Growing Among Sharks
By: G Wayne
Copyright © 9/9/11
I compared my performance against the other technicians and found myself doing as well or better. The class dealing with functionality of the equipment I was working on was a different story. I was again struggling to keep up and having difficulty digesting the information presented.

"How can you be doing so well working on my electronics and not understand my presentation on how it works?" The instructor, one of the senior engineers who had designed the system, asked.

"I don't know, being a technician doesn't seem to be that difficult," I quickly replied. And I truly had no idea how I could understand the circuitry I was working on while having such a difficult time making sense of the information he presented. I was about to offer that I could be consuming information through some sort of osmosis, but decided not to piss off the boss.

I flourished at that company, and stayed until a downturn in business caused a drastic reduction of the technical staff. The automated stock exchange systems were a joy to work on and I and was sad to see my first position in electronics come to an end. The memories were nostalgic although I felt pride in the success of my beloved occupation. I had become and insider, a player in the game of electronics and that was the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life. It was not too much longer before another electronics company hired me; once you're in your in, as long as you continually turn out good work. If you can't do that, you quickly become an outsider.

The next job was as a test technician working on torpedoes during the twilight hours of third shift. That is from eight at night until five in the morning. I was pleased to see my career continue into its second round, but sleeping while everyone else was working became a challenge. It provoked camaraderie between my fellow third shifters as we became each other's best friends. All non-third shift friends were sleeping while we were awake and it was difficult to see them, even on weekends.

After a year or so I became tired of that life, but it was a good job and I did not want to leave. It took a labor strike that put me on the picket line to cause reconsideration as to the direction of my career. Living in Cleveland was getting old and did not fit anymore as was working third shift. I started looking for places to relocate that offered the most opportunities in electronics. It was also important to find a place that was warm, twenty plus freezing-ass winters in Cleveland were enough. Also, my friends changed the way they viewed me as I began to spend more time trying to better myself, and less time hanging out with them. I read about a place in California called Silicon Valley that had lots of electronics. Although it is in the colder, northern region of the state, the winters are extremely mild compared to that of Cleveland. It would be hard to break away from my family and friends-well maybe not that hard, but I could not find anything really wrong with making the move.

My strike duties were guarding the rear gate of the facility from 12:00 PM until 4:00 AM. It had not been opened in twenty years and being there was a waste of time, but it paid $18.00 a week and all the coffee and doughnuts I could pack away. One night, the gentleman who lived in the house next to the gate walked up to my car at about 3:00 AM. The acrid scent of alcohol and tobacco wafted into my van as I opened the window.

"Are you one of them striker guys?" the man said while glowering at me across his big red nose.

"Yes I am!" I said proudly, thinking the man was a fan of the American worker.

"Well, you just wait right here while I get my gun!"

That was the moment I decided to move to California. If things didn't work out, I could always move back and resume my old job when the strike ended. So I laid my plans, pack my bags, and prepared for the big adventure. I was ready, all that was left to do was to load my belongings in my van and head out for the golden bear state.

My friends held a going away party the night before I was planning to leave and on the way home, my van's engine snapped a rocker arm stud. The irony of this happening only hours before embarking on my new life was shocking. It seemed as though evils forces were intent on keeping me in Cleveland to live out a miserable life. The van struggled, but finally got me back home. I ran to my bed and hid beneath the covers, hoping that I would wake up to find it all a bad dream. That never happened. After several hours I gritted my teeth, packed one suitcase, pocketed all cash I had on hand and called a taxi to take me to the airport. I wanted out of Cleveland and was not going to wait around.

As the plane lifted off for San Francisco, I considered the fate of my van and hoped my luck would not be similar with the airplane I was riding in; not to mention I had no idea what I intended to do in San Francisco if the plane made it.

The only person I knew in California was a casual friend who had previously moved to San Francisco. I was not sure if he would offer me a place to stay, or if he still lived there. But this was all I had and if it didn't work out, I would find another way.

After arrival, I dialed the phone number written on the crumpled scrap of paper. My friend answered, I introduced myself, and there was a long pause.

"Hi . . . what's up?" he said in a suspicious voice.

"Howdy," I said in the friendliest voice I could muster, "I'm here in San Francisco, so I thought I'd give you a call!"

"Oh," he replied, "where are you staying?" People from Cleveland like to get right to the point.

"I'm ah . . . well actually; I haven't found a place to stay yet."

"Is that so?" then came an even longer long pause, "Well . . . I guess you could stay with me if you don't have any were else to stay."

"That's great! Thank you so much. This means a lot to me, I sort of really need your friendship," I said as graciously as possible.

"That's OK, we'll work something out," he said in a more natural tone.

The people I grew up with felt empathy for their friends when things became difficult. "You got to be tough to grow up in Cleveland," at least that is what they say in Pennsylvania.

"So where are you?" I asked eagerly.

"I'm at work. You could meet me here when I get off in 3 hours."

~ ================ ~

My California odyssey had begun as I stood at an onramp to highway 101 with my suitcase and guitar on the ground propped against my legs and $200 in my pocket. Smiling and holding out my thumb to the oncoming traffic, I have never felt so insecure as at that moment. With no idea of what was going to happen next, I was happier than I had ever felt before. It was one hell of a good time for me.

It took the better part of three weeks to find a job just to stay in California. During that time, I sponged off my new best friend Pat and his friends, who were kind enough to let him unload me on them. I had to beg to be hired for a job repairing consumer stereo equipment in Berkeley California. The store manager told me he did not think I could do the job he was offering because my experience was in industrial electronics. I informed him of my background in that area and that I was more than capable of being a valued member his staff. Also, I was willing to work for free just to demonstrate my abilities. Begging for a job fixing stereos was not easy, but so what, it kept me in California.

Tape recorders were the easiest to work on. Frequently, a good cleaning and lubrication was all they needed earning me forty dollars a pop. This contrasted greatly with crappy turntables that could take a half day to fix and a week to wait for parts while only bring in $2.35. My insight was short lived as colleagues discovered their incomes were diminishing. They collectively informed me that I would no longer take more than my share of tape recorders or suffer the indignation of being thoroughly shunned by my coworkers.

Fixing stereos only kept me near the real action. I scoured the San Jose Mercury News every night, going through job listings and then preparing cover letters and résumés to be mailed the next day to companies in the great Silicon Valley. If there was a promising offer, I would call the company and try to set up an interview as soon as possible.

It was distasteful to be working for one employer while actively searching for other employment, even though I made sure that my work output remained high. I would call in sick on Thursdays and trek down highway 101 to the magic city. If no interviews were scheduled, I could at least drop off resumes and learn about the place I intended to live. One Thursday morning, my boss decided to stop by and see how I was doing. It was awkward to convince him I was sick while being dressed in a suit and tie.

After many Thursday's of visiting electronics companies in the valley with no results, I considered that my long beard may have been causing a lack of job offers. I shaved it off and the next day received a job offer. The interesting part was the interview took place while I still had the beard. Upon arrival for the first day of work, my new boss looked at me curiously as if I were a stranger, "You look really different, didn't you have a beard when you interviewed?"

"Yes, that was me. Is there any problem? Do I still have the job?"

He finally smiled reluctantly, probably because he was sporting a full beard himself and said, "Sure, you still have a job. Don't worry, I just have to get used to your new image."

The next day I went to my boss at the stereo store and politely resigned. I shook hands with the crew and promised to keep in touch, but was pretty sure I would never see any of those people again. I loaded all my belongings into my van and left for the south bay. Again, I had no idea where I would stay, but I did have a job and was sure rest would work out on its own. The second step in G's big adventure was complete. Every time I see that magnificent view of the San Francisco skyline while driving across the Bay Bridge, it brings back the pride I felt over 40 years ago on the first drive to my new home.

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