January 2021

A Terrible Week

I’d have thought that the past week, considering the inauguration and all, would have been one during which four years of mounting stress would have dissipated into the ether. Well, no.

It started when I went out on the Segway last week only to have the internal computer die six blocks from home in front of the Salvation Army. The obvious next move was to walk back home, get the Prius, and fetch the Segway. Times have changed because my legs have got weak enough that I made it only two stumbling blocks to a bench in front of St. Luke’s when exhaustion set in and I called a cab, enlisting the driver to help me heave the Segway into the back for the trip home. I wasn’t too alarmed at this point because I figured I could haul it down to the Segway shop in Pacifica where there were old Segways to cannibalize for parts. Times have changed in other ways and the shop was closed since Segways are no longer being made and there’s not enough money in repairs to survive. No big prob, though, because I could go to the Segway shop in Oakland. Well, if it hadn’t closed for the same reason.

Time to drop back and get resourceful. Turns out the owner of that shop in Pacifica is still, when he gets around to it, checking the shop’s answering machine, and he had cluttering his garage an old first generation Segway like mine that he’d be willing to sell me for a song. I wondered whether it would still boot, and he said he’d get back to me. But hasn’t.

While I was thrashing around with no Segway for several days, I was romping around online looking for gen 1 Segways and found quite a few, all priced appropriately for the rich and truly desperate. I also rediscovered that until I get a parking space in the apartment courtyard, taking the car is hard owing to the tedium of finding a parking place on the street upon my return. And then finally, finally, it occurred to me that I had in my storage closet an old Segway with a broken handlebar assembly but a working computer. Aargh, should have thought of this days ago.

So I dug it out of the closet, put a good handlebar on it, and fired it up. I looked carefully to make sure the tires hadn’t gone flat and set out on a couple of errands, on the way home from which I finally noticed that I’d not looked carefully enough and that the tires had been, in fact, flat. It came as no surprise when I got home and found that the tires would no longer hold air because I’d traumatized them too badly in that ride. OK, no prob because in the closet were also four wheels with good tires. All I had to do was take off the ruined wheels and replace them with working ones.

I’d changed wheels before, and I knew that all I needed was a 16mm deep socket and a driver because I’d given away my driver with all my sockets several years ago because I’d never need them again. No prob. All I had to do was grind down to the Auto Zone on Cesar Chavez at South Van Ness and pick up the socket and a cheap driver. So I went down there and bought the socket and driver only to get home and discover that the socket was too big to fit into the wheel. Hmmm, I knew damn well that I’d used a 16mm socket years ago, but decided maybe I had it wrong, so I went back down there and bought a 14mm socket but it turned out too small. Only afterwards did it strike me that I should have tried both sockets before I left the store. So I threw up my hands and decided that I’d take the Segway to this auto garage a few blocks away and pay them to switch the wheels.

The next day I mounted an expedition, towing the Segway with the bad computer and good tires behind the one with the good computer/bad tire combination. Got to the damn garage and found it shut up tight. What the hell! Had it gone out of business? OK, I thought, I’ll go to this motorcycle shop a few blocks in the other direction on Valencia. But it wasn’t open either. Then I happened across my homeless friend and complained. (It’s a standing joke between us that so many people love complaining about their problems to the homeless.) Well, he may be homeless, but he knows what day it is. In this case, Sunday.

So Monday morning I went again to the auto garage, which was open, but the owner flatly refused to work on the Segway. He was nice about it, explaining that he couldn’t work on motorcycles either because his insurance wouldn’t cover him. I told him about buying a 16mm socket and it not working even though I knew in my heart it was the right size. He informed me that there are two types of socket, thick and thin wall. Obviously the Segway requires the thin wall, and he demonstrated by grabbing a socket from his tool box and showing me that it fit onto the Segway. In that case, I can do it myself if I have the right socket, but by this time I was not in the mood to track down someplace that would sell me a thin socket, so I went back down to the motorcycle shop. Again closed, so I turned around and started going down Mission Street looking for a garage.

Ha! There’s a tire store in the second block. The guy was kinda negative at first, never having dealt with a Segway, but I told him how I really needed a working Segway owing to my bad legs and he relented, mentioning as an aside that he’d have to charge me as if the wheels were on a car. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him how much I needed the Segway. His mechanic had a thin 16mm socket, and in no time at all switched the wheels even though I had to explain to him that the wheels seat on a taper and you have to give ’em a good rap with a rubber mallet to remove them. That took only a moment and was good for my testosterone. It also took some of the sting out of being flayed alive on the price. Umm, no. It made the pain worse.

But I was free, free, free at last. Free to ride the Segway to Cliff’s Hardware and pick up a thin 16mm deep socket so I’m now able to change my own wheels. Free to stop grinding my teeth, sit back, and marvel at how I could create a week-long drama out of such thin cloth.

Meanwhile, here I am towing one Segway with another.

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Here’s another post about someone who’s had a significant impact on my life.

In 1984 when I was wasting my life in the limo business, my friend Al suggested to me that I apply for a tech writing job at the small computer company in Hayward named Qantel where he was a manager. I wouldn’t be working for him; but I’d be in his department, and his recommendation made all the difference. I had no background in computers; but I could write, and for whatever reason I took to it and became a top writer there. Since it was a small company, we all helped each other; and one of the other managers, a man named Chris, took the time to teach me some basic elements of computing while I was writing documentation for the company’s business applications software.

Alas, the company suffered some mismanagement at higher levels and gradually floundered. There was one layoff after another; and many of the better employees, including Chris, jumped ship as it was sinking. He went off to start his own company with a partner. Since I didn’t have much experience to emblazon on a resume, I hung on at Qantel for another couple of years.

But then, as Qantel continued to take on water, Chris asked me to come work for him in his new company, Bayard. Well, I knew that new software companies had the life expectancy of freshly discovered atomic isotopes; but it was also clear that I was already on a sinking ship, so I jumped.

What a joy it was to be sole proprietor of the documentation in a little company with only a dozen employees. Everybody there knew what everybody else was doing, so if you had a question, you knew precisely whom to ask… and he knew that you knew, so he couldn’t evade your question. This made for a highly productive working environment.

In my case, I was using WordPerfect to write the documentation and format it for printing; and since I used it all day long every day, I could play it like a theater organ and exploit it to its fullest.

This was the most enjoyable job I ever had; and, to illustrate that, a brief anecdote.

One day Chris called me into his office and told me that the company needed a couple of technical manuals for which the pertinent data were in UNIX files. I responded that I could write a WordPerfect macro that would gobble through the UNIX files extracting data and organizing them into a user-friendly form. He immediately responded that oh well, of course, he could do the same sort of thing in UNIX. And as he said that, an electric current sizzled between us as we simultaneously realized that the gauntlet was lying there on the floor, twitching.

I turned on my heel as he was turning to his keyboard, and the race was on. I didn’t run back to my cube, but I sure wasted no time.

It took me twenty minutes or so; and after I’d run my macro successfully, I ran back to Chris’ office chortling at my success, only to have him shout as I appeared in his doorway that his had just completed, too.

I do not recall ever having experienced a finer sense of rapport, camaraderie, and brotherly love.

Unfortunately, Bayard never quite became fully seaworthy, and after a couple of years the board saw that its death was imminent. So they told the two partners that they were steering the company onto a beach, not to tell the employees but rather keep us at our oars until there was no longer enough money to meet payroll.Chris and Graham, the other partner, had a different set of priorities; and they not only warned us to start looking in earnest for a new job, but also began networking hard for us. We all got jobs; and in my case and most of the others’, it was because of Chris or Graham’s recommendations. These were men who had been sometimes skipping their own paychecks for a while, so my gratitude is of a high order.

Meanwhile, here’s another pandemic doorway on Valencia:

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