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Joe had never
seen rain this heavy before. He gripped the
steering wheel tightly with both hands as he peered
out through the slapping wipers. Someone had told
him once about these monsoon downpours in the
desert but he thought they were just kidding. Now
he knew better. How dry and dusty it had been back
in Albuquerque. "They could sure use this water
back there," he thought to himself.
He had spent the entire day in that picturesque New
Mexico town, hitting every conceivable business
that might be in need of a data processing expert -
he must have dropped off at least thirty resumes.
No one was hiring now; no one even seemed
interested. He wondered what had caused the 'dot
com' bubble to burst anyway. "It can't be this way
everywhere," he figured.
got to be hiring ... somewhere." All he had to do
was find that one place that needed him.
Driving on in the darkness, he knew he should call
Lisa tonight. "Might as well wait until after nine,
when the 'anytime' minutes are available," he
reasoned. "No sense in paying prime time rates on
the cell phone, especially with money being as
tight as it is." He glanced at the glowing digits
on the dashboard. It was only eight-thirty. He
figured she would be putting the kids to bed about
He thought about checking the interstate map on the
empty seat beside him, but quickly realized the
driving conditions demanded his full attention.
Pulling up a mental image of the map in his head,
he calculated, "Let's see ... it's another hour west to Flagstaff, then only a couple of hours
to Phoenix." He could easily be there by midnight.
That is, if this
incessant rain would let up! Surely he would be
able to find work in
If anything, the weather seemed to be getting
worse. Wind gusts kept
jerking the car sideways. With all the water on the
road he could feel the
tires slipping on the pavement underneath. "Stay
focused," he warned
himself, "pay attention to what you are doing!" He
knew he was getting
tired ... tired of the job searching ... tired of
hearing all the negative
responses. It was more than just being physically
worn out; five days on
the road had taken a heavy toll on his body and his
spirit. He was mentally
exhausted from constant interviews and being
continually on-edge. He hated
the seemingly endless string of cold calls on less
than receptive potential
employers. He knew he was just tired of trying.
"Got to keep a positive attitude," he told himself.
He knew that employers
looked for that in prospective employees. He
thought of Lisa and of the
kids, Sean and Allison. That was enough to put a
smile on anyone's face.
But then he thought about the bicycle that Sean
wanted for his birthday.
And of the orthodontist's warning that Allison
shouldn't wait much longer
for the braces. He thought about the tune-up that
Lisa's minivan needed,
and about the car insurance premium due next month.
He thought about the
new tires he kept putting off, about the mortgage,
and about the many other
things that seemed to be piling up all around him.
The headlights in the rearview mirror nearly
blinded him before the
monstrous semi flew past. Dirty spray from the
tires drenched his vehicle
completely as if a giant wave had swallowed him.
The wipers were useless
against the onslaught. He could only hope that
nothing was in front of him.
He felt the vibrations from the speed bumps along
the edge of the lane and
knew he was veering onto the shoulder. Finally,
after what seemed like an
eternity, the truck moved out far enough ahead so
that he could once again
make out the road. "That was close," he thought to
himself, as his
trembling hands gripped the wheel even tighter. Up
ahead, he saw the exit
sign. "Gas ... food ... lodging," it read. He
slowed and put on the turn
He figured a hot cup of coffee from the truck stop
café would calm his
nerves. That, and a trip to the rest room to splash
cold water on his face
would help him stay awake. As he approached the
stop sign at the top of the
exit ramp, he saw the sign for the Starlight Motel.
"Executive suites at
trucker's prices," the sign read. "Free HBO with
Internet access in every
"How funny," he thought to himself. "Even out here
in the middle of nowhere
they have Internet access." He rationalized to
himself that maybe it would
make sense to stop here for the night. At least by
morning the rain should
be gone. Besides, it would give him a chance to
look over some of the
potential job sites in Phoenix on the web before he
went to bed. He
mentally determined which, if any, of his several
credit cards had not yet
reached its maximum limit as he pulled up to the
The room was about what he expected for the price.
About halfway between a
Motel Six and a Best Western in accommodations, it
had obviously been
decorated in that same excruciating nondescript
style. At least the room
was clean and the bed was tolerable. He had
expressly requested a
non-smoking room but the drapes smelled of stale
cigarettes. He switched on
the under-window air conditioning unit to remove
the musty odor.
Plugging his laptop computer into the Ethernet data
port at the desk, he hit
the power-on switch and went to the bathroom while
it went through the boot-up sequence. By the time he reappeared, the
welcome screen was there
to greet him. "Nice gateway router or data server
they must have here," he
thought to himself. Most hotels only provided
rudimentary dial-up service
for business travelers; it was unusual to find one
that offered a true
high-speed broadband local area network.
He stared at the screen for a moment and wondered
if was even worthwhile to
keep trying. Taking a deep breath, he shrugged his
shoulders and flexed his
fingers before hitting the magic keys. He started
searching for an easy way
into one of his favorite Internet services. One of
the advantages to being
a techno-geek type of guy was that you never had to
pay for an Internet
Service Provider. Every service had some type of
log-on account that the technicians used for system
trouble-shooting. He had cracked just about all of
them. He managed to log
into AOL on his second attempt. "They sure don't
know how to make up secure
passwords," he thought to himself. "Boy could I
show those guys a thing or
two about network security!"
First he checked the weather forecast for the
Phoenix area and was relieved
to note that the rain would be gone before morning.
Next, he logged into
his home e-mail account to see if there were any
replies to the numerous
electronic resumes he had sent out to the various
job search sites. There
were several; most were just the automated "Thank
you for your inquiry" type
of form letter responses. A few even had the
dreaded "We are not hiring at
the present time but will keep your resume on file"
added as a courtesy at
the bottom. Not what he had hoped to see, but then
not at all unexpected.
He stared at the message list for a while. "Who
am I trying to fool,
anyway?" he questioned. "No one is ever going to
answer." He felt himself
falling even deeper into the despair that seemed to
be getting progressively
worse with each rejection. Even Lisa had questioned
why he wanted to go on
this trip. He had told her that he needed to go
look for work in person,
that it would improve his chances. He knew better.
What he really wanted
was to get away from that feeling of inadequacy he
had at home. He hated
the fact that they were falling further and further
behind, eating up their
meager savings and cutting corners to the point
that even little Sean and
Allison sensed something was dreadfully wrong.
He was starting to think that maybe stopping here
for the night was a
mistake. "Maybe I should have kept on going," he
thought. "Maybe I
shouldn't have spent the money!" He imagined
driving on through the
rain-filled night; of the blinding headlights and
torrential rain; of the
slippery roads and hazardous conditions. "Maybe
that's the way it was
supposed to happen," he wondered.
He could imagine the highway patrolman going
through his wallet and hear the
call to Lisa in the middle of the night. He could
feel her pain as she
heard the news. He thought of how difficult it
would be on her and the
kids. But then again he reasoned, "The pain would
only be temporary. The
life insurance is paid up through the end of the
quarter and there is a
double indemnity clause for accidents. They would
be fine for a few years
anyway. And she would be quite a catch for some
lucky guy." He didn't
really want to think about that part of it - of
Lisa meeting someone else,
that is - but he knew the kids would need a father.
He started to write an e-mail telling her how much
he loved all of them
before he got back on the road. He knew he had to
be careful and not say
anything that would indicate that the accident was
planned. He was stumped
momentarily after he got past "Dear Lisa" and
stared at the screen, trying
to think of how to say the words he needed to say.
He noticed the chat room
icon was blinking continuously in the corner of the
screen. He tried to
ignore it, but he couldn't get it out of his mind.
Finally, unable to stand
it any longer, he right-clicked on the icon to
disable it. Instead, the
chat room window opened anyway at the bottom of the
"Is anybody out there?" it asked.
He cleared the window and tried to get back to his
e-mail, infuriated that
someone had infringed into his personal workspace.
The window popped-up again. "Is anybody there ...
anyone at all?
Agitated almost to the point of losing control, Joe
typed furiously to the
intruder, "Who the hell is this ... and what do you
"This is Angie. I just want to talk to someone,"
came the reply.
"Sorry Angie, I'm not in a chatting mood tonight,"
he answered back.
"Is that you, Joe?" she asked.
He was dumbfounded. How could someone figure out
who he was? He had
logged-on with an anonymous maintenance account. He
figured a hacker must
have gotten through his software firewall and into
his e-mail account.
He tried clearing out the stored pages cache,
disabling the interface port,
and even logging out. Nothing seemed to work.
Finally he hit CTRL-ALT-DEL,
the ultimate escape of last resort. He watched the
machine shut down and go
through the restart process.
He logged-on again, this time using an old
Microsoft Network maintenance
account. But before he could even start his e-mail
editor, the chat room
window opened again.
"Joe, I really need to talk to someone ... please
stay online" she pleaded.
He couldn't believe that this was happening to him.
"Okay," he thought,
"I'll play along." He figured it must be some type
of trick - maybe someone
down at the front desk playing with the mail
"All right, Angie - or whoever you are - I'm here,"
"My real name is Angela, but everyone just calls me
Angie," she replied.
"Thanks for not going away this time."
"What do you want?" he asked. "Where are you at?"
"I just want to talk to someone. I'm far away, but
closer than you think,"
"Sounds like you just want to play games," he
snapped back. "I'm really not
in the mood for games tonight."
"No, I don't like games either," she responded. "My
whole life has been a
game. I'm tired of playing games. I don't want to
"I don't follow," Joe typed. "Then why are you
"Did you ever just think maybe it just wasn't worth
it?" she asked, ignoring
"Of course," he answered. "Everybody feels that way
once in a while."
"Well, tonight I'm going to quit playing for good.
I just wanted you to
know before I left," she said.
"Do you mean what I think you mean?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, "I just want to go to sleep."
Joe tried to fathom what
she was trying to say - to go to sleep, to just go
to sleep. How simple ...
how eloquent ... to sleep, just to sleep.
He looked up with a start. The screen was blank. He
hit a key to disable
the screen saver. The laptop came back to life but
only displayed his
initial power-on welcome screen. He had a terrible
kink in his neck and
realized he had dozed off sitting at the keyboard.
Glancing over at the
window, he could tell it was almost daylight. He
tried to log back onto the
web to see if Angie was still there.
Nothing seemed to work this time. Not AOL, not MSN
Frantically, he tried both Internet Explorer and
Netscape Navigator; neither
would go through. The local diagnostics confirmed
everything was fine on
his laptop. He was able to ping the server - the
connection was good. He
grabbed the phone from the nightstand and called
the front desk.
"Good morning sir. How may I help you?" came the
"Your gateway router is down!" Joe exclaimed. "I
can't get out to the
"We apologize for the inconvenience, sir," the desk
clerk answered. "Our
outside data connections have been down for the
past week. We're waiting
for the manufacturer to send us a replacement
interface board for our
Joe dropped the phone and looked over at the
welcome screen on his laptop.
He could still hear the clerk droning on and on
about how he should have
been told at check-in and how they would deduct ten
dollars from his bill.
He picked the phone back up and managed to mumble a
quick "Thank you" before
he hung up.
He turned off the computer and walked over to the
window. Opening the
drapes, he looked out at the glorious sunrise. It
was going to be a
beautiful day. He peered up into the clear blue
skies above and knew that
somewhere up there Angie was looking down at him
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