Five songs

These aren’t my favorite, but they’re the ones that evoke the strongest memories.

Hearing any one of these brings my consciousness back to an exact moment in time with surreal vibrancy.

This is the story of the past four years of my life, told in songs.


Finding Something To Do by Hellogoodbye

I knew it was the right decision.

With a Starbucks drink in hand—a fruity concoction with undertones of strawberry—I hit the unlock button on the key fob twice and watched as the red Ford Focus hatchback lit up the dark to acknowledge my approach. The car was Andrey’s, the CEO of Tempo, and I was using it as my daily driver while setting up a new team house for our upcoming League of Legends team.

My friend and I got in the vehicle, sat down, and closed our respective doors in unison. The tips of the fingers on my left hand absorbing the coldness of my drink, I transferred my overpriced sugar water to my other hand, then to the cup holder. I leaned over and carefully navigated the air with my lips, repossessing my friend’s straw and taking a sip out of her salted caramel frappuccino before she could react. On my retreat, I noticed that she smelled pleasant.

As long as there’s something to see, I’ll see it with you.

My right thumb and index finger began an ascent towards my chin as I thought back to one of my psychology classes where I learned that finding some­one’s natural scent to be pleasant meant that your immune systems were complementary and you’d make healthy children. The thought quickly dis­si­pated and my right hand took a detour, rerouting itself to the car’s ignition instead.

I reversed out of the parking spot and drove towards Grand Oaks, departing the Crossings at Corona and heading back to the team house. My friend and I sat in blissful silence for the mile-and-a-half trip until she reminded me, “the next turn is ours!” I narrowly avoided missing the left onto Prairie Dunes Drive for a third day in a row.

With five Target bags of groceries in hand, I approached the house, juggling the key ring in hopes of unlocking the front door before the tips of my fin­gers turn plum from the weight of tomorrow’s breakfast. As I push open the door, the thought returns to my mind. I knew it was the right decision.

And I swear I’ll always follow you.

The “decision,” of course, was the decision to put my regular life on hold and move from the Chicagoland suburbs to Southern California in 2016 to pursue my hobby as a full-time career. I’m always meticulously careful with my decisions, and I had already been so with this decision as well—but this song captures the moment where the 99.9% certainty became 100.

Another thing to point out here is the recurring theme that the song itself doesn’t necessarily reflect the event—I bet a lot of you thought this had something to do with the friend beside me—but rather, it just happens to be the soundtrack that my mind associates with the par­ticular event.


Ride by Twenty One Pilots

The feelings of frustration had faded.

But so had the feelings of freedom.

I squeezed my toes together and curled them inward to feel the individual loops of carpeting rub between them. I was seated at my desk, but now I was looking through my two monitors instead of at them, lost in thought.

A bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room.

Coming back to my senses, I looked to my right at the three-headed tree lamp in the corner, projecting the familiar blistering hemispherical glow on the ceiling, but leaving everything behind it engulfed in shadows. I would normally have the kitchen light on at this point as well, but I had decided a few hours prior that it could take the day off. The uneven lighting cast an eerie mood on a once exclusively joyful room.


I stood up, walked five quick steps to the front door, and leaned slightly towards the peephole to confirm my suspicion that my delivery driver had man­aged to sneak in behind another car past the front gate of the community. I was never one to order delivery, but no more roommate meant no more car.

With a brief frisk of the bag, I confirmed my order from Double or Nothing Pizza was correct. Dinner now in hand, I thanked the Hispanic man in front of me and waited for his body to rotate a quarter of a turn clockwise in the dim lighting before beginning to shut the door, as to make him feel like I wasn’t in a rush to part ways. It’s the details that count.

I’d live for you, and that’s hard to do—even harder to say when you know it’s not true.

I can’t give further details on this memory because it involves an incident where the public perception of what happened is vastly different (and milder) than what actually transpired—and I want to keep it that way.

What I can say, though, is that this happened in late 2017, and it was another “realization” moment—a moment where I fully accepted a decision I made in the past and committed to not letting it negatively affect my future.


Lost in Japan (Remix) by Shawn Mendes & Zedd

I floored the accelerator… and nothing.

Creeping forward at a snail’s pace eastbound from the intersection of Tropicana and Grand Canyon, I watched the column of drivers in the lane beside me overtake my Chevrolet Malibu. I was being left in the dust—both figuratively and literally, because the relentless construction in my area wasn’t doing much to help the air quality.

And then, blast off.

The navy blue mid-size sedan suddenly revved to 4800 RPM and launched me forward past the empty dirt lots to my right. Jerking my foot off the gas and hovering the brakes, I navigated my way half a mile down and took two lefts, the first onto Fort Apache Road and the latter into the entryway of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

I’m a couple hundred miles from Japan and I—I was thinking I could fly to your hotel tonight.

I stepped out of the Malibu and took a deep breath of crisp, clean, warm desert air. I traded the keys to the malfunctioning car for a Chevrolet Impala. The rental agent explained how I was getting an upgrade, but I barely noticed a difference between the two vehicles. I pulled my seat back, adjusted the rear-view mirror, and drove back to my apartment.

This one is strange, because this is the first memory where the song that triggers the memory wasn’t actually playing during the memory. This particular incident happened in mid-2018, while the song wasn’t released until late 2018.

When I first moved to Las Vegas, I relied entirely on walking, Uber, and rental cars to get around. But, after I moved from my apartment to Tempo‘s new team house in Rhodes Ranch, I purchased a new GMC Canyon pickup truck as my daily driver because nothing was in comfortable walking distance anymore.

For the first three months, I had a free SiriusXM trial, and I heard Zedd’s remixed version of Shawn Mendes’ Lost in Japan on the radio on a near-daily basis. This song ended up becoming associated with the happiness I felt after moving to Las Vegas in general, but more specifically, the sensation I felt when breath­ing in hot, dry air. Having grown up in the Chicagoland suburbs, the hot summer air had historically always been linked with excruciatingly crushing humidity.

They say you never know what you’re missing out on until you experience it for the first time, and for me, hilariously, breathing hot dry air is one of them.


Floral & Fading by Pierce the Veil

Why I expected anything different, I’m not sure.

Of course there would be half a mile of traffic. Why wouldn’t there be? It’s here every day.

With the extra vertical boost granted to me by my leveled pickup truck, I looked westward down Warm Springs Road at the rooftops of a seemingly end­less queue of vehicles waiting to get past the intersection of Buffalo Drive. I took a second to look to my passenger seat to make sure my bag of Chipotle hadn’t disappeared. I turned back and faced my windshield to find that, to my misfortune, the traffic also had not disappeared.

I want devil horns; I wanna breathe in your rush; I wanna leap when you want me to fly.

A quarter mile in, the other pickup trucks started off-roading on the unpaved dirt shoulder to get around the traffic. I would’ve done the same, except I needed to go straight at the intersection instead of turning right, so that wouldn’t have helped. I rolled up my windows to stop the billowing clouds of dirt and dust from getting into my cabin, wondering when they would finally add a second lane to this segment of Warm Springs Road.

Close your eyes; picture you and I selling daylight for gasoline.

This one, again, is a little strange and different, because this song doesn’t quite precisely trigger a memory, but rather, a general phase in my life. This phase happened during late 2018 and very early 2019 when I moved out of my first Las Vegas apartment and into Tempo’s team house in Rhodes Ranch, when I had a “lull” period in my life for the first time in a while.

I always like to keep my life active, engaged, and advancing, and I had managed to maintain that throughout a majority of my adult life. Things obviously picked up a lot after I moved to the Pacific Coast, and this perception of “lull-ness” in late 2018 and early 2019 may have just been a problem in a com­par­ative sense—I had just gotten so used to “go go go” that even a little peace started feeling strange.

But even with that in mind, it still felt like things were going a bit too slowly for my comfort. Ever since joining Tempo, I had been in a perpetual state of learning, constantly changing my role within the company and expanding my breadth of knowledge within the esports and gaming industry. However, since mid-2018, I felt like my career had become stagnant, and I felt like I was just doing the same tasks repeatedly without a bigger goal.

While living in Rhodes Ranch, I would drive out to go grocery shopping or pick up a meal from a restaurant at least once a day. This was my way of forcing myself to get out of the house; otherwise, I would just stay in my room all day. (This is still something I do to this day—I drive out and pick up food once a day, acting as my own delivery driver, so I can get some fresh air and sunlight on a regular basis.)

Two restaurants that I visited frequently were Chipotle and Raising Cane’s, both of which were in/by the Arroyo Market Square along the Rainbow Boul­evard exit of I-215. In order to get back to Rhodes Ranch, I would drive southbound on either Rainbow Boulevard or Tenaya Way, then turn right onto Warm Springs Road to head towards the intersection at Durango Drive.

Southwest Las Vegas is still under heavy development, so there are a lot of empty lots, and a lot of these empty lots still have single-lane roads sur­round­ing them. One of these areas was on Warm Springs Road between Tenaya Way and Buffalo Drive, where I probably cumulatively spent count­less hours upon hours waiting for traffic to get through the one lane. This waiting time gave me numerous opportunities to reflect on the state of my life, which is why I associate this song, as well as those moments, with realizing that I cannot get complacent with my life.

Luckily, shortly after early 2019, I got back on track with self-development, and I’m continuing to advance myself to this day.

As a side note, for those who are familiar with the Rhodes Ranch area, I did not want to take Robindale Road because then I would just get in traffic later on, when I arrived at Rhodes Ranch Parkway and would have to cut across three lanes of oncoming traffic from Durango Drive to get to the gate to the community.


100 Bad Days by AJR

Will I fit?

I always overestimated how big I was when I drove large vehicles. But that’s a good thing—I’d rather assume I won’t fit and take it safe, instead of leaving a wake of destruction in my path. There was no need for me to drive into the covered entryway of the hotel anyway.

“You should probably just get out here.” I haphazardly stopped in the roadway—”close enough” to the door of the AmericInn by Wyndham in Lincoln, Nebraska—and put the Ram 1500 Rebel in park. There was nobody else around anyway.

“Thanks for the ride. Good night!” she said as she took a hard step down from the running-board-less rental pickup truck.

“Ok,” I mindlessly replied.

As she walked towards the hotel entrance, I slowly drove off, turning onto 84th Street and heading northbound towards my co-worker’s house where I was spending the night. The V8 under the hood roared every time I accelerated, the sound amplified by the fact that I had the windows rolled down. I teased the pedal harder and harder each time, wondering how high I can rev without causing a disturbance in the calm night. The thick, humid air bat­tered my face with parallel force.

A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.

Is this the end?

I don’t want it to be the end.

But if it is, it was a good run.

Right as I let down my guard… lucky me.

Similar to “Ride” by Twenty One Pilots above, I can’t give further details on this memory, this time because it involves an incident where there is no pub­lic perception. Most people who were involved with it have a good idea of what was going on at this point, but apart from a small group, this entire sit­u­a­tion was kept incredibly confidential.

What I can share about this memory is that it happened in the middle of 2019, where this ongoing incident was consuming a majority of my thoughts. When I was with other people—like the person I dropped off at the hotel—I was distracted enough by their presence that I had a “normal” life. How­ever, whenever I was alone, I had trouble thinking about anything else because I am a very future-oriented person, and this definitely would affect my future.

Well, we’re all still here and alive. The problem was ultimately fully resolved two months later, and it was one of the most valuable learning experiences in my life.

It wasn’t the end.