Dollars & Disasters ~
So began my chase for dollars working as a professional. Not entirely just for money, but enough to make most of the first two thirds of my professional career a waste of time. I returned to Sayre when I could on vacation to visit the Williams family. They always welcomed me into their homes and treated me like family. Winston died. I couldn't go to his funeral and honestly didn't want to. I never liked going to funerals. But I kept visiting Betty, Ricky and Gary as much as possible as life went on and free time allowed. Then Gary called me shortly after I started working for my first really large corporation and asked if I would be pallbearer at his mother's funeral. I agreed. After the funeral, Gary, Ricky and I gathered with a few friends at their house and we played music together and talked of fond memories spending time carousing about as wild, reckless young men, marveling at our luck to still be alive and the unlimited patience of our parents and grandparents.
Several toxic megacorporations, one failed dot-com B2B startup company and one totally dysfunctional government agency later it finally became obvious something was not right in my life and the pursuit of happiness through money mongering became too much to bear any longer. I stopped caring about money again, as I had in my youth, and began focusing instead on finding work with deeper meaning which would be enjoyable rather than cumbersome and pointless. To do this I decided I would have to start my own little creative services company and began designing its brand and building its infrastructure from scratch. No loans. No big financial backers. No partners. Just accumulated knowledge, skills and savings, and the meager tools and assets I already had or could afford to buy to start up.
I purchased better computers, filed with the state department of tax and revenue as a single-proprietor limited liability corporation, moved to remote, high-country wilderness land purchased eight years earlier, built a new website and began the long, lean journey to make a difference helping others striving to improve the world through their own good works by thinking up and doing creative works at a price they could easily afford. I didn't want to get rich. I just wanted to survive and be happy.
The year I began establishing my company, Gary, his wife Betty and their youngest son Cade invited me to go hot-air ballooning with them over and down into the Rio Grande Gorge just west of Taos. It was good to hang out with them again and the balloon ride was outstanding, providing an exciting, if a little rough, takeoff at sunrise on the edge of the gorge, a smooth and inspiring flight over and down into it where the pilot skillfully landed on a flat rock in the middle of the river, then lifted off and briefly dipped the basket into the flowing waters of the Rio Grande for several seconds before ascending again to sail downstream several miles. We all talked, giggled nervously and laughed out loud in exaltation like children throughout the entire flight until landing again on the east rim of the gorge. We enjoyed an after-flight party at the rest stop next to the gorge bridge and the next day we rafted down the Rio Grande together.
I managed to capture much of those two days on the brand new company digital camera and after Gary and family left to return to their home in Sayre, I began putting all of the best photos and video footage together into a short film to save some of the essence of the adventures to send to them. It was my first attempt at video editing and I loved doing it. More than that, though, I loved sending a copy of it on DVD to Gary for them to enjoy. It was nowhere nearly as superb as their gift of the flight and float down the Rio Grande in their company. As always, the Williams family had enriched my life considerably once again. I didn't speak of Jimmy while we were together but thought about him a lot, wondering where he was and hoping he had found happiness too.
Beans & Fatback, Rabbits & Such~
While casting lines for prospective clients, I learned to use new tools to write new software and apps for the new-fangled smartphones hitting the market and soon experienced deep satisfaction in that learning. I convinced a few clients I could help them achieve their goals without breaking their budgets and provided quality product and services. They liked my work and some talked of having me do more for them. Startup was beginning to happen and I was having a ball. I even enjoyed sending my first Gross Receipts payment to tax & revenue even though it was expensive in terms of my meager cashflow.
Then the banksters and automakers announced they were in trouble and so began the great recession. President Bush announced many of them were too big to fail and that taxpayers, the very customers they had all been preying upon for decades, would bail them out. My client base immediately dried up as fear and resentment gripped the nation and unemployment skyrocketed. I resolved to survive it, though, and began budgeting the last of my cash strictly, even going so far as to eat mostly beans and fatback, trapping and hunting small game like rabbits and squirrels, and foraging for nutritious wild plants just as my ancestors had when they first ventured to America or were already doing so as members of aboriginal tribes they belonged to before their way of life was decimated by foreign invaders. I stopped watching television. It was expensive to keep up a satellite dish subscription and all of the news about the failing economy was depressing as hell. Stories of stimulus funding for this and that angered me too as I knew none of that stimulus money was headed my way.
I shrank considerably thinner and grew much stronger eating leaner and working outside harder than I ever had before in my life. After dark and during long winter blizzards and spring thunderstorms, I studied my ass off to learn about every current and emerging computer hardware and software technology I could. The trusty iMac and iPad were still working great (the Windows 7 PC had long ago crapped out on me without warning) so I downloaded and installed every technical ebook, ibook, opensource IDE and JDK I could and began learning how to use them effectively. Apple announced release of their new Swift programming language and updates to XCode for it. I installed and started learning that too. System and process virtualization technologies were taking hold in the cloud and HTML 5 was released at last, so I rebuilt my company website leveraging that and CSS 3 to make it more modern and visually engaging, loading it up with examples of my work for clients to easily peruse at their convenience. Doing all of that kept my mind from dwelling on the stark lack of business opportunities and I actually enjoyed having so much free time for exploring all the great new stuff out there to learn and apply to my work, if I ever got any again. Or, at least to help me land a job working in a city, as an employee, wrapped in toxic environments, taking orders from clueless managers trying to maintain appearances of competency so their fat salaries were not cut, nor mine.
But with help from family and a short, lively year providing telephone technical support for the newest Apple mobile devices (iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad) as the recession finally began to subside, I survived without damaging my health, mentally or physically. When I quit working as an Apple mobile product support tech, I purchased a new iMac, an iPod Touch, and an iPad 2 (having learned how superior they were compared to the sorry line of junky WINTEL offerings) and set out again to make my little company a success or bust. But prospective clients were still not willing to spend precious cash on creative services in my region, no matter how well I did to convince them I could do the work well and cheaply.
In September, 2013, news of two submerged cars found in Foss Lake hit the news media circuits. One of the cars was apparently Jimmy's Camaro. There were remains of three bodies in each car. Gary called to let me know about it. They were under siege, mobbed by news reporters. I was still trying to process it all, and all I could think of to say was that I was glad they had been found. Gary sounded stressed so I didn't try to hold him on the phone and left it at that.
By spring 2015 I was once again in dire straits and about ready to admit defeat, return to the city and work as an employee until I could retire three years later.Before
I had stopped communicating with the Williams family and other friends for several years out of shame. I had failed again. I began rationing food and discontinued my satellite internet and cellphone service, bought a prepaid cellphone and as much call time as I could swing and began going to the local library to hunt for jobs using their free wifi internet connection. This went on for a couple of weeks until I noticed a hand-made ad sheet with those little pull-tabs at the bottom tacked to the bulletin board in the library entry way announcing employment opportunities at a local ranch called Collins Lake Ranch. I ripped a tab from the ad sheet, went into the library and Googled "Collins Lake Ranch". A website popped right up which had been thoroughly hacked by spammers. A spark of hope ignited and slowly started to kindle in my brain as I began digging into the site to try to determine what I might be able to do to fix it. If I could do that, it might be enough to convince the folks at that ranch I was good enough to hire. It was my last chance.
I emailed the contact address still visible on the website and immediately received an out-of-office auto response informing me the executive director would not be available for a couple of weeks. Great. Okay, no problem. I just keep studying and digging into their website and be prepared to offer them some tangible solutions during the interview. I decided I had enough food and fuel to do it if I scrimped like mad and kept my cool. I didn't want them to know how desperate I was.
Jimmy Comes Home At Last ~
Just under a year before all of this was happening, in October, 2014, DNA tests had confirmed identities of the remains of the three teenagers found in Jimmy's car submerged in Foss Lake. In mid November, 2014, Gary sent me news of his funeral and a link to commemorative video transferred from Super 8 home movie film shot in the 1960s at their house of a celebration of one of Jimmy's birthday parties. I was hiking up to the Pecos with a friend on a Saturday when my phone beeped upon receiving the email.
We sat down together just below the rim of Gascon Point, I hot-spotted my iPod to my phone since it had a better screen than my cheap little phone, and we watched the video. Adria patiently let me cry silently over it as I watched it several times, running the iPod battery down to zero. I replied to Gary's email before the phone battery was depleted too, thanking him for sharing. Adria and I looked at each other for a long, silent moment then looked up toward the rim and began hiking again, topping it just after 2:00 PM.
We had planned on hiking around in the Pecos as long as our food and stamina held out but as we came over the rim we looked toward Santa Barbara Peak and gasped in shock. Just beyond Truchas Peak a heavy storm front was bearing down on us from the northwest, dark and menacing. The scent of snow was in the wind. We could see we wouldn't be hiking into the Pecos Wilderness that fall, so we turned tail and scrambled back down to the house as fast as we safely could, arriving just as it was getting dark. Exhausted from the fast hike back we munched on some trailmix with hot tea, then we each took a turn for a long soak in the old claw-foot tub filled with nice hot water and bubble bath. Adria listened to me yammer on telling stories from childhood about hanging out with the Williams family so long ago.
We slept hard throughout the night (a rare thing for me) and woke shortly before the snow began to fall, just after sunrise. As I got a fire going, I warned Adria she could get snowed in if she stayed but she was welcome to stay as long as she wanted to. We had plenty of food for both of us to last several days comfortably. She said she loved being with me but would have to leave to take care of her own property if it snowed much up there too. Weather forecasts were predicting more than a foot of snow in Rociada. It ended up snowing 20 inches at the house here after she left for the drive home to Colorado Springs. She made it home safely. I sat in the deep silence only deep snow can induce and thought about Jimmy and his family, plucking at my guitar, listlessly playing bits of Cat Stevens' Father and Son, one of Gary's favorites.
It's not time to make a change
Just sit down, take it slowly
You're still young, that's your fault
There's so much you have to go through…
Desperation & Diligence ~
A reply from Collins Lake Ranch came about a week after I emailed interest in working there and I was invited to the ranch for an interview. Oh boy. Here we go!
Doubting I had made the correct turn onto an unpaved road leading to the ranch, I arrived late to the interview after driving deep into forest in the wrong direction. Good grief. But the executive director was a laid back young man who reminded me of Duffy Wilson and immediately understood, even commenting on how he too sometimes doubted himself. Glen and I sat down in rocking chairs under the shade of the front porch of the main building and he began describing what Collins Lake Ranch was about, its mission, its immediate and long term goals, its current situation. I was frankly flabbergasted by what he told me. Collins Lake Ranch was a nonprofit organization established to provide high-quality residential services for autistic adults wishing to live in a rural environment. I looked around, astounded at what I was seeing and hearing. He then took me on a tour of the ranch and its facilities. It was amazingly beautiful and well thought out. The main activities and administration building, the houses for residents, the garden which was already lush and blooming, the barn with chickens and a turkey, alpaca roaming around calmly nibbling at grass. Questions began rapidly queuing up at the back of my throat. I had to struggle to keep them from gushing out in a torrent.
Glen pulled no punches and did not sugar coat anything. I listened closely and spoke carefully and infrequently, mainly to assure him I was understanding all he was telling me. When the tour was over and we sat down in his office, he paused, waiting for me to say something. So I told him point blank I had visited the ranch website and noticed it had been hacked. He began nodding and smiling. I went on to say I was sure I could repair the site and would volunteer to do that work at no charge so he could assess the quality of my work before spending anything for services. He kept nodding and smiling and agreed to the deal, telling me they also needed help with a few problems affecting their wireless network, computers and printer. I agreed to work on those problems at no charge as well. And so began two months of concerted effort to prove my worth.
As I worked through those tasks and became acquainted with everyone at the ranch, I learned more details about their mission and watched them all in action vigorously pursuing their goals. Everyone's passion and dedication is more impressive than any I have witnessed in my life. I wanted so much to become a part of their mission. Fervently (by no exaggeration here) hoping they might decide to hire me as their IT guy, I spent more time than I had expected I would healing their website and straightening out their network and computer problems, as well as shooting huge amounts of photos and video of the facilities, surrounding scenery and activities going on around the ranch, including daily staff work and resident interactions, with the intent of enhancing their website with informative photo galleries and videos graphically describing their operations as realistically as possible. By the end of summer their website was healthy again and enhanced with new content created from captured photos and video, and their network, printer and computers were humming along nicely. I was feeling pretty good about the end results and having a ball watching how it had improved ranch operations.
Glen asked me to meet with him early one morning as fall began to set in. We sat on the front porch amidst light breezes carrying subtle fragrances of approaching fall and he succinctly offered to contract me to do IT work at the ranch. A wave of relief and gratitude coursed through every atom of my being and I struggled mightily to remain calm, cool and collected, resisting the urge to break down crying like a big baby right there in front of him. We agreed upon a rate for part time work taking care of everything IT at the ranch, an amount much less than the predatory rates being charged by other IT service providers in the state, but plenty for me to survive on, which was all I wanted. We shook on it the old fashioned way when people trusted each other implicitly and then both went back to our work.
So here I am, still, thanks to their trust and acceptance in me. A trust and acceptance as complete as my own family's, and as that of the Williams family. They've even recommended me to other nonprofits in the area which has led to more paying work. And as retirement age draws near, I'm eager to begin work on personal projects but will be striving to help them find a trustworthy, reliable, capable replacement who can take over before I no longer can do the work. There are two bright minds I have in mind and they know who they are. I know they can learn to do the work as they wrap up their pre-college schooling and will easily be able to handle it after they start going to university without negatively affecting their advanced education endeavors.
I'm ready to show them the ropes when they're ready to begin learning and after they take over, I have no doubt they will dream, imagine, experiment, innovate and create better IT and creative solutions for the ranch than I can ever come up with.