Saturday, August 1, 2009

One Thing Leads to Another

A long time ago when I was in kindergarten, my parents had been planning to buy a house, and move out of the house we lived in, which was my dad's parents house in San Jose. He and his siblings inherited that house when their parents died at a young age. So my dad, at age 23, basically finished raising his younger siblings. Of course, that didn't sit well with some of them, so they moved out as soon as they could. My dad stayed on, got married and then I was born, and we lived in that house until I was 5.

They found a house in the Willow Glen neighborhood, I remember driving by there a few times, peeking through the windows as they would show it to friends and relatives. The deal was just about done, but then something happened and the deal fell it was back to looking again. A couple months later they found another house on Doma Drive, and that's where we ended up moving to, and that was the house I grew up in, we lived there for 20 years.

As I grew up and went to the same school for 8 years, and then on to high school along with those same kids, I would often think back to that house we 'almost' lived in, and how much different my life would have been, with different friends, and different experiences...would the trajectory of my life path be entirely different? or would it veer back in the same general direction? What opportunities were missed? What disasters were avoided? Well, none of us will ever know, and it's the same for everyone. There are major forks in the road in everyones' life path...some we take by choice, some by circumstance. And it is always by chance, or by fate, that in a single instant one's life can change course forever.

I remember driving to a job interview back in 1985. I lived in San Leandro and the interview was in Concord, so I allowed myself some extra time. But sure enough, traffic was horrendous and I found that I was running almost 15 minutes late! As I approached the exit I wondered if I should just blow it off since I was so late, but I thought, "no I might as well go in, I'll just explain it was the traffic."
So that's what I did, and they were very understanding, and the interview went extremely well! The guy who interviewed me was named Ron, and he introduced me to Mimi, who was one of the artists working there, we all hit it off that day and sure enough I was hired. We've all been friends ever since, and through them, became friends with a wider constellation of people.
Had I decided to skip the exit and drive home that day, I would never have known any of them. Who knows what course my life would have taken? Would I have met another different set of friends? probably, but the idea of never having known any of these friends leaves me with an incredibly empty feeling.
Similarly, in 1987 I was freelancing, and jobs were getting pretty few and far between...I remember going through the drive-thru at a Jack-in-the-Box, and there were newspaper racks along the drive-thru lane. So on a whim, I bought a SF Chronicle to read during lunch. As I skimmed the want ads, I saw an ad, "Illustrator Wanted - Computer company seeks artist/illustrator w/ traditional skills..." Even back then, I knew the odds of landing a job through the paper was pretty slim, since they get tons of resumes, but I thought, why not? So I sent in my resume with some samples...sure enough they called! And I went in and I got the job, it was at Spectrum Holobyte, a start-up game company when computer art was in its infancy, and I learned as I went along and rode the crest of a computer graphic wave for 15 years! And I've met some wonderful friends on that wave...friends that I would never exchange for the world, in any 'what-if' time line....All because of that one moment when I decided to buy a paper at that Jack in the Box. If I hadn't bought the paper, I would never have answered that ad...and well, who knows what direction I would have taken? A different but similar one maybe, but not *this* one, and not with the people in it...maybe some! but we'll never know.
How many other instances are like that in everyones life? It occurred to me that they happen every single day, in subtle ways...and not just by the things we ourselves do, but as circumstances of things other people do as we interact with them. Like the big-rig that overturned on the Bayshore Freeway, halting traffic for miles, because the driver had to swerve to avoid a guy on his cell phone who cut him off. The wreck blocked the main entrance to SFO, causing pilots and passengers to miss their flights. What were the consequenses of all those missed flights? How many people missed out on job interviews? How many business deals failed to get done? And the people who missed weddings, funerals, or a husband trying to fix his marriage...and the consequences of all those events on other people, all spiraling out in an endless array, like dropping a heavy stone on a still lake. All because someone decided to make a phone call at that exact moment in time.
Timing and circumstance, every single day. The beer I ordered today, I asked for a Sierra Nevada. After the waitress took the order she came back again and said, "oh did you want that in a 16 or 20 ounce draft?" 'oh 16 ounce please'... "okay, you got it.." And when she turned, she ran right in to a customer, knocking an empty bottle on her tray to the floor. "Whoa!" everyone yelled. Clearly embarrassed, both the customer and waitress apologized, and a busboy swept up the glass.
That's when it all occurred to me, if I had ordered a glass of wine instead, she would never have turned around to ask me what size, and the customer would have passed and no collision would have happened. Maybe that one collision was the last straw for that waitress, now she will quit her job and go back to school to become a nurse...probably not, but you never know...all because I ordered a beer instead of wine. All of these life-altering permutations. How many occurances like this, big or small, happen every single day, to everyone? And how big do we know they will be in the long run?

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