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Family man

Source: Times Union
Publish Date: Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Summary: Tired of leaving behind his wife and children, he got the RV. Now, his work -- and his family --go with him.

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Kristi L. Gustafson

Oct. 1, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- When Michael Santarcangelo travels for business -- sometimes as many as 100 days a year -- the family goes along.

His kids jump on the bed while the Cheetah Girls perform on the TV in the master bedroom. His wife, Tricia, throws a load of laundry in the machine, sits down to pay bills online and keeps an ear open for the oven timer. Dinner is almost ready.

Michael glances at his family in the rearview mirror and maneuvers his bus-sized RV across the state line from New York into Ohio.

While many people are finding less expensive ways to get to work, Michael makes his RV a mobile office, weaving cross country and up and down the East and West coasts. The East Greenbush resident owns Security Catalyst, a home-based company he started in 2002 to help businesses and organizations protect information. The nature of his job -- which involves training, speaking engagements and consulting -- keeps him on the road for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.

Tired of leaving behind his wife and children, he got the RV. Now, his work -- and his family -- go with him.

"I refused to watch my kids grow up in pictures," says Michael, sitting on the couch (which folds out into a bed) in the living room of his one-bedroom, 400-plus-square-foot RV. "I didn't want that lifestyle for me or my family."

Now the Santarcangelos spend nearly 365 days a year together, separating only when Michael has to take a trip overseas or an impromptu request from a client requires a quick flight out of town.

Michael has grown Security Catalyst to include more than 20 clients who are spread thousands of miles apart. Throughout the family's journeys, the Santarcangelo team has backed into a guard rail in Ohio, had a not-so-welcome meeting with an overhang at a McDonald's in Pennsylvania, and had to back the rig up a quarter of a mile down a narrow road when the directions brought them to a dead-end, rather than the highway in Missouri (they now have GPS).

But getting lost -- something that wouldn't happen on an airplane -- is better than the alternative.

"In addition to the together time, traveling this way makes it easier on all of us," says Tricia, adding that she and her husband have managed to integrate their personal life with their business life, a difficult feat for most. "There's no saying goodbye. We just get to go with him."

When he and his wife want a grown-up night, they wait until they stop in a city where they have friends, and enlist a little baby-sitting help for the evening.

At the moment, the crew is on a 10-week trip, making stops in western New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon and Missouri. Business brings them out on the road, but the Santarcangelos check out tourist attractions along the way.

They've taken family photos under The Arch in St. Louis, were unimpressed by the Great Salt Flats in Salt Lake City, and drove across San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in their Hummer, the vehicle they tow behind the RV on long trips. They've camped out at national and state parks and visited more than a half-dozen museums, an activity that's a favorite of the children. The family regularly visits the Children's Museum of Science and Technology in Troy while home for lessons in math, science and more.

Their 5-year-old son, Michael, and 3-year-old daughter, Brenna, are home-schooled. While they do follow a state-approved curriculum, stops along the way can act as lessons. They'll track the states and places they visit to start on geography, or count (and add) objects along the way for a dose of math.

Mom and Dad learned a lesson of their own when they decided to make this investment -- one in economics. Despite high gas prices (the RV uses diesel, which costs about $4 a gallon), there are savings. Companies that hire Michael no longer have to pay for a hotel room, plane tickets, or a car to take him to speaking engagements. That makes him more attractive to potential clients. The mileage and campground combined cost 25 percent less than flying, hotels and rental cars. The only drawback: It takes several days, rather than several hours, to get across the country.

But the fact that he never leaves his family makes the long hours on the road worth it.

"It's not just that I don't miss the big, monumental things, but I don't miss the little things that are so defining," says Michael, who dances around the RV with his family after dinner or sits them all down with other RVers at truck stops, hoping to introduce the kids to people from different backgrounds. "When I'm traveling, I can still do things other parents do with their kids. I get 'Daddy, let's go to the playground; Daddy, let's have a sleepover.'"

His kids also keep him from overworking. Since they're "driving around in a container that's 40 feet long," they are quick to notice when Daddy's working until bedtime. And they don't hesitate to point it out the way kids do: with repeated reminders. But the gentle prodding is rooted in love for their father.

And Michael values every moment.

Kristi Gustafson can be reached at 454-5494 or by e-mail at Check out her blog at

Newstex ID: KRTB-0007-28478155

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