For love and money

Work sucks. But not for these Sacramentans, who turned passions for percussion, play and people into unconventional occupations.

Action-sports filmmaker Scott Lindgren’s backyard makes a better setting for inaction sports. For footage of kayakers plummeting down waterfalls and navigating colossal rapids, watch the trailers at <a">

Action-sports filmmaker Scott Lindgren’s backyard makes a better setting for inaction sports. For footage of kayakers plummeting down waterfalls and navigating colossal rapids, watch the trailers at

Photo By Andrew Nixon

“Do what you love, and the money will follow.” Is there any cliché more annoying? It sounds logical enough, if the thing you love happens to be accounting or investment banking. But what if your true calling is something it seems no one would pay you for, like kayaking, telling jokes, playing video games or taking care of abandoned animals? In that case, you have two choices. You can join the estimated 69 percent of Americans who are “checked out” or “actively disengaged” from their work (according to an April 2006 Gallup Poll), or you can step off that path, follow your heart and see whether the old adage holds.

We interviewed eight Sacramentans who make their livings at jobs they love and asked them how they do it. Their answers were as varied as their occupations. Stand-up comedian Grace White had an epiphany, at age 49, that life was too short to do anything but laugh. Psychotherapist Lama Yeshe Jinpa sought to fulfill the Buddhist tenet of right livelihood, which holds that one’s spiritual awakening is linked to finding work that benefits others. Michelle, an Auburn private investigator whose necessarily clandestine occupation requires us to omit her last name, took a chance on detective work simply because it didn’t require “wearing a paper hat.”

Whether our subjects lucked into their work or carefully meditated upon it, whether they’ve logged unprecedented hours of toil or found unexpected windfalls, all agreed they’d never go back. As action-sports filmmaker Scott Lindgren put it, “I’ve managed to figure out a way to make a living at what I love doing; that’s traveling down a river and making films. If I had one thing to walk away from life with, it would be that.”

Scott Lindgren
Occupation: professional kayaker turned action-sports cinematographer
Age: 34

How did you turn kayaking into paying work?

I’d been kayaking a lot in Asia. In 1993, I was in a film in Western Nepal called The First Descent of the Thule Bheri. It was directed by Roger Brown, this famous documentary filmmaker. He couldn’t get to a lot of the places I was kayaking, so I took a camera and shot some stuff, and a lot of what I shot made it into the film.

The following year, I put together a little video and sent it to him. He really liked what he saw and he hired me. We made three films together. The third was called Bolivia: Andes to Amazon. We climbed a 17,000-foot peak and walked down the backside and kayaked a river into the Amazon. I shot that film, he directed it, and I ended up winning an Emmy for cinematography. It changed my life.

The last 10 years has been a combination of exhibitions all over the world and filming them. More recently, in the last three or four years, it’s been working in other sports, like skiing, snowboarding and BASE [Building, Antennae, Span, Earth] jumping. My professional kayaking days have mellowed out a bit, and the cinematic side has taken hold.

Do you ski, snowboard and BASE jump?

Yeah, I do. That’s the thing about action sports. You have to partake to understand how to shoot it.

When did you know you wanted a career in action sports?

When I moved to the Sacramento area in ninth grade, I moved next-door to a guy who was a Grand Canyon river guide. I went to guide school when I was 15. That same summer I came out of school, I got the opportunity to row a baggage-boat trip down the Grand Canyon.

What’s a baggage boat?

It’s an extra boat that carries all the gear on a tour. So, I did that when I was 15, and at 18, I became the youngest paid river guide down the Grand Canyon. For 10 years, I would work three months at the Grand Canyon and travel the rest of the year. I would go to Asia, South America and back to California. I had this little routine, basically living on $13,000 a year, traveling and kayaking as much as I could.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The amount of work that goes into making a movie, from start to finish, is insane. Organizing the money is insane. Being in the right place at the right time to capture that image that’s going to change the face of the film—the odds with what you’re working with, be it weather, group dynamics, the athletes—it’s very dramatic.

Where’s your favorite place to kayak?

The Himalayas. I went the first time when I was 18, and I’ve been going back every year. It’s a very special place to me. It’s where the biggest, most insane rivers in the world are and the biggest mountains.

What was your first job?

Mickey D’s for three weeks in seventh grade.

—Becca Costello

Angela Wyant and friend prefer the middle of the road. Check out Wyant’s portfolio at <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.

Courtesy Of Angela Wyant

Angela Wyant
Occupation: freelance commercial photographer
Age: 35

How did you get your start?

I went to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. During school they set you up with a book company that makes book covers, a record company that does CD art. You interview with them, not to get a job, but just to see what the process is all about. I actually got hired by a few people—a magazine, a CD cover—so I started to work while I was in college. I got really lucky.

When I was in college, I was told to drop out. A lot of instructors told me my stuff was amateur and I’d never make it. That actually helped me because it made me go, “Really? Watch me.”

Once I graduated, I had one more job, for Westways Magazine, and then I didn’t work for eight months. I sold all my cameras to pay the rent because I graduated with $80. I was screwed.

Then I did a job for Sunset Magazine, and the art director there told his friend Deborah Schwartz, who is an artist representative, about me, and she started to rep me. A rep is 100-percent important in commercial photography or the world of art because it’s hard to sell yourself. You need a cheerleader in your corner saying, “Hey, you’ve got to hire this girl. She’s really good. Let me send you her portfolio.”

When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

I never touched a camera until I was 20.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

You have to learn to be alone a lot. You don’t have co-workers. You don’t have the daily ritual of leaving your house. Day to day, I don’t know where I’m going to be. I can’t make plans because I have to break them if I get a job.

What’s the best perk?

The best part is meeting really cool people and going places you’d never be able to go.

Do you travel all over the country?

I do, but I haven’t flown in 10 years. Terror. Absolute terror. I’m going to have to do it now, though, because I’ve turned down tons of European jobs and lots of money. I’ve driven to New York. I’ve driven to South Beach. I’ve driven everywhere. I usually take two assistants with me, and we drive straight through. It’s 47 hours to New York.

How will you get over your fear of flying?

It’s all in my head. I know it is, so I’m just going to do it.

Who are some of your clients?

Let’s see … Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living. I’ve shot for Rolling Stone, but they’re really cheap, so I stay away from them. Newsweek. I’ve shot for Hewlett-Packard and IBM. W magazine, I.D. magazine, Health, Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Men’s Journal. Is that enough?

What was your first job?

I worked at a movie theater. I was 15-and-a-half. Movies back then were $5, so I probably made like $4.25. One of the last jobs I had was at Round Table Pizza. I made $10,000 for the whole year, and that was full time. Now, I absolutely get overpaid for what I do. I can give you an example. I shot for [a client] for one week, literally two or three hours a day, and I made $120,000. I forgot how hard I used to work to make $10,000.

—Becca Costello

When you hear the drums beating inside the Music Circus, think of Stanley G. Lunetta. Visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> for a schedule of Music Circus performances or Lunetta’s homepage at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> for a priceless 1955 photo of him in the orchestra pit.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Stanley G. Lunetta
Occupation: music coordinator and principal timpanist/percussionist for California Musical Theatre’s Music Circus
Age: 69

How’d you get your awesome job?

During high school, I sold ice cream at the Music Circus, like a vendor, going around like, “Ice cream! Get some ice cream!” Listening to the drummer they had at the time, I figured I could do better. Eventually, I went to the director and said as much, maybe not in those particular words, and he told me to get lost. About a year later, the drummer and the conductor had a falling out, and the drummer was let go, and the only name they had at that point was mine. I auditioned and got the job. It was South Pacific. I had just graduated from high school, and I’ve been playing there ever since.

When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a musician?

I’ve played percussion since I was pretty young. I had originally planned to be a music teacher, a school music teacher. I didn’t end up doing that, but I have taught lessons for many years. Some of my past students have gone on to be professional drummers, playing with Cal Tjader and Bread.

What is the most challenging thing about your work?

At the Music Circus, we do seven shows in seven weeks, so I’d say time management is the biggest challenge. As the music coordinator, I have to hire the musicians and arrange the music for each show, and each of the musicals requires different instrumentations, which means different players to hire and appropriate parts to write out. So, yeah, finding the right players in a short amount of time is the toughest part. Certain shows are more demanding for certain instruments. A show like Fiddler on the Roof … which I could probably play without reading the music at this point … a great musical—I’ve done it many times now. Most people wouldn’t realize that the trumpet part is very demanding in that score. The violin and clarinet, of course, but the trumpet has a lot to do there. So, I’ve got to think of those kinds of demands.

What is the best perk?

I’d have to say the best part of my job is the people I get to work with.

What’s the least awesome aspect of your job?

Least “awesome”? Well, back when we were in the [Music Circus] tent, I would have said the heat, but now, there’s nothing really.

What was your first job?

My first paying job? I played in a few casual dance bands, just tunes for couples to dance to.

Number of personal assistants?

Just one. My last apprentice is now working on Broadway.

Vacation time?

We just got back from a short vacation, actually. I have to find time between the various shows. The Music Circus season finishes, but then I’m the timpanist for the Sacramento Opera, the Sacramento Philharmonic and the Sacramento Choral Society, so I keep pretty busy.

—Edward Dunn

Pat Derby makes elephants smile. For more information on her Performing Animal Welfare Society (and plenty of animal photos), visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Pat Derby
Occupation: co-director of Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which maintains 2,430 acres of animal sanctuary in Galt, Herald and San Andreas
Age: 64

How did you get your awesome job?

I worked with animals in movies and television. I was the quintessential animal lover and thought that everybody who had animals that worked in movies must really love them. It was a rude awakening to see how badly they were treated. I wrote a book about my experiences—which came out in ’76—called The Lady and Her Tiger. I was an animal activist before there was such a thing. My book was the first of its kind. And then I met [fellow animal trainer] Ed Stewart when the book came out, and he said, “You know, we really shouldn’t be doing this,” and we tried to retire, but people kept calling us to take in sick and hurt animals. So, in 1984 we formed PAWS.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

It’s like David and Goliath; I always feel like I’m out there with the slingshot. That is the most challenging part because [there are] people who don’t like what we do or people who make a lot of money off animals. So, obviously, we’re the bad guy when we stand up and say animals shouldn’t have to work for a living.

What is the best part?

The best is bringing an animal in, like an elephant who has lived in chains all her life, and taking those chains off for the first time and knowing that she will never have to wear them again.

What’s the least awesome aspect of your job?

The downside for me, because I’m not really good at it, is fund-raising. That’s the worst part of it, thinking of new ways to fund-raise and knowing: “Okay, we just got 35 tigers in, and they all have medical problems. We need to raise our budget a lot.”

What types of animals do you take care of?

We have elephants, lions, tigers, bears, primates, mountain lions, leopards—a whole spectrum. There are over 100. And we have a lot of endangered African antelope, scimitar-horned oryx and eland.

How many workers and volunteers do you have?

Sixty really good volunteers. The staff we have for the amount of work we do is relatively small, roughly 23 people on staff. My partner and I are part of that; everyone works long hours and gets very minimal pay. Everyone works Saturday, Sunday, holidays, nightshifts, and we have a 24-hour staff because animals never get sick at noon; they always seem to start the downslide at midnight.

—Matthew Craggs

Photo By Andrew Nixon

Jason Wigle
Occupation: product manager for Prima Games, publisher of video-game guidebooks
Age: 31

How did you get your job?

I had done video online for a while, and after the whole “dot bomb” thing, I took a couple years off from the corporate world and just bartended. And I had a friend here—as a matter of fact, the licensing manager. A job opened, and he thought of me, and the rest sort of fell into place. And it just wound up being perfect. Perfect. Good times.

What does a product manager do?

We’re supposed to play the game and make sure the [guidebook] author is writing things that are on track and kind of help to guide him. [We] work with the design team to make sure the design of the book looks like the game looks. And then we work with the licensers to try and get all the various bits and pieces that we need to write the guide. You know, maps, secrets, unlockables and all the little odds and ends that take some geek hundreds of hours of game play to find.

Have you always played video games?

I went through several rounds of interviews here. It was great because it was the first set of interviews I’d ever done where I said repeatedly, “Actually, I’ve been playing video games my entire life.”

How many hours a week do you play video games?

I’d say probably right around 25 to 30 hours.

What is the worst part about your job?

I’ve been here for several months, and I’m still sort of in the honeymoon phase. The things I don’t like about my job are pretty minimal. It can get really crazy around here. We have to release the guide on the same day that they release the game; that’s when all our best sales happen. So, we’re writing the guide as they’re finishing the game, and sometimes we’re writing it on broken builds.

What’s the best part of your job?

Playing video games is a great perk. We get them months before [everyone else] and get to check them out. The personalities in the video-game industry are a blast, and video-game-industry parties are well-funded and a good time. Before this job, whenever I had girl problems or things like that, I would just go and play video games for a few days and just get my head out of it. Now, I just tell people I’m going to throw myself into my work. It’s pretty much the same thing; it just sounds more responsible.

—Matthew Craggs

There’s no telling when Michelle might be watching.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Occupation: private investigator
Age: 30

How’d you get your awesome job?

I spent five months in Mississippi doing disaster relief. I used to do IT work before that, and I was like, “I don’t ever want to look at another computer again.” I talked to a girlfriend who had just gotten a job at [the agency I work for], and it sounded really exciting, something different to do. I talked to the boss for an hour or so, and he sent me on my first surveillance.

When did you know that you wanted to be a private investigator?

I had no idea I wanted to do this. [This] was so random; I never thought, “Oh, I’m going to be a private investigator when I grow up.” But it fulfilled all the major requirements: not sitting behind a desk and not wearing a paper hat.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Usually, I’ll get a call from my boss saying we have a case and letting me know where I need to be and what equipment I’ll need. I go there, and sometimes it’s simple surveillance, watching for someone to do something. For example, on a workmen’s-comp case for someone who says they’re paralyzed from the waist down, waiting for them to get up and go water skiing. There’s surveillance, missing-persons cases and theft cases.

What is the most challenging thing about your work?

I would have to say when you’re on surveillance for eight to 10 hours, sitting and watching a house, in your car when it’s 110 degrees outside. Anything can happen at any moment, but after six hours, you’re just glassy-eyed.

What is the best perk?

Feeling like you’re helping people. We did a child-abduction case where the police had kind of—I wouldn’t say given up, but the case was five years old. Their vigor was kind of gone. It was a young girl who had been taken by her mom. That case is still pending. We do a lot of workmen’s-comp cases; employers end up paying tons of money out to workmen’s-comp claims. I hate to say this, but most of the time, if a lawyer calls us suspecting [someone] is being dishonest, they usually are.

What’s the least awesome aspect of your job?

The infidelity cases, because they’re so petty most of the time. Mostly just spouses getting paranoid, so instead of talking it out, they hire [us] to follow the other person around.

What was your first job?

When I was 15, I was a hostess at Denny’s for minimum wage.

—Matthew Craggs

Lama Yeshe Jinpa in his office at Midtown’s Middle Way Health. Jinpa offers weekly Buddhist teachings at the Lion’s Roar Dharma Center. Visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> for a schedule.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Lama Yeshe Jinpa
Occupation: Buddhist lama and psychotherapist
Age: 53

What is a lama?

Lama is the Tibetan translation for “guru,” which means teacher. It’s teaching with a capital “T,” someone who is to teach us how to be ourselves, how to benefit others, how to be free from suffering.

What is a lama’s job description?

Babysitter [laughs]. Buddhism is still pretty new in the West. Even though people have done a lot of reading, and the Dalai Lama is well-known, most of the people in Sacramento are brand-new. So, I run a meditation center, Lion’s Roar. I’ve been there almost 15 years.

Which came first, your interest in psychotherapy or in Buddhism?

Buddhism first. I went to Japan with my family when I was 16, and even then, I felt that I was a Buddhist, just having read things. That was the ’60s—Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, the Beatles—so it was very cutting-edge. But I always had an affinity. When I read Buddhist texts, it made sense. I studied in college. I got my first teacher in 1971. I just stuck with it. Eventually, I was asked to teach.

The psychotherapy came out of Buddhist practice, because when I met my main teacher, I was working as a vocational rehab counselor—workers’ comp. I wanted to change jobs, and my teacher said, “Why don’t you become a counselor or a therapist?” So in 1989, I went back to grad school and eventually got licensed as a marriage and family therapist. It goes well with [Buddhism] because they are somewhat similar, teaching people how to work with their emotions, their mind and their body in some kind of sane and compassionate way.

What’s the most challenging thing about your vocation?

Running a temple is like herding cats. Americans are very smart, and we even like doing yoga or meditation, healthy things. We’re not so good at getting along, being in community. We’re very individualistic. To have a temple, we have to work together, and most people have a really hard time with that. Most people there love the idea of meditating and having a spiritual director, but the person on the cushion next to them, they feel like they have nothing to do with. Reconnecting people is difficult.

How do you do that?

We try to get people to do yoga and meditate together, just so they’re used to being in the same room together. Then we try to do projects together, go out and help other people in the community. We’re associated with the Wind group for homeless kids, and we volunteer at Loaves & Fishes. Helping others helps us. And we try to have meals together. I try to schedule as much time for people to get together as possible.

In psychotherapy, the hardest part is that I work with a lot of raw suffering. I do a lot of trauma work. That’s very hard because we can’t view someone empathetically and listen without being affected.

What’s the best perk of your job?

I really enjoy working with people over a long time. Usually, people stay with a spiritual practice longer than they stay in therapy, so you get to see someone really blossom. I’d say that’s a perk. I don’t have a free golf membership or anything like that. There are no material perks.

—Becca Costello

Here’s Grace White onstage at Scott’s Comedy Club in Old Sacramento, where she will return with <i>Women Who Kick Comedy Butt </i>on August 6. Visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> for more info.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Grace White
Occupation: stand-up comedian and comedy-show producer
Age: 56

How’d you get your awesome job?

I went on a vision quest, and that was my vision. My vision was basically to laugh the rest of my life because nothing really matters. It’s basically my mid-life realization; it wasn’t a crisis really.

When did you know you wanted to do comedy?

Age 49. I just started seeing fear as a self-limiting belief, and I did all kinds of crazy stuff. Then I had my vision.

What did you do before your vision?

I worked as a paralegal in Sacramento, and I ran a residential cleaning business.

What is the most challenging thing about your work?

Finding the work and getting paid appropriately. In show business, you’re constantly auditioning, filling out a job form every day. [Whether] you’re going laterally in your career, or you’re going forward, which is where my career is at—I’m off and running—that is all work. Hours and hours of work. I thought it was going to be really easy, like half an hour of laughing, but it’s really a 17-hour-a-day job. It’s a good thing I like it.

What is the best perk?

A great show. A good set. A wonderful audience.

Are your shows mostly in the Sacramento area?

Oh no, all over the United States.

What has been your favorite performance?

Comedy Day. It’s been going on for 28 years. It’s a four-hour concert in [Golden Gate] park in San Francisco every year. Every respected name in comedy has performed there, so it was an honor to do that show. I [also] produce this show, Women Who Kick Comedy Butt. It’s a revolving lineup and exactly like the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, except we’re all women and not rednecks.

What’s the least awesome aspect of your job?

We’ll just use this week as an example: Tonight I get up at 3 a.m., and I drive to Wenatchee, Wash., then Lewiston, Idaho, then Butte, Mont., then Richland, Wash., then back home. That’s a six-day workweek for me, which involves driving over 2,300 miles. It doesn’t suck all of the time; it just sucks when you’re not in the mood.

Is such a hard schedule necessary to be a full-time comic?

No, not if you just want to go laterally. I don’t have time to fart around like the young kids. I can’t be like, “I just got my first movie gig, and I’m 79 years old.” I just figured I had to move faster, and I believe in my career.

—Matthew Craggs