may, 2005

Thu May 5 16:22:17 PDT 2005

The adrenaline is still pumping, two days later. I'd been lying on my bed, half asleep, the vibrating alarm on my new cell phone set for fifteen minutes from now, and then fifteen minutes again. Done nothing with my day; perhaps not even gotten past the end of the driveway to retrieve the morning paper or the mail (nothing exciting, not even to blog about). Decided I needed to go to Nomad with my computer for some caffeine. Had just gotten everything in the red-orange-yellow Timbuk2 bag I've started carrying around, when my pocket buzzes. I take it out: a 650 area code. No one ever call me from there but ...

Google! It's been five weeks since I started interviewing there, since they found my résumé on and called me out of the blue. Since then, there have been eight interviews (not industry standard, let me tell you), and a bit more waiting than I would have liked. But all was forgiven (or just about) upon receipt of that call. Adrenaline more instantaneous than any coffee started coursing through my veins, and all thoughts of finding awakeness at a café immediately dispersed. I think I managed to maintain a normal tone of voice on the phone, but upon hanging up, shrieked loudly and long and jumped all over the house for about five hours straight.

Today, even, when I thought I've gotten over the initial rush, the FedEx deliveryman comes barging through the gate (uhh ... doorbell?), but is again forgiven when it becomes clear he's bearing the official offer. I tear it open: better than the StreamSage offer that came right before a final exam my senior spring; better, even, than a college acceptance (though Robin Mamlet's call one evening in late April of 1999 was tenterhooksworthy, as she kept me waiting the entire evening before personally admitting me to Swarthmore the next morning) -- better than her handwritten scrawl across the bottom of the official letter that then came. Analogous, in that this will be one of the few times in my life I've gotten something like this based solely on my own merits -- no nepotistic connections to friends whose sisters dated the founders of your company; no insiders you once met at a party even passing your résumé along to people they know. This admission, like that to Swarthmore, is because an independent team deemed I was good enough. My head is still swimming.

I haven't officially accepted yet, and therefore don't know my start date. I hope to do both with the utmost celerity. But! -- hateful unemployment, begone! Sense of purpose in life, reäwaken yourself! (For better or for worse, I'm not exaggerating. Music need maybe not be postponed; but if it is, damn, what better interim plan?)

So, even though I haven't been able to go running in the past sevenish days (having resolved, at the bottom of my purposeless despondency, to do ten miles a week, knowing it makes me happy -- managed to bruise my foot rather deeply while, of all things, hopping around the kitchen Saturday night; the dancing at Nicki's with Cheb I Sabbah on Tuesday night, while awesome and functionally a way-funkier Paces party, for all the Swatties in attendance, can't have helped), I'm on one of the five or six great adrenaline buzzes of my life. Nomad's perfect soy latte and the Scharffen Berger chocolate next to me are probably contributing to that. But -- GOOGLE!

Thu May 12 24:31:55 CDT 2005

Before I leave the apartment yesterday to meet my mom and her grad-school friend Jeanne at the library for lunch, the former calls to warn me that it's cold out. I've, of course, packed for the seventy-degree weather that had been forecast for this week in Chicago -- the same as in Berkeley, I'd reflected ironically. I rifle through the sweaters in her closet, finally hitting upon something not bright green and not a sweatshirt.

At the Regenstein (past the foyer of which I can't enter, not having a U-Chicago ID), Mom says, "oh," half-smiling when she realizes what I'm wearing. It had clearly been knit for my grandmother in her twice-my-girth phase. Nonetheless, it's at least partially wool, and kept the chill out as I hopped around campus that afternoon, laptop in tow, finding wifi and shared iTunes libraries in student-run coffee spots.

That night, on the sidewalk after pool at Lucky Strike, the wind whipped the hem of my jeans around my ankles, whistling straight through my grandma's sweater. I stayed warm nonetheless. Commented that this is the weather I love: the lawn outside my mother's faculty-housing apartment building smelling of cold grass; the tulip blossoms unexpectedly prolonged from a blackberry-winter cold snap. Even the previous day had been welcome: suddenly in the high eighties, people were out promenading along Chicago's Grand Jatte, Lake Michigan. In a t-shirt, I went from French coffee to vegan dinner to Belgian beer with Josh (one of several filed under "Chicago" in my mental rolodex), relishing the warm evening, the likes of which I have not yet seen in Berkeley. (Will I survive sixty-five and sunny for months on interminable end?)

It's good to be out of my newly-adopted weird western state, and not only for a climate change. Mom graciously offered to fly me out two weeks ago, and though it's meant that the start date on the exciting new job is postponed until this coming Monday, it's been nice to leave Berkeley for the first time since arriving. Ah, yes: perspective. Wine and avocados with Mom; rum and crosswords with talks-faster-than-I-do Jeanne; beer and exploration with Josh and Charlie. Much as I love my two-month-old living situation -- and it is objectively ideal, as Josh pointed out as I regaled him with the details of the produce, the weather, and my stumbled-into;-landed-on-my-feet job -- change is always good. (And Bagels Forever poppyseed bagels just sweeten the deal.) Monday, a new job; until tomorrow, needed vacation.

Fri May 13 15:08:41 CDT 2005

Damn, I've been snookered again. Seeing a small café in Midway (forty-five minutes crosstown in my mom's old stick-shift, which I, as her erstwhile pupil, am required to think I drive better than she), and having dismissed it initially on the basis of its pseudofrankish bent ("Let The Eat Cake," it flourishes), I do a double-take: specimens of the elusive demitasse species, complete with saucers, lined up atop the weapons-grade double espresso machine. I enter. It's right next to my gate; security was painless; I've never been a fan of rushing in airports.

I feel a little displaced ordering an espresso "for here" in a place where no one is anywhere for long. The girl accepts my $1.75 and puts a small tin ewer under the portafilter, pressing one button and disappearing into the back room while the coffee, on a timer, finishes its drip.

Just to make sure, as she reappears and goes for the robo-barista, I ask, "Can I have that in a ceramic cup?" She looks at me blankly. "One of those," I point. "Oh," says she, "they're just for decoration." My turn to look blank. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me anymore that the point of this ritual, for the vast majority of Americans, seems to be the chemical contained therein, and not the heft of the small porcelain cup in one's palm -- and yet, every time someone offers me espresso in anything but its proper vessel, I balk and blink.

This, precisely, is one of the hazards of domestic travel: never knowing where to find a good cup of coffee, let alone a soy latte or well-crema'd espresso. At home (wherever that may be), I seek out sure bets and place a disproportionate amount of my daily happiness on their following through. And I'm sure these places exist in spades in Chicago -- The Bourgeois Pig in Lincoln Park on Tuesday had all the trappings of measuring up, as did Filter in Wicker Park last night. (In neither place did I try the espresso, however, being at the time more beholden to social utility than to my quest for caffeinated Nirvana. A house specialty and a cup of jasmine tea, respectively, sufficed.) It's merely that, not having had time to populate my mental map with joints that make me happy, I must go with whatever will appease an underfed and overwalked museuming mother the fastest.

I've encountered this all week. At Così (ashamed as I am to admit my having frequented it, where would you have gone on Michigan Ave before the symphony?), I should know better. The waiter brings out an eight-ounce latte cup, and I have to sit up to see the drop of black coffee at the bottom. I think I actually laughed in his face. "We don't have any espresso cups," he offered as explanation. (In life? Or just no clean ones?)

Yesterday, returning to the downtown Marshall Fields to stretch my new-yet-painful shoes (that I should have been bitten by something cute and strappy is a source of great embarrassment!), I dragged Mom up to the seventh-floor café only to find it closed, and then down through the Eden of Calphalons, All-Clads, and Le Creusets in the basement before settling on an in-house Starbucks (desperate times, people, desperate times). Even accepting that I'd be given no choice but paper, I asked for my Nomad-perfect soy latte, only to be handed something sweet and charged 150% of what its Platonic ideal would have cost out West. I made the girl show me the soy milk she'd used: vanilla.

Only Cedars this week got it right. We almost didn't go, Mom allowing as how the Hyde Park, Lebanese restaurant catered all her department's events. The tabbouleh was over-lemoned, and contained pickles; the baba ghanouj under-garlicked. But the Turkish coffee at the end of the meal forgave it all. Mom got one, asked for it of middling sweetness. I didn't, recalling the thick sludge at the bottom of half the cups I braved in Cairo -- that is, didn't, until Mom's arrived in a demitasse of diner-standard white, pleasantly sweet and cardamomed. She'd finished hers before mine even arrived, which I then lapped up with the same alacrity.

The girl behind the counter of this fake French joint is still reïterating "they're only for decoration." My polite appeal hasn't helped. I resign myself to a paper cup -- at least they're the correct size! -- and, taking it to a standing table à l'italien, break out the remainder of my 70%-cacao Scharffen Berger. Life may not be complete, but at least my cup is under two ounces.

Tue May 24 22:31:30 PDT 2005

Mental space to type, finally. A whirlwind of late -- well, isn't that what I was looking for? Answer: a resounding yes, reverberating off the walls of the Google campus down in Mountain View, to which I rode this morning on a shuttle with wireless, typing happily away on my new 15" Powerbook (no, not my-my, seeing as my iBook is new as of February, but one of the toys they threw at me, along with two 20" LCDs); at which I sat happily on the grass after lunch, doing half of the Tuesday crossword (one of the Dave W.'s helped me finish afterwards) and eating a peach; at which I now work.

I have what is quite possibly the sexiest email address in the world (see if you can't guess it), worth its digital weight in gold. Slowly getting my Linux box there set up with scrollbarless rxvt terminals in FVWM, making friends with webmail clients (unconvinced) and Firefox (I'd be more convinced if I could have right-handed tabs, and if the TabMix extension didn't break on my Mac laptops) -- not to mention the team, and the company, itself.

Friendly people abounding -- at Friday's goodbye-to-the-chef party, drinking beer, they came up and read the sign hanging around my neck: my degree; my school; my irrational obsession with orange (and me with the only orange sign! They said their printer crapped out; I think they did it on purpose), and said hello, introduced themselves.

Another example of inherently Googly friendliness last Thursday, or national Bike To Work Day, when a group, led by Commuter-Of-The-Year Joe, pedalled from 24th & Mission in the city (San Francisco, that is) down to work -- all 40ish miles of it. I didn't die, though I wasn't exactly prepared for it, on Gina's mountain bike, therefore getting zero momentum even once we got out of the rainy Mission hills. And, declaring a no-rider-left-behind policy, the Googlers gave me extra Clif bars when I scarfed two in under two minutes and emerged still hungry; when I didn't even bother to stand up to gain momentum because I knew inertia, somehow, just wouldn't apply; and when I finally rode into the parking lot, to be met with a Google tire patch kit, and a cheering Aparna, she of the shuttle and All Things Transportation.

My corner of the fridge at home languishes. No reason to buy food -- I get my fill of organic, amazing meals for free at work (and who said there's no such thing as a free lunch?). Even the dates for Sunday's photographed carrot cake came from a plate of sweet fruit in the cafeteria. Saturday, back at the Berkeley Bowl for the first time since Chicago, I stocked up on avocados, the one thing they don't provide me with in the South Bay (and it's probably a good thing -- there are some things, after all, that need to be kept scarce, and therefore sacred (unlike the baba ghanough!)).

Much to do; much to learn. Many cool people to meet and with whom to partake of the free lunch. I'd been saying before I started at Google that one of the main reasons I wanted to come there (in addition to locker rooms with towels, in which you could shower off post-40-mile-bike-ride) was, like to Swarthmore, the people I hoped I'd find: intelligent and interesting, all rallied around a similar purpose, but taking vastly different approaches to their task. And for now, in the sake of brevity, I have to say that I think I've found it.

Thu May 26 19:56:50 PDT 2005

It honestly feels like another world, this here California. Taking a Googler up on a ride back to the East Bay in his convertible today -- he'd driven in due to morning shuttle problems; was now looking for a slug to enable him to use the carpool lane going back -- with the hills rolling by, my hair down and blowing in the wind up the highway, sun on my face, I can't help but think this isn't another country, at the very least. He'd grown up around Fremont; gone to college just over the Berkeley hills -- a lifer, as I've started to call these cradle-to-grave Californians. So many of them here, born into the sun, and with no reason to leave. Erick on my team, the same: he's around my age, yet has yet to move more than twenty miles from home.

And it's obvious why they stay, why they joke about seceding from the Union. It took such a leap of faith for me to get out here -- months of Emily's persuading and Colin's glorious regalings of the area's beauty; quitting my job; stepping into the next world over on a wing and a prayer -- that I can see the inertia of the rest of the country staying put, and not flocking out here in droves, as if there were still gold in them there hills, nouveau-forty-niners.

Which is not to say that they should, or that this is paradise. But its allure! We drive northwest, through Fremont, towards the end of the BART line at Pleasanton. My Mountain-View, post-Google-interview, huge-lesned sunglasses raccoon my eyes. My hair whips around my ears (I've taken it down from the earlier day's two knobs, as one must in a sleek, silver convertible). The sun glows off the hills to the east. Despite the combating sensations of an unhappy 3-PM soy latte (my first attempt with the hardcore, Googly espresso machines) and the two beers, fodder from an abutting department's picnic, in my stomach, I feel deeply contented. Who cares if it means an hour's BART ride home? The conversation amiable; the mood spontaneous; the scenery aglow. Mmmmm ... I could stay here for a while.

(And, just for a moment, he turned his head in my direction -- perhaps to say something then thought better of, or a cough -- his right shoulder shrugged, the left arm out (probably just adjusting the steering). Though there was nothing in it, my unsuspecting brain parsed it as a familiar tic of one who has driven me many places in this past year, and a small stab of remembrance lanced through the perfect sunset on the hills. I must have frozen in the patter of smalltalk for a moment, recalling something I'd once heard: first, we love someone despite their foibles; then, we love them for them ...)

all this ©nori heikkinen, May 2005

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