A boy and his dog, part 3: Davenport to Omaha

This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series A boy and his dog

(Continued from yesterday.)

When it’s hog-calling time in Nebraska
When it’s hog-calling time in Nebraska
When it’s hog-calling time in Nebraska
Then it’s hog-calling time in Nebraska

That silly campfire song, sung to the tune of “Red River Valley,” is well known to Boy Scouts. In ninth grade, my Eagle-Scout friend Chuck suggested performing it for the school talent show. But rather than merely sing it, we (Chuck and I and five other friends) developed some supporting schtick: we all got bad haircuts and plaid flannel shirts and presented ourselves as “The Epiphany County Choir,” freshly arrived in New York City from rural Nebraska. We sang three heartfelt refrains of the song with fish-out-of-water expressions plastered to our faces. The audience — our classmates — laughed and cheered. We won the talent show. (I’ve never quite gotten over the guilt of beating another contestant, my classmate Stephen, who demonstrated actual talent with a virtuoso violin solo.)

“The Epiphany County Choir” went on to make a brief appearance on a local cable TV show, and gave another, much longer performance to our school the following year. The cable appearance is best forgotten — perhaps I’ll tell the story some other time. But the longer performance at our school was a comedy triumph.

So it was with some excitement that I set out with Alex this morning fifteen years ago for Omaha, Nebraska. But as before, the drive itself lacked any hint of poetry or romance, and the only thing to distinguish the city of Omaha during my brief stay was a plate of especially terrible pasta.

I was racing across the country, not taking the time properly to enjoy or appreciate it, mainly because of the urgency in Dan Heller‘s voice. Two months earlier I had visited Northern California on a job-hunting trip. Apple Computer had paid for my airfare and my room at the Cupertino Inn and I interviewed with them. I managed to stretch my stay on their dime to include interviews at one or two other computer companies in Silicon Valley too, plus a visit with my friend Bruce, who’d left Pittsburgh for California a couple of years earlier. On my last day in the region I drove up to San Francisco for an interview with a computer magazine there. (They were looking for an editor. They administered a written exam to me during the interview, and I was the first applicant in their history to complete all the questions in the time allotted. And I answered them all correctly! They hounded me for weeks afterward trying to get me to agree to accept a job offer.) Finally, late in the day, I headed way, way up to Marin County for an interview at Z-Code, a tiny e-mail software startup whose founder, Dan Heller, began calling me a couple of weeks later asking how soon I could start. They needed me “yesterday.”

(I almost didn’t bother visiting Z-Code. Marin County was far out of the way, and I was all interviewed out. But I knew that Marin was also the home of George Lucas’s filmmaking empire, and I was such a Star Wars nerd that that tipped the balance. It didn’t seem such a momentous decision at the time…)

I was still in the comfortable cocoon of academia. Nathaniel Borenstein had hired me as an intern to work on Andrew, the innovative campus computing environment for CMU. When I graduated I became a full-time staff member. It was my first job out of college. But by 1992 the Andrew system was essentially complete and the department was in decline, casting about for new projects to work on, trying to stay relevant. Nathaniel himself had left a couple of years earlier. At the time it seemed hard to leave the nest and relocate across the country, but in hindsight the time couldn’t have been more right.

I accepted the Z-Code job. I wrapped up my affairs in Pittsburgh. I arranged for my things to be shipped to Dan’s house, where the guest room was ready and waiting for me and Alex. I told Dan, “I can be there in six days.”

(…to be continued…)

Series NavigationA boy and his dog, part 2: Bloomington to DavenportA boy and his dog, part 4: Omaha to Rawlins

2 Replies to “A boy and his dog, part 3: Davenport to Omaha”

  1. “It’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” 🙂

    To your credit, I still have that horrible image/song burnt into my retina/eardrums. 🙂

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