To Pennslyvania, New York, and Beyond

This picks up directly after the end of the Run in With The Man, Part II. I had finally been cleared of my obligations to Bradenton, Florida, and for the first time in a long time, I could actually leave. This is pretty much what I'd been gearing up for over the last, I dunno, two years or so. I was super eager to get things moving.

The physical reality of my situation hadn't changed a lot, though, so I was still basically broke, and had no real prospects of actually being able to go anywhere. I had this crazy idea of going to New York, cause a friend offered to help me get started in the city (good ol' `rico). About the same time that this option was becoming very interesting, I learned that my step dad was coming down to Florida, presumably to come and pick me up to take me back to the house in Pennsylvania. He was to arrive in only a couple of days. I thought this would be a fast, cheap way out of Florida, and of course it's always nice to go hang out with the family when you haven't seen 'em in a while.

It didn't take me long to decide that this could be my best ticket out of town, so I jumped on it. With only a couple of days to tie things up in Florida, where I had lived since the age of 3, it would be a quick exit. I didn't even have time to see all of my friends before I left, which sucked. It was pretty crazy trying to get everything done in time, but I managed to take care of all the important things. I started getting my stuff packed up and ready to go, and before I knew it, step dad's truck was out front one morning, and my life in Florida was over. We made one last stop on the way out of town to pick up my copy (well, actually it's Nico's copy) of Snow Crash, which had been in my mailbox at the Planetarium, and that's the last I've seen of Florida.

Being on the highway is about the most introspective place there is, for me at least. With little else to do except watch the world go by, it's hard not to consider all of the analogies and metaphors relating to "moving on", etc. There was a distinct feeling that this was going to be another of those pivotal times in life where a lot of stuff happens pretty quickly. At that point, I had no idea exactly how true that would be, but I did know that I was ready. I had spent far too long languishing in Florida, and was more than ready for some action. The basic plan was to head to PA, stay with the folks for a couple-few weeks, visit some other family in the area, and continue arrangements for my eventual move to NYC. I honestly wasn't sure how it would play out. For somebody that usually tries to take the safe bet, I was kinda just laying it out on the line (my liquid holdings at the time totaled around $450). I was confident that, one way or another, I could make something happen. I kept going over and over different possible outcomes in my head as we drove north, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. It sure felt good to be on my way, though. It didn't even really matter where I was going; I could have been headed anywhere at all and I would have probably been feeling the same thing.

Since my license was still suspended, I couldn't drive, so the trip was pretty damn arduous just riding the whole time. We stopped in Jacksonville and stayed the night with some of Bob's family; they're great people, and we enjoyed a comfortable rest :-) The next day, we drove the rest of the way to PA and arrived in the early a.m.

It just so happened that the day after I arrived in PA, my mom and brother were heading out to Philly area to drop my bro off at my aunt & uncle's place to work for the summer (he's a professional arborist who owns / operates a business). So, I went along with them. It was good to visit aunts and uncles and cousins out there; plus it was kinda nice to be in a familiar environment, doing the same kinds of things I had done in previous years (visiting, just chillin' at their pad, etc). Get enough stuff changing in your life all at once, and it can get a little weird; this opportunity to be on a normal "vacation" for three days over a long weekend was welcome.

Mom and I drove back to the house in west PA (well, she drove, I rode). I was really starting to think about getting this NYC thing set up. I had sorta wanted to go to Seattle for the previous year or so, cause from what I heard, it was a good scene, and I had a friend there, but NYC seemed more of an immediate prospect, as Rico had offered to let me stay at his place and hook me up with some headhunters.

Over the course of about two weeks, I spoke with Rico on the phone several times. He passed my name to a couple of headhunters, and I was in contact with them as well. I was able to be online, cause I brought my only mac with me from Florida, my old performa 550. It was basically raw hell being online with that thing, but at least there was a separate phone line. Also spent some time with the grandparents, who live close by. It didn't take long for things with the headhunters to solidify, but it couldn't go beyond a certain point until I actually got out there. Amtrak turned out to be the cheapest way to get to NYC from Pittsburg, and mom helped me buy a ticket. I was to depart exactly two weeks after I had gotten to PA from Florida. A couple days before I left, my grandmother took me shopping. She really is the Grand Mother Of the Bargain Buy, and I ended up with a literally amazing assortment of respectable quality items for a bit over $100 (she picked up the tab - thanx grandmom, not like you'll be reading this ;-).

I couldn't really take all that much stuff with me to NYC; all I brought was one suitcase, one garment bag, and one backpack, so getting my stuff together wasn't nearly as much of a chore as it normally is when you "move". Then it was Friday morning, and my train was to leave at like 9 a.m. or something. We got to Pittsburg in plenty of time; ate breakfast at some hotel. Said goodbye to the folks, not really knowing exactly when I'd see 'em again. I seem to have done that a lot in the past few years.

The train ride took some absurd amount of time... I think it was like 12 or 13 hours. Better than a bus ride, though, and marginally cheaper than a plane ride. We must have made like two dozen stops in little po-dunk towns all the way from pit to NYC. My sense of anticipation was growing rapidly as we approached. This was to be my first time in the city, and I knew it would be pretty incredible. At one point, going across some bridge or something, I could see manhattan from the train, and I was just in awe. I was to arrive at penn station, rico and pahn were gonna meet me there.

The train *finally* arrived, and I exploded into the station and began to try to figure out where I was, where rico and pahn might be, and where my luggage might be. It took me a few minutes to get oriented. As I was stumbling around looking like I didn't know where I was, some dude walks up and says "dre?". "Rico?", I asked. It was pahn. He told me they were waiting in that bar over there, and I finished waiting for my luggage and then went back to meet them.

The bar was intensely crowded, so I felt like an idiot hauling my luggage through there. I finally got a seat with them, and they asked me how I liked New York, what I was thinking about, etc. By this point, I was pretty much in total adrenaline mode. My mind was basically aflutter, and I don't think I was really analyzing much; just taking it all in as best I could. They finished their drinks, and we were going to head to pahn's car. From what they told me, I was in for one hell of an introduction to NYC. It was Friday late-afternoon, and I had no idea what to expect :-).

As I said, I'd never been to New York before. So when we hit the bottom of the steps on the way up to street level from Penn station, and all I could see were buildings, I was pretty amazed. Once we actually got to the sidewalk, I stopped for about one second, and a whole lot went through my head right then. I was looking at an incredible density of cabs and people, like nothing I'd ever seen before, so that was fairly startling. The significance of my relocation to New York kinda hit me just then, too. For a long time, I had been trying to get out of Florida. I wanted to make it somewhere else, and this was sure as hell somewhere worthwhile. It was one of 'those moments'.

We walked what seemed like (and probably was) miles to pahn's car, dragging my luggage. I was trying hard to take everything in; the sights and sounds all around me were a constant source of stimulation. rico and pahn were talking about what they remember of their first times in the city, about how they wish they could go back to that first day, etc. I mostly listened, as usual. We finally got to pahn's car, and then we headed to the first bar of the night.

That's about where my memory starts to break down. I do remember visiting at least 3 bars, but there was a lot of other stuff sort of interspersed, including two separate cab rides (my first time in a nyc cab), and a subway ride (first time in a subway ;-). There was a great deal of adventure, some danger (something about a giant sharpy marker, the huge glass exterior of a bank, pahn's propensity for tagging, and a beat cop), and a whole lot of intoxication that night... we got done around 4.30 in the a.m, I believe. I don't really remember getting back to rico's place, so waking up on his couch was a little weird.

`rico's place was a somewhat compact apartment on Staten Island. He had two really cool dogs and a jet black Powermac 7500 with a g3 upgrade :) He had recently sold his auto, so it was public transportation all around... and it's pretty good in NYC. There are two ways to get to manhattan: the ferry, which is about 30 - 40 minutes (plus an additional 15 - 20 minutes to get to the ferry dock on Staten from his place by bus). The other is the express bus, which makes a few stops on Staten, and comes out around the Battery Park area. Due to traffic congestion, the bus was often delayed, both on trips out and trips back - however, there are bus depots everywhere, so things are usually pretty close to on time. No subway out to Staten :/

The following week, I met up with the headhunters with whom I'd been in contact... well, one of them, anyway. The second one apparently didn't have anything much to offer me, though of course he didn't say that when I spoke with him from PA :) The prospects from the first seemed questionable at best, so it was obviously time to start looking elsewhere. I didn't really know much about job hunting, so I started hitting up more headhunting / recruiting agencies. That was a mistake - should have just gone directly to employers. Anyhow, most of the headhunting agencies had aptitude tests for one's chosen area of expertise, and they even had mac specific tests. I was actually kind of eager to take them, as you might have guessed... I scored about as well as I thought I should have, which was quite a bit above the scores they usually see. Rock :) Unfortunately, they didn't have much to offer me either. I think part of my mistake was also that the scope of my job searching was too narrow in focus. I could have adequately (if not exceptionally) performed a variety of other related tasks aside from the ones that I do definitely consider myself an expert in - the ones for which I was seeking employment. I figured that in NYC, there surely would be need for a hard core mac geek.

About a week after my arrival in NYC, `rico's girlfriend came back, and he quite understandably needed the space. It was okay for me, since pahn had also extended an offer to let me crash at his pad until I stabilized. I took him up on it, and transported my cache of munitions from Staten to Park Slope, Brooklyn. pahn had a 2 bedroom, 2nd story apartment that he shared with his girl and young kid. It was a pretty nice pad, actually, and I enjoyed my time there about as much as could be expected, given the somewhat harried situation. I was quite prone to scoring 40s at the corner store (next door), climbing up the fire escape, with the bottle securely in a shoulder-strap bottle / container carrier, and hanging out on the roof. It was the quintessential example of the whole roof-top scene... There was high visibility, and roof access was popular all around, so it was often where you'd meet people in other buildings. Things were really jumping on the 4th of July, when everybody around was partying on their roofs / watching the fireworks... it was really a good time :)

So, the weeks wore on and I still had nothing substantial to show for it. I could feel the situation tensing up, and I was already operating on borrowed money. Prospect after prospect fell through. My wheels were spinning, but I was getting nowhere. Then I interviewed with some Internet media company with a three letter domain name that I can't remember at the moment. The interview was set up through one of the headhunter agencies, and there was even another dude from the same agency that interviewed directly ahead of me. They were looking for somebody to do mac support and only mac support, as the existing IT guys didn't want to be doing so much mac support. I thought I was a perfect fit for the job.

That interview was the best one I've ever had. It was two young-ish guys... one that was the head of IT, the other was sort of an NT admin that was somewhat unix savvy. It started with what I figured was the standard stuff, telling me a bit about the company, the job description, etc. Then Gabe (the head of IT guy) started asking me fairly run of the mill mac support questions... "If IE was crashing repeatedly on a user's computer, what would you do?".... and I intentionally baited him... "well, you could check for extension conflicts.... but it's probably just a corrupt preferences file". He was immediately overjoyed, since apparently nobody ever suggests the 'correct' answer without being prodded. He asked me one more question which was a complete no-brainer for any real mac professional, and then he decided to dispose of the question / answer drilling. At that point, it stopped feeling like an interview and more like a very engaging discussion / information transfer between a few smart people. In rare instances, I apparently have command of something that can really spark a conversation, and it was in full effect just then. It didn't take long for them to start talking smack about all of the clueless people they have to interview, and the even more clueless recruiting agencies. Gabe held up my resume (which had been printed at the recruiting agency), and mimed a cutting motion to remove the letterhead, saying "there's only one big problem with your resume...". I was pretty ignorant of the fact that he would have had to pay a very hefty fee if he hired me, until just then. However, even though this was apparently above the allotment he had for the position, he fully wanted to hire me. He even went and brought his boss in so I could meet him... it was really great to see Gabe so excited about hiring me, and I figured my chances were good. The job paid like $35 k a year, which isn't a whole lot, but would have been workable. He couldn't give me an answer right away, however, since he needed some extra approval from a VP since hiring me would represent an expenditure that was beyond the allotment for the position.

So, I waited. At this point, I had been at pahn's place for over a month, and our agreement was that I'd start paying him rent after a month, if I was still there. Naturally, I had no money for rent - all I had was one last prospect for a job. If things didn't change soon, I'd have to head back to... somewhere, probably PA. I was waiting to hear back from Gabe, and that would decide my fate. The problem was that the VP he needed to talk to was on *vacation*. It took about 2.5 weeks before Gabe called me with the news. The VP had hired a friend of a friend for the position. Gah!

I was prepared to spend the remainder of the borrowed money on an amtrack ticket back to PA, and head back, defeated. Then Damon stepped in. We'd known each other online for about a year, and shared several interests; chief among them, of course, being the Macintosh. I'm not even going to attempt to describe the capacity to which it's possible to share non-physical space with other intelligent beings via the Internet... the point is that we became pretty close and spent quite a lot of time communicating (way more than most of my 'real life' friends). As I mentioned before, I'd entertained the idea of relocating to Seattle previously - it seemed like a really great place, and I was eager to put myself into an environment rich with young, tech. savvy people. However, as I also mentioned before, I never had the means to make such a relocation happen (i.e. money). At the end of my rope in NYC, I was in a fairly desperate situation, and my options were quite limited (or so it seemed). About two days before I would have purchased a ticket back to PA, Damon offered to fly me out to Seattle, including crash space at his pad. Naturally, I was ecstatic, and took him up on the offer.

I broke the news to pahn, and he was quite understanding. There was the small matter of the rent money I owed him, which I didn't have (but subsequently paid to him via mail), but he was understanding about that too. I was to depart from JFK airport only a few days after the decision was made to head to Seattle.... another quick exit.

Before this wraps up, it should be noted that though there were financial hardships and certain situational sources of stress (kind of a long story), overall I really enjoyed my time in NYC. Somewhere in there, Nico made it up to the city as well. We had sort of languished together in Bradenton, FL, and I'm pretty sure I'd have gone insane without somebody interesting to spend time with; so I was quite excited that we had several opportunities to chill. It was also quite satisfying that after both of us having tried for years to get out, we were both finally out, and hanging' together in NYC. I also attended all three days of the MacWorld expo in July - my first macworld. That was really really cool :)

Anyway, the time came to leave NYC for Seattle. As it turns out, it was not the run-of-the-mill trip to the airport / get on the plane thing that I've done dozens of times. I took the subway from Park Slope up to the mid town area, where I had to stop by nico's place to pick up my coveted CD case (full of all my data cds) that I'd lent to Nico a day or so prior. He was staying right by the river, so it was like 5 or 6 avenue blocks from the subway to his location. With all my stuff. In pouring rain. It was one of those really strange, stereotypical moments. I totally felt exactly like that guy who trudges the manhattan streets in the rain, dragging a bunch of luggage, and I rather enjoyed it :)

Nico was at a convention with his employer, but the employer's daughter was there (I forget her name), so I went up to their place and we talked for a few minutes. I caught a cab from there to the airport, nothing special. When I arrived at JFK, after having lugged my bags for several miles during the last couple hours, I was done with it and checked them curb-side, which I normally don't do. When I got to the checkin counter, I was informed that they had a message for me from pahn, which said to simply call his place. I finished my checkin and then made my way to a phone booth adjacent to my gate. I called - pahn was at work, but sandra was there, and she informed me that Gabe had called there a while ago, and wanted me to call him immediately. There was only one reason I could think of that would make him want to try to reach me as I was about to blow town, so I was sort of set up for an interesting situation.

I called Gabe, and sure enough, he informed me that the VP's friend of a friend didn't work out (at all). He enthusiastically asked me if I still wanted the job.

I spent a few seconds weighing the options, and then explained everything to Gabe. It had been a dream of mine to work in the city being a professional mac geek, and I was quite enthralled with NYC in general. I also really liked what I knew of the company. However, I was also quite anxious to go west, to Seattle. It was such an exciting prospect... new friends, new environment... all that stuff. I told Gabe about Damon's offer to get me to Seattle. I knew that if I wanted to stay, that Damon would understand, and I would have certainly repaid him for the cost of the airline ticket. All of these values pretty much balanced each other out, and the deciding factor turned out to be the fact that my bags were already checked. Gabe understood everything, and thanked me for my interest, told me to email him if I'm ever in NYC again. There was a guy standing next to me at another phone booth that had long since finished his call, but was just standing there listening to me recap the whole story. He seemed quite interested, and when I hung up with Gabe, he was all "so you're really flying out to Seattle to meet somebody you've never met before, but have known for a long time?", and the expected conversation ensued from there...

I called Damon from the airport, too, and he told me that if I really wanted to stay, that I should... the truth of course was that I did want to stay, but I also wanted to go :) Either outcome would surely have been good, the way I saw it. He was happy to hear that I was coming out to Seattle, and I was happy to say it. So, I got on the plane, and flew west.

In retrospect, it turned out to be a very good decision indeed :)