Your Darkest Hour, Part II: Salvation

When I said that all I wanted to do for the winter of 2003-2004 was work as a ski town bum, I wasn’t being completely forthright.

As Hood River emptied out that fateful fall and all my surf bum friends left town, my life got real slow, real fast. I had a lot of time to ponder, I had just finished reading Zeldman’s Designing With Web Standards and Eric Meyer on CSS, and my experience tuning up the website at our windsurfing shop gave me the confidence that hey, I could probably do this web design thing professionally.

I looked up Portland design agencies. I lived on I researched every single outdoor sports company that interested me, and got into contact with them. By the time all was said and done, I had sent off more than a dozen resumes and cover letters to companies all over the west coast. Given my diverse experience and proven coding skills, I was confident that something would come up.

Nothing came up. All I got for my efforts was a friendly rejection card from Outside Magazine. I still have that card, and I still have my subscription to Outside, even though I’m not part of the Rolex-laden jet-setting adventurer demographic. From the other companies, though? Nothing. Not a peep. Not even an acknowledgment of receipt. Later I learned that this was the game, that perhaps I had an order of magnitude more work to go if I actually wanted to hear a response for someone.

So that didn’t work. Indeed, my life is full of these false starts, where I’m sure that this bearing, this here bearing that I’m holding right now, will take me to land. Many times it doesn’t happen, and I get turned and spun around and forget where I am, and drift lost and listless before bumping into something.

It was only after my brief interlude with this unbroken circle of rejection that I hatched the hair-brained scheme of working at a ski resort. And then it happened. And then I suddenly was employed by a ski resort, subsisting on hot cider and “40% off” fries, but not really working for a ski resort.

Landscaping. Despair. Another downward spiral. A picture of me clutching a McDonald’s apron in my tiny little fist.

I continued combing the Bend Bulletin’s online classifieds, and then without warning something came up. There was an opening for a web support specialist at a software company in Bend, that specialized in website management and targeted email marketing. I visited their website, which turned out to be a horrid face-stabbing mess, but by this point I had already fallen so far that I had no standards left. This company was obviously a spam house, and I was determined to become their new spamming telemarketer.

With these expectations I began filling out their online application form. It started out fine, requesting the usual personal information and job histories, but quickly descended into a carnival of the grotesque. After every submit button I was greeted by a new page filled by a fresh set of forms. This gauntlet of pain was made all the worse by the fact that whatever awful code they were using for their application process, it had disabled the delete key in my web browser.

After thirty minutes of agony, with no indication of how long I had left, I became increasingly snarky. I called them out on the delete key. I insulted their development team. I swore a lot. And damn if after all this they didn’t want me to explain, in detail, “How to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” I refused, I fucking refused, and instead told them how to supercool a can of Guinness. In all seriousness, this is what I pasted into my job application:

Say you want to spend your evening with a few cans of Guinness, because you live in the States and the only way you can get semi-decent Guinness is from a can. Have you ever been discouraged by the requirement that you must chill a can of Guinness three hours before cracking it open? Of course you have. Here’s a bad way to supercool your pint of Guinness, so you can enjoy it in less than an hour.

First live somewhere cold, have it be winter and have snow on the ground. Make sure you are really tired after a hard day at work, and fairly delirious. While still in your house take off your shoes and socks because you’re sick of wearing your shoes all day. Roll up your pants so you don’t get them crusted with snow. Grab a paper grocery bag and some mittens and head outside.

Be sure you have an old tin can of corn to prop the door open, so it doesn’t lock behind you and you need to walk around the entire building, though snow drifts, in your bare feet. Be sure you know how to use the tin can. Go outside, try repeatedly to prop door open, and flee back indoors every time your bare feet get too cold on the ice. When you finally have the door figured out, kneel down and fill the grocery bag with snow. Scamper back inside and dump the snow in your sink. Open Guinness four-pack and dump in snow. Fill sink with water, and turn snow into a superconductive slush.

Sit back and smile. You are a genius.

I expected nothing back, figuring I had put them in their place.

As it turns out, however, the company wasn’t a spam house at all. They were a small seven-person software shop that built web-based content management systems, and offered website development and hosting to regional businesses. They spent all their time working on building websites for paying customers, and ironically invested nothing in their own web presence. Despite their lousy web-facing appearance the company was legitimate, and I got an interview partially because I called them out on the delete key. My complaints had settled an age-old argument in the business, that fixing their delete bug in Opera was a waste of time because no one actually used Opera.

Once I learned about their business I was stoked. Seriously, working for a software startup? Unlimited snacks and soda? I didn’t care if I would be doing phone support for pissed-off customers, this was everything I wanted! Web design! Crazy, creative people! Small company! No hierarchy, no bureaucracy, no bullshit!

They offered me the job.

I was conflicted, though. This was everything I wanted, yes, but this was everything I wanted two months ago. I wanted to work for a web design shop in September, back during my resume bonanza, but now I wanted to be a snowboard bum and live on the mountain. The job was 40 hours a week, and they didn’t want to budge on that. They wanted commitment. The mountain was zero days a week right now, but would become seven days a week over the holidays. Right when the web company wanted to hire me on.

In a matter of days I went from nothing to nobody, to everything for everybody. I accepted the position, worked the holiday season at the mountain, and in early January started my job as a full-time web support specialist. It was bliss. In a matter of months I would find myself working as a full-time web designer, and soon I would be their marketing director.

But first, I needed to break my leg.

End Part II. Review Part I or read Part III.