Adventures in Misalignment – The Travel Job

My first job out of college, I thought I was lucky enough to be given a job by my roommate’s father, who was a VP at a computer company. I had gotten a degree in Computer Engineering, and I was sure I’d have great fun writing software. But the guy was a salesman, not a software development manager, and he sold me on taking the job. The job was to join a fly-and-fix team for his region, which at that time was about one-third of the continental U.S. If any of the computers in his territory broke, this team went there until it was fixed. It sounded interesting, and he suggested it would set me up well for my career.

My supervisor was a mainframe expert who was transitioning into fixing problems with mini computers and microcomputers. This was before Personal Computers were all over the place. My supervisor had carved out a niche position as this fly and fix guy because he had developed a knack for troubleshooting problems. It was a little bit like the robot psychologist that Isaac Asimov used as a character in his science fiction stories, but instead of cool and deadly robots, we were working with dull and boring computers. Also, the customers were pissed off by the time we arrived. Once there, we couldn’t leave until it was fixed and the customer was happy, or if the customer threw us out, in which case we’d probably have been fired.

To compensate for that potential misery, the fly-and-fix guy worked out of his basement. I had to work there too. He installed one of every type of computer that the company sold. This was a crappy little bungalow in a down-river suburb of Detroit. The computers threw out so much heat that he had to air condition his basement in winter. We sat back-to-back-to-back (there were three of us) with no room to stand up. The only thing worse than working in a down-river suburb is to work in the basement of a crappy little bungalow in a down-river suburb.

The worst part of working there was the coffee, which was made with a drip-brewer-basket type thing. He then insisted on turning off the warming plate and reheating coffee in the microwave, one cup at a time, until the entire pot had been used. We stole the coffee grounds from the company office, so I didn’t understand why he wouldn’t let us brew fresh when needed.

Lunch most days was at a Long John Silver–fried fish, fried potatoes, and cole slaw. Considering that we were down-river, you’d think we could go to a sleazy strip club on Telegraph Avenue, but he really liked his fish fried. I gained weight so quickly that by the time my suits were back from the tailor, I needed another adjustment. I even gained weight during trips and bought pants in airports and changed in the men’s room. If I’d known about such things, I’d have worried about being mistaken for a pervert.

Probably the absolute worst part was the implied need to sit with him at a bar and drink beer to talk about the computer problem. For the most part it didn’t matter because we were somewhere in America–Jacksonville, Jefferson, or Joliet–with no friends nearby; we only had each other.

Now that I’m writing this, I realize I don’t even have a cute or clever or ending. It’s just a rant about a bad job. The upside is that it cured me of my desire to have an exciting sounding travel job. The downside is that my next job was kind of worse. But I’ll tell you about it next week.