Hi, my name is Ali Schmitz. I’ve lived in the state of Florida for my entire life. My parents traveled quite a bit when I was a kid. I’ve been to 27 states, and I’ve been on 3 separate cross-country road trips. When I was in the second grade, I earned bragging rights for it.
That’s why I told myself around this time last year that I was going to go somewhere unexpected for my first job, or for a post-grad internship. I made a list of markets, highlighted and color-coded based off of location, potential pay, and novelty.
It became a game… One my friends and co-workers didn’t like very much. Most of the cities I liked to joke around about moving to were in states that I’d never even stepped in: Des Moines, Milwaukee, Omaha, Hartford… Eventually it turned into a “Would You Rather” game. The most famous edition was “Maine or Alaska?” Maine won: 47-9.
Then I applied for News21. I didn’t expect to be UF’s nominee for the program at the time. I had just done it on a whim. It was my top choice after graduation, but in the same way a high school underachiever says he’s going to apply to Harvard, despite his 2.6 GPA. When I found out that I got accepted around Thanksgiving, I was shocked. The list was put away.
Ali Schmitz, the hypothetical traveler, had an actual destination - Phoenix, Arizona.
The last time I was in Arizona, I was 14. I was in the start of my angsty phase. I didn’t really want to be spending a summer traveling the country with my family. I remember sitting in Tuscon, being very upset because my friends were all at a birthday party without me. My FOMO was strong.
I like Arizona, but unlike many of the states I visited, I had no real connection to it. My memories of it weren’t either good or bad. I liked the food, hated the fact that I saw a bobcat way too close to our sliding glass door, and once almost fainted from the “dry heat.”
It’s now been a week since I boarded an early morning flight to the desert. It’s been a week since I entered the airport in Phoenix, hopped in a cab, and moved into my new apartment.
Sometimes it seems surreal - Falling asleep in the Tempurpedic in the apartment, walking past bank buildings while grabbing lunch, gushing to my executive editor about how reading Failure Factories changed my life…
And sometimes I miss home - Publix BOGO sales, my students and friends crushing it at WUFT, and Gators Baseball….
But as I look out my window now, in between writing records requests and listening to podcasts (more on that later…), I realize that this is only a temporary stop. In August I’m heading to somewhere else. That’s yet to be determined. I may not spend the rest of my life looking at mountains and palm trees from my bedroom.
But for the next nine weeks I’m going to tell some very important stories, eat mexican food, and try to not get too sunburnt. I’m going to laugh with the other fellows, try not to trip into cacti (not that it’s almost happened multiple times now or anything), and continue to silently fangirl over the fact that this is real. I may be tired, but I am so happy.
Thank you ASU for making my dreams come true. Thank you UF for supporting me as I work hours on end. Thank you to everyone who has listened to me babble about the communities I’m covering.
Here’s to telling the stories that matter.