valley and the Central Valleys – we’d explored that scene pretty extensively. I mean, ten years ago, Kraft Singles American cheese slices were what “cheese” was generally considered to be around here. But since then, the artisanal movement has really broadened and offered a more diverse selection of offerings. So that’s where the idea came from, and we’re excited by the prospect of getting involved with the local, sustainable food movement: a sort of “back to the land” move.
Are there any obstacles between now and the shop that you both can foresee?
Aimee: Finances are definitely the first thing that come to mind, but then I’m like, “You know what, that’s just gonna happen as it may.” I’m confident that if we head further down the road towards opening a shop, we’ll be able to make the money equation work. I think we’re so caught up with the little details that we don’t spend much time worrying about the bigger picture. As in, “what if nobody shows up?” The whole thing feels so natural that there’s not much fear circling around it.
Jesse: We’ve kind of lived with the idea of developing the shop as time goes on.
Aimee: i think the most stressful thing at the moment is Jesse finding a job in the food industry. We’re moving down that path right now and thankfully, Jesse will be able to keep his job at the Coolidge while he goes about his search.
Final question: a lot has been said about the experiences and attitudes of today’s young people, and not all of it has been positive. Thinking of your experiences and dreams, how do you two relate to the word “Millennial”?
Aimee: It’s funny how we think of generations because they’re so fluid. Obviously, the economy is very problematic for a lot of people who are dependent on the jobs that I’d like to call “systematic” to an extent. But I’m a big believer in that being true to yourself and going after your interests in whatever way you can will ultimately bring you to the best place possible.
Jesse: Sometimes I have a rather fatalistic outlook on things, so I don’t get very mixed up in concerning myself with how things are supposed to be going. All you can do is take care of yourself and the people around you. And that’s a day-to-day issue. If you’re open enough and true enough to what you want to do and how comfortable you are with that…I’ve never been let down by following that path.