The tale of the urban nomad

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October 18, 2004 // UPDATED 4:23 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Julie Swenson
Julie Swenson

How market research made me change my life

Last week I turned 37. It's so much better than the alternative of having no more birthdays, but it's still sort of a shocker. By now, a person is supposed to have money and know what she is going to be when she grows up. I'm still working at it.

A real job? As in get dressed and show up somewhere every day, drink tons of free coffee and have co-workers to go to lunch with? That's a long way from where I write this from my apartment in my jimmies, pay for any coffee I drink and go to lunch alone every day. I'd love to leave it all behind, but I have no idea what to do. I guess a place to start is to actually finish that MBA I started in the '90s. That means getting back to class at St. Thomas and taking marketing research and facing my nemesis: statistics. It's research after all, and the bizarre language of stats has to be a part of it.

So far it's been statistics-free in room 254 in Thomas Murphy Hall, we've been talking about the fun things you learn studying consumers. According to the researchers (whoever they are) if I were married, I'd be part of the luxury class, which basically means I'd buy things without waiting for clearance.

Because I'm single, I'm not part of the luxury class; I'm an urban nomad. You need two incomes and no kids to be in the luxury class, and I have one income and no kids. In fact, the older I get without getting married, the less likely it is that someone will marry me. Don't tell Tony, my boyfriend, but the odds of him ever marrying me are something akin to winning $1,000 on pull-tabs in one night.

I know I'm not the only urban nomad around here. You are an urban nomad if you don't work in an office but work off of a laptop you take to a coffee shop or to your dining room table or to a desk in a hotel room. You are a super nomad if you take your laptop to all these places in the same day. It's easier to reach an urban nomad by cell phone than a landline. In fact, urban nomads often don't even have a landline. The urban nomad is totally mobile: the PDA, cell phone and free wireless Internet access are their tools for survival.

The urban nomad lives a sort of romantic cowboy-like existence. You roam the city, taking care of clients like the cowboy roams the range taking care of cattle. You stop at the coffee shop and warm yourself over a cappuccino like the cowboy warms himself around the fire. You shoot out an e-mail like the cowboy shoots bullets into the air to say hello.

The only problem with the urban nomad lifestyle is that it's darn lonely. No one is going to notice if you don't show up with your laptop at the coffee shop. It's too much trouble to deal with a spouse or kids on the range, and it's the same for an urban nomad. How can you pick the kids up at school if you are deep in the middle of a creative tidal wave in a coffee shop across town? That's why this year, now that I'm 37 years old, I'm going to get a real job with lots of co-workers.

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