Alex Maxa of Gillibus (S4E34)
Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Both of Alex Maxa's parents are journalists.
In this episode, we hear the life story of the founder of Gillibus, who "specialize in not only Bay Area day trips, nighttime cruises, and mobile performances but also stationary events and overnight camping." Alex's granddad on his dad's side was in the Army, and so his dad moved around a lot, but ended up in Washington, DC, for high school. He was the editor of his school paper in those days and ended up in journalism school at Ohio University.
His mom grew up in Toledo and also went to OU, where she met Alex's dad. The young couple skipped graduation, got married, and went to DC. His dad got a job at The Washington Post pretty quickly. Political gossip and scandal was his beat. It was the early 1970s. Nothing to see here, folks.
There was an opening on a DC radio station and they asked Alex's dad to step in and fill it. This was well before the internet, and so, when celebrities rolled into town, they'd call into programs like this to promote whatever it was they were doing in the nation's capital.
Alex's mom wanted to write feature stories. She was assigned and reluctantly ended up covering sports, something she knew little to nothing about. His parents split up earlier in his life, and his step-dad came into the picture around the time Alex was 6.
But his dad remained close. Alex split time between his parents' houses. He credits his sister, seven years older than him, with being the "glue that kept things together" between and among the two families.
Along with many friends, he played soccer from a young age. He shares the story of going to a rather unusual preschool in DC. But when he was out on the field, he could forget everything and just have fun.
We end Part 1 with stories of Alex hanging out with his dad in the early 1990s, when his dad had shifted out of political journalism and into travel writing and the adventures they had together.
He was with his dad and much older sister when she was scouting colleges. They ended up staying with family friends in Presidio Heights. He shares the stories of things they did and saw while here in the 1990s.
Alex spent a lot of time in New York City, where his sister wound up going to college. Later, he went into hospitality school at Cornell in upstate New York. After that, he dabbled in hotels in Detroit and Orlando before making the move West, where'd been drawn so many years prior.
He arrived in San Francisco in 2008, right as the bottom was coming out of the economy. But that wasn't what brought Alex here. His route to The City went, oddly, through Tokyo. The large Japanese metropolis told him that he could be anywhere he truly wanted to be. To reconcile that with Alex's belief that he needed to be around the right people, San Francisco was only logical.
He got work up in Napa in the wine industry pretty much right away, but only after a quick detour at Burning Man. He already had a place to live here, too. He shares his arrival story before we pivot to talking about Gillibus.
A friend was leaving SF to go back to New York and wanted to buy a vintage school bus for his journey. Alex went with him and was blown away by the beauty of the classic vehicle. Before his buddy's move, he and some other friends took the bus on epic road trips. His friend ended up leaving the bus in The City and bailing for NYC.
Alex kept that bus and learned to drive it. Soon, he was giving people rides and then it dawned on him: rent the bus out to folks.
We end the podcast with Alex's thoughts on what it means for him and for his bus company to still be here.
We recorded this podcast on Zoom in January 2022.
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