Mon Jul 28 12:50:50 CDT 2003
Back on the Road -- Newton, IA

So, it's been a long time since I had an opportunity to update, and a lot has happened. I'll try to keep it interesting.

Our two days in Indiana were rather uneventful. We intended to take three days, since our due date for arrival in Chicago was three days off, but even by doing our best to go slow and taking looong lunch breaks, we couldn't slow down that much. One day we wound up doing 77 miles in spite of ourselves. We were aiming for 60. Emily and I camped our last night together in the suburbs south of Chicago. We got a recommendation for a good Thai restaurant from this wonderful woman Kristen (Hi Kristen!) who had a lot of her own bike adventures under her belt, as well as some caving expeditions that sounded exciting enough to make me want to start caving myself.

We had a terrific dinner, and decided to catch a movie since the restaurant was in the mall anyhow. We found a patch of woods across the street and stashed our bikes, then came back and bought the hugest tub of popcorn they had, plus a big soda. We saw "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen." It was good, but not amazing. The cinematography was terrible -- the director tried too hard to make it unique by using closely-timed shots.

The next day we split ways. Emily biked on to Naperville (and had a rather tough day of it, she later told me). I biked on into Chicago to meet my cousin Jonathan and his wife Marlowe and their kids Greylan and Oliver. The way into the city was beautiful. There is a long linear park along the lakefront, and a bike path that winds through it. I even stopped to take a swim in Lake Michigan, which was every bit as cold as I expected, but much cleaner. I met another cyclist riding a BikeE along the way, too. I had stopped and was looking at a map so he pulled over and gave me directions.

I found Marlowe at work without much difficulty. She's started a new store called "Pyschobaby" selling funky/cool baby toys and acccessories. She gave me a key and directions to her house and I got settled in and took a shower. I got to meet Greylan and Ollie, too. They're adorable, rambunctious kids, and we had a great time.

I had a spare day since I'd arrived early, so I spent Wednesday (July 16th) exploring Chicago. It's really a much prettier, cleaner city than I expected. My view of the city had been formed primarily by Upton Sinclair and the '68 DNC. But I saw not a single meatpacking plant or riot policeman in my entire tour. I took my bike downtown and stopped at the Water Tower, then took a trolley tour around the city and went up in the Sears Tower to see the view. I wanted to check out the visitors' gallery of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but they were closed by the time I got there.

The next day, Thursday the 17th, I left early for my flight to San Jose. My Google interview was on Friday, but I had also arranged an interview with Brightmail in San Francisco late on Thursday afternoon. My plane was supposed to get in before noon, so I figured I'd have plenty of time to check into my hotel, shower, and buy some nice interview clothes. I had had a set of clothes shipped to Jonathan's house in Chicago, but they went to the wrong address -- my own fault -- and I couldn't get them in time. I figured that I could just stop at the Gap (shock horror!) and consider the expense a necesary part of getting the job.

My plane was late.

I had to take a taxi to the train station in hopes of catching the next train to SF. I missed it, but the next one was only half an hour behind. I made it to SF with half an hour to spare, but by the time I got on the subway and got where I was going, I had no time to spare, and no interview clothes. I showed up to my interview with Brightmail wearing my "Ithaca is Gorges" t-shirt and a well-worn pair of cargo shorts with a piece of rope for a belt. I made my explanations to the first couple of people I met, then gave up. No-one seemed to care. The interview went wonderfully.

One of the folks who interviewed me was Art Medlar, a mutual friend of Brewster Kahle and Jim Salem (my neighbor and good friend). He told me that Brewster had asked him to invite me to dinner at Brewster's house tonight, a regular Thursday night event. It was just wonderful to have arrived in the Bay Area that morning and already have been invited to dinner with a group of cool, friendly people. I spent the couple hours until dinner wandering around the city and buying the clothes I didn't have a chance to get before my first interview.

Dinner at Brewster's was fun and lively. We had a great soup and a pasta dish with vegetables. It was cool to meet Brewster, who is a friend of both Jim and Yvonne, as well as founder of the Internet Archive, and involved in all sorts of other cool projects. It was also great to get to talk to Art some more outside of the interview setting, and get to know him better as well as get a bit of the inside scoop on the SF scene.

I caught the last train back to Mountain View at midnight and arrived at quarter past one. I got to my hotel exhausted and ready to crash, but there was a glitch: I expected that Google had paid for my room in advance, but evidently I had to pay for it myself and get reimbursed. I had no credit cards, since my wallet was lost in Amherst and I haven't replaced them yet. The hotel wanted $180 a night plus a $200 room deposit. I had $30 and an ATM card, and there were no ATMs in sight. Gladly, I managed to convince the desk guy to just let me crash and work it out with Google the next day. The next day when I discovered my error, I wound up just going to the ATM and withdrawing and exorbitant amount of cash to pay for the room. It was a little unnerving.

I woke up early on Friday the 18th, nervous for my interview. I took my time preparing, ate the continental breakfast downstairs, and took a taxi to Google.

The interview was not nearly as stressful as I had expected. I was to be at the office for over six hours in interviews, but they passed rather quickly. I think I met with eight or so people in forty-five minute chunks. They were all relaxed and friendly, and asked me plenty of coding questions, which was great for me. The funniest thing was that every single person I met with asked me if I wanted to go get a drink or a donut or something from the employee kitchen, which was inordinately well-stocked. Google is into food. Not only did they had tons of soda and Naked Juice (the left coast equivalent of Fresh Samanthas), they had several boxes of donuts in the morning, bins of cereal, and a wall of bulk candy bins. They are also famous for hiring a master chef to cater for their employee cafeteria, and rightly so. I got taken to lunch around noon, and the food was simply terrific. And there was such variety I couldn't even try everything that looked appealing (also I wanted to avoid appearing gluttonous to my interviewer). I finished up the interview by talking to Jolie in Recruiting, who has been my contact throughout the process. She told me that she had only talked to a few of my interviewers so far, but the response was all positive and they would get back to me in a week. Then I tracked down Andy Golding, a friend of Bill Freeman's and the guy who helped get my resume spotted out of the thousand (thousand!) resumes they get every day. We had a nice relaxing chat, then everyone started streaming out of the office to the weekly company-wide meeting.

Next I got back on the train to San Francisco. I was going to visit my friend Erin Bullock, a housemate of mine from when I lived at the Prospect of Whitby co-op. I had also received two recommendations that I should go to Greens, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant by the pier. We went, and enjoyed it tremendously, especially since Google was paying the bill.

Saturday the 19th was my day to explore the area and see if I liked it enough to live there. I took a train to Palo Alto and rented a bike from the great trainside bikeshop there (they have "the only valet bike parking in the world"). There I ran into another glitch: If I paid by cash, they wanted a $350 deposit on the bike. I'm starting to think it's about time I got a credit card. But the bike was nice and gave me a chance to ride around downtown Palo Alto for a while. It was nice enough, but I'm inclined to support Erin's proclamation "Silicon Valley? That's totally Yuppieville!" I could see myself living there though, especially if I took a little more time to get into the scene. I did only have one day, after all. And then there's San Jose and Los Altos and a bunch of other areas within biking distance.

Sunday I returned my bike early and got on a bus to San Jose, from where my flight was leaving. I expected to arrive two and a half hours early, but I had a good book and wanted to make some phone calls, so I figured I might as well get there early. A good thing, too, since when I arrived the line for security went all the way down the hall, up three flights around a winding ramp, out the door, and across the parking lot. There was no particular crisis, it was simply that the airport was never built for the quantity of traffic it now handles.

The plane ride was uneventful, except that I was struck by the same thing I was on the way out: the landscape around the Bay Area is positively beautiful. And the Rockies and the desert to the east of them are even more beautiful. It was amazing to be flying over these landscapes that I'd never seen before, and look forward to bicycling through them in a few weeks.

I arrived safely back in Chicago on Sunday evening. Monday the 21st, I said a sad farewell to Jonathan, Marlowe, Greylan, and Ollie, then set out West, alone for the first time on the trip.

I will continue this update later, but for now I am being kicked off of the computer.