I said No

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

IBM Interview Routing Sheet

There weren’t any jobs. Nobody came to NDSU in early 1972 looking for engineering graduates. Well, the CIA was looking, and I talked to them, but they decided I wasn’t cut out for that business. I had a brand new degree in electrical engineering and nobody wanted me. The lack of job opportunities drove me to one of the best decisions of my life. I applied for and received a scholarship to go on to graduate school. It wasn’t much of a decision: unemployment or a full ride to graduate school.

The job market totally turned around in the next year. By the spring of 1973 there were dozens of companies interviewing on campus, looking for freshly minted electrical engineers. I was a candidate for a Master’s of Electrical Engineering, and had a good GPA, which made getting interviews and site visits relatively easy.

Many of the companies I talked to don’t exist any more. Who remembers Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? They didn’t make me an offer, which was probably a good thing. A company in Boston did make an intriguing offer. The Route 128 area was rich with dozens of startup companies. But it was too far from home, and the cost of living was far higher than the Midwest jobs I was looking at. Let’s stay in the Midwest, eh?

I’d been on several interview trips by the time the Texas Instruments people called me down. I’d already pretty much made up my mind where to go, but this opportunity was quite the plum. Some real possibilities. The clincher came when I figured out a way to visit my family in Denver on their ticket. I signed up and started making plans. Two things worked in my favor. I knew a young lady who worked in a travel agency, and all the airplane tickets were paper. Continue reading

I’m afraid it’s a perfect day

Kutzky Park, Rochester MN

A perfect morning in Kutzky Park

I love my morning walks to coffee. Thanks to vacations and other complicating factors I hadn’t been to my favorite coffee shop for three weeks. This June morning was the perfect time to get back into the routine of walking the trails along Cascade Creek. A family of ducks swam among the rocks looking for breakfast. Bikers (always looking so healthy) smiled and greeted me warmly. The temperature hovered in the mid-sixties, with the clear sun promising a warm day.

Since the last time I’d been along the creek the wildflowers and naturalized areas on the bank had fully grown, the flowers overwhelmed me with beauty and fragrance. I couldn’t count the varieties of grasses and flowers.

What’s to be afraid of? Everything seemed so clean and well planned. The parks department maintains the edge of the trail, keeping the weeds at bay. In one flower bed they were half way through clearing overgrowth from around the milkweed. No wonder so many people get out early on a summer morning to enjoy the path.

I love taking my grand children over to the park, along the same trail, to the playground. There are usually several other little kids with moms or dads playing on the equipment. Their happy smiles remind me of when I played in Klaus Park in Jamestown, North Dakota. But something has changed. Continue reading

Ad Est Virum

Chrsitmas TreeIt’s all about who you know. My friend’s mother Adeline knew the people at White Drug, and she knew that I desperately needed money for college. I don’t remember who she talked to, but they gave me jobs during all the breaks throughout my freshman year of college. Some of the skills I learned ended up being useful, others not as much. One week I worked in the pharmacy. They had only one job for me. Count pills. Hundreds. Thousands of pills. Put them into jars of 100 each. Using a little tray, I’d count by fives. Five … ten … fifteen … all the way to a hundred. Put a lid on the jar. Repeat until lunch. Once again, I learned that my choice of an engineering career matched my personality.

Another week I worked in the general merchandise part of the store. Right after Christmas Day it was time to clear the holiday aisle for the new things. White’s sold a myriad of types of Christmas light bulbs. Tiny ones. Small ones for tree decorations. Larger ones to use along the roof. Red ones. Blue bulbs. Green. Every color, every size. These were the days before plastic bubble packs; all the bulbs were loose. Just pick out the few that met your needs and pay the lady. Thank you.

My job was to collect all the light bulbs into one large box and move them to storage. It was a huge box. Maybe a cubic yard? Three feet on a side, but light bulbs are light, so it wasn’t a big deal. Except for the little stumble I took going down the stairs. I dropped the box.

What a magical sound; hundreds of glass bulbs shattering. Continue reading

Me, Athletic?

Guy and Lon crossing the finish line after a Zumbro Zig Zag

Guy and Lon crossing the finish line (last) after a Zumbro Zig Zag

Earlier this year Jen from the Rochester magazine interviewed me for a magazine article. The article focused on human interest topics, including a question about exercise. Jen asked if I’m athletic. Nope. I can’t even sit through a baseball game, and don’t ask me to watch sports on television.

After that off the cuff answer I rattled off all the “not-athletic” things I’ve done. Ever since high school when Mark and I played at tennis I’ve engaged in sports of one sort or another. One of my friends ran ultra-marathons. I’ve never run more than a 10K. Another friend regularly rides his bike across Minnesota (TRAM) or Iowa (RAGBRAI). I once rode a 100K circle and it darned near killed me. I loved playing racquetball, but never progressed out of the “C” leagues. Some of my buddies regularly competed in the Open or “A” tournaments. Even canoeing has held my interest, but not as much as my friend Andy. He left Rochester to kayak around Australia. My canoe competition once yielded last place in a Zumbro Zig Zag triathlon. Inauspicious at best, eh?

After telling Jen about all those athletic escapades I realized that my definition of athletic is incorrect. I have always compared myself to my friends abilities. Specifically, I compared my skills one at a time with the best of the field.

No matter where I looked, someone did better at an activity than I could. It didn’t matter what the activity was. I wasn’t the best at anything.

I almost fell into the trap of feeling like a failure. Instead, I fell into the trap of comparing myself to the wrong people. The only person I want to compare myself to is the person I want to be.

Since we’re on the athletic theme, let’s go with the triathlon idea. Remember, I finished last in one of them. How many dozen athletes finished ahead of me? Lots. How many finished behind me on that beautiful day? Continue reading

I didn’t expect this

Come EatSomehow, I didn’t expect to be here. The other evening Judy and I got home from a fun dinner out with friends when a neighbor knocked at the door, inviting us to come over to his house. It was a fine evening, the sun was setting and the sliver of a new moon was right behind it. This would be interesting, I thought.

At dinner we had talked about how different retirement turned out to be, compared to what we had expected. Looking back, neither of us really had much of an idea what to expect when I quit doing what I had done for almost forty years. When I walked out the door from IBM that December day three years ago I entered a new world. Unknown, it turns out.

Our friend Paul retired about ten years ago. Soon after he quit work, I asked him what he found to do all day, since he had involuntarily retired early. He asked if I had ever hurried home from work to mow the lawn before sitting down to a quick supper. Well, duh! That’s how you do it, I thought. His routine had changed. Now it could take all day to mow the yard, depending on what else was on the calendar.

Was that what I had expected when I walked away from IBM into a winter blizzard?

Forty years earlier I had walked into that same IBM door to start a new career. Nothing anyone had told me fully prepared me for the excitement and drama of working for corporate America. Every year at IBM there was a new challenge, until at the end it became a challenge to keep up enough excitement to stay around.

After turning in my badge in the early winter of 2012, I thought my days would be different, but when I look back at it, I had no clue about what was about to happen. Since that cold day, our days are full of grand children, excitement and drama. This North Dakota boy who grew up in a house with absolutely no music now works with an Irish band, with gigs several times each month, and a CD release in progress.

Not long ago, serendipity struck again when a neighbor called out to me as I sat on the porch sipping a fine single malt whisky. “Can you help me learn English?” he asked. Not knowing what to expect, but knowing darned well that this would be exciting, I quickly agreed to help. Now on the summer evening, just before sundown, came that knock on the door. The same neighbor, having learned a little more English, asked us to come to his house … quickly! Continue reading

Are you busy today?

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

Engineering notes from a 1978 engineering project.

The other day I ran into my friend Brian. “How are you doing, Brian?” “Over worked and underpaid. Terribly busy, this is my peak season you know.”

Almost everyone I know gives me a paraphrase of that same answer. It’s been the standard answer for at least a hundred years, and maybe through the entire history of Western Civilization. There’s always more to do than there is time. The boss always has something extra that needs doing. The family is always asking for something, and you know that the house and yard absolutely need to have that spring maintenance work done! Soon!

I don’t like the “So busy!” response. It’s too easy and really doesn’t say anything. Kind of like: “Hi, how are you?” “Fine.” The answer bears no relationship to what’s happening in life. Our culture seems to demand that we be busy and fine. Sure, there are people who claim to not want to hear an “organ recital” from this old man, but sometimes “Fine” just isn’t the right answer, and if one of us needs help, advice, or an ear to bend, another answer is the right one.

That said, the main thing that irks me about the “Busy!” answer is that the opposite is probably the worst thing that could happen to a person.

Here’s my story:

This was a long time ago, within a year or two of my taking a job at IBM. They had hired me for a major project, and they even had to move us to a temporary expansion site to make room for all the new people on this project. Then the project was cancelled. If I remember correctly, there was some new technology that was essential for the product. The new technology failed, so that called the entire project into question. Continue reading

Road trip!

Jamestown, ND, 1966


We were a couple of kids. Patty and I wanted to go to a basketball game. We’d been to lots of games at the high school. They’d all been at the school we went to, the one a few blocks from my house. This was an away game. We wanted to drive over there on a Friday evening. I’d been on trips before, but this would be the first time on our own.

We were both loners, not a lot of friends. There never was a discussion about getting together with a group of friends to make the trek, we just wanted to go. Just the two of us.

Looking back on it, I wonder how we ever figured out how to make it happen. The freeway did go from Jamestown to Valley City. This was the mid sixties, wasn’t it? Compared to what we have today, so much was missing. I probably had a map. It would have been the good old paper map produced by the North Dakota Tourism board. It had detail on every exit of the freeway, so we knew that there were only a couple of options to get off the highway to get into town. The map also had an insert describing the town. It might have had the local high school marked. Continue reading