The Tour Guide: How Curt Found His Road

Curt Upton of Foods of NY Tours
Tour Guide Curt Upton (center) from Foods of NY Tours explores the heart of Greenwich Village with a flock of out-of-town foodies. Photo by Josh Gosfield

“My first tour was nerve-wracking. I was at Cornelia and Bleecker, looking at all these people as I tried to memorize all the facts and scripts in my head. I just came out and told them, ‘I’m feeling very nervous.’ They were very welcoming to that. Now, I can go up to a group and have them giggling in 3 minutes. They deserve it. They’ve spent good money on the experience, and for many of them, coming to New York is the trip of a lifetime. How did I get here? My father died in a car accident before I was born. My mother was very difficult to live with, so at 16, I left home. When I was 17, I quit high school. I wanted to be a comedian or an actor so I bought a 1-way ticket to London. The plan was, become a model and get an agent. I modeled in London and Milano. I was only 20 and I had no family support so I had to keep swimming or I’d drown.

I moved back to Vancouver, took acting classes, did some film work, theater, improv, and stand-up. But unless you want to do children’s theater, the ceiling for actors in Vancouver is very low. Quentin Crisp, an old British writer I met, convinced me to move to NYC when he said, ‘The streets are paved with happiness.’ I got a job at Lola’s restaurant and was suddenly making $1500 a week. But I’m Canadian and I had horrible problems with my papers. My casting director couldn’t cast me in anything. By then I was working in a restaurant run by psycho freaks. I was drinking bourbon in the morning thinking, ‘This couldn’t get any worse.’ That’s when these local tours started coming by. Being a tour guide isn’t something you go to school for but I thought, ‘I’d be very good at this.’ The people on these tours want to feel special. And I’m looking for a genuine connection, too. Unless the person’s a horrible jerk. It’s important that people are nice to each other. That’s all we got.”

You’ll find Curt leading highly entertaining tours @foodsofnytours & plotting his dream TV series “On the Water” where he sails along the Hudson River, stopping in towns for local food adventures.

Join the community and follow @Find.Your.Road_ for more stories & strategies of how people find work they love that pays the bills. 

The Motorman: How Mel Found His Road

“At 12, I was the coolest guy ever!” Mel Wright is 3rd generation transit family working for New York City’s MTA.

“I grew up in Alphabet City where we peddled things we shouldn’t have been peddling. I hung out with people that were associated with it and we’d do things like lookout for them on the corner for $75 a day. Fortunately my transit job took me away from the streets and saved my life. I come from a transit family. Starting with my grandfather. Back then, in the 60’s, if you were a person of color, you started as a porter, cleaning, then worked your way up to token clerk to conductor to motorman. My grandfather, his three brothers, my father and uncle all worked for the MTA. As a kid I was infatuated with the trains. In the morning, while my father was sleeping I’d grab his train keys. My friends were like, ‘Hey, Mel’s got the keys!’ At 12, I was the coolest guy ever. I’d be in the last car on the subway on the way to school. I’d unlock the conductor cab door, look inside, and show it to my friends. Sometimes I’d press the button on the PA and announce, ‘Next stop, Coney Island!’ The passengers would be like, ‘What?! We’re nowhere near Coney Island!’ At 14 I took my father’s rule book to learn the signal system. I’d ride in the front car looking out the window. I knew when the train was going to turn left or right by the signals. I carried that book religiously until I ingrained every signal in my mind. I guess that’s when I said, ‘I really want to drive the train someday.’

I love being behind the controls of 400 tons of steel. You’re on the express track from 34th to West 4th flying through. You’re at the helm of an underground behemoth with all this power behind you barreling down, and the finale is stopping your train right at the end of the station. When you master that, it’s a real thrill. Sure, I had to work holidays and it took 19 years to get weekends off. I missed some of my kids’ games and recitals and I’m sorry for that. Now I’m eligible to retire, but I’m still married to the job. When I look back, I see that it gave me a lot of joy. I was never broke. I was able to take care of my family, travel, and have a place to live. It’s been a nice ride. Who knew 32 years would go by so quickly?”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

You can find Mel on IG @MultiMediaMel

The Hat Lady: How Linda Pagan Found Her Road

Linda Pagan from @TheHatShopNY “Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.” Hat-lovers and the hat-curious can visit Linda’s shop in Soho in NYC. Photo by @Josh_Gosfield

“When I graduated college in 1980, there was a recession. I went to a temp agency, took a typing test, and they sent me down to Wall Street to a reinsurance broker for Lloyd’s. I started off as the receptionist and worked my way up to being a broker doing million dollar deals. I had a great night life and great boyfriends, but after 10 years of looking forward to Friday every Monday, I stopped pretending. I was 31. They had no choice but to fire me. My boss cried when he let me go saying, ‘For 10 years you’ve been a square peg in a round hole.’ I took an occupational test. It came back I’d be great in the army. Oh my God, I love uniforms, but I don’t like to be shot at! All my artist and musician friends worked in restaurants so I went to bartending school. I landed a great job at an elegant bar that brought back the martini. One night, behind the bar, a light bulb went off in my head. I said I really love bartending, but I’m 35. It’s a very demanding job. You need to be physically fit and I love people but there’s a lot of alcoholism. I asked myself, ‘What else do I love that I can I make a living at?’ I made a list of my hobbies: Reading, writing, meeting friends for coffee, second-run movie theaters, going to Turkish baths, history, travel. A Turkish bath-style spa? It was beyond my means. A second-run movie house? Same thing. Then I thought about hats. Hats! There it was, right on top of my head.

I’ve always loved hats. I still have my first hat from primary school when I lived in England. See, it’s beautiful. It’s sueded felt and top stitched. It’s got a fine French grosgrain, an embroidered emblem, and a finished bow. In the 70’s I wore a red hat with daisies. In college, a bowler hat. On Wall Street, a beret. At the bar, lots of hats. Hats became part of my identity. Let’s get Linda hats for her birthday! The baseball cap came back in 1985, I figured now it’s 1993 there must be a certain percentage of people who want a nicer hat. I asked around and everybody thought it was a great idea except for two people. My parents. But I did it anyway.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills.

Follow us on IG @Find.Your.Road_ to join the Find Your Road community.

The Motivational Speaker: How Jae Found Her Road

Jae Scott @JaeScottStyle shares stories on how to find your purpose with groups around the world.

HOW JAE SCOTT FOUND HER ROAD: “After both my parents passed (Dad, when I was 3 months old, Mom, when I was 7), I was raised by my grandmother in Washington D.C.. She had 10 children and I have roughly 30 first cousins, and we called her Gangsta Grammy cause she would tell us stories about when she was a girl in New Orleans and she wouldn’t get into a fight with another girl, she’d say, ‘Girl, I’m not going to fight you. Go get your brother.’ Grammy would fight the brother and win. Here I was this nice quiet girl with a high-pitched baby voice, really into fashion, but that was by no accident. My grandmother would have me looking all fresh. She prided herself in up keep. We both would get our hair done every two weeks. That didn’t sit well with the other girls in school. They would just get jealous. I had a tough time. There was a lot of confrontation. At night I would sit up in Grammy’s room with her. She’d sit on the edge of her bed and I would roll her hair and tell her about my day and what was going on at school, and she’d say, ‘If you don’t learn to stand up to people now and speak your mind, you’ll be running for the rest of your life.’ Grammy was fierce. She didn’t back down. She told me if someone came after me and I didn’t stand up for myself, she’d be the one to show me tough love. One day in school, there was this girl. She was big. I mean really big. The girl said something to me in the hallway, after bullying several people. I thought about backing down. Then I just made up my mind. I said, ‘Here we go.’ I took off my boots with little chunky heels and started hitting her with them. After that, the girl stopped bullying me. Eventually, we became friends. I’ve always been a fashionista so after college, I studied fashion merchandising and specialized in fashion show production and personal shopping in grad school. I got a fairy tale job as an assistant to a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman. Some of my heroes shopped there. Cicley Tyson, Diana Ross. I learned a lot as an assistant. Then I moved to a new department and became one of the youngest personal shoppers. I learned there, too, but the people were cutthroat and territorial. The focus shifted from me helping my clients define their style to me defending my turf. I realized, life’s too short. As tough as Grammy was, she was big on us sticking together as a family. I saw a way to bring that type of sticking together kind of thing into my work. Ever since I was a young girl I’ve used my voice to make my mark. I realized the most powerful way to use my gifts would not be to style people, but to share those lessons I’d learned from my grandmother about the essence of realness, the core values of faith, the power of consistency, the power of love, the power to follow my heart, and the power I have within myself to make sure I’m equipped to grasp whatever I want in this world. That’s what I do now.”

You can find @JaeScottStyle going to places like South Africa and Dubai to speak and organize events to encourage, inspire and challenge women to stand up, stick together, and find their purpose.

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us @Camille_Sweeney on IG to see more, and share with the community there in the comments what valuable lesson someone in your family’s taught you.

The Bus Driver: How Luis Found His Road

Luis Jimenez aka @luis_big_20 is a driver in New York City for the MTA. Photo @josh_gosfield

“Down in the Dominican Republic, my Dad owned a trucking business. It was a thrill to be sitting in that sideseat with my Dad driving. He painted my name ‘LUIS’ and my older sister’s name ‘NELLY’ in big black and red letters on the hood of his trucks, so when we’d come rolling into town, everyone would know, ‘They’re here!’ He was a great driver and he was great with people. I’ve been driving for the MTA, 21 years. 6am to 4pm, different routes, different days. Driving in New York City, it’s like a perfect day. I open up that door, and it’s like the world comes to me. I love my passengers. I want to give them the best ride, the best time, the best view of the city while I get them to where they’re going. That ride, that’s my gift to them. Wherever they’re from, they can take that home with them from New York City. I tell my kids, you gotta love what you do.”

My husband Josh (who used to walk our daughter, Roxie, to the M11 bus) said there’s never been a better way to start a day than to laugh out loud at the bus stop with the life-loving Luis. Now you can find Luis Jimenez on the M3 and @luis_big_20 on IG. Luis has another big talent-dancing like you would not believe. We’ll save that story for another post.

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us @Camille_Sweeney on IG to see more and share with the community there (in the comments) how you found your road.

The Artist: How Rafael Found His Road

“We lived in a tiny town, Huatabampo, in Sonora Mexico. My grandma had the only TV in town. Black and white. We watched so many telenovelas and everyone would come over to watch. I remember sitting there. I must have been 5. There was an ad that came on for an exhibit in Mexico City. Oh, 1000 miles away. It was a show of Pablo Picasso’s work and the camera kind of panned around the exhibit. Everyone in the room was laughing at the crazy faces. But not me. I was mesmerized. I was like, ‘What is this?’ ‘What is art?’ And ‘Why do I find this so beautiful?’ I felt such a connection to the work. I’d been drawing since I was even younger. Drawing in the dirt with a stick. Human figures, cows and pigs. I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t even know people could be artists. I wondered, could I ever be that?” .
Check out Rafael Esquer on IG @AlfalfaNewYork to get a behind-the-scenes look at his imaginative work from murals and maps to iconic branding for super teams the @HoustonRockets and #NewYorkCityFootballClub .

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us on IG @Camille_Sweeney to see more and share with the community there (in the comments) how you found your road.

The Bookseller: How Elizabeth Found Her Road

Bookseller Elizabeth at McNally Jackson book store in Soho, knows what you want to read. Photo: @JoshGosfield

“I am told I taught myself to read before I was 4. I’m the third of four kids in a family where I was loved but not attended to. My earliest memory is being dropped off every Sat morning at the library (while weekly grocery shop happened) and there I read and chose my maximum book stack (10?) for the week. I don’t remember anyone guiding me, so I just worked my way through shelves. First in Kids. And then (because no one told me not to) Adult. My father was an English teacher who is legally blind, and we talked of books from as early as I can remember though we share almost no reading taste. I love books, but just as much, I truly love helping people find the right book. I find shelving soothing. I love digging around to see that a section has all it could and should. New title Tuesday never fails to bring excitement. Thinking about ways to present books so readers find what they want, but also what they might not otherwise discover, is still thrilling.”

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us on IG @Camille_Sweeney to see more and share with the community there (in the comments) how you found your road.

The Musician: How Stewart D’Arrietta Found His Road

Australian musician Stewart D’Arrietta plays around the world and back.

“I started learning piano when I was put into boarding school at the age of 6. My first band, I was 14. After studying law, I enlisted in retail management, and at 26, opened my first shop, women’s clothing, young women’s clothing. I’ve always loved women’s fashion. I was a ballsy kid. Over the next 2 years, I opened 7 more shops. But I stretched my capital too far, went broke at the age of 28. I went back to law school. In my last 2 weeks, I was chastised for not being ready to file my conveyance for an imaginary client. Right then I decided the only thing I really enjoyed doing was music. I thought if there’s an afterlife, the only thing that would have relevance in that world would be music.” 

Ever since then, that’s what it’s been about for Stewart—music. One song, one show, one city after another, around the world. When you hear Stewart growl or stomp or smash chords on his keys, you feel every effing step he’s taken. He’s been called an Aussie “national treasure” by critics. (Stewart and Josh – aka my husband – are writing a musical about JFK that’s driving me crazy cause the song they did last week…I can’t get it out of my head!!)

Find Your Road is a NEW SERIES we’re excited to share with you, based on our upcoming book. The book is filled with stories and strategies on how to find work you love that pays the bills. Visit us on IG @Camille_Sweeney to see more and share with the community there in the comments how you found your road.

These Two Hormones Divide Winners from Losers

What our biology primes us for.

Sometimes winning can be as dangerous as losing. Take James Altucher, blogger, podcaster, provocateur and occasional Observer contributor. Rewind to 1998 when Altucher had just sold Reset, his web-design business, for $10 million. With his windfall he set out on a mission to teach the stock market a lesson. His first trade? As he told us, he “poured all of his money” into a software company, the name of which he no longer remembers. But he does remember this: In one hour he made a cool million. That jackpot was proof of Altucher’s genius. And he was primed to keep at it, going mano a mano against the market to make another million dollars every day for the rest of his life.

Continue reading “These Two Hormones Divide Winners from Losers”

The Comeback: How One Entrepreneur Reversed His Fortunes

Pediatrician Michel Cohen founder of Tribeca Pediatrics had a booming business, a best-selling book and downtown NYC celebrity baby cred until the bottom dropped out. How did he get back on top?

NY Observer Pediatrician Michel Cohen Photos by Francesco Sapienza/For New York Observer
Pediatrician Michel Cohen Founder of Tribeca Pediatrics photo by Francesco Sapienza

From the outside, fit and photogenic French-born physician Michel Cohen was on his way to becoming the 21st century’s answer to Dr. Spock. In the early 2000s he ran Tribeca Pediatrics, a smart, hip, high-quality New York City practice that catered to the neighborhood’s smart, hip parents, whose children he saw in his signature quirky medical office — think Pee-wee’s Playhouse meets a Wes Anderson film set. The media loved him and parents appreciated his common sense, low-intervention medical approach to children’s health.

Things were going so well that he opened up another office in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the healthcare industry was in flux with expanding regulations, upheavals in technology, rising pharmaceutical prices and dramatic cuts in insurance reimbursements. As a result, many doctors were abandoning their private practices to join corporate healthcare clinics and hospitals. (A report from Accenture shows that the percentage of U.S. independent physicians plummeted from 57 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2016.) But Cohen, who spent his days biking back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge, managing his growing practice, seemed to be bucking the trend.

Or so he thought. One morning in 2008, he received a very disturbing call from his bank. “They told me I was $400,000 in debt,” Cohen says. “I was in complete shock.” To make payroll that month he had to borrow $30,000 from a friend.

Our story in Entrepreneur’s Startups Magazine here