Dean Clough

June 28, 2023

Portico Darwin: Lottery Winner, Part II


5 Minute Read
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The reaction to the first post on my life's winning lottery tickets was met with the exuberance I've come to expect.  Which is to say, there was basically none.  But no matter, here are the rest - except for the last 3, which I'm saving for a special 4th of July post.

If you find this all too self-absorbed, you could always go read a book or perhaps volunteer at a children's hospital?

Thank you for your indulgence.  I am sincere when I say I hope these posts on life's lottery have lead you to reflect on your own luck and good fortune, and where it's taken you.  

9.  St. John Was Too Expensive
So many few ask:  Portico, please tell us how you came to call your beloved SF home.  That's easy:  it's because we couldn't afford to go to the Caneel Bay resort on St. John in the US Virgin Islands for our honeymoon.  You see, that's where Jay and Debbie Hyde Howling went on theirs, and as I was wont to do then, I wanted to emulate my heroes.

But holy shit, I think the place was $700 a night in 1991!  Uh, sorry, but no.  We considered our choices and the answer was San Francisco.  Well, Napa and Monterrey, too, but we can cover that some other time.

Here - in photos heretofore not revealed - is our departure to SF for our honeymoon.  This was outside our wedding venue, the Hotel Boulderado, on April 14, 1991, and that's Jay Howling on the right of the chauffer, with Joe Fowler on the left.  And yes, that's me doing an "oh baby, SF here we come", with my bride - wearing my Armani jacket - grinning to her own fans.

This matters because we could have gone anywhere less expensive than Caneel Bay (e.g., a lot of places) on our honeymoon.  But we went to SF, and we both fell completely in love with this completely gorgeous city, and knew we wanted out of Houston and in to San Francisco.

But we had to live there first.
10. Systemhouse = SF (& London & Professor Howard Blum Esq.)
What was worse, I soon thereafter attended an Ernst & Young training session in Los Angeles.  Where I met a partner from the SF office who said he'd be happy to have me, if the partner for whom I worked in Houston would bless a transfer.

The partner in Houston, Tom Franklin, would not let me go, and told me flatly, "I need you here in Houston on this Chevron project for at least 2 more years."  So I quit, and landed a job with a Canadian consultancy, Systemhouse.  They moved us from Houston to SF in May of 1992.

There's really not much to say about Systemhouse - I was only there a couple of months, because shortly after we had landed in SF, Scott Edwards and the booming - I mean fucking BOOMING - fax industry came calling.  I left Systemhouse to co-found Epigraphx with Scott in the fall of 1992.
Yet Systemhouse will always loom very large in my life - landing that job was a big winner.  Because it is there I met Peet Krakow, with whom I would form an IT consultancy called WestConnect in 1996.  That led me to have clients, up to and including the kind that would send me to Asia in the summer of 1997, where I visited Singapore, Tai Pei and Hong Kong, the last just days before the handover from the British.  But the giant win was visiting and then living in London for the better part of a year, starting in the fall of '97.     

Here is the WestConnect brain trust and my business partners; to my immediate right is the facilitative Pleather Fornaci and across from her, Peet Krakow.  This is either right before or right after London.

Fun Fact:  the relationship pictured above also brought into existence one of my best and most enduring personal friendships, that with Professor Blum.  You see, Julie found him randomly in a directory of corporate attorneys, because we needed someone to help us form our Subchapter S corporation. 

The rest is history, and here is that cheek kissing thing again.  It is an omen.

11. Earthquake and Franklinstein's Patience
But where to live?  Again, our luck was really something.  It begins with tragedy, that being the Bay Area's 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which specifically whacked out the Marina District in SF, pictured below.  Note the building that's fallen out into the middle of the road, but also the soon-to-be home of yours truly, pictured in the bottom left corner.  Luckily, it didn't fall - but it was condemned and required a seismic retrofit.

By 1992, much of this had been cleared, and in some cases, rebuilt.  But the neighborhood itself was largely empty, as was the building in question, now inhabitable after its retrofit. 

And that is how we won our probably biggest single lottery:  our rent controlled apartment, in one of America's nicest neighborhoods.  For $1,150 a month.

Franklinstein?  He was the building manager, he was interesting, and he showed us a middle floor corner apartment for $1,050, and then the top floor corner unit for $1,150.  You see, it was his patience that mattered when we asked if we could return at night to check out the view, before committing to signing a lease. 

Thank God he liked us and the times were far, far different.

We rented the top floor corner.  Duh.  And it's not much more expensive 31 years later.  It helped us build wealth and that's why I deem it our biggest win as a couple.  Well, apart from meeting each other.

12. Julie Gets Her Hair Cut by Fonda Lollobrigida
Upon our move to SF, our friends came to consist of people that each of us knew at work.  But that all changed because of one single person Julie met, by chance.  That person gave us one of the largest jackpots ever in terms of amazing friends.   

Some background.  When we moved to SF in 1992, Julie decided she wanted a new look for the big city.  Further - and I thought this wall all super fun - she wanted to have it done at a fancy salon on Union Square.  Being the early 1990s, that area still had probably 5 or so extremely high-end hair and beauty emporiums.  One was a real, live Vidal Sassoon salon and that's where and when she started looking like this.

Julie, I, and nearly everyone else loved the look.  The problem?  The hair cut cost something like $150, then and now a lot of scratch for a cut.  So Julie knew she needed to find someone in our neighborhood that could keep her looking sporty, but for less dough.  That someone was the stylist Fonda Lollobrigida and Julie found her at a small-ish salon on the high street near our apartment in the Marina.   Fonda took the walk-in cut, and the rest is history.

Because quite a few of our closest friends to this day can be traced back to Fonda.  Specifically, she introduced us to Hunter and Fi Deuce, which in turn meant we would soon know the couples Byron Browne IV and Louise Lederhosen, and Günther and Antoinette Strobel.  And of course, Fi Deuce's maid of honor Ol' Purple Label.

Thank you, Fonda.  And Hunter and Fi.

13. 9/11 = Casa Integration
There's really no way around it.  I would not have started my beloved Casa Integration if there had not been the national tragedy of 9/11.  In other words, most of my realistic dreams revolving around travel and lifestyle and retiring early might not have ever come true, if it were not for that awful day.

Because when it occurred, I was ensconced in a cushy, high-paying job as a Director at Charles Schwab.  Specifically, I had just created the first Program Management office in their IT group, and had endeared myself to a particular SVP, whose right-hand man I had now kind of become - I was doing good/great work for him.

But in what can only be called another omen, my aggressive approach to business hurt the feelings of two different women, and each hightailed it to human resources.   At the time, I got reprimanded, little else, and in fact I had resigned myself to 10 or 15 so years in upper middle management at Schwab, and could picture retiring from there.   

But then the towers fell and the Pentagon got hit pretty hard.  Harder hit, at least financially, was Charles Schwab & Co. - their revenues cratered with the closure of the markets and stayed abysmal after they reopened.  So when it came time in late 2001 for the company to axe 1/3 of its workforce, the EVP above my SVP decided I wasn't worth the HR hassles I had caused him, I was told this directly later.  I had just been laid off for the first time in my life, and it took me years to get over the circumstances.  (LOL:  another omen.)

Yet at the same time I had just been handed one of the single biggest winning tickets I had received to date.  That's because now jobless, but with a plush severance package that allowed risk, I brought Casa Integration into existence at the end of 2001. 

By 2004 it was working, by 2005 Julie was buying me the Omega Seamaster watch for Christmas I had always dreamed of owning, and by 2006 we had made our debut flying international business class, on our way to our first visit to an Adler resort (Adler Thermae in Tuscany).  It really only got better from there, with invitations to stay in client homes, and all of my business being either repeat or referral.  It was literally an entrepreneur's dream come true, and it lasted until 2017, when I just didn't want to do it anymore.

Because holy fuck, when I was working, it could be physically difficult to the extreme.  Have you ever been in a crawlspace or an attic?  Here's me looking into one.

What happened next?  Well, I do go on. 

So I'm going to help your Wednesday and save the final three chapters of my lottery winning tale for an Independence Day Weekend special on Monday.  I have more of my traditional blather planned for Friday, but Monday's post should be a real . . . firecracker.



Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Oh, yes - perfect.  Here is Live and Dangerous from Thin Lizzy, a Killer live album if there ever was one.

About Dean Clough