June 02, 2006
On the way to Bend, OR
The car is packed, and we're ready for our first road trip in the Cherry Bomb (our
2001 red PT Cruiser). We're psyched, we're packed, we're still half-asleep—conditions
Conditions are perfect, that is, for a stop at Krispy Kreme, which conveniently has a
store about 10 blocks from our new apartment. (and we have a Krispy Kreme Kash
Kard, which contains about 25 donuts worth of eating on it.)
We even get a free, hot and warm Krispy Kreme glazed donut (we always
think of this as receiving donut communion—it's free and it's
Now we're ready to sit in the car for 7 hours, staring out the window
and trying not to ask "How much farther now?"
So why on earth are we headed towards Bend?
Well, it's kind of a long story, but we don't have anything better to
do while we drive down I-5 staring at the odd items being ferried by
various tractor trailers. (Our favorite so far is some 10-foot lengths
of 15-foot-diameter tin pipe. Somebody has a very serious sewage
About a week ago, we finished up our applications for Americorps*VISTA.
(There's several branches to Americorp, such as the Brownshirts, which
is only for 18 to 24 year olds and you have to wear a uniform. The
VISTA branch is where you get paid very little money for working to
help folks less well off than you are. That's the branch we're
The cool part is that the application is on-line and you can take your
time filling it out. Sadly, that's about the only cool part. The
application is clearly aimed at college kids--there's room for two (2)
volunteer experiences and four (4) jobs (and the job descriptions
consist of the name of the company and your position).
Oh, and you have to explain how you acquired each skill you have (such
as "Writing") in 25 words or fewer.
These applications are perfect for somebody just finishing up college,
and woefully inadequate for grown-ups with some 30 years of
professional experience each.
Still, this is the government, and the government loves its hoops, so
we squeeze ourselves through them. When you submit the application, you
also enter numbers for
the jobs you are interested in (which you can find through the
AmeriCorps incredibly clunky and poorly designed search engine).
We were waiting until May 25th because there was a job that Laura was
interested in that didn't open until then. (It wasn't clear what would
happen when we hit "Submit" on the application. It was entirely
possible that it would clear every field on every page, requiring us to
start over, so we didn't want to hit "Submit" until we were ready.)
Of course, for reasons known only to bureaucrats, the job suddenly
opened on May 18th (which we found out about by accident). So we were
racing around finishing up our applications (Laura: well, one of us was
racing around finishing it up, but the sensible one had her application
We pushed "Submit" on Wednesday.
Friday morning, Robert gets a call. It's from one of the listings he
applied for, asking if he can do a phone interview later that day.
Robert would like to remind everyone that he managed to secure our
current apartment in one (1) phone call.
As it turns out, he may have managed to secure both of us jobs with one
(1) phone interview.
Needless to say, he's been insufferable since, and if it works out,
will probably be more so. (This week, he's convinced that he's a mutant
X-Man with special Phone Powers. "I must use my powers only for good!
Unless, you know, the Dark Side has a better dental plan.")
We'll talk more about the job in a bit. Right now, we're enthralled by
a trailer carrying 2-foot thick slabs of concrete, about 10 feet high
and 20 feet long rolling down the freeway at 60 mph We're thinking how
large a hole it would make in the pavement if it fell...
We pull off at the rest stop just north of Battleground, WA. Although it seems obvious
that some kind of warfare occurred here, Laura (who had to take Washington History in
1st grade, 2nd grade, etc.) doesn't have a clue who fought whom
or why. But we're pretty sure the good guys won.
So, about this job in Bend. The lady we talked to, Felice, is a
consultant running her own business. She's managed to score a couple of
government grants (one from the Feds, one from the State of Oregon).
She's in that awkward position of having more work than she can handle,
but not enough to justify hiring an actual employee.
Enter VISTA. It turns out that VISTA people make very little money.
Like really teeny amounts of money. Like poverty wages. The logic is
that you'll be at the same economic level as the folks you're working
with (which, frankly, makes us want to be assigned to Beverly Hills).
We've heard numbers as low as $750 per month (which is what we used to
spend on groceries).
If you're a business person looking for cheap help, though, this beats
the tar out of having to pay an actual living wage. And it's legal!
Felice has got several projects she's working on, which she's planning
to assign to the VISTA (and yes, they use the noun to describe the
person who's in indentured servitude) depending on what his or her
Pretty much all of them are about helping people start small businesses
in rural Oregon. Some of them are helping artists figure out a way to
make money doing artsy stuff. One is getting some farmer's markets
going. Another one is to write a manual on how to start small
businesses in rural areas.
The job skills she's looking for are almost exactly the same as the job
skills we have (communication, writing, speaking, organizing—all the
stuff you learn when you have to run your own business).
She was hoping to get a college kid who might have majored in one of
these areas. She was not expecting to get a couple of people with years
(and years) of experience in almost all the fields.
Because she's a consultant, not a government agency, she knew better
than to lounge around and mull over our application—which is why she
was on the phone within 48 hours of Robert's application going in.
And, in the course of the phone interview, Robert mentioned that Laura
(who, after all, has an MBA) was also looking for work, and Robert
bemoaned that AmeriCorps makes no provision at all for married couples.
(You can't even search for jobs by city, to make it easier to get two
jobs in the same city.)
This got Felice fired up because she (like us) thinks this is a pretty
darn good chance for the government to take advantage of our naivete
and rope us both in. She said she would make some phone calls (since
she knows the other VISTA folks in the area) and see what she could
In the meantime, Robert & Felice agreed to meet halfway in Portland on
We're discovering something about asking Google for directions. Google
likes straight lines. It also knows that going along the hypotenuse of
a triangle is shorter than going along the edges.
Of course, right now, the hypotenuse is running through Gresham and is
going through about 8 billion lights (to make it easy to get in and out
of the many, many strip malls that line Highway 26 at this point). The
edges of the triangle (I-80 and Hwy 35) are zooming along at about 80
Beware Google map directions.
Okay, where were we?
Oh yeah, Robert & Felice agreed to meet in Portland on the 16th and it
sounded like pretty much a done deal. But Robert got to thinking
(always a moderately dangerous activity) and realized that:
We need to tell our landlady (Starr, if you've been following recent
entries) that we're moving out by the 10th of the month.
the contract for the job starts August 15th
if we don't nail it down until Jun 15th, we couldn't move out
until the end of July.
Oh look—Laura is running an Autoharp festival the last week of
Hmmm....Of course, all these problems go away if we move at the end of
JUNE, and in fact, we get some extra time to get settled (and find all
the donut shops).
So we e-mailed Felice (Robert: "It didn't seem like I needed to use my
phone powers for such a simple task. With great power comes great—ow!
Quit hitting me!") and pointed this out.
We said we would be willing to drive down to Bend to help wrap this
thing up early.
By then, of course, Felice had received Laura's application and we're
pretty sure she was trying not to explode when she saw LJ's
qualifications (certified Quality Manager, MBA, three small businesses—all
kinds of hoorah). So we arranged to meet on Saturday, June 3rd
(tomorrow) at 10:00 AM in Bend.
And that is why we're driving endlessly down the highway towards Bend.
We're at the summit of a ski area that's right near Mount Hood. We can't see Mt. Hood,
because of all the clouds, which have been raining on us for most of the last
But we can imagine how this would be a whole heap of un-fun in the
winter if this were snow. We have no idea which passes stay open and
which ones close during the winter.
If we take this job(s) in Bend, we might find out.
Oh yeah, one of the things that Felice mentioned was that she might go
through her budget again and see if couldn't afford two VISTAs. This
would be ideal for us, because we'd get to work together and our skills
tend to complement each other. (LJ's good at working while Robert's
good at whining).
Plus, she'd get about six standard VISTAs worth of work done.
We stop for gas, and immediately commit the faux pas of trying to pump
it ourselves. Robert is busy navigating the menus for the pump, trying
to activate the "Dispense Gasoline" mode when the attendants kind of
freak out and assure him that they'll be there to take care of it real
Oregon: The only place in the country where they don't allow self-serve
gas. We have no idea why. It seems like if it were a safety issue, we'd
be reading about Seattle fireballs on a regular basis. Maybe the
service station attendants here have a strong union.
We've talked about what happens if there's only money for one VISTA
job. Since we're pretty insistent about sleeping in the same bed every
night, it wouldn't really work for us to live in different towns.
We could conceivably wait around to see if any of the other ones worked
out (and there's at least a couple of the ones we applied for that are
in the same town).
On the other hand, we very (very) much like working for somebody who's
a consultant and can move quickly. One of our fears is ending up in
some typical government gig where nobody can wipe their ass without
filling out a form in triplicate and getting it approved.
And so far, after 10 days, Felice is the only one we've actually heard
from (60% of Robert's listings have acknowledged receiving the
application; LJ's running at 80%; so some of these people can't even be
bothered to check the responses to their listings).
So, we're inclined to favor the person who got off her butt and got
ahold of us.
Also, this is pretty much exactly the kind of job we were thinking
about when we decided to have our mid-life crisis (they even use words
like "micro-enterprise" and "growing communities"). We're serious
believers in small business and we'd love to raise a bumper crop of
them in rural Anywhere.
There might be another VISTA gig in Bend (we can't really tell), but if
not, we're going to let Laura take the job for a couple of reasons.
She's got the stronger business skills (Robert has learned his the hard
way, but doesn't have any book learning to back it up). Also, it would
probably be easier for Robert to put together a consultant gig in Bend
(doing web pages for small businesses, for example).
Isn't it fun not knowing what direction your future will take?
Yikes! We're back in Redmond?!?
Oh wait, this is Redmond, Oregon. But it's about the same size as the
"real" Redmond—it claims a population of 21,000.
We drive past a Redmond Police motorcycle and speculate about whether
the two Redmonds go in together on equipment and such ("Just paint
'Redmond' on it!").
Okay, Google said it would take us 7 hours 43 minutes, but we managed
to shave 43 minutes off that (despite taking a 20-minute lunch). We did
it totally legally by um, taking shortcuts. Not by speeding. (Not by
Laura speeding anyway—sheesh, talk about poking along at the speed
We managed to hit a traffic jam in Redmond (just like home!), but Bend
traffic moved pretty well. The Deschutes river runs through the center
of town, so it's kind of like Chicago. Only without all the people, the
tall buildings, and the wind.
We drove past our motel (which we booked on the Internet) about four
times, because its name on the Internet isn't the same as its name in
We're not going to tell you its real name, so that Robert can brag
about hacking into their router. Robert, who is one of the worst
hackers imaginable, managed to guess their system password and hack into
the hotel's router while he was sitting in the car waiting for Laura to
get us registered.
What this means is that he can lock everybody else out of the system
and change the password so that nobody else can get in.
And it means that a real hacker could easily penetrate any computer
hooked to the network (unless you're paranoid like we are, and you've
got your firewall up and running and sharing turned off—and even then,
we're not staying connected any longer than we need to).
Robert's comment: "Well, there's a business opportunity! Lock them out
of their own system and then drop by to see if they're having computer
Robert & Laura
Mid-Life Crisis Trip Log