Annie’s pretty friendly, so everyone’s welcome as long as you’re not a closed-minded so and so. She’s given me the go-ahead to take you for a tour, but I have to warn you about a few things: 1.) Rooms keep being built because Annie can’t stop growing as a person, so you might feel bad about your own stagnation. 2.) There are dogs here. If you have allergies, take a pill or suck it up. 3.) This whole house thing is a precariously written metaphor.
Let’s enter through the garage. What’s this? A lowrider-style sedan that’s painted as a tribute to Jerry Orbach? Annie doesn’t own this car, but she did contribute to its creation on Kickstarter. She received a set of four bumper stickers in thanks: “Honk if you miss Jerry Orbach,” “Gas, grass or Jerry Orbach,” "My Child is an Honor Roll Student at Jerry Orbach Elementary" and "My Other Car is Jerry Orbach."
Entering the house, you’re greeted by two dogs. Why hello there, Brisco (aptly named after Detective Lenny). He’s a small white mutt with an attitude, but black lab-mix Walter evens out the doggie vibes. You’re in the family room, where Annie’s partner of seven years, Jess, gives you a wave. She’s in the middle of reading a good book on the couch, so she says we can look at the family photos on the mantel by ourselves.
Here’s a nice one of of Annie’s childhood home in Cuba, Illinois. “Not Cuba, Missouri,” she told me, which is a dead giveaway she grew up in the Midwest because I would have been afraid someone would have thought she meant Cuba the country.
With an older sister and brother and a younger sister, Annie is the ridiculously relaxed middle child you read about in those parenting columns. Their town was a farming one, but the McCances were not a farming family. With Mrs. McCance as school board president and her husband an art teacher, her parents knew that kids in the 80s needed to be able to find their way around a computer. They bought theirs one, and Annie began to teach herself to code at 14. She was wearing a lot of orange and identifying with the character Velma at the time, so she made a Scooby Doo website on Angelfire. Her first computer language was basic HTML.
“I was just trying to rotate my banners and have flashing GIFs. Just like an email today,” she quips.
That summer, she got a job that was the rite of passage for the other 36 kids in her grade—detasseling corn. For exactly one week, she’d wake up, rip the male part off of corn for six hours and get the rest of the day to relax. This reaffirmed her aversion to farm life, so she quit and got a job at McDonalds. She speaks fondly of the McRib to this day.
For the rest of high school, Annie was as athletic as she was intelligent. She was all-state in softball, but so talented as a point guard in basketball that she’d eventually play it in college. As a senior, she joined Future Farmers of America (FFA) because they were the only department with a Mac. She became yearbook editor and webmaster of the entire high school.
“For exactly one week, she’d wake up, rip the male part off of corn for six hours and get the rest of the day to relax.”
Upon graduation, Annie hightailed it out of Cuba to play basketball at a Christian liberal arts college where the Chicago Bears practice in the summer. In the southside of Chicago, she became well-versed in the city’s hot dog scene, bouncing from Portillo's to Weiner Circle and back again. When not eating, she majored in art (high-five for the sweet, sweet influence, Mr. McCance), minored in motion graphics and hid from the University’s fundamentalist teachings. Annie quit basketball her junior year but got to keep the scholarship because she was the video highlight editor. Her knack for technology has always made her, well, necessary.
Post-Nazarene, Annie got a job building the website and rebuilding houses for AmeriCorp in St. Louis. This last task took a bit more care than your typical volunteer house build, because the gig was improving the houses while families were still living in them. Adding to—while not interrupting—their lives took a lot of planning and compassion.
And this stuck with Annie, as you’ll see when we walk down the hallway to...
Annie says that if there’s one thing she wants to impart on students, it’s that frustration is part of the fun. “I’m like, OH yeah. This will always be frustrating. What I just taught you will change when the next phone comes out. But that’s the beauty of it. There is never a time you know everything, can’t research the latest and keep learning.” At the end of six months, the hope is that these women will have a portfolio that will get them a better job. Last semester, three girls found full-time coding employment.
One student didn’t have time to change out of her work uniform before class and showed up in her county cop duds. “I thought to myself, this is the safest class we’ll ever have!”
We’ve saved the best for last. Can you believe that this fictional Annie house has a BEACH behind it? Almost every year since Annie + Jess met, they’ve travelled to indulge in the bizarro magic that is Culebra, Puerto Rico. It’s a small island off of the main island. Says Annie, “I like to think of it as the Ozarks of the Caribbean: small community, no stop lights, no resorts, grocery stores, but one of the world's most beautiful beaches: Playa Flamenco.” Playa Flamenco served as an area for naval bombing practice up until the ‘70s, so one of Culebra’s charms is the surprise of an unexploded ordnance floating around. These same navy seaman got homesick, so they brought over some white tailed deer to hunt in their off time, only adding to the Ozark feel.
Now, wash the sand off your feet before we lead you to the door. Annie would love to whip up some hot dogs and have a good chat, but she’s got work to do.