May 28

Horror Stories from the Digital Trenches, Part I – CCS

Sorry about the huge gap in content. I had an accident and am currently in rehabilitation, so I have been focused on physical and occupational therapy. So, to diverge slightly from my normal political and religious topics, I am starting a series of the bizarre, interesting, and sometimes horrible stories from my time as a professional computer technician.

We begin our story way back in 1996. I was a young man of 18 at the time, dating a woman named Melissa, living with my parents, trying to find my way in the world. I really wanted to work on computers, but had no professional experience in the field, so finding a job had proved to be most difficult.

Late one night, I saw a show on the public access station with a guy assembling a computer, and, at the end of it, was a phone number and the man said they were looking for people without experience who would be interested in working in the computer field. I jumped at the chance.

A few days later, I had an interview with the man. His name escapes me, having been so long ago, but the shop is forever in my memory. The store front was two rooms, one relatively large, set up as a showroom; the other, smaller, set up as two offices. It had the feel of an auto repair shop. The walls did not extend to the ceiling, but only half way, as the ceiling was a full two stories high.

There were three guys running the business. The guy who had been on TV was the owner, a mousy looking man with light brown hair and glasses. The financial guy was older, heavy set, with gray hair. Finally, the head tech, who I remember was named Russell, has brown hair, and was almost a stereotypical a tech. A little plump, but not severely overweight. He wore a lot of earth tones.

After the interview, they told me they would let me know. I also had an interview with a pick-and-pack warehouse that day, so I hurried off to that interview. They basically hired me on the spot for that job, as some of you are probably familiar with.

The next day, I bused to my new pick-and-pack job. As soon as I got there, I was informed my mother had called. When I called her back, she said the computer place had called me. I thanked the pick-and-pack supervisor, and left. I took a bus straight to CCS, and began my career as a computer technician.

The owner had apparently invested pretty much everything into the business. So much, in fact, that his family (Himself, his wife, and their daughters) were living in the loft above the shop. When the daughters would arrive home from school, we could hear them talking from the show room, as the loft was open to the first floor, through some sort of balcony arrangement. I never went up there, so I have no idea what it actually looked like.

About three months before I had begun the job, I had still been dating my high school girlfriend, Kandy. While I was on her computer, it stopped working. Of course, she blamed me (She was a sweet girl. Not overly gifted as far as intelligence, but sweet). I offered to fix it, but she refused to let me touch it. Not long after, we broke up.

About a week after I started working there, her mother brought the computer in to CCS for repair. CCS happened to be just down the street from where they had lived when we first met. I begged Russell to let me repair it. He agreed, and I had it up and running in about an hour. So, in the end, Kandy’s mother had to pay CCS, who paid me, to fix the computer.

That funny twist of fate aside, I enjoyed the job. It was not overly hard, and I was soaking up as much knowledge about computers as I could. It was the days of 386s and 486s, and Windows 95 had just come out. We were selling it, but no one purchased it until just before the end of my time there. This is where I got one of my first lessons in the occasional unfairness of working for others.

I had built up a bit of trust with the crew, as a hard drive had disappeared about two weeks after I arrived, and, predictably, I was accused of theft. I stayed late to search for the drive and finally found it. It had fallen into a box of ribbon cables. So, when the boss and his wife went out with a business associate, and Russell and the finances guy were also gone, they told me to hold down the fort without worrying too much about it. I was installing Windows 95 for a customer for the first time, so I didn’t mind being left alone to work on it.

About forty five minutes into my alone time, a distinguished looking older gentleman entered the shop. He looked around, and then approached me.

“Is your boss in?” He used the man’s name, but, like I said, I do not recall what it was.

“Not at the moment, but he should be back soon. Is there something I could help you with?”

“I have some papers for him,” he said. He was holding a folder. I think it was blue.

I led him into the other room, pointing to my boss’s desk. “You can put them there, and I will let him know they are there when he returns.”

“Thank you,” he said, and left.

I returned to work.

About an hour later, my boss and his wife pulled up. I walked out to them. He was chatting with a woman who had just gotten out of her car. I waited for the conversation to end, and then said to him, “There are some papers on your desk.”

The boss and the woman returned inside. The boss’s wife grabbed my arm.

It was not exactly screaming, but that kind of quite screaming one uses when they are angry but trying to keep everyone from knowing about it, “How dare you air our dirty laundry in front of supplier! What were you thinking? Don’t you ever do that kind of thing again, do you hear me? That was our monitor supplier! That could jeopardize our relationship with them, and then where would we be? Are you trying to destroy our business?”

I was too shocked to respond. I sheepishly returned inside to finish up the computer I was working on.

I spent the rest of the day feeling like the tail that I did not have was between my legs.

At the end of the day, Russell asked to speak with me, and took me outside.

“Your services will no longer be needed,” he said, looking genuinely fearful. Now, I am a big guy, and was when I was a teenager. However, I am not violent. I can understand his fear, but I don’t really like people being frightened of me.

“It’s okay, Russell,” I said, trying to look as non-threatening as I could, “I understand.”

I left, feeling angry, but also feeling confused. I really had no idea what had happened. I did not find out until a few years later what the whole thing had been about.

While working at another computer job, I shared the story, and ran into someone who knew the situation.

Apparently, CCS had been in the midst of a lawsuit, one which they eventually lost, and which caused the business to fail. I suppose it was a good thing I was cut loose when I was. The wife was probably on edge from stress, and I became a lightning rod for that stress.

Small computer stores come and go, and are difficult business to keep running. From personal observation and experience, they are notoriously unstable. Out of all of the small shops I have worked for, only two still exist. That’s a tiny percentage. In both cases, computer repair was not their main business.

I know of a few that have survived long term, but most of those do B2B work, usually selling parts to other stores. Doing work for individuals is tricky, for a variety of reasons.

If I were to ever run another business providing computer repair, it would be either niche (such as laptop repair) or strictly B2B.

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Posted May 28, 2015 by zalpha in category "HSDT", "Technology

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