Category Archives: plain talk

The warmup

Signs of an aging runner…

runnerdemographics

Doris drove the oversized van —  a rehabbed ambulance — into the lot designated for runners taking four parking spaces while Lois tended to other matters.  Outside, runners no older than 40 congregated, wearing singlets and shorts in 45-degree weather, not growing goosebumps, waiting for the half marathon to start. Inside the van, the temperature a balmy 78.

Sporting an age category far right of the runners bell curve, Lois and Doris broke a sweat with two layers of pants and a full contingent of long sleeve shirts, Goretex vest, and a winter jacket.  Behind the driver’s seat a long hallway  – presumed once used for stretchers – flanked a private bathroom, a closet with two fold out chairs, a coffee station and a large sofa covered with knee braces, ankle supports, bandages and four pairs of running shoes.
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The Code

25870657461_8490430f96_zAs their AmTrak train arrived in New York City, the screeching sounds of brakes grinding to a stop gave way to a sense that something special was about to unfold.  Doris and Lois, dragged their carefully packed bags, backpacks actually, that were only easy to carry during the departure from Baltimore.  Somehow, during the train ride these bags transformed into cement blocks, becoming heavier and wider, and any plans to walk the distance from mid-town to Battery Park seemed less likely.  It was New York City at 9AM and the hum of the city, the tall buildings that on some blocks shut down the sky, had that unique smell of humanity that the shop owners did their best to hose back onto the streets, for a city that claimed to never sleep.

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Fighting words

swimpoolIt was A.J.’s own voice that taunted her while watching Kato swim effortless laps in the pool.  How could she plan to live on a sailboat, so terrified of the water?  Sure it would be fine to swim fearless the way Kato does with his head dipped low in the water, barely coming up for air, or so it seemed.  His arms moved in perfect cadence, with each stroke timed like a metronome. Even the way he kicked those small splashes propelling him great distances across the surface didn’t seem to tire him one bit, and the water barely rippled from behind.  The other swimmers in their individual lanes, kicking and splashing, some with too much effort creating miniature tsunamis, at least they looked that way to her, and not one swimmer seeming to care that the pool water raged like rapids.

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10s

20160220_182930_24789297109_oThe nearest concrete wall was three miles away which wasn’t far by my standards.  It was 1969 and mom didn’t like the idea that I would ride my bicycle to the wall at the local university to hit tennis balls probably because I was ten years old and a girl, and too independent for my own good as she would say, so she insisted that I take the back roads and avoid the busy parkway.

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1965

20160220_134041_24856825380_oThe milkman arrived at 6:45 am every tuesday and friday for a new delivery. He brought the usual milk and cream and there were other items to choose that included chocolate milk, eggs and orange juice.  Mom would greet mister milkman as we called him, wearing her pink robe, and slippers, and her grey matted hair was just as it were when she woke. Primming and pruning could be done after the family was on their way – dad off to work, and my brother and I off to school.  Her pink robe, worn and tattered, should have been tossed, but there was nothing wrong with it as far as she was concerned.  Mom would discover by accident a hole she hadn’t noticed and then find fabric for a patch with a color that was close but never exact sew it back together and was good enough to continue to wear for another 30 years, just as she did.   Mister milkman didn’t seem to notice the holes or the tattered patched robe, and in the rare case where mom had overslept, he would leave the ‘usual’ order and she could pay him the next week for six bottles of milk, if you please with a half gallon of orange juice along with those dozen eggs.  On special occasions there would be an order for chocolate milk in a bottle half the size, and so rare we couldn’t wait to have a taste on sunday afternoons, after church and good behavior.  Good behavior didn’t happen very often.

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Juan

messy_kitchencontinued from Lydia’s Pie…

Lydia’s first look at the pie kitchen inside the Piled High Diner shocked the air out of her lungs so fast she felt her lips backfire.  A kitchen with a blur of unsuitable utensils begged her to make sense of irregularly sized pie pans, aluminum foil tins – unworthy stock in any kitchen – broken spatulas, and plastic bowls – none of which fit the outdated mixers.  Sure, there were pie tins to choose from if she didn’t mind erratic diameters and heights.  Staring through a stash of bake-ware, not one brand name stepped forward.

Turning toward the pantry she swung open the doors to an afterlife of generic foods, the 2 for $5 peanut butters not even smooth but crunchy, slabs of lard definitely not dairy, chocolate nibs missing their cacao, and key lime from a bottle.  Struggling for air, she felt her chest fill with concrete.  How could she bake 100 pies with substandard tools and ingredients?  How could she keep her promise to Maggie?

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Lydia’s Pie

Chocolate Cream Pie
Chocolate Cream Pie

By the time Lydia arrived at the Piled High Diner in Arlington Texas, she had driven 1800 miles, consumed her road stash of pretzels and chips and was ready for a meal.  She stepped out of her car, her home for the last 48 hours, rumpled her matted locks into big hair and walked inside. The jukebox played ‘Crazy’ and the half dozen patrons – all cowboys – gave 27 year old Lydia an approving nod as she sat down at an empty booth.

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Bamboozled – Politics in DC

My fiance and I left Brooklyn New York in September, 1991 with $200 to our names. We were broke, and needed a fresh start, a new location and better employment prospects. We moved in with family in the metro Washington DC area, and spent the next 3 months saving our pennies.

I was still employed (remotely) as a software engineer by my employer in Long Island City, NY – and was hoping to keep this job long enough to afford the first month rent of our new apartment. Luckily, I landed a gig in DC. It was not easy breaking into the metro DC job scene. My software experience was in manufacturing and finance….and the DC technology market is all about government and lobbyists. I felt a strange southern vibe. Head hunters referred to me as a “Yankee”. Was it that obvious I had never lived below the Mason-Dixon line? Should we have stayed in New York? Did we relocate into the Confederate south?

A small IT company located in Prince Georges County called to arrange an interview. I jumped at the chance, and practiced putting a lid on my “yankee”. I met with the President. He was creepy. He was more interested in my appearance than my work skills. My inner voice screamed “walk away”. But, I didn’t listen. I needed work.

I was assigned to a downtown DC work site as a “contractor”, and write application software for District of Columbia Department of Public Works. I had a lot to learn about being a government “contractor”. In a nutshell, being a contractor, is the best way for area technology businesses to over bill the government for services they may or may not need. Here is their recipe. Private companies will place a body in front of a government desk, bill up to 3 times what they pay you, and keep you in that position for as long as the money train keeps running. It doesn’t matter if you solve any technology problems, or meet project expectations….it is all about billable hours. It was “day 1” on the job – and I was already learning many things.

I sat in a empty 8′ x 8′ cubicle, with no computer or phone. Generally, a computer is handy when you are tasked to write software. Not here. My on-site supervisor gave me software manuals to read. Yes, manuals. Nobody reads software manuals, but I obliged – since I needed to pass the time of day. I read through the software technical manuals in the first hour. I spent the rest of my 8 hour assignment daydreaming about how I could never be a government contractor. My next job would surely be more rewarding than day 1 in the District Government.

By noon, I had absorbed a great deal about my new surroundings. In the cubicle next to me, one of the District employees was a crack addict. His dealers showed up twice with some bling. My on site supervisor (a government employee) informed me that she had forgotten her underpants. I wasn’t sure what I had done to encourage this feedback, but decided that maybe I should go back and re-read those software manuals to appear busy. I buried my head in the sand of software manuals, and experienced one of the longest days of my life. I was bored to tears. Surely there must be more meaningful work for me in the DC area. I vowed to find another job by the end of the month.

Table of Contents

The first 30 days
Snow is a 4 letter word
Getting Paid
Women in charge – the Sharon Pratt Kelley era
Discovered
Making a Difference
The Barry Resurrection & Congress installs the Financial Control Board
Business is Business
The Blizzard of ’96
The Queen of IT arrives with the Money Train
The IT Greed Explosion
New Call Center sets the District back in time
Let the Politics Begin
Anthony Williams & the era of out sourcing
Hey, where did my server go? Software without a hard drive
Work Order sobriety check
How the Vendors run the show
Taking back the reins – kind of
Lie, cheat and steal
Gotcha!
Big brother is watching
Time to replace the working watch keeper
The sad state of greasy palm software