Bugsy Sailor is one of the smart, high tech guys at Elegant Seagulls, but he’s also made a name for himself as a proud and quirky representative of the Upper Peninsula with some ambitious ideas–many of which he’s already achieved.
A few of his notable accomplishments:
- He created Yooper Steez, a popular online blog and store that sells clothing celebrating the UP. “Steez,” by the way, is a combination of “style” and “ease.”
- He conducted the “Hometown Invasion Tour” which saw him visit all 50 states in one year and stay with strangers along the way. He journaled about his trip, conducted interviews, shot photographs, got donations, and then at the end of the journey declared himself the “UP’s Official Unofficial Ambassador.”
- He created Plaidurday, a celebration of plaid shirts that’s now spread across the nation and overseas.
- He started a quixotic campaign to have a beer with Richard Branson, the billionaire British business magnate and adventurer, and by the end of the year, Bugsy achieved it. He sat down and had a beer and a chat with Branson.
Brian Cabell sat down and chatted with Bugsy.
BC: How about you describe yourself in 100 words or less?
BS: In three words, I describe myself as a “doer of things.” I really thrive on taking an idea and running off with it, and if it’s big or small, I write down every idea that comes to mind and try to pick one of those to make it a reality. I achieve a lot of it through the web and social media, and I think everything I do has a pretty lighthearted, fun approach to it, and I bring in a lot of hobbies to make those things happen.
BC: So these ideas just spring from your imagination and everything you see and read?
BS: Yeah, some of the ideas start with a simple question such as “If I could have a beer with anybody, who would it be?” And I answered that question several years ago, and the answer was Richard Branson. So rather than making this an in-the-cloud “if” kind of thing, what if I created a campaign around it? So that’s one example that started with an easy question. But then my yearlong U.S. tour started with “Here are my college degrees, here are my hobbies…How can I merge photography and journaling and sociology and advertising into one big project?” And that I was able to achieve with a 50 state tour staying with host families, marketing it online and then documenting it online.
BC: You clearly have a sense of adventure.
BS: I do. I like having new experiences, meeting new people. I think people are always surprised at how introverted or shy I can be. My perspective of life is to grab it by the horns and make the most of the opportunities you’ve got.
BC: You look like you would not be comfortable in the conventional corporate world.
BS: N0, I would probably be kicked out of any corporate board room pretty quick. (laughs) That’s one thing I like about the U.P. is that you can be casual here, that there isn’t an expected appearance, that you can fly by the seat of your pants here, and you can look like this (points to himself) and nobody’s going to gripe about it.
BC: What do you think is the most important thing in the world? Money? Love? Adventure? Self-discovery?
BS: The old quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” certainly applies to me. Just adventure and running with it. I guess Richard Branson says it best. He says, “Screw it, let’s do it.” There’s times when I’ve done a wild haircut, like a mullet which is taboo in society but I had long hair so I said, “Screw it, let’s do it.”
BC: Most of us are prisoners of convention. We don’t want to do certain things because there’s risk involved, there’s uncertainty or stigma or serious problems if you pursue something.
BS: Yeah, it’s a challenge I face. I’ve always put my ideas into the wild and it’s a very vulnerable feeling. You’re open to criticism, you’re open to negative feedback but I’ve found that the positive feedback and reinforcement always outweigh the negative. But then again, I’m always doing projects that are lighthearted and fun so I’m not really tackling difficult political and societal issues. You know, as I think back on it, it comes to having the nickname “Bugsy…”
BC: Let me stop you there. How’d you get that nickname?
BS: My mom started calling me Bugsy when I was one. And then in first grade I told some of my friends that my mom called me Bugsy. I told them not to tell anybody which was a huge mistake…(BC laughs)…They started calling me Bugsy and ever since, it was teachers, coaches, bosses, everybody. They all call me Bugsy.”
BC: You’re clearly identified with the U.P. but you’re an adventurous sort. Are you settled here or might you up-and-leave sometime in the next few years?
BS: I’m very settled in the U.P. and as long as I’m making progress and working toward the goals and ideas in my head, however silly or serious they be, I’ll stay. I have a lot of unfinished business here and I feel there are a lot of small things I can do here in the U.P. that can make a lot of difference for creating community, having fun, and it’s a place where I can do quirky things and really have an impact.
BC: What is it exactly about the U.P. that appeals to you?
BS: I’ll be honest, I didn’t start appreciating the U.P. until I left. I went to college at Michigan State and that’s when I started learning more about the outside perception of the U.P. But then I came back and realized how special it is. The sense of community is huge, it’s got a unique identity with the word “Yooper” and the way we eat and its very defined borders. Its got a culture that you can’t intentionally duplicate. Of course, I’m also drawn by the natural beauty of it and the ruralness of it and the kindness of the people.
BC: Your personal life. Do you have a partner, are you single, are you looking?
BS: More recently, single, trying to understand what dating is like as a 33 year-old in Marquette, Michigan. I was in a long relationship and it was great but I think dating here is interesting because in that ballpark of late 20s, early 30s, you have maybe a lot of people who graduated from college and moved out of the U.P. but then many of them come back to the U.P., but they’re moving back with a family or a spouse, ready to settle down. And me? I’m just kind of floating around right now and seeing what’s out there.
BC: Do you see yourself as ever having children?
BS: Now that I have two nieces, I’m very much more warmed up to the idea of having kids than I have ever been. They steal my heart, my nieces do, so sure, if the right spouse comes along, I’d be open to it.
BC: Your boyhood…Were you a normal kid or eccentric in any way?
BS: I played a lot of hockey and I was a little rambunctious but I became a little more eccentric as a teenager. I went through my rebel years, started snowboarding and skateboarding, took on a little more of a punk culture mentality, started dressing a little more questionably, at least in my parents’ eyes. That’s when I started questioning things in the world more.
BC: When you’re not working at Elegant Seagulls and not working on your diverse projects, what do you do?
BS: As long as it’s a nice calm night, I can be found at Presque Isle, skipping stones. I find it to have an ephemeral quality, it’s so temporary in nature, but it’s my peace and serenity to be out there near the water, especially at sunset. I love to be outside with my camera or taking a hike somewhere. And then I like hockey and snowboarding. You’ll find me at the breweries once in a while.
BC: What’s your absolute favorite thing you’ve done in life so far?
BS: Wow…(ponders)…I guess it would have to be the Hometown Invasion Tour because it was such a huge undertaking, fifty states, a full year, staying with strangers, and it was totally unpredictable. I didn’t know what I would come across and there were experiences that last a lifetime. And it was rewarding, it was challenging, it was exhausting but I think finding the courage to go on that trip set a course for my life that gave me the ability to take on other ideas. I figured if I could make that happen, I could run with these other ideas and make those happen as well.
BC: What about your next big ambition? Anything in the works?
BS: New Years is approaching and I launched “Beer with Branson” as a New Years resolution in 2010, and I’ve always wanted to do a follow-up to that project. I’ve got a couple ideas and can’t quite say what they are yet. I hopefully will announce them on New Years Day. It will be “Blank with blank.”
BC: After living for 33 years, what are the lessons you have learned about life?
BS: Well, with the “Hometown Invasion Tour,” I’ve always said that strangers are friends you have not yet met–that we shouldn’t look at strangers as scary, unapproachable individuals, that there are moments they can change your life. And I think what I like to say is keep moving and live an active life. You’re sort of like an electron bouncing around all the time, and if you do that, opportunities will arise, and fun things will happen and sad things will happen but it sure as hell beats living a static life.
BC: So your advice to a young person, 15 or 20 years old, would be what?
BS: I would tell them to run with the ideas that they have, and the biggest challenge they will face is their own internal doubt. Like, “Am I good enough for this?” “Do I have the ability for this?” “Am I smart enough?” The internal forces of doubt prevent us from achieving things more than anything.
BC: Money doesn’t seem to be a major concern of yours.
BS: I certainly won’t turn down a big check if somebody wants to write one of those some day. But I thrive on achieving my ideas, I thrive on working towards the goals in my head. The fact that Plaidurday can be a national-international holiday, and as quirky as that is, it continues to grow and the reward of that is intangible and much greater to me than money.
BC: All right, how did Plaidurday come about?
BS: Plaidurday started when I was living in Lansing and I was working with some creatives, and they were telling me about my UP lifestyle and I was wearing too much plaid, and they told me plaid was taking away from my potential in life. (BC laughs) So I came back to them and I said, “Well, not only am I gonna start wearing more plaid, I’m gonna create a national holiday around it.” And it had very humble beginnings but over the last couple of years, there’s been national and international businesses getting on board with it. It’s been a lot of fun.
BC: What about politics? Do you get into it at all?
BS: I read a lot of politics online, I try to keep up. I’ll admit I’m a little naive with international politics, I get more caught up on domestic issues. I’ve always been a little quiet when it comes to issues that are controversial and cutting edge. Especially being in a small town like Marquette, I’ve got a long ways to go but I’ve got a growing interest in local government and civil matters. I do lean liberal and I’m progressive and like to challenge the status quo and believe, for the most part, change is good.
BC: Finally, at the end of your life, what do you want people say about you?
BS: As I like to say, “I’m lost at sea without a map.” Hopefully at the end of this journey I’ll come across a tropical island and find my place. I really hope people will see me as someone who was a doer and made things happen.
BC: Thanks, Bugsy.