Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Death On The Road

I recently endured the terrible death rattle of an intimate friend, a near ever-present sojourner on the highways, byways and skyways I travel. At first, I didn’t realize how serious his affliction was. Looking back, of course I should have seen it coming. There were signs. But when one is often on the road, one has the propensity to turn a blind eye to brewing trouble. After all, what could I—what can any of us--really do about such a terrible circumstance when we're on the road, our bevy of trusted advocates and helpmates left behind?

When I witnessed his first signs of distress, I simply assumed he hadn’t weathered our previous late night out very well. You know how it is the “morning after,” when you’re thinking back on one of those expeditions into unfamiliar territory, and you were in a hurry, and were already exhausted from travel, and you overworked yourself, and now . . . your “systems” (as in all systems that make things “go”) don’t. So, at first I was patient with his predicament. “Just give him time,” I said to myself. "He'll recover. Then we'll get back to go-go-going." But after several more hours of rest, and many attempts to snap him back to normal, he just didn’t. Not only that, his condition worsened.

Even though he didn’t talk about it with me, I could tell he needed immediate professional assistance. I consulted the yellow pages of a local directory and called a vaguely familiar establishment. “You need help,” I said to my friend. “I think I’ve used this outfit before.” He stared blankly at me, not once even blinking. (How/why does he do that?!) Nonetheless, I struck gold with my yellow pages choice. Without even asking my friend to come in for an examination, the yellow pages guy gave me a few suggestions over the phone as to how I might help my friend. I passed them along, and VOILA! Just like that, he was back up and running full steam ahead.

I should have known better.

Later that day, he became sluggish again. Temperamental. The light in his eyes, the one that lets me know he is truly awake, seemed to turn on and off at will. His symptoms grew even worse; at one point he seemed to completely lose his mind! But even though he babbled and stuttered, occasionally, he still acted as if he were back to normal. He’d do so just long enough to make me believe he was. After all, we were on the road! I repeat: who doesn’t want to believe everything will be okay, especially when you are on the road?!

But then, he suffered a complete meltdown. No matter how hard I tried, I could not wake him up. My faithful intimate friend, my good old 3-3/4-year-old Sony VAIO laptop was, for most practical or useful purposes, dead. No matter how many times I removed the battery and popped it in again (yellow pages man), how many efforts he made to crank himself up, or finish booting, he simply would not, could not, stay awake for longer than a few minutes.

I had to face the reality: my machine was doomed, and, therefore, so was I. I was on the road, feverishly working toward two book deadlines. The only good news in all of this? During those brief episodes when he came to life and pretended everything was okay, like a cannibal with no other food in sight, I stuck a back-up appliance in one of his orifices (USB hub, cd tray . . .) and sucked out his guts.

But even though I had fed my need for “my stuff,” now what? Who was I going to call to help enable me to make use of it again? I WAS my I.T. guy! I WAS my purchasing department. I WAS . . . officially hysterical! Without my old friend, I couldn’t even go online to shop for his replacement!

Think. Think. While you’re on the road, Charlene, do you really want to go to a big-box store and buy any old machine ? One already loaded with . . . Vista?


Think. Think. AHA! I used my cell phone to call CDW. They’re located not too far from my home base, and I know they ship all over the place. I’ve purchased through them before, as have a few of my friends. Their tech support is always available and top notch. Although I didn’t buy my last machine through them (I happened upon a really good deal via another local source), I explained what I had (VGN-T150P), what I liked about it, and asked what the next generation of that same machine might be. I also explained that I absolutely for positively did not want to run Vista. (Everybody I know hates it. What kind of doofus ignores the advice of everybody?!)

Turns out they only had four machines left that fit all my “gotta be light--under 3 pounds--and teensy enough to fit in my handbag” criteria, “really want another Sony VAIO,” and for which I could bypass the dreaded V. Well, the four machines in question sort of met this criteria: they were teensy VAIOs loaded with Vista Business--that came with “degradable to XP Pro” software. (Sounds easy, right?) I had them e-mail me a quote.

As if launched into a jealous rage by the mere threat of being replaced, my old death-rattling friend booted up (all the way, this time) and stayed booted just long enough for me to jump on line and compare CDW's price, then he expired again. It’s as if he were surrendering his last gasps, to me. (Who knew a computer could drench you in guilt?)

Turns out CDW’s price for my new machine was very competitive. The description contained words such as "masterpiece" and "luxurious," and "more than strong enough to take the rough and tumble of life on the road." AND, they were offering a $9.99 shipping special for regular DHL ground. Two-day UPS? Twenty-something bucks. I decided I needed some time to emotionally pull myself together anyway, so I went with the $9.99 DHL ground—which arrived in two business days anyway.

Imagine my trepidation as I opened that box. Sight unseen, I had acquired a new and intimate traveling mate, one who would hopefully be with me for at least the next 3-3/4 years. Thankfully, he was everything I dreamed he’d be, and more. He adores me so much that while I’m staring into his brightly lit face, he can even capture my picture and save it in the depths of his whirling hard drive. He can record my words, play my music, store my stuff, connect me to the Internet, and I even adore his shiny looks and kick-butt keyboard!

A week after his arrival, I have, for the most part, completed all the necessary transitions to aim him toward my way of thinking. We are getting to know each other quite well. But let me also say this: advertising that a machine comes loaded with Vista Business, degradable to XP-PRO sounds easier (perhaps less time consuming, would be most accurate) than it turns out to be. It happens there were (sadly) things about my new friend that were built to work best with V and not XP. (Ah, nice if Sony would indicate that before you buy a machine that comes with the “downgrade,” ey?) In many ways, it was kinda like thinking you can change someone after you marry him or her. However, we usually anticipate that “imaginary process” will produce an upgrade, not a downgrade.

Whether machine or human, go figure how dumb we can be!

Next week, I will give you a “technical report” (wink-wink) as to how this Regular Person--a highly creative writerly type, who also has to serve as her own tech support, even though she is not--survived (mostly) such a whopping transition. For now, together my new friend and I must sign off our blog and dive into storytelling waters, where we will, linking fingertips to key pads, swiftly paddle toward the shores of deadlines.

I take that back. Let me rephrase: together, my new friend and I must sign off our blog and journey into the completely dry lands of storytelling. No water for my new friend, lest he short out his brand new brains and take me down with him.

Before we go, I would like to send a special shout out to Joe Brancatelli (if you're not a subscriber and you often travel, click through and take his free tour), who, after he heard my saga, said, “There is nothing worse than a new machine.” Thank you, Joe, for truly feeling my pain. Just don’t let my new friend get wind of our sentiment, though. I’d hate for him to become moody and depressed. After all, we’re on the road together, and I’m depending on him.

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