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I Was Scared, I Grabbed a Frying Pan - March 8, 2014

Not a lot of things scare me, but when I was awoken at 4AM this morning with the sound of someone trying to get into my apartment I was scared. At first I thought that maybe it was one of my friends that has a key to my place. Adam, maybe, but then he probably would have called in advance. My second thought was that that it was one of my neighbors trying to get into their apartment, since it sounds almost the same as someone at my door. The rattling at the door went on for too long, though. Clearly someone was trying to get into one of the apartments in my building. I was 80% sure that whoever it was, was trying to get into my apartment. I wanted a weapon. I wanted anything to defend myself with. I have a walking stick that I got while I was in Boy Scouts. Maybe I could use that? Just call a stick a and suddenly it’s a weapon, Donatello proved that. A stick didn’t really seem like a good weapon, though, not enough heft to it, and I was pretty sure it was buried in my storage closet. No, I needed something stronger, but what? I grabbed a frying pan. Heck, they’re good for taking out zombies in Left 4 Dead 2.

A frying pan is as good a weapon as anything.
With frying pan in hand, I approached my front door. I was too scared to even flip the blinds a little too look and see who was there. What if the guy saw me peeping through and fired a shotgun blast at me? I was listening to hear if he belonged there. He was mumbling and grunting. It sounded like he expected the door to just open, but it wouldn’t. I wondered if he lived in my building, but had the wrong apartment so his key wasn’t working. Scared as I was, I decided to approach him. I wasn’t about to let him know where I lived, though, so I went out the back door and walked around to the front of the building with frying pan in hand. When my door came into view I didn’t see anyone. I thought maybe he’d left. A few more steps forward and I saw someone standing in front of the door across from mine.

My heart skipped a beat. He was a big man. At least twice as big as me. I can’t really say he was a scary looking guy, but certainly not friendly looking either. I’d put him at about three inches taller than me. As far as I was concerned he was a monster of a man. I didn’t know how much my frying pan would help me. I thought about moving on and not saying anything to him, but I knew if he was out there I wouldn’t be able to sleep. What are you doing here? I mustered. I was shaking. He hadn’t heard me. I’m not even sure if he’d seen me. I swallowed. I’d need more courage. I’d have to speak louder, What are you doing here? I said again. I’d gotten his attention.

He grunted. I didn’t recognize the guy, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t live in my building. I said, Do you live here?

Sort of, he slurred. What kind of answer was that? Sort of. I was almost sure he didn’t live in my building. He was mumbling and grunting more, only partly aware of what was going on. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, only a t-shirt. His hands were tucked inside it. He could have been concealing a weapon under the shirt.

Where do you live? I asked. I felt like a cop. Or at least I wanted to feel like one. I didn’t actually have any courage. It made no sense for me to be out there. I wondered if he’d seen the fact that I was holding a frying pan. I’d use it on him if I had to.

Here, he answered. I didn’t think the guy knew where here was. I figured he was homeless and on drugs. I wanted him to go away.

Do you need me to call someone for you? I offered. His mom maybe. In actuality, I didn’t want him to say anything. The last thing I wanted to do was start calling strangers. What I really wanted to say was, Get outta here or I’m going to call the cops.

I’m cold, he grunted. Clearly. I mean he was only wearing a t-shirt. I was now 100% confident that he didn’t have a weapon under his shirt.

I didn’t know what to say to him. I wasn’t going to let him into my apartment. I walked away, leaving him there, kind of wondering if I should have turned my back on him or not. I felt bad for the guy. It was 4AM, he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death, but it was still a while until daylight. I thought that maybe I should give him a blanket. Just open my door and hand it to him. I didn’t really want him sleeping on my front porch, though. I waited about fifteen minutes to decide what to do. I heard more rattling. I had kind of hoped that by approaching him, he’d get scared an leave. He wasn’t leaving, and the only thing I could figure was to call the police. They’d be able to lock him up for the night, give him a warm bed to sleep on, or at least warmer than standing there in the cold.

I didn’t think it was an emergency, so I didn’t dial 911. I used my Kindle Fire to look up the local police department number. I put the number in my phone, not sure if I was really going to call or not. Another five minutes pass and he was still there. Still trying to open one of the doors.

I called the cops. The dispatcher was a woman. There’s a guy outside my apartment, I said as if it was the most casual thing in the world. Well, at least that’s how I thought I said it. I’m pretty sure if you asked the dispatcher she’d say that I sounded like a scared little boy. I didn’t hear anything but silence for a few seconds. I wondered if the call had been dropped since the cell service in my apartment is spotty at times. You still there, I asked.

Hold on a second, she said. I wondered why she could possibly want me to hold on. I had said that there was a guy outside my apartment, he could be out there to kill me for all she knew. I figured she had to turn the volume up because I was talking too quietly. I was like a timid mouse. I still had the frying pan in my hand. What’s your address?

I gave it to her. She asked for my name too. She then repeated some numbers to me, it sounded like a phone number, then, under her breathe, she said, No that’s not it, you’re not in here. I was thinking, Of course I’m not in your system, I’m not a criminal! I heard some typing on a keyboard. She asked for my phone number. Can you give me a description of the guy? Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

Yeah, I said, He’s about six foot three. I don’t even know where I came up with that size. I just knew he was taller than me, but he was so scary looking I just said a fairly tall height. A bigger guy, kind of a beer belly. I think he might be homeless. That was my description.

She asked for some more details, like his hair color, and what he was wearing. I mentioned that he was wearing a t-shirt. I wanted to tell her that I thought he was going to freeze since it was cold out, and that was one of the main reasons I was calling. You said he was a white male? she asked. I had said no such thing. I understood why the dispatcher made that assumption, though. Did you talk to him? I told her about my experience approaching him. I didn’t mention the frying pan. Do you want me to send an officer by?

Duh, why do you think I’m calling? Yes, I said.

She was about to hang up, then said, Wait, one more thing, is he still there?

Uh, let me check, I said. I didn’t want to check. I had made the call in the back room so he wouldn’t hear me. I didn’t want him to see me looking through the blinds. I was sure he was still there. He’d been there for the past thirty minutes. He hadn’t left after I’d approached him. He wasn’t going anywhere. I looked through the blinds. At first I didn’t see him, and for a brief second I thought maybe I was wrong and that he’d left. Then my eyes adjusted to the darkness. The monster of a man was there. Yeah, he’s still there.

Okay, I’m sending some officers.

So I waited. The police department is two blocks down, so I didn’t expect it to take long. A few minutes later I saw the lights of a car pulling up. I listened to the conversation.

Hey, buddy. The guy didn’t acknowledge the cop. Hey, buddy, the cop said louder. A grunt in response. Do you live here? the cop asked. I got excited. The cop asked the same thing I had asked!

Um, uh, yeah, sort of.

The cop didn’t buy it. He radioed the backup vehicle, Just hold on a minute. The cop figured the guy was harmless, no reason for two cops. Where do you live? The guy kept grunting back. What’s your address?

The guy said, Uh, here.

The cop asked for ID. The next thing I heard was, That’s a credit card. The guy said, Uh, yeah. Later I heard, That’s a business card. The guy said, Yeah, it’s a family thing. Their conversation continued for a few more minutes. It became clear that this guy didn’t even know what city he was in, because in response to one of the cop’s questions he said, I live in the city of... Uh, the county of... Uh, here. He couldn’t come up with anything. I don’t even think he knew he was in the Bay Area at all.

I wanted the cop to arrest the guy and take him in. I got the feeling that the cop didn’t want to arrest the guy, though. He wanted to take him home if possible. Eventually I heard handcuffs. The guy was put in the patrol car. I figured the cop was going to knock on my door. I didn’t really want him to. I didn’t want the guy to know which apartment had called the cops on him. I put the frying pan down. The cop knocked on the door.

Hi, I said. The cop was a short fellow, late forties. I was pretty sure I’d seen him at the nearby gas station before, filling up his patrol car. And when I had seen him there I was like, Truly, one of this city’s finest! You’ve heard the cliche of cops and donuts? This cop was a testament to that. I can’t lie, though, he’d handled the situation. I guess it didn’t matter what he looked like.

Are you the guy that called?

Yeah, I said.

The cop seemed angry. Upset that I made him do some work at 4:30AM. Do you know that guy?

I’ve never seen him before in my life, I said.

Does he live here? Why on Earth would the cop ask me that? I just said that I’d never seen him before. I think the cop was implying that the guy was my roommate and that I had kicked him out for the night.

I don’t know. He could, but I haven’t ever seen him before. I kind of motioned to the other doors. But it sounded like he was trying to get into my apartment, I clarified.

He’s very intoxicated, and it’s cold out here, so we’re going to take him in, the cop said. That’s all I wanted. That’s why I called. I wanted the guy off my doorstep, and hopefully somewhere warm so he wouldn’t freeze.

Good work, officer, I said. The cop walked away.

I’m wondering, even now, if that guy does in fact live in my building. If he’s going to wake up in jail in the morning, and be like, My neighbor called the cops on me! I’m gonna get that guy! I’m about 65% sure that he doesn’t live in my building, though. In reality, he’ll probably wake up, wonder where he is and not know how he got there. If he was super intoxicated maybe this will all just be blackout for him. Maybe he’s a comedian. Maybe this will become part of a standup comedy routine for him. My guess is that the cops will dump him in the next county so they won’t have to deal with him. I wanted to check the police blotter, see what it say. Hopefully it doesn’t say: A timid, scared, and wimpy citizen reported a white male outside his apartment. Officers responded and found a man that appeared to be intoxicated. The man was arrested on suspicion of vagrancy. He was released in the morning. No further action was taken. A homicide occurred a few minutes later at the address of the arrest. Officers are investigating.

Update March 20, 2014
The police blotter actually read:
DISTURBANCE - A 31-year-old Soquel man was arrested at 4:30 a.m. for suspicion of disorderly conduct in the 700 block of Adams Street.
Soquel is nearly 80 miles away!

That Was a Dumb Movie: Red Lights - February 28, 2014

Red Lights.
From Wikipedia, Red Lights is a 2012 Spanish-American thriller film written and directed by Rodrigo Cortés and starring Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Robert De Niro. The plot focuses on a physicist, Tom Buckley (Murphy), and a university psychology professor, Margaret Matheson (Weaver), both of whom specialize in debunking supernatural phenomena, and their attempt at discrediting a renowned psychic, Simon Silver (De Niro), whose greatest critic mysteriously died thirty years prior.

Stories like this appeal to me. I like low key supernatural stuff. Stories where there is some kind of supernatural element, but nothing outrageous like most vampire stories have. Traditional ghost stories or hauntings aren’t bad either. I also like investigative stories, so tales of people investigating the supernatural is all the more appealing to me. I rather enjoyed the 2003 television series Miracles. Miracles was about a guy that investigated supposed miracles in an attempt to prove whether or not deceased persons were worthy of being sainted in the Catholic church. Ultimately he disassociated with the church and joined a private organization that also investigated miracles, although they mostly investigated the evil side of the supernatural, so calling what he investigated miracles is kind of a misnomer. In any case it was a pretty cool show. Red Lights had a similar setup, so I figured I’d like it. The main difference being that the characters in Red Lights are coming from from a skeptical background, trying to disprove everything, whereas the characters in Miracles were just assuming that there were in fact real cosmic powers of good an evil.

The characters in Red Lights were mostly concerned with debunking supposed psychics. The first scene involved a psychic conducting a seance for a family, with Buckley and Matheson observing. Crazy stuff happens such as ghosts making noises and the table they are sitting at mysteriously rising from the floor. Following that scene, Buckley and Matheson are teaching a university class where they explain how all this phenomena was possible.

I liked where the film was going. I’ve seen supposed psychics in real life, and based on my experience I believe they are frauds. From my observations, those that subscribe to the reality of psychics are so willing to believe whatever they say that it’s almost pathetic how quickly they accept a psychic’s word as truth. The movie touched on this subject with Buckley claiming that his own mother had died because she accepted the healing touch of a psychic rather than going to a doctor. Mr. Silver, being a psychic healer, quickly became the nemesis of Buckley.

It was your standard direct to video storyline. The story was okay. The cinematography wasn’t particular artistic. The script didn’t really have anything original or provocative. It was what you’d expect for a late night cable channel movie. I’m actually hard pressed to say that it was a dumb movie, it was pretty much what it was supposed to be. The only really dumb parts were that Matheson randomly died near the end of the movie, with an explanation so weak that I honestly can’t say what it was, and also that it turned out that Buckley, the debunker himself, had supernatural powers. Which weakened the plot a little. I mean it was a direct to video plot, what do you expect? I didn’t expect much.

Except one thing... There is, in fact, something that truly made this movie dumb. Robert De Niro was in this movie. ROBERT-FREAKING-De-NIRO was in this movie! Robert De Niro of The Godfather, Part II, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. Robert De Niro who was in one of my personal favorite movies, Heat. Robert De Niro who, in the same year as Red Lights, was also nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Silver Linings Playbook. Yes, Robert De Niro and his famous mole were in this movie. It blew my mind. I couldn’t understand why Robert De Niro was in this movie. I mean I’ve seen tons of direct to video movies. Sigourney Weaver is somewhat of a big name, but not really that big if you’ve never seen Alien, and so it isn’t uncommon for her to be in lesser known films. Cillian Murphy is even less famous, though he did get a little bit of spotlight in the Dark Knight trilogy. But Robert De Niro! You don’t even have to have seen his films to know who he is. I haven’t seen half the films I listed above, but I’ve heard of Robert De Niro and I’ve heard of all these films.

I honestly can’t say that Red Lights was intentionally a direct to video movie. It was probably in theaters, but I never heard of it. This type of film doesn’t do well in theaters. It’s the type of film you watch late at night. For me it randomly showed up on Netflix because it’s the type of stuff I like to watch late at night. I might have watched it even if it didn’t star Robert De Niro. I mean I would have watched it and forgot about it, had that been the case. I wouldn’t be writing this post, that’s for sure. It’s a sad day when a man of greatness like Robert De Niro is a supporting character in a direct to video movie. Maybe Robert De Niro has been in a lot of unknown films like this and I just didn’t know about it. It breaks my heart to know it, though, and that’s why Red Lights is a dumb movie.

Categories: Movie Reviews

A Wise Old Man - February 17, 2014

I went ice skating recently. I’m not a particularly good ice skater. This was only my third time doing it. What kind of surprises me about it, though, is how bad some people are. I don’t mean to insult anybody by saying this, but I’ve never understood what is hard about ice skating. Even the first time I tried it, I didn’t have much difficulty. Sure I was falling a bit, and losing control, but I understood the basic motions required to propel myself forward. In all fairness, I had done quite a bit of rollerblading before I ever went ice skating, and the act of skating is similar whether on ice or on asphalt. Even then, though, I never remember having trouble rollerblading. I watched other people do it, and then emulated the body motions I saw, and everything else was natural.

In all honesty, on this occasion I legitimately fell like two or three times, and lost control quite a few times. So, like I said, I’m not particularly good, just not as bad as those that fell more than three times. In any case, I decided to poke fun at my friend Keith, who was having trouble with skating and balance. So I pretended to fall while he was watching me. And by falling you must picture the most obvious fake fall that you possibly can. In slow motion I waved my hands in the air as if I had lost control, then reached my hands down to the ice, sliding on my hands and feet for a foot or two, and then casually rolled the rest of my body onto the ice. Had you seen the fall, you’d know I was just being a jerk. I did this three times, and on the third one I did it right in front of him. He crashed into my fallen corpse, my fault of course, and went down himself. I felt a little bad for causing him to fall.

So we have a good laugh. I apologize for being a jerk to him, and we’re about to get up when some dude, that neither of us knows, skates up to us. This guy had a concerned look on his face, like you might see on a mother that just watched her son discover a bee sting for the first time. He asks me, Are you okay? I realized then, in that moment, that he hadn’t seen me fall. He only saw the aftermath of it. Possibly he saw Keith tripping over me. As far as his perception was concerned I had potentially been seriously injured. I say I because he didn’t really express any concern towards Keith. That’s why I think he saw Keith trip over me, and his fall had appeared harmless. By the time I stood up I kind of realized that there was pretty much no way to explain that it was all a joke. Had I said, Yeah, dude, we were just joking around. He would have thought I was saying that so I wouldn’t look as incompetent as he had perceived I was. So I didn’t say anything, and thanked him for his concern.

When I was in middle school I’d walk home with some of the other kids that lived in the same neighborhood as me. Sometimes it was with these kids that were a year my junior, Kevin and Michael. Usually I’d take a direct route to get home, sticking with the sidewalks and roads. There was also service road that ran the length of an irrigation canal on the edge of my neighborhood. It ran right behind Michael’s house, so it wasn’t too inconvenient to walk down it, cut into Michael’s backyard, and go home from there. So this was a route frequently used when walking home with Michael.

As boys do, we found ourselves playing around the canal. Skipping rocks was our chosen activity of the day. Catching crawdads was also a common activity to do in the canal. I didn’t do much crawdad fishing myself. They looked too much like bugs, and that kind of grossed me out. Since Michael lived next to the canal he’d catch and eat them all the time. I didn’t even know such a creature existed until I was in middles school. I only ever remember picking one up once. I digress, though. We were skipping rocks. When it comes to skipping rocks it’s only natural to have different goals such as getting the most skips, getting the furthest bounce, or the longest distance before the skipping ends, getting the biggest rock to skip, and so on. We were competing for about ten minutes when a man approached us.

He was an older man. I can’t say exactly how old, because when I was thirteen my perception of age was much different from what it is now. He had gray hair and was bearded. He wore a trail hat and other attire that yearned for the call of the wild. A flannel shirt comes to memory. I don’t know where the man had come from. From the west side of the canal, I figured, since my neighborhood was on the east side, and I thought I would have recognized anyone from there. As we stared in awe at this man of age and experience, we stopped our rock skipping and sat down with our legs crossed. The man knelt in front of us.

I want to tell you young men a story, he said. It was a compliment that he called us young men. He was a warm man. A friendly man. He had a certain look of sadness though. When I was about your age, he continued, I had a .22 rifle, and I thought it would be fun to shoot some ducks. He paused just for a brief moment, looking at each of us one by one. It was important that we were all listening. So I did. He took his hat off and held it to his chest. Looking up to the sky he said, I’ve regretted that my whole life. We all nodded. Our mouths opening just a little. He stood up. I just don’t want you boys... he’d called us boys, not young men, do anything that you’d regret. We sat there in silence. He walked away, and disappeared off into the wilderness of our neighborhood.

We couldn’t speak for a few minutes. How can you speak after a man of age and experience imparts his wisdom on you. You have to wait for him to disappear. You have to ponder on what he’s said. You’re also a young boy, so eventually something has to be said. Well, that was pretty weird, Kevin said. Michael and I agreed. We stood up scratching our heads.

Quack, we looked around, quack, quack, quack. We saw it. There were some ducks on the other side of the canal. Swimming around under some tree branches that hung low over the canal. We looked amongst each other and understood. Everything had come full circle. We hadn’t even been skipping stones in that direction. Perception.

I hadn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird at that time, but in retrospect I can’t help but wonder if that old man walked away feeling like Atticus Finch. He’d just had his it’s-a-sin-to-kill-a-mockingbird moment. In a way, he’d redeemed himself of his sins by preventing other boys from doing the same. He went home feeling good about himself. I kind of laugh about it to myself now. I wonder if I should though. In a lot of ways perception matters. Unless some actual bad comes from it, does an incorrect perception even matter? I don’t know for sure. I’m not an old man of wisdom yet. As far as that man was concerned, he was a wise old man. We kids had a good laugh about it. Really it was positive feelings all around, and no animals were harmed, so I think everybody won.

Categories: 1995-1998 Middle

So, I Interviewed at Google - January 27, 2014

I interviewed at Google several years ago. It was during my last semester of college. This isn’t going to be a How To or What Not to Do of going about a Google interview. It’s a personal narrative of my experience. I’m largely writing this for those that are about to interview at Google, have already interviewed at Google, and those curious about what a Google interview is like. A lot of what I have to say might be interesting for those interviewing anywhere for the first time, because there really isn’t anything too special about a Google interview. I interviewed for a software engineering position, so some of this post will relate more to that than to how an interview for a marketing or management position might go. I hope I can offer something interesting for everybody.

I didn’t even want to interview there. Google didn’t match my career goals. There was this guy, Jeremy, that had attended my university. He was working at Google, and he’d visit my university every semester, on a recruiting run. As with most companies, he’d get a bonus if anyone he recruited got hired. So he’d take as many resumes as were handed to him and put them in the system. He also asked his favorite professors for their recommendations. These recommendations would get put into the real system and be guaranteed phone interviews. My name was given to him by my Numerical Solutions to Differential Equations professor. So Jeremy emailed me and asked for my resume. I took a long time to respond to him. Mostly because I wasn’t really interested in working at Google. Eventually my professor had words with me and said that I shouldn’t pass up an opportunity like this. So I responded to Jeremy with a weak resume. He told me it was weak. I was still guaranteed an interview since my professor had given the recommendation, but he suggested I improve the quality of my resume so there would be more to talk about during the interview process. I did, with his help.

I consider Google to be my first real interview. I had sort of interviewed for the job I worked during college, but it was manual labor and they hired anyone who seemed willing to work. I had also interviewed for a software engineering position at one of my university’s labs. I hadn’t really taken that interview seriously, and it wasn’t for a professional job, which is why I don’t count that interview as my first.

As far as entry-level jobs go at Google, they don’t really care which office you go to. So when the interview process began for me they asked me to pick my top three choices for location. They’ve got offices all around the US. I wasn’t really too concerned with the choice. Jeremy had told me I probably wouldn’t get hired, so it didn’t matter. I picked Seattle because I thought I’d like to live there. Once I’d made my selection they connected me to the recruiter attached to Seattle, a guy named Brad. Brad gave me a call and told me what to expect during the interview process. It would start with two phone screens, back to back, each an hour long. (I’ve had phone screens as simple as So, do you know C++? My response being, Yes. Their response being, Okay, I guess we’ll fly you out here. I’m exaggerating a little, but usually the phone screen is short.) Then if I passed that, they’d fly me out for an in-person interview.

One thing that most software engineer interviews have in common is the technical questions. These are basically programming puzzles where you’re given some problem and you have to write the code to solve it. They usually take about thirty minutes to solve. Here’s an example:

Write a function to reverse a string. So for example if you have the sentence, The cat is blue The output should be, eulb si tac ehT. Further, write a function to reverse all the words in a string. From the previous example the output would be blue is cat The.

Usually you get questions like this in a written test or in-person since it’s pretty hard to write code over the phone line. It’s much easier to write it on a whiteboard. The Google interviewers had me open a Google Doc so that I could type out coded responses to their technical questions. They’d see it in real-time. The first guy called on schedule. He asked a little about my interests in Google. I feigned interest in the company. It wasn’t really where I wanted to work, but I knew I shouldn’t admit that. I mean, I was in college. I was afraid I wasn’t going to get a job at all. I’d work for a company I didn’t want to work for just so I could start my career.

He presented me with a pretty easy question. I answered it immediately. He went on to complicate the problem. I needed some help once he complicated things. Since I needed help I figured the guy thought I was an idiot. Thinking I already failed the first interview made the second interview easy, since I was no longer nervous. I killed on the second interview. I pretty much came up with the best solution possible to his technical question. It wasn’t even a standard computer algorithm or data-structure question. I did so well the guy didn’t really even know what more to say about it, and the call ended early.

A few days later the recruiter, Brad, called and said they’d fly me out. I was sort of surprised, but more than that I was scared. I immediately went into the what-if-I-get-the-job? sentimentality. I started looking for apartments in the area. I wondered what my salary would be. I wondered how long I’d have to stay at Google, because I knew Google wasn’t where I wanted to end up. Would I have to stay there for several years or could I bail out in a single year?

Travel arrangements were made. Brad also sent me some recommendations on books to read to help with the interview process. I emailed Jeremy to let him know that I was flying to Seattle. He emailed me back with a story of how he got lost on the way back to the airport, missed his flight, and had to sleep in the airport. I didn’t want that to happen to me. He also told me to email him again after the interview and let him know how things went. His mind wondering if he’d get that recruitment bonus. On a hilarious side note, I want to mention that some of the emails from Google about the arrangements were filtered into the Spam folder by Google’s own Gmail.

Google covers all of your expenses when you interview, as long as you have a receipt. They’ll even reimburse you for the mileage you spend driving to the airport you’re flying from. Souvenirs might be pushing it, but if you find yourself in a Google interview you might as well give it a try. Write it off as a grocery expense. You’re given a budget of like $35.00 a day for groceries.

I flied into Sea-Tac Airport. My first task was to pick up the rental car. I had some trouble doing this. I hadn’t done much air travel, and wasn’t really too familiar with airports. I followed the signs in the airport to get to the rental booths. No one was there. So I picked up the phone at the desk and said, Where are you? They said, Where are you calling from? And I said, I dunno, at the desk that says Hertz. They said there was another booth on the other side of the airport. So I walked down there. On the walk some beggars asked me for money. I didn’t have any money since I was a poor college student. They were mad at me for saying I didn’t have any money and insisted that I take a flier so that I could mail them some money later. I didn’t even know beggars did that. It was strange indeed, but at least they didn’t assault me. A minute later I found the car rental booth and the guy asked me if a Prius was okay. He also asked if I wanted a GPS, but I declined. I’d already printed out the directions and figured I wouldn’t get lost. That was my folly. Google was going to reimburse all expenses anyway, I may as well have gotten the GPS.

I found myself alone, lost, driving in the rain.
I drove out of the airport not really knowing where I was going. I didn’t even look at the directions I’d printed out. I knew that Google’s Seattle office, and the hotel I’d be staying at, was in Kirkland, which is on the east side of Lake Washington. I followed the highway that led out of the airport, hoping it was the right way. After driving for a few minutes I had a pretty good feeling I was going the right way. I felt like I was going east, and I have a pretty good sense of direction. I was pretty sure I was on the correct highway, I405, too. It started raining, hard. After I’d been driving for a while, and not really seeing many signs, I wasn’t sure if I had passed the exit I was supposed to take, but I kept going. When I saw a mileage sign that mentioned Everett, but didn’t have Kirkland on it, I was pretty sure I’d gone too far. I pulled off the freeway with the intention of turning around. I got lost turning around. Seattle has really thin lanes, and I thought I was going to hit a car coming in the opposite direction the whole time. Also, as with anyone that is lost, I found myself driving the wrong way down one way streets and entering the wrong side of the freeway exit lane. I’m surprised I survived. I ended up driving up and down a lot of side roads. When I had trouble finding the highway entrance I thought that if I headed in a generally south direction I could take the side roads all the way back to Kirkland. But roads in the Greater Seattle Area curve all over the place, so a southbound road quickly turned to the east. I wondered if I’d end up at Microsoft. That didn’t seem like a bad deal to me. I didn’t really want a job at Google, but I’d always been a Microsoft fan-boy...

I found myself driving through a residential zone for about an hour. I think I was in Bothell or Woodinville. Eventually I found a gas station and pulled into the parking lot. I asked the attendant if she had maps for sale, she looked at me all crooked-eye and said, Huh? I guess everyone was supposed to have a smart phone. I didn’t. She said, Where are you trying to get to? I said, I just want to get on I405. She pointed to the road in front of the gas station and said, Take a right on that road, you’ll get to 405. I did just that. She was right. The entrance was a few blocks up the road. I had just come from there, but I guess I was so scared I didn’t see the signs. I headed south on I405, this time paying better attention to the exit signs. From there I made it to the hotel without difficultly.

I’d looked up the hotel before flying out there. It was the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland. It was fancier than anything I’d ever been in. I felt intimidated. They had valet service. I wasn’t about to use the valet service, though. You have to tip for that, and I had no idea how much to tip a valet. Plus, you have to keep in mind that I was a college student and not exactly made of money. I mean I think I might have been able to get a reimbursement from Google for tipping the valet, but then I’d have to ask for a receipt for that, and basically it was just easier for me to park myself. So I walked into the hotel, and they offered me a glass of champagne, but I don’t drink so I declined. It really was the fanciest hotel I’d ever been in. I was used to Motel 6 and the like. I arrived at around 4PM and I thought I might as well have dinner. I had a $35.00 budget and decided to milk it for all it was worth. I ordered expensive, and then over-tipped to a nice round $35.00. I don’t think they liked having a loner in their restaurant, though, because they kind of stuck me in the back, around a corner, out of sight.

I had kind of wanted to see some of the sights of Seattle while I was out there. Like Pike Place Market, or the Space Needle, or maybe a museum or something, but I was afraid of getting lost, and I didn’t know how parking in a big city worked. So all I did was walk around the neighborhood of the hotel. The Woodmark Hotel is right by Lake Washington so there are piers and parks. Nothing really too exciting though.

I couldn’t really sleep. And did I mentioned I was a poor college student at the time? I didn’t even have a computer or a tablet or a smart phone or anything. So I couldn’t browse the internet. I tried watching TV, but I was too nervous about my interview. I woke up early, if I even slept at all. I didn’t want to go to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, because of how much of a loner I had felt like the night before, so I went to a gas station and got a bagel and some orange juice. A bus drove past the gas station. It had an advertisement for Portal 2 on the side. I thought, Valve!, they’re here too! I also filled up the Prius’ gas tank, and with all the driving around I had done while I was lost I thought it was going to be a lot, but it was only like six bucks. I didn’t really like the Prius, but I couldn’t complain about how economical it was. Not that it mattered since I was getting reimbursed for everything.

One of my concerns had been what to wear to the interview. For software engineering, khaki pants and a polo is pretty standard for an interview. I went with that. In retrospect I would have been fine wearing a t-shirt and jeans. If I interviewed there again, I’d probably wear a bow tie or something. Just for the hilariousness of it.

Google’s Kirkland office.
I didn’t get lost going to Google. It wasn’t very far from the hotel. It was this high security complex, with key cards to get in everywhere, including on the front door. I’d never seen anything like that before. I had to ask someone how to get inside the building. They told me to take the door handle and pull on it. So I did. The receptionist greeted me, and told me to sign in using a nearby computer terminal. I asked, Why can’t you sign me in? I don’t know how to use computers. And she was like, It’s easy, just press the touch screen, your name is already in the system. You just have to select it from the list. She didn’t seem to understand that I was joking. I responded with, If my name is already in the system, why do I have to do anything at all? So I walked over to the kiosk and signed in, and it printed out a name badge for me. I put the name badge on my jacket.

I waited for about half an hour for my recruiter, Brad, to show up. He apologized for being so late, and I was like, I don’t really care. I’m so scared right now that delaying things for as long as possible is probably for the best. He laughed, but there was a little hesitation in his laugh. I’m pretty sure he would get a bonus if I got hired too, so it was in his interest for me to get hired, and I was already pessimistic. He showed me around. They had a rock climbing wall in the office. I don’t know why it was there. Nobody was using it. Brad told me nobody used it. Probably it was there so that Google could make themselves look more fun than they really are. There were a lot of things that made Google look fun. Like candy everywhere the eye could see. I didn’t know if it was free or not, so I didn’t take any. It was like a magical land of bliss. The movie The Internship captures it pretty well, even though that movie is about the Mountain View office and not Kirkland. As we were walking around I was trying to peek into the offices to see what people were doing. There really weren’t that many people there. It was like 10AM, so I guess a lot of people hadn’t showed up for work yet. I saw a few people coding, and I tried to see if I could recognize the language. Their monitors were too far away.

After the tour it was time to start the interview. The in-person Google interview is basically the same as the phone interview, except you write on a whiteboard instead of a Google Doc. I really hate whiteboard coding. It’s the worst type of coding. When you’re coding on a whiteboard and run out of space, you’re screwed. When you’re coding in a text editor and you run out of space you press ENTER. When you’re coding on a whiteboard and you need to delete some code you have to use an eraser. When you’re coding in a text editor you press DELETE.

A typical interview goes like this: You shoot the breeze with the interviewer for ten to fifteen minutes. They might ask about stuff on your resume, or about your interests in working at Google, or about projects you’ve worked on. You can also ask them whatever you want. Maybe about how they like the area, or how they like Google, or what team they’re on. Then for the next thirty minutes you work out one of those technical questions I mentioned before. After that you’re sent to the next interviewer. I remember five of my interviews, so it’s possible there were only five, but I might be forgetting one or two of them. Basically the whole process was seven hours of HELL! I like to call it the Gamut. Every company has some kind of Gamut, but Google’s was the worst I’ve ever been in, by far. It was in no way fun. I mention that it wasn’t fun because Jeremy had repeatedly told me, You probably won’t get the job on your first interview, so just try to have fun. I have a pretty good idea of what is fun, and nothing about what happened that day was fun, and unless you are some kind of masochist I don’t how anyone would find a Google interview fun. Even if you were a a genius, and aced the whole interview, I don’t think you’d call it fun. Mundane maybe, but not fun.

For my first interview of the day Brad dropped me off in a room with this really hot chick. And I mean unbelievably hot. And I was like, This chick is a programmer? Dang! I didn’t even know hot programmer chicks existed! Needles to say I was pretty excited, and I know I sound sexist, but I’m sorry to say that that is just how college guys think, and I want to tell the whole story here, not some politically correct version of it. So while I was checking her out I kept looking to her ring finger to see if she was taken, and I was pretty sure she wasn’t, so I was like, Well there’s some potential right there if I get this job! All the sudden I was way more excited about the job than I ever was before. Maybe my professor was right, I shouldn’t pass up an opportunity if it came knocking. So we shoot the breeze for a bit. She asks me what my interests in Google are. What my interests in software engineering are. And so on. All the standard stuff.

Whiteboard coding.
About fifteen minutes in, it’s time for the technical part of the interview. She told me to grab a marker and approach the whiteboard. And I was like, Oh boy, I gotta do some kind of coding? I don’t even know about coding. I got a degree in math, not in coding. She laughs, and I was like, Win!. She actually asked me a coding question related to math. It was about prime numbers. I ripped through the question. She seemed satisfied with my solution. When I look back on that question, I think I blew it, or at least parts of my solution were incorrect. I don’t think she realized I blew it, though. I think she was satisfied with my answer because she didn’t know as much about mathematics as me, and so my solution seemed more sound than it really was. Either that or she was just being nice about it. Google does that on purpose, I think. They start you out with a really nice interviewer and then things get worse from there. My interview seemed to go that way.

My second interview started immediately after that the first one. The hot chick left me in the room and a few minutes later another guy showed up. Nothing about him made me want to work for Google, at least not for the same reasons that the first chick did. He seemed cool enough, though. This guy had actually read my resume and was legitimately interested in some of the things I’d worked on. I took that as a compliment. He definitely had the attitude that there were things he could learn from me. His technical question was more difficult than the first. I made it through it with a little help from him, maybe a little too much help. I didn’t feel badly about that interview because even though I’d made some mistakes the guy seemed to know I wasn’t an idiot based on the other stuff we’d discussed. This was pretty much the only guy that asked about anything on my resume.

Lunch came next. They assigned some guy named Kevin to have lunch with me. I can honestly say that Google’s lunch was the worst lunch I’ve ever had on an interview. Usually the company takes you out to eat. Usually to a nice restaurant. They’ll pretty much open the door to wherever you want to go. Google just gives you the standard buffet that their employees get every day. It’s pretty much crap. Nothing was really very appetizing. The pizza was the best thing they had, and I don’t really like pizza. Kevin ended up going on about how great Google was, and how happy he was with his work. And he kept trying to give me advice, and I was thinking, I kind of want to work here, but I’m not really a Google fan-boy like this kid is. I asked Kevin what IDE he used when writing code, and he mentioned that he usually used a generic text editor. I was kind of disappointed by his response. I love Visual Studio, and I wanted to keep using it if possible.

The biggest piece of advice Kevin gave me was to take a bathroom break between each interview even if I didn’t need one, even if I just washed my hands, because it would be a good opportunity to clear my mind and start the next interview fresh. He then asked me if I wanted a coffee or hot chocolate, and I said I didn’t, but he insisted that I get one. I don’t know why. Maybe he wanted to impress me with the fact that there is basically a Starbucks inside their office. I consented, and to be honest it was actually a good cup of hot chocolate. Better than Starbucks hot chocolate. By a lot. This did come as a surprise as compared with the quality of lunch. I did take one bathroom break that day. I didn’t really see the point in repeatedly going to the bathroom. They had these target stickers in the urinal, and I’m sorry to say this but something about that just seemed a little too immature for me. I don’t take everything seriously, but something about that just seemed so First Grade.

After lunch there were three more interviews that I remember. This one guy I interviewed with had previously been a Microsoft employee and had come to Google for a change of scenery. He seemed okay. He seemed like the stereotypical software engineer. Like you’d see in movies. Super laid back, slothful even, and yes, overweight. I remember I was looking at this guy and thinking, This guy makes over $100,000 a year! (Oh the naivety of being a college student. Thinking that $100,000 was a lot of money.) I blew his technical question. Hands down. No question about it. After he asked the question I found myself scratching my head, and saying, What’s a computer? There was sort of an elitest vibe about him. He definitely came off as a guy that thought he was a genius simply because he worked for Google. He had this attitude that since he understood the question, that I should too.

The interview after that was the worst. It was a lady. She wasn’t hot. She wasn’t even close. She was wearing a wedding ring and I was like, I guess some gold digging guy married her because she makes over $100,000 a year. I wasn’t so interested in working at Google anymore. I’d already blown the last interview anyway. I never got through the technical question this lady asked me. Not even with massive amounts of help. As soon as she told me to draw a grid on the whiteboard I knew I was screwed. A grid implied using the graph data-structure, and if you know anything about computer science, then you know that graphs are pretty much the worst of it. I knew for certain that I wouldn’t be getting a job offer when she said, Let’s try a different question. I’ve never had to switch questions before! So she switched to a different question, it didn’t involve graphs, but I didn’t do much better with it.

The final interviewer was a kid just out of college. He was maybe 22 years old. He’d interned at Google and had been offered a full-time position. He struck me as an angry kid, a miserable kid. I’d been asking all the interviewers, What do you do on a daily basis? I knew that software engineers wrote code, but if an engineer was writing code for eight hours a day, five days a week, there would be no reason to have so many programmers at a company. So I knew that software engineers must be doing something besides writing code. This kid gave about as honest an answer as possible, I quote, I show up at around 11 or 12, check my email. Go out to lunch for about 2 or 3 hours. Check my email again. Then leave at around 4. I know it sounds like he was kidding around, but I know he was telling the truth. I actually appreciate his honesty the most. I blew his interview, and he was kind of a butt, but I’ll give it to him that he was honest. When we were done this kid escorted me to the parking lot, it was like 4:30. He was probably upset that my interview had made him stay half an hour later than usual.

I didn’t get lost on the way to the airport! I drove straight there, without a GPS or anything. I was kind of proud of myself.

I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting an offer, though I must admit I was still hopeful. I really only felt terrible about the last two interviews. When I got home I emailed Jeremy and told him my thoughts. He told me to let him know if I got an offer or not. The recruiter, Brad, called like two weeks later. I don’t know why he took so long to call. I’m sure they made the decision within an hour after I left. He said, We aren’t going to make an offer at this time. I said, Okay. He was hesitant on the phone. I think he expected me to say, Why not? I didn’t say that. I hadn’t expected to get an offer. He started answering the unasked question anyway, The interviewers just thought that... I cut him off, and said, That’s fine.

I’ve heard that each Google interviewer gives a graded report on the candidate, and that a few exceptional reports, even with some negatives, are more likely to get an offer than a full gamut of good reports. I’m pretty sure that all of my interviewers gave me a thumbs down.

Here is the part where I’m going to get a little bitter about Google, and rant on a bit:

I thought I was dumb. I thought I was stupid. I resented Google. I felt depressed for a while. I knew I was a competent programmer, and these guys were telling me I wasn’t. I was so bitter I never emailed Jeremy to let him know I didn’t get the job. His bonus be damned. They aren’t really interested in anything you’ve done, only if you can make it through some technical puzzles. I never had difficulty with technical questions outside of Google, though. Probably because I have since read a lot of technical questions and I’m familiar with the most popular ones. That’s how some people get into Google. They memorize a bunch of questions and solutions. It works. Technical questions require a different mindset than day to day programming tasks. If you memorize a lot of them, you’re probably better prepared to face ones you’ve never seen before.

I’ve talked to other software engineers about their experiences interviewing at Google. It’s usually negative. Which makes one question if they want you to feel depressed. I think they do. One of my friends has a theory that Google interviews a lot of candidates with no intention of hiring them, just so that they can say that they only accept 1% of their candidates. It’s to make themselves seem more elite. He might be right about that. They could certainly ask harder questions during the phone screen, or have qualifying tests, and eliminate candidates faster. The same questions are just going to get asked in person anyway. It would save money. Most companies would prefer that a candidate get eliminated earlier rather than later. For Google it’s easy-peasy to pass the phone screen. Maybe it is more valuable for them to have a reputation of hiring only 1% than to eliminate candidates earlier.

Once I had other job offers I didn’t feel dumb anymore. And once I learned more about the software engineering industry I was happy that I hadn’t got an offer at Google. I didn’t really know anything about the software engineering profession, and so the job I was applying for at Google was SET, Software Engineer in Test. (These are also sometimes called SQE, Software Quality Engineering, or SQA, Software Quality Assurance, Engineers.) SET is basically the worst kind of engineering. It’s not even really engineering. It’s just writing some code to test someone else’s code. A SET’s code doesn’t ship to a consumer. Usually all they do is double click some kind of batch file and run a script. I’m pretty sure that my last interviewer was a SET. That’s why he was so dissatisfied with his work. That’s why he only needed to show up for a few hours a day. It doesn’t take that long to start a script, and it will run all night. SET jobs are boring as all hell and require no creativity.

Part of the reason I like software engineering is because I enjoying finding solutions to problems. I enjoy engineering solutions. I wouldn’t have been doing that had I got an offer at Google. I would have been sitting at a desk, double clicking batch scripts, bored out of my mind. At most companies there are more SET and SQE engineers than there are actual software engineers. It makes sense since companies don’t want to ship faulty code. A lot of college graduates end up doing it. It’s not all bad. Even SET’s are paid well, but satisfying work is more important than compensation in my opinion, at least to some degree. Worse than that, is that SET isn’t actually a position you can move out of in the traditional way. Software companies want quality code, so if you excel at SET they are going to want you to stay there and keep doing a good job. You’re basically stuck there. You actually have to do a bad job to get out of it! I think it’s kind of sad how rigorous Google’s interview process is. A candidate has to go through the whole Gamut and if they do get a job, they get one that could basically be done by a monkey. They’ve proven themselves as bright and then they become a SET. A SET!

After my Google interview I found a job I really wanted, it matched my career goals. Google seems to have an elite reputation within the industry, but that’s diminishing every year. I kind of see Google, and the other top software companies like them, as programmer farms. They hire a lot of smart engineers and hope that one of them comes up with a good idea. In conclusion, I don’t really know what to say. I use a few Google products, my bitterness towards them doesn’t prevent me from recognizing a quality product. I’m definitely under the impression that three out of five Google programmers think they are smarter than everyone else. Maybe they are. Probably they aren’t. If I interviewed at Google again I probably wouldn’t get hired. I’d know going in that it would be best if I memorized some stuff about trees and graphs, but I wouldn’t bother. Information that I can look up is something I don’t want to memorize for an interview. I did enough of that in college. I prefer just taking my chances.

Thus ends my rant.

Categories: 2001-2011 College

The Star Wars Trench Walkway - January 21, 2014

Some of the most important films of my childhood were the Star Wars trilogy. By which I mean the original trilogy, consisting of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. I was first introduced to the films by my mom, who didn’t really know much about Star Wars. She’d seen it, so she thought it would be pretty fun for us kids. She bought two of the films on VHS tape, Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. You see she didn’t know what order the films were in so she just randomly picked two of them. It didn’t really matter to me, though. All I knew was that cool stuff was going on, and a short while later we got The Empire Strikes Back.

The most important scene in Star Wars. Luke walks up a hill and watches a binary sunset.
In my opinion the most important scene in Star Wars is one that has come to be known as the binary sunset. It’s about twenty-five minutes into the film, right after some exposition reveals that Luke doesn’t have it in him to be a farm boy. Luke walks outside and scrambles up a small hill. A piece of music known as the force theme plays. Luke has an expression the screams of his longing to be among the stars. I remember this scene fondly as a child. From the moment I first saw that scene I felt a strong urge to go outside, stand in a cool pose, with a dramatic look on my face, and watch the two suns fall in the sky.

I ran into a few problem in accomplishing my desires though. The first problem being that there doesn’t seem to be two suns here on Earth. The other problem was that I really felt that I should be standing on the sand when doing this. Since I knew that there would never be the two suns, I was resolved to at least make sure that the scenery was somewhat correct. Eventually I discovered the perfect spot to re-enact this scene.

The spot I designated where I would re-enact the scene. Unfortunately I could only take this picture when snow was on the ground, so it doesn’t fully demonstrate the environment.
When I was a kid we walked to school. The walk was approximately one mile. To the west of my neighborhood there is a canal that runs from the north to the south, a utility road runs alongside it. If you follow the canal to the north, you get to my school. That’s basically the route we took. Half of the route was through the neighborhood, then after that there was a walkway with fences on either side, the canal to the west, and private properties to the east. The walkway lead the rest of the way to school, ending at the playground to the west of the building. From the walkway you could see the canal road to the west. It was the perfect location to re-enact the scene. The road was on a hill to prevent flooding in case the water level in the canal rose too high. It was also made of dirt. The resemblance to the hill that Luke walked up was uncanny. I mean, on the other side of the canal there wasn’t an endless desert like there was in Star Wars, there was a neighborhood, but it was about as close as I was going to get.

It was the perfect spot. The only problem being that it was fenced off, and the few gates that were along the fence had padlocks on them. And as far as I was concerned as a seven year old boy, padlocks meant it was illegal to go onto the other side of them. I would find out later, when I went to middle school, that it was service road, open to the public, and there wasn’t anything illegal about going onto it. Just safety issues I guess. In any case, I never did walk up onto the canal road and pose like Luke Skywalker. Not once. Not even after I knew that it was okay to walk along that road. It’s one of my regrets that I never did that. One of my biggest regrets.

If I wasn’t going to re-enact that scene, though, I was at least going to re-enact something from Star Wars. The binary sunset is definitely the most important scene in Star Wars, but it’s not the most important thing that happens. I’m actually not sure what the most important thing that happens is. Certainly Luke needed to be introduced to the force, and in that case, when Luke is using the helmet with the blast shield to fight the remote is the most important event. But that is really only important for Luke’s personal development. When we thing about the fate of the galaxy, though, perhaps the most important event is the destruction of the Death Star. So the scene that I chose to re-enact was Luke’s flight down the Death Star’s trench.

The Star Wars trench.
I don’t really know why the Rebel fighter pilots decided to fly down the trench. It basically put them in a position where they didn’t have much maneuverability, and were easy targets for all the cannons that happened to be along that tower. Not to mention the TIE fighters. I mean, if it had been me I would have just flown straight towards the exhaust port. Seriously, it’s not like it was guarded by so many cannons that the best way to approach it was along some trench, because after firing the torpedo Luke pulled up and he didn’t get shot by any cannons on the way out. So why didn’t he just fly straight towards it to begin with? Worse than those bad tactics, though, is the thing that defies all logic, the torpedo curves into the exhaust port. I don’t know if I’m seeing that scene wrong, but that’s the way it seems to me. In any case, if the fighter pilots had made a direct approach...

Okay, so I’m sure I’m not saying anything new here, so I’m not going to waste my time with it any longer, because of the fact of the matter is that flying down a trench is one of the coolest things in the world. I know how cool it is, because I’ve done it. Yes indeed. I have personally flown down a trench, and when you’re flying down a trench, you don’t care if what you’re doing is the most tactically sound approach or not. All you care about is knowing how cool it is, and knowing that if you make just one mistake you’re going to crash into the side of the trench and have your eyeballs torn out of their sockets.

The walkway trench.
What?, you may be asking. How do you have your eyeballs torn out when you wreck in a trench? Wouldn’t you just explode? You would think so wouldn’t you? And you’d be right if we were talking about an actual trench on an actual Death Star, but it was a different trench that I flew down. Remember how that walkway leading to my school had a fence on either side? It basically formed a trench. I didn’t have an X-Wing to fly down that trench with, but I did have a 10-Speed Huffy bicycle. Normally you’re not allowed to ride a bike on the walkway, at least not an hour before or after school. You might run over some poor first grader if you did that. But once the safety patrol is up, it’s public property and you can ride your bike on it to your heart’s content.

The approach to the trench. It’s a tight squeeze to get past the center bar without getting off your bike.

Here’s what you do: You ride up to the walkway. There is a metal bar at the head of it to prevent vehicles from entering. If you’re good, you can ride your bike through the bars. If you’re not so good, you might have to get off your bike. I was good. Then once you’re on the walkway it’s time to lock your S-Foils into attack position, and it’s weapons free.

A satellite view of the trench. The red line indicates the route.

The walkway zig-zags about two meters to the right.
The walkway isn’t quite like the Star Wars trench. You can see from the satellite photo that it actually has a little bend in it about an eighth of the way in. The walkway zigzags about two meters to the right. Which makes maneuvering down the trench even more advanced than anything that Luke Skywalker did. I know what your thinking. That’s nothing. You used to maneuver around womp rats back home, and they weren’t much more than two meters wide. Imagine, though, peddling an unbelievable fifteen miles an hour and trying to maneuver through a two meter shift! Doesn’t sound so easy now does it? Some times I had to slow down a lot to make it. Other times I was more ambitious. Always, though, I knew that no matter what I couldn’t wreck. You see, there are parts of the walkway that have barbed wire at the top of the fence. Imagine crashing into a barbed wire fence while riding fifteen miles an hour. That’s why I said that one wrong move could have you searching for your eyeball with your one good eye.

After the zigzag it’s pretty much a straight shot all the way to the end. So you pedal as fast as you can. And I mean as fast as you possibly can. In fact on the half mile ride to the walkway, you need to pedal slowly because you need to save your energy so that you can pedal as fast as humanly possibly once you’re in the trench. You’re trying to be like Luke Skywalker after all. You can’t just sort of slowly pedal your way down the walkway. You’d get hit by a cannon if you pedaled too slowly. It’s literally half a mile of trench flying bliss. You see the chain-link fence flying past you. It’s going by so fast you can’t see beyond it, so there is no visible difference between what you see there and the Star Wars trench. You can maneuver a little bit. Not much though. For the most part you got to say in the middle. When there’s a TIE fighter behind your, you’re screwed, just like the guys in Star Wars were screwed. You’re going to get blown up.

As I’d ride down it, sometimes I was Luke Skywalker, but sometimes I was Darth Vader, chasing after Luke. Sometimes I wasn’t even in the Death Star Trench, sometimes I was in the forests of the Endor moon, riding on a speeder bike. When I was in the forest I’d like to raise my chin up slowly and lower it, the way the storm trooper does as he’s cruising along. That’s how you go to do it. When you’re re-enacting a scene from a movie in your mind. You got to capture the little things. The smallest motions that the characters make. All that stuff really adds up into having a truly great experience.

You’ve got a choice at the end. You can take it safe and fly through the middle. Or take your chances and go to the right. (The angle in this picture makes it look worse than it is.) Going to the left is impossible. (Or is it only impossible in your mind?)
Near the end of the trench, at the end of the walkway, there are another two metal bar to prevent vehicles (other than Huffy brand X-Wings). This one is a tighter fit. You can go through the middle or two the right. Going left is impossible. This is your escape route. Right before that you fired the proton torpedoes. I know from experience that going through the center is safer. The opening is way bigger on that end. Going to the left is rough. A bicycle’s handlebars won’t actually fit through it directly, but if you start turning just before the exit your handlebars will be at an angle and they’ll fit. Going to the right is kind of the expert way to go. I’d go both ways. Admittedly I’d take the right escape more often, just to prove I could do it. Every time I did it, though, I’d hear Han Solo telling me, Don’t get cocky.

After that the Death Star is destroyed. You’ve saved the galaxy. You’re going to get a medal. There is just one thing I don’t understand. One thing that never made sense to me about the whole experience, and I’ve flown down this trench dozens of times, so you’d think I’d know everything there is to know about it. You arrive at school afterwards, and the halls of the school have an uncanny resemblance to the halls of the Death Star.

Categories: 1988-1995 K-6

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