As I pulled up in front of my house, I noticed that my van was on fire. More specifically, the driver’s side rear tire, which had slowly been coming apart for the past few miles, was now producing acrid black smoke and I could hear the soft crackle of flames. The temperature outside was 108 degrees. There was no telling how hot the asphalt was, but frying eggs was certainly a possibility. Still, flaming tires seemed a bit excessive. Hadn’t Mythbusters just proved that this couldn’t happen?
I’ll be honest. I’ve had better summers. The season started with me getting fired. The offense was that I allowed a relatively minor company document to get indexed by Google. I had used one of my own ftp sites to send the file home, and I had forgotten to remove the document. Google found it, information security found it on Google, and I found myself out of a job. In years past, such an infraction would have gotten me a warning at best, but times have changed. My termination was soon followed by a substantial round of layoffs at the company. Virtually every benefit, from medical to profit sharing to the 401k has either been eliminated or substantially reduced. I fully expect that there will be more layoffs. The company has some major problems and it may or may not survive
I went into the house to fill up a pail of water. Unfortunately I didn’t have a pail, so I used a two-liter soda bottle. The water pressure was particularly bad the day. In the summer, in the desert, the water pressure at two in the afternoon is light at best. Before I even finished filling the bottle, the tire exploded. I ran out and splashed water on the fire, but it was too late for minor measures. My neighbor had his hose in the front yard, so I ran and grabbed it. The water was barely strong enough to reach the fire, which was making its way toward the gas tank. I focused the water on that spot.
Getting fired had not been in my plans. In fact, I had been making a special effort at to work to eliminate any possible issues. In a casual work environment, I had begun wearing long sleeves and ties. I had eliminated every remotely cynical decoration and covered my cubical with inspirational slogans and the company’s “customer covenant”. I had tried to make myself fireproof, but there’s always something out there that can get you. For me it had been a nightmare project four months earlier. We’d been given an outrageous deadline to put out a product that was clearly not ready. We’d been told to “think outside the box” and do what it takes to succeed. I was operating on almost no sleep and battling a cold that had dragged on for months. Somewhere in all that chaos, I started sending files back and forth from home so I could keep working. This was not an approved activity, and even though I had my manager’s consent, I knew it was a risk. That was why I stopped after the company came to the sad realization that its dream product was a polished turd and gave up. Unfortunately, I forgot about the file, even as Google was discovering it. Four months later, it exploded in my face.
An explosion was exactly what I was trying to avoid with the van. Unfortunately, as even I know, water is not the most effective way to put out a fire, especially when oil and gasoline are involved. In this case, however, I got lucky. Two neighbors appeared, each with their own fire extinguisher. They didn’t quite manage to put the fire out with them, but they got it away from the gas tank and eventually we managed to put the rest of the fire out with the hose. By the time the fire truck arrived, we were already cleaning up the mess and pondering the damage. We drank some ice water together and then I went to call my insurance company. Eventually I collapsed on the couch and spent the rest of the night coughing up the remains of smoke and fire-retardant powder.
When you get fired, you have to combat a lot of issues at once. You are depressed that you failed. You are angry that you were rejected. You are worried about your finances and your reputation. You have to contend with everyone, EVERYONE, that you know asking you what you are going to do next. You question your actions and try to figure out what you could have or should have done differently. I updated my resume on all the job boards. I bought a new set of business cards. I contacted old friends. I created a new portfolio site.Â I found ways to dramatically increase my Internet income. My wife and I cut out all of our unnecessary expenses.
The van had caught fire as I was arriving home from an interview. My portfolio, my friends, even my business card had come together to bring me a new opportunity. A few days later I got the call. We want you. I am an independent again. I am a freelancer for hire, and I have my first contract. Life is goodâ€¦ but I need a new car.