I’m the king of recovery.
Depending on your point of view, it’s either a skill or deficiency; but it certainly strikes both fear and elation into the lives of those who are paying attention.
In short: I seem to have a knack for getting myself into twisted, hopeless predicaments; then miraculously finding a way out as if nothing happened.
Green Lawn Care
I owned a lawn-mowing company in high school named Green Lawn Care. The assets of the company included a silver, ’79 Ford pickup with bench seats; a old rickety flatbed trailer; and a 36’ professional mower that I bought brand new before beating into submission. The employees included my younger brother and a couple of loyal friends that would help me out on a moment’s notice.
One humid August day, we were quietly driving down main street on our way to the next lawn. I was half driving, half daydreaming out the window as we passed the Dairy queen, a park, Town Hall, and a bridge over our little creek.
As we were slowing down for the main stoplight in town, I casually looked out the passenger window toward the flower shop. In slow motion, my eyes began to focus on a trailer and mower riding along side the truck at about the same speed as us.
Adrenaline jump-started my heart as I realized that the trailer was ours! It had come unhitched and was now flying out-of-control in the middle of traffic! Helplessly, we watched as it jumped the curb, narrowly avoiding a light pole, and headed toward the front window of the flower shop.
As it skimmed over the front lawn, the tongue of the trailer dug into the freshly watered grass, spraying dirt into the air and slowing it down just enough to avoid catastrophe. We looked at each other and jumped out of the truck, working like a pit-crew to restore the trailer to the truck.
We finished our work by replacing the torn sod and patting it down as if nothing had happened. We made it back into the truck and were on our way before the light turned green.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes, only to find a way out of the mess. In moments like the trailer incident, a calm sets over me as if a primal instinct is taking command of my actions. I hear my grandpa’s voice saying “Don’t Panic!” and I just kick into gear.
There’s definitely a bit of luck involved in these recoveries; if you were to trace my record over the years you’d find that the chips tend to fall my way more often than not. I’ve always felt a certain ability to call upon luck when I need it.
If you’re a spiritual person, you might explain it in terms of a guardian angel, or divine intervention. If you’re superstitious, you might just call me lucky. But it could just as easily be the fact that I never accepted defeat in these situations, and therefore was receptive to all available options and opportunities.
Someone once said that luck is just the intersection of opportunity and preparation.
My Poor Mother
Flirting with disaster used to drive my poor mother crazy. Mothers don’t need any more excuses to worry than they already have.
She used to help me with this T-shirt business I ran in college. I would run around campus pitching T-shirt ideas to campus groups. Between studying and having fun I would design and deliver shirts for parties and events on campus.
My mom’s job was to pick up the shirts from the printer and send them on the road to me on campus. As you can expect, I liked to push deadlines to the absolute max.
After I sold an idea to an organization I printed up a marketing flyer to display the design and collect orders for the shirts. I designed the flyer on my laptop and saved it to a disk to be printed out at AlphaGraphics.
This was ten years ago when technology wasn’t quite as smooth as it is today. There was always some sort of complication on these stupid flyers. Sometimes a font wouldn’t transfer quite right. Sometimes the margins were off. Sometimes a certain part of the file wouldn’t print correctly. Sometimes there were misspellings.
One time, I stayed up all night designing a flyer to be printed off before I had to be in class the next day. I made extra sure that all my bases were covered so there would be no complications. I saved it to a disk and made it to AlphaGraphics with about an hour left until my class.
Right on schedule, there were complications. I was paying something like $24 an hour to use their computer and $2 a print for the poster-sized printer. Each print had some sort of problem. I fiddled and fiddled and edged closer and closer to a finished product.
Exhausted, and with only a few minutes remaining before class, I finally hit print after fixing all known problems with the document. Here’s what came out of the printer:
All I could do was laugh.
I saved this print because it symbolizes my struggle. It’s almost beautiful in its chaos. I always look back on it for strength when things got tough.
I eventually got it right, as if nothing had happened.
I used to work as a French Interpreter for Continental Airlines. Even though I worked in Newark, NJ; I chose to live in Austin, Texas. That’s one nice thing about working for an airline: you can commute from just about anywhere.
One morning, I decided to sleep in a little instead of giving myself two flights to get to work on time (you know how unreliable the airlines are). If the weather held, and there were no mechanical problems with the plane; I could catch a flight that would get me into Newark about 45 minutes before I had to check in for work.
By the time my eyes were finally opened and focused on the clock, I had missed my alarm and the flight was leaving in less than 20 minutes! I threw myself out of bed, grabbed my luggage, and sped off to the airport. I was too late to use employee parking, so I paid for the expensive lot right across from the terminal.
As I was running in from the parking lot, I could see the tail of my would-be plane in its regular gate. I still had a chance.
I jumped to the front of the security line and ran down the terminal, huffing, puffing, sweating, weaving in and out of strolling passengers, and dodging motor carts all the way. As my gate came into view, I saw the nose of my plane, and my last chance to get to work, pulling away from the gate.
I slowed my run to a jog, then to a walk, and then to a mope. I stumbled up to the gate agent who was finishing up paperwork at the desk. She assured me that I had missed my last chance.
The worst part was that I had used up all of my sick time and missing work would put my job in jeopardy. I felt the calm set over me and I took a seat at an empty gate next to a window to let it all soak in.
After a few minutes passed, I realized that I was staring at another Continental plane that was docked at the gate I was sitting at. I looked around inside the terminal, but no one was around. It couldn’t have been a scheduled flight.
Just then, the door to the gate opened and a gate agent emerged. I jumped up to catch her. What was the plane doing there?
She explained to me that a series of delays earlier in the day had left them with one extra plane, and the crew was about to ferry it home without any passengers.
Wait a minute! Since I was a qualified crew member, it might be possible for me to catch the flight as a jump-seater.
I ran down the jetway to speak to the captain. He welcomed me aboard and it was as if I had my own private jet to take me to work. I made it on time as if nothing had ever happened.
Two Thousand Miles From Home
This week, I returned home from a 4,000 mile road-trip across the Southwest. I post-dated two weeks worth of articles on Genius Types and left the computer behind for some low-tech relaxation.
First, I drove from Los Angeles to Steamboat Springs, Colorado (stopping in Vegas for an hour) to attend my brother’s wedding. The next weekend, I was expected on South Padre Island in Texas for one of my best friend’s wedding; so I stopped in Austin along the way to service the candy route.
An hour before the wedding, all the groomsmen were gathered in the groom’s suite, watching football and getting ready for the ceremony. Someone had a laptop set up and I couldn’t resist the temptation to check on Genius Types.
I’m naturally a tinkerer, but I usually have the luxury of a site backup on my home computer in case anything goes wrong. I ignored my better judgement and messed with a few files on the server to make what I thought were some minor improvements.
I eventually forced myself off the computer and rejoined the groomsmen. The wedding was beautiful and everything went off without a hitch until I started getting emails from Genius Types readers on my Blackberry. What’s wrong with your site!!??!! Has it been hacked?
What luck. Genius Types goes down at the worst possible moment: when I’m on the beach, 2000 miles from home, at a wedding, and without a computer. I took a deep breath and submitted to the fact that I had done something stupid, but it wasn’t more important than sharing this moment with my friends.
Since I didn’t have my own computer, I asked the groom’s brother if I could borrow his the next morning for a few hours before checkout. My site would have to wait.
The next morning, I pried myself out of bed to get the computer and figure out what the heck was going on. Genius Types was channeling a completely unrelated blog and the site that I had spent a year creating was nowhere to be seen.
After two hours, I had to get out of the hotel and on the road and I still hadn’t corrected the problem. If I were home, it would have been as simple as restoring a backup, but I was a 24 hour drive away from Los Angeles without my own computer.
I got on the road and drove six hours to Austin. I felt helpless the whole time. Genius Types was going on a whole day of channelling the wrong blog. I stayed with some friends in Austin and I was able to borrow the computer that night.
With some help from a professional, I found the root of my problem. I had somehow changed the contents of a configuration file, and through dumb luck it was redirecting Genius Types to another blog that was hosted on the same server. I changed the file back to how it was supposed to be and let out a sigh of relief as I refreshed Genius Types.
I expected to see that beloved brain logo and wide theme, but instead, something entirely different popped up. The content was correct, but it had reverted to the default theme that comes with WordPress. No problem, I thought, I’ll just change it back. I made the necessary adjustments, but it wouldn’t stick!
I fiddled with it until 3am to no avail. It was the strangest thing. Messing up this one little file set off a chain reaction that was out of control. Some weird mysterious force was blocking out my regular theme. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but I have advertisers who are paying for space on my site, and all of that code is in the custom theme.
The only answer I could come up with was to start from scratch and load a brand new Genius Types on a new server. I forged ahead with that cumbersome plan, copying hundreds of megabytes to a new server.
As the sun started to rise, I ran into problem after problem. One server was too slow. Another didn’t have the right configuration. Another wouldn’t accept the files. All of this would have been avoided if I had access to the backup on my home computer.
At 6 o’clock, I heard Stacey’s voice. She was in pain and it was getting worse. It looked like I would have to take her to the doctor. It wasn’t yet serious enough for the emergency room, so I decided to wait until 8 o’clock when the doctor’s office opened.
I had been making progress on restoring Genius Types to a new server, but if I couldn’t finish by 8, it would have to wait another day. I had to get on the road by that afternoon in order to make it back for some commitments the following day in Los Angeles, over 18 hours away.
At 8 o’clock I went to check on Stacey to take her to the doctor, but she had fallen asleep. It was the only sleep she had gotten all night and she seemed to be out of pain. I would let her sleep and take her to the doctor as soon as she woke up.
10 o’clock passed and she was still asleep, but I hadn’t restored the site. I was getting closer though.
At noon I had everything in place except for a few pieces when Stacey woke up. I dropped the project moments from the finish line to take her to the doctor. It was starting to look like it wasn’t meant to be.
I had a hard time believing that all the work I had done over the last two sleepless nights was going to be for not. I kept getting email from concerned readers and even a call from my mother. It seemed as if everything I tried was going wrong.
On our way out of town, I passed a library and Stacey let me stop to check one last time on the site. I logged into the computer and typed into the address bar: geniustypes.com, and hit return.
Holding my forehead in stress and taking a deep breath, I went numb for the moment it took to load the site. To my amazement, everything was back to normal as if nothing had happened.
I got back in the car and pointed it toward the sunset over the Texas hill country. I had pulled off yet another recovery.