Who am I? I’m Joe. Part 4

Well, were we left off, I was on a plane, 300 dollars and a cell phone in my pocket and headed to Jessica’s house in California.

Being the genius I am, I didn’t look at the map.  I landed in San Francisco and there was Jess to pick me up.  If you’ve never been to the Bay, it should be on your bucket list.  I know it has a reputation for being the gayest city ever (and it is), but it’s not like you think.  It’s a cleaner, more polite version of New York, tolerant of most everything and you won’t find much of the sterotypical bears in assless chaps unless you are in the Castro or it’s Pride (The annual LGBTQ celebration).

So, getting into Jess’ Saturn, imagine my shock at the 4 hour drive north to Windsor.   Yeah.  Houston, we have a distance problem.  Keep in mind, I had no car, very limited money and that cell phone.  So, I did what any responsible 25 yr old would do in a situation like that, I went to a restaurant I couldn’t afford and met a woman, Jennifer, who would later become my wife.  After two-weeks, I was sure of two things, I didn’t want to go home and I didn’t want to live in Windsor anymore.  Jen’s friends, Lori and Randy, lived in Tracy, CA.  Tracy was located about an hour away from the closest BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, basically a train) that ran into the City.   After making a few calls and replying to a few ads, I found a job making 80K a year as a Systems Analyst at a company called Aethion.   Jen’s friends were amazing people who offered to let me stay in their spare bedroom, use their Volvo to drive to the BART station and this allowed me to work in the City.  So for 2 months, before I could afford the ridiculous rent closer to San Francisco, even at that salary, I made the 2 hour commute to work and 2 hour commute home each day and most weekends.  I was young, ambitious and hungry, so that meant I would outwork anybody, even if I was spending 40 hours a week in some form of transportation to do it.

It paid off and eventually I would take over the day-to-day operations at Aethion and her clients and bump my pay up to 125K a year, with a nice Christmas bonus, 401K, health insurance and regular IT training.

Jen and I moved pretty fast and rented our first apartment in South San Francisco, a 3 bedroom in a nice area with two roommates that only cost 900 a month for the room and shared living space.  That lasted about 9 months until I could get us into a sweet 2 bedroom, 1 bath, overlooking the Pacific ocean from a cliff side.  We spent 3 years there, had our first daughter Riley there and made some good memories and good friends.  It was the happiest time of our relationship, though I’d taken on a lot more responsibility and was working insane hours.  I also was honing and perfecting my trade and my market value was shooting through the roof.

Eventually I negotiated a higher salary and we moved to San Francisco proper, living downtown in the financial district, or FiDi as it’s known in the City.  For the low, low price of $3200 a month, I secured a two bedroom 950 sq ft apartment, with two parking spots and an 18th floor view, with a doorman.  During this time, I’d repayed my old friend Ryan for teaching me about computers and had moved him out to California.  He eventually found work and took over our place in Pacifica, which worked out for everybody.

I loved living in the City.  Everything about it.  From the daily bike rides over the Golden Gate, to the street pizza and burritos, to the noises that never ceased.  For most people coming from a State like Arkansas, it would be unnerving to be surrounded by so many people and never having any peace and quiet, to me, it was a sleep machine.  I loved knowing that people were around, even if I didn’t know them.  Sitting on the balcony, watching cruise ships and tankers roll in while getting my morning caffeine fix was one of my absolute favorite things I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing in my life.  The view was amazing, overlooking the Ferry Building to the right and Alcatraz to the left.

It was the pinnacle of my career when I could still work and was one of the happiest times of my life in retrospect.

Jennifer, rightfully so, didn’t enjoy the city as much as I did.  Being the home maker, she had to drag Riley shopping and the laundry room was located in the basement.  Living in a major city is hard while taking care of a 2-year-old.   Eventually, I caved and we moved to Fremont.  Due to a disagreement about the amount of work I was doing versus the amount of compensation I was receiving, I took the second worst job of my life.

I began working for a company in Fremont known as a “Body Shop” in the IT world.  It was essentially a reseller of IT equipment that threw in the added service of installing and maintaining the systems, but the majority of the profit was in selling and billing hourly, something that’s hard to do when you are a network engineer.  At least I never figured out how to do it properly.

When I work on a project, it’s a continuous process, researching the clients existing environment, finding the proper equipment for the upgrade or initial install, scheduling said installation with the client to give minimal impact to the customer’s business, then implementing the project and going through the checklists and troubleshooting that inevitably arise after a major upgrade.  Sometimes these tasks take hours, sometimes they are a phone call, but using a system to track those hours while completing complex tasks was just an annoyance to me.  I’d rather complete the project with as minimal impact on the business as possible, do the job right the first time and get the satisfaction of knowing the job was done as close to perfectly as possible.  Unfortunately, in a body shop, generating hours by rushing things is a requirement, as revenue over quality is the name of the game.

The owner of the company was a very knowledgable man, who did teach me a lot about different facets of IT I’d never worked on before, specifically telecom, but his wife had the personality of a honey badger and was a constant pain in the ass who made everyone who worked there’s life a daily nightmare.  I could only handle six months before I quit.

Coming off a 7 year job with Aethion, a company that besides the aforementioned financial dispute was the best job I’d ever had and having complete autonomy to do “Big IT” the right way, I couldn’t handle working for the equivalent of shady Best Buy techs.

Leaving turned out to be the best decision I ever made, as my next job, which I found literally 6 minutes after quitting, was ultimately the greatest job I had ever had.

I became the Manager of IT Operations for Synarc, a company whose purpose I truly believed in, facilitating the radiological image analysis to support clinical trials of drugs in stage 3 of the clinical research process and working for the most amazing boss I’d ever had, besides Bart of course. I had 4 people under me who each had a team of their own and it was amazing.  I received a ton of training, learned the finer points of business negotiations and enjoyed the perks of being not only the “boss” but also the purchaser of IT equipment for a large international company.

I did amazing things at Synarc, we built best-in-class systems and networks and the perks were amazing.  Unfortunately, politics can be tricky in corporate environments and I wasn’t used to them.  The CEO was a very shady character who took an unhealthy interest in the smoke breaks I was taking with his Executive Assistant (who was my mothers ago, mind you and other than being a well-traveled and amazing lady, I had zero interest in because I was married and committed to my wife, as was she to her husband) and this caused a series of problems.   Eventually the company was sold and we were both on our asses, but my years there were enjoyable and with the exception of a backstabbing neuroscientist who had a very inappropriate interest in a guy I had to fire and the CEO, the teams I lead were composed of amazing people and the man I reported too would go to bat for you (as long as you were right) up to telling the CEO I was the best employ he had ever had.

During all this, my marriage was having its difficulties, which I won’t get into, but needless to say it was decision time as to whether it was going to work out or not.  Her solution was to move back to Fort Smith, mine was to take the 200K offer from an international concierge company that wanted to move us back to the city, subsidize our housing in a town home and enjoy the amazing bonus structure.

We went with her way.  That brings me to the final chapter in this pretty personal biography, Fort Smith.  I will save that one for another day.  Up until this move, I had been an amazing father, an amazing employee and a decent husband.   Things were about to change in the husband department and this last chapter, I am definitely not the hero, but I am honest and I’ve waited a long time to tell my side of this story, without dragging anybody’s name through the mud.   So, hope I you are enjoying my life so far and we will see if you even want to keep reading anymore after the final chapter that brings you up to the present.

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