Very early one fall day in 2016, Mark Combs set west from Morgantown, West Virginia, with lots of hope, California dreams, and as many belongings as he could fit into a small SUV -- including a few companions.
“I’m feeling really positive about the trip,” Mark said into a handheld recorder while stopped at a gas station somewhere in Ohio. “We started out very, very strong this morning. We’re still going strong.”
He was traveling with his border collie Lily, a cat named Terror Czar (TC for short), and his good friend from theater school and fellow West Virginian Cameron "Elias" Williams -- a dancer, rapper, writer and like Mark, a comedian. Together, they’ve been planning this move West with similar ambitions.
“I love West Virginia -- it’s always gonna be another home for me,” Cameron said "but for the arts there’s not a whole lot here.”
With encouragement from friends, Cameron and Mark saved some money, shed most of their belongings, and set west. There wasn't much more to their planning then that.
“So we’re kinda just gonna go out there and hit the ground running,” Cameron said one night a few weeks before leaving. From a living room in West Virginia, Mark and Cameron saw all these opportunities and resources just waiting for them.
“I think apartments are fairly easy to come by,” Mark replied. "I think the job market is so much larger out there than what it is here that jobs are going to be really easy to come by too. It might take a few days. But I don't think we'll run out of money."
Famous last words.
Mark and Cameron made it to New Mexico, 1,700 miles away from West Virginia.
“I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time in the car,” Cameron laughed. “We’ll be in L.A. tomorrow evening. Home sweet home. The new one anyway.”
Mark and Cameron didn’t record for a few very busy days once they made it to Los Angeles. Here’s what Mark finally had to say Mark when he was able to find time to record again:
No one wanted to rent to them because they didn't have jobs. And they were having a hard time securing a job in part because they couldn’t prove that they were local residents. They ended up at a sketchy hotel that night. But didn’t stay there long.
After they’d been in L.A. for four days, things weren’t going much better.
“It’s getting extremely frustrating,” Mark reported. “Everybody you talk to is like, ‘oh yeah there’s a bunch of places here to rent, a bunch of places over there to rent.' But there’s really not! If we do find a place it’s in a place where the crime rate is so high that probably in the first week one of us is going to be robbed and the other is going to be shot. If it’s not something like that, they don’t allow dogs.”
By the end of the week things were getting kinda desperate. Yes, they have friends who live in the area, but they didn’t encounter the social safety net they hoped for. The next time Mark recorded, he was at a gas station near the edge of the city limits on a very windy day. There were wildfires nearby and a lot of smoke in the air. They were looking for a place to rent, and for jobs, further and further away from town.
“We’re running out of resources. We’re running out of time. We have friends here in L.A. but we’re basically being prevented staying with them because of pet policies or because they’re out of town.”
After just one week in LA Mark and Cameron HAD to move on. They knew they would run out of resources completely if they didn't do something. Still, they decided returning to West Virginia was not an option.
Where could they go?
Back on the Road
“Surprise! We’re in Denver!” Mark recorded in his next audio diary. “So uh, basically, Los Angeles didn’t work out.”
So why Denver? We’ll find out next time on The Struggle to Stay.