Landing in Lansing: Justin Bugsy Sailor
The first conversation I had with Justin “Bugsy” Sailor, we bonded over our shared love of bacon and of all things, cottage cheese. I had heard a lot of buzz about this new kid in town and had to check him out for myself.
There’s just something about Bugsy that gets people talking. You can’t quite put your finger on it. He launched a pro-Yooper business; He traveled all 50 states in 365 days; He has infamous shoes; He even rocked a mullet. But when asked what he thinks people should know about him, his reply? “I don’t know. My favorite color, maybe?”
What’s in a name?
Bugsy credits, well, Bugsy for adding that je ne sais quoi.
“It was completely arbitrary but my mom started calling me Bugsy when I was one-year-old. In first grade, I told my friend Tom right after recess, ‘My mom calls me Bugsy. Don’t call me that and don’t tell anybody.’ So right away he did and ever since then my teachers, principals, coaches, college professors, and of course friends and family started calling me that. It’s a part of who I am because I think it’s a name I felt I had to live up to because I knew it was unique. I credit that name in part to bringing out a lot of my individuality over the years.”
Bugsy’s childhood was soundly grounded in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or as we know it, the UP. “I always loved growing up in the UP and loved my childhood and upbringing. But when you’re growing up there and as a teenager you don’t really have an appreciation for what’s around you. I didn’t develop my love of the UP itself until I left it.”
Say ya to da UP, eh?
That UP appreciation led Bugsy to found Yooper Steez
, “a brand new Yooper
site unlike any Yooper site you’ve seen before.” The site features a “pretty sweet” blog and a selection of Yooper gear, ranging from buttons to t-shirts and hoodies. It also encourages folks to photo document themselves in Yooper Steez attire, sharing their UP pride all over the world.
“What really shot off my pride in Michigan and the UP was my trip across the U.S.” What trip, you ask? Upon graduating from Michigan State University, Bugsy decided to combine the many loves he discovered during college - advertising, website design, sociology and photography - into one epic road trip; The Hometown Invasion Tour
. “The whole idea of the trip was to stay in households of people I’d never met before in all 50 states. Those were the only ‘rules.’” Those rules led Bugsy to stay in more than 100 households, spend at least five nights in each state and arrive back in Michigan exactly 365 days after leaving.
“People would ask me a lot of questions about home and didn’t know much about where I was from so I was regurgitating a lot of things about Michigan and the UP. That was the process of realizing how much I love it. After finishing that trip I wanted to flip the switch. After hearing about so many places across the country I wanted to show off my love for the UP and show off that to the world.”
After his year on the road, Bugsy headed back to the UP, and then came south to Lansing to further his career. “I found that I enjoyed talking about Michigan and telling people about Michigan, and I didn’t want to stop doing that. I still have fantasies of all these places I love across the country, but the one coalescent is the people. It always comes down to the people. To me it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I’m surrounded by really awesome people. I’ve found that in Lansing.”
In addition to Yooper Steez, Bugsy spends his days as a web designer for Traction
in downtown Lansing.
“When I first moved here for college, I was from a town of 1,200 people and there were that many people in my dorm," says Bugsy. "I remember coming to downtown Lansing to skateboard and thinking this city is so big and being really intimidated by it. It’s really a matter of perspective. Lansing was huge compared to anything at home. Second time around I had been everywhere in the county so it was kind of opposite. I had matured, coming down here for different reasons. Lansing feels like a really small town now. I walk down the street and it’s really common to see people I know.”
New Balance 574s
If you bump into Bugsy on the street - or at the office, or just about anywhere - you’ll notice his feet graced with New Balance
574s. “I’ve been wearing one type of shoes for the last five years."
It all started on his 50 states trip, when a friend of the family he stayed with in South Carolina came over. They bonded over shared names (Justin, not Bugsy) and shared shoe sizes, and when Bugsy told Justin he’d always wanted a pair of shoes like the ones Justin was wearing, Justin brought him over his very own pair of New Balance 574s the very next day.
Those shoes became Bugsy’s only shoes, and spurred a tradition among his circle of friends of gifting 574s to one another that has gone on for years. “I was like, man I’ve really got to get in touch with the guy who gave me these shoes and tell him thanks and all about this shoe sharing circle.” Bugsy reached out to his host family to try to get in touch with Justin only to find out his shoe benefactor had killed himself not long after he and Bugsy had met.
“I was really kind of floored because I had gone for years wearing these shoes and telling people these stories about the person who’d given these to me. It was someone I’d met for two hours and he’d made such an impact on me.” Bugsy knew Justin’s girlfriend was pregnant at the time they met, and found out Justin’s daughter, Avery, had only been two weeks old when her father had committed suicide. Now she was four-and-a-half. So, he bought her a pair of shoes and sent them to her, sharing the story of the friendship and bonds her father had launched
. And a few weeks later, he received a box from Justin’s sister Amy. In it, a brand new pair of 574s Justin had left behind.
“I guess the whole heart of it is there’s so many little gestures you can do in passing every day, and odds are ... most of those you’ll never know how big of an impact it can make on somebody.”
Making his own impact
There are so many other stories about Bugsy that could be shared. Whether it’s founding Plaidurday
, Beer with Branson
or the decision to rock a truly unforgettable mullet (“I don’t remember another time in my life when I’d be walking down the street and people would just ask to take a photo with me. I don’t know who these people are but I’m in a bunch of random photos.”), Bugsy lives up to his unique name. And yet, he doesn’t see himself as defined by these major experiences.
“I guess sometimes there’s these bigger things like my trip across the country which people get caught up in that overshadow the little things. These things are only small parts of me. There will always be new things I’m pursuing, dreams I’m chasing down. I’ll never run out of them. I’ll never do them all, but that’s what I thrive on in life. As long as I can keep doing what I love to do, life is pretty rad.”
And for the record, Bugsy’s favorite color is purple.
Kate Tykocki is the interim news editor and a freelance writer for Capital Gains. She geeks jazz hands
, knitting and theatre. You can also follow her at @katetykocki
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Bugsy in his Traction office, with his Yooper Steez skateboard and the New Balance 574 shoes.
Photos © Dave Trumpie