13 November 2015

No rest for the weary

I'm in study break mode right now, because I spent the better part of the first 10 hours of today working on statistics, the 16 weeks crammed into 8 weeks version. I wasn't able to get into the class(es) I wanted this semester, and I needed more math, and the professor teaching the class is the same one that I had for calculus 2. And, well, statistics are everywhere. There's so much reported now that it's sometimes hard to tell what's based on valid theory and what's based on what sounds cool and gets the most ad impressions. There is also a lot of data available, and the more tools one has to analyze and interpret all of that data, the better. And I like math, and this is my first stats class (although many of my other math classes have at one point or another included something that's included in basic statistics).

The class is entirely online, which throws a curve ball of a different sort-- no physical class means I don't have to worry about the distractions I have to deal with in a classroom. Not having to follow a particular schedule means I don't have the extra stress that goes with getting out of the apartment by a certain time to get on a bus at a certain time to get to the class. I don't have to worry about missing class, or missing the bus and being late.I do, however, have to worry about making sure I spend enough time working on doing the reading, doing the homework, and reviewing the material so that I get everything done and submitted by the end of the week in class time, which is every Monday at 2359.

It's work, and it takes a lot of time. I've settled on a routine of first reading each section, taking notes on the new definitions and procedures and equations.Then I work on the online homework, often filling in blanks in my notes when needed. We're encouraged to use technology, and so I'm doing most of the homework in Excel LibreOffice. Each section of a chapter has about fifteen problems, but some of the problems have ten parts that have to be figured out. It feels like I'm going very slow. I need to use my notes and the book often, to go back and look up a formula or a definition of something I know I need to use, but can't remember the details of. After the homework for a section is done, I go back through the book section and make flash cards for definitions, concepts, and formulas. Every week there's a quiz. Coming up very soon is the midterm exam.

Up until the moment this class started, I had something of a routine going. I'm not saying it was the best routine, but I at least could count on my waking hours being those that got me to work while generally keeping myself isolated from the world during busy times of day. As the world around me was waking up, I was headed home to get some sleep. I'm still on that kind of schedule, mostly, but now I need to study during a large portion of my waking hours. That's still the hours before zero dark thirty, but I'm finding it difficult to carry my ass to bed after studying for several hours-- my brain is still moving, worrying about the homework that didn't get done as much as it is processing the homework that just did get done, plus everything else that my brain's processing at any given moment. So I stay up too late, and then when I do finally fall asleep I'm so tired that I sleep for forever.

The routine is broken, and I haven't settled on a new one yet, and it's starting to be a problem. I got a lot done this morning between 0230 and 1030, but since then I haven't been able to focus on anything because I haven't sleep, and because I jammed on statistics for more hours in a row than I probably should have. I didn't go home to go to bed because I knew if I fell asleep, I'd sleep through the meeting I have coming up today at 1630 at work, possibly the student org meeting I have after that, and the way things are going lately maybe even work later tonight. After work I'll go home, and sleep until whenever tomorrow, and then it's already Thursday night and I have a week's worth of stats studying yet to get done by Monday night.

I'm pretty sure this is what they meant when they first talked about burning the candle at both ends.


I have a lot of stuff going on in a broader sense; it was one thing to say last fall that I'd be moving west in a year and a half, and it's quite another to say that I'm moving in less than a year. I don't have a great sense of time anyway-- my iPhone says it's Wednesday, November 11, so it must be-- there are so many things that happened 25 years ago that seem like they happened yesterday. A day, a month, a year, it's all the same. There are also quite a few things that I hope to have done, or resolved, or gotten rid of, before next August. I knew shortly after deciding to head west that some of them won't be finished, and I'm increasingly all right with that. Moving has so much attached to it, that it's usually not graceful when it happens.

There are deadlines approaching. If I'm going to transfer schools, which is looking more and more like a possibility, applications have to be sent and received before certain dates. I'm not even sure which school I might transfer to, and the possibility exists that because of grades (there's that semester that being evicted from Porchlight's shelter right before finals affecting things again) I'll be limited to where I can actually get myself accepted. Computer science is popular again, and some schools want high GPAs from transfer students. Then I have to figure out what classes will transfer and what classes won't, and see how far back I'll be pushed from graduating.

It's already Thursday night; technically Friday morning. Shit.

I'm often reminded of what the Vet Center said-- not the last person there, who said I was just fine and that I didn't need the Vet Center's services, but the person before that. She suggested that I was basically "retired", that I didn't have to do anything more than take a class at a time for as long as it takes, that I could keep doing exactly what I'm doing (and working where I'm working) until whenever, don't worry about the future. Utter horseshit.


I'm angry lately, far more than I'm used to being. I'm not generally an angry person, even with PTSD, but I'm more easily spun up because of all of the things that have happened over the past three years or so. There are so many unresolved things, where there won't ever be a resolution-- there's no one to complain to that will listen, no one that both cares enough to do something and that can actually change anything. I recently heard that the entirely useless case manager I had in transitional housing recently retired, and the others will eventually do the same or move on to somewhere else. I'm not sure that I'm seeking closure, specifically, but it's something like that. All of the anger that I had to push down in the name of day to day survival never really got dealt with, and there's no productive place to put it.

I know I need to talk to the VA again soon. I need my medication adjusted, the PTSD has been varying daily from pretty annoying to pretty horrible. Surviving the past few years has meant keeping myself mostly isolated, shields up, don't let anyone or anything get too close. I don't trust anyone. I'm extremely hyperaware, pretty jumpy, I avoid people and places, the nightmares range from WTF? to terrifying, all of those things. I don't have much faith in the VA right now though; I was on a handful of pills every day, in therapy, in groups, learning to be mindful, doing all of the things when I first became homeless. None of those supposed-to-be-helpful things prevented me ending up on the street, or actually helped me get through school, or made my life easier to manage-- I dealt with being homeless, I get myself up every day and carry my tired ass in to school or work. I'm moving through life but I'm feeling (sometimes very) rough around the edges.

My most recent experience with the VA, dealing with interns who will disappear after a few months and groups that limit the number of times I can participate, hasn't helped. Cognitive based therapy definitely helps, but it needs to be something substantial and meaningful. Medication helps-- I feel like total shit without it-- but I question its value because I'm on medication, and I used to be on a ton of medication, and it didn't prevent things from falling apart. I'm not seeing anything from the VA that suggests that they have anything new to offer.

It bothers me to no end that I've had no contact with the VA for several weeks, that the last appointment I had I missed, that I was in a group for veterans who were there for prolonged exposure therapy needed because of PTSD from combat, and no one has called or sent a letter or anything to see if I'm still alive.

That's probably what angers me the most. That for all the shit I've been through, some of which was the VA's fault, no one seems to give a shit. If I thought it would do any good, I'd go in and flip over some desks, make a scene, send some papers flying around, but I'd just get myself arrested and that wouldn't fix anything. I'm not that guy anyway. Still, that's why I haven't called to make an appointment, or headed to the VA hospital-- I used to believe that doing so would help, but I don't believe it now.

I don't have anywhere else to go for help, though. I don't drink or smoke or use (and I don't want to start), so that avenue of self-medication is out. So I just press on. Good things happen when I put in the effort, and even if I'm rough around the edges, that might be all right for now. Realistically, I'm going to try to get there next week and have my medication bumped up one notch, and then I'm going to try to find some time to go over my binder of cognitive-based therapy notes. Maybe if I stop expecting anything from the VA, I'll be less disappointed.

31 October 2015

The VA. Also, Halloween in Madison

I've been sick all week, my immune system having been beaten for a time by some random bug that's making me cough, keeping my throat sore, and generally making me feel like crap. After work Thursday night I went home fairly early, guzzled some NyQuil, and slept for most of Friday. Today/tonight I'm feeling a little better, although I'm still eating cough drops like they're candy. I thought more than once this week that I should consider calling the triage line at the VA Hospital, and trying to get in to see a doctor. Some sort of antibiotics would probably help kill whatever bug this is, and I know that the VA pharmacy has way better cough syrup than the generic brand stuff I bought at the campus convenience store. Maybe.

I didn't call the VA Hospital. I really don't want to deal with the VA-- this is partly because I just don't like being sick, and I don't especially like hospitals and doctors and sitting in an emergency room full of other sick people. It's also, as I'm slowly realizing, that I'm deep down still pretty pissed off at the VA and it's making me pretty pissed off in general. I don't want to be the pissed off old guy in the room, complaining all the time about the VA. There are more than enough pissed off old guys complaining about the VA already, some with merit and some not, and in a broader sense I don't want to be the pissed off guy for any reason. Being angry takes a lot of energy I'd rather use for more productive things. So I didn't call, but I'm probably sicker (and for longer) as a result.

On the other hand, I need to let some of this stuff out.

I also need to call the VA Hospital and make a couple of other appointments, one of which is my yearly primary care appointment. The VA doesn't make annual appointments for you-- they send you a letter, and you have to call and make the appointment, which is fine, but I don't really want to go to the appointment even though I know it's a good idea to go. I need to do more to take care of myself, and getting to the doctor once a year really should be a part of that.

Except that I won't get to talk to a doctor, I'll get to talk to a nurse and if I'm really lucky a physician's assistant. There will be the same questions: do you drink, do you smoke, do you use, etc. I'll answer no to all of the above, and they'll look at me like I'm lying-- they know I'm a veteran with PTSD-- and I'll say "really, I don't drink. Maybe one beer in six months" and they'll shrug and get on with it. They'll weigh me, and take my blood pressure and pulse, and I'll get sent across the hall so someone can take blood.

They'll ask about how my medications are doing, and I'll explain that one of the pills they tried to start me on last year made me throw up without fail, so I stopped taking it, and that no one has followed up since. I'll keep talking and explain that they need to find something, even if it's not as effective, that doesn't make me throw up and then we can work from there. Last time I suggested that, they prescribed medication for acid reflux-- an annoying problem to be sure, but not a solution for pills that make me throw up whatever I eat.

The nurse or PA I talk to will be someone I've never met before, and I won't bother learning his or her name because I won't see them again. They'll have rotated out before I'm back in primary care again. For this appointment, they'll have looked at my records for maybe a few minutes ahead of my appointment, if that. They'll probably give me some new pills after my blood work comes back from the lab, and even though I told them that it's much better to contact me via the VA's online secure messaging system they'll call me at 0900 some morning and leave a message with no information. The new pills will come in the mail. Maybe they'll help, maybe they won't.

To get to the primary care clinic, I'll have to take a bus that will take almost an hour to get me there and an hour back, even though geographically it's not that much farther away than the VA Hospital (which is much faster and easier for me to get to). I'll ask why I am moved every year to the satellite clinic, I'll ask to be moved back to the main hospital (where the mental health clinic is), and no one will give me a reason why this can't happen.

The primary care clinic is busy-- the waiting room is almost always crowded and noisy. Without fail, someone will say something about my field jacket or my backpack or something. I'll see someone I know from transitional housing, or someone I know from being on the street. Maybe I'll see a person who recognizes me from when I was in VFW, or someone from VFW will see me and not recognize me but see me as a potential new recruit. Madison is a small town, the community of vets even smaller. It's always someone who says something, and I'm not happy being at the clinic to begin with, and so I'm not much for conversation.

Pro tip: don't approach me about (re)joining the VFW. Ever.

My biggest fear is that in the waiting room will be one of the Porchlight staff from transitional housing-- one of the people that put me through so much shit and ultimately put me back out on the street. Since the day I left Porchlight, I've only come across one of those people, and my meeting with her didn't go well. I'm not sure how I'd react if one of them was sitting in the waiting room, there with another veteran. I know that I'd want to say something along the lines of "Oh, hi ____. Are you going to put that veteran out on the street and leave him to die just like you did with me?" Since the waiting room would be full of other veterans, this would likely fall under the category "causing a scene".

There's a VA Police (yes, the VA has its own police force) officer stationed at the satellite clinic. Causing a scene probably wouldn't be the best idea, I know, but PTSD plays this particular scene in my head over and over again and has since I was in fact put out on the street and left to die. That I didn't die was because of my efforts, not those of anyone associated with the VA, and I'm still a little ticked off about the VA never following up to see if I'm all right (the Vet Center here told me I was fine and that I didn't need their help-- haven't been back there since).

The last thing on earth I need (or want) is to find myself in a situation where the PTSD is doing the thinking and things are perceived to be out of hand. Just like the intern PA who doesn't know my story and doesn't care, the cop won't either. In reality, if I saw someone from Porchlight in the room I'd just let the front desk staff know that I'd be waiting outside and that they should just look for me there.

All of this put together doesn't make me especially excited about sitting at the VA emergency room all day (or night).


I also haven't heard from the VA since I stopped going to the weekly prolonged exposure therapy booster group (which I stopped going to when I found out I was limited to attending six times in a six month period-- I'd already been there four times). I'm alternately confused, ticked off, and saddened by the lack of contact and follow up. You'd think that anyone who was going to a voluntary group for combat veterans with PTSD who just stopped showing up would at least rate a follow up call to see how things were going.

Guess not.

For the four times I attended the group, I met three different people running the group-- all of them interns. One of them has since moved on to a different VA facility. One was a guy who I'd never seen before, and probably will never see again. The third wasn't there most of the time, and she was supposedly the one running the group.

Talking to the other veterans in the group really did help, but since it was a drop in group the lineup of who was there changed every week. You'd start getting to know someone, and then not see them again for a couple of weeks (or again at all), and that gets frustrating instead of helpful.

I don't even know if the group still meets every week.


If you're still reading, I probably owe you thanks for listening to me rant for this long. So, thanks.

I'm still going to rant, but I'll at least change topic now.


It is also Halloween today this weekend in Madison, which doesn't help. Halloween here is a tradition that involves basically everyone dressing up in costume and going out and getting stupid drunk in the name of tradition. The city of Madison has tried to rein things in a bit, by closing off State Street for Freakfest every year. When Halloween falls on Saturday as it did this year, the party unofficially starts on Friday night. If you like this kind of thing, groups of loud drunk people roaming around your neighborhood all night yelling at each other, you'd be in the right place in my 'hood.

People drive for several hours to come here and be obnoxious for Halloween-- I did once, when I was a freshman at UW-Whitewater, so I understand the attraction. Halloween is one of those excuses to road trip to one of those legendary parties that you read about happening at places you're never at, so you want to be there.

Except that now I am there, and I rarely if ever drink, and loud drunk people are just stupid and annoying. My neighborhood is one of those places where you stay with friends who live in Madison when you come to visit, and so there are lots of loud drunk people outside my apartment.

This is why I'm tucked away inside a campus building writing and working, and not at home trying to sleep. There will be a short break, between maybe 0500 and 0700 when the streets will be quiet enough that I can sneak over to McD's for breakfast. Most of the lots set aside for tailgating open at 0600 or shortly after, so there will be the additional loud drunk football crowd and I'd like to avoid them if at all possible as well.

There are a lot of really cool things about being a student at a large state university, but so many things here are based around partying. I know, that's college. I've been there and done that, and had some really good times (and I even remember most of them). I'm not advocating prohibition here, but shit like half the city being drunk and stupid for Halloween because it's a 'tradition' isn't funny any more.

25 October 2015

Vans and Trucks

I'm not at a hackathon this weekend; I was accepted to HackingEDU in San Mateo CA but without travel assistance/reimbursement, and my budget only goes so far. There are others coming up on the calendar, but I'm sort of in a travel lull for the moment. I'm okay with that, I need to recharge a little bit, although deep down I'd rather be on Pacific time right now. It did cross my mind, while I was waiting for my flight home at SFO, to not come back to Wisconsin at all. It's possible that if I'd done that, I'd have a new job already and... but that's at least a little bit unrealistic. If I had just stayed I could also be homeless a long way from home with no job and no way back. I'm trying to move forward, not backward, so here I am.

I've been reading the past week or so about software engineers in California buying vans, or trucks, or even boats to live in rather than paying market rent to have an apartment. That's perhaps an unfair summary, because there are a lot of reasons people choose to be nomads besides money-- but from my faraway spot in the Midwest, looking at bunk beds on Craigslist going for the same monthly rate as my studio apartment in Madison, these people aren't crazy. As I've been reading (and looking at the pictures they've posted), I've also been thinking "hey, I already know I can handle that kind of situation and survive". Remember, I'm planning to move to the same area in (!) than a year.

I'm not sure if I should be proud of thinking like that, or if I should be just a little bit concerned. I've put a lot of energy into not being homeless, and into keeping myself in an apartment, and all of that. I'm also very seldom home-- I sleep and shower at home, and other than that I'm either on campus or in transit one direction or the other. Had it not started to get cold at night, I might never have needed to move into transitional housing, never had to deal with all of the shit associated with Porchlight, etc. Then again, living out of one's car isn't living, it's surviving. Still. There were nights that I slept really well, curled up half in the back seat and half in the trunk, doors locked and me hidden well enough under blankets that if anyone did look in, they'd never know there was a person sleeping inside. I can't say that I miss sleeping in my car in a parking structure, but maybe there's a tiny sense of adventure involved that won't go away.

It takes a certain amount of something-- maybe it's passion, maybe it's insanity, maybe it's both-- to decide that even though you're going to have to sleep in your car/truck/boat and take showers at the gym, you're going to continue doing what you're doing with your life anyway. I made the decision, when I became homeless, that I was going to stay and see through what I'd started here. I could have packed up and left. I could have turned to crime. I could have done a lot of things, but I refused to admit defeat and I stayed put. In my car.

I also, when Porchlight evicted me, didn't leave. I hustled a little, hid in plain sight a little, and managed to find myself a place to live.

It might also be independence, and just a general desire not to have anyone else in control of your life. I could have a living situation that involves roommates. There are plenty of multiple bedroom houses around campus where I'd have a bedroom of my own, and share a kitchen and bathroom with someone else, that would be cheaper. There are plenty of those kinds of places in any decent sized city, and San Francisco is no exception. So sharing a living space is an option, but honestly-- no. I don't need a lot of space, but the space I do have has to be mine, and mine alone. I need quiet. Sometimes, I need to pace and think out loud in the middle of the night. I don't like anyone messing with my stuff. I'd probably be a shitty roommate, and I'm very much okay with that.

This has led me to thinking that, given a beat to hell van, probably a conversion van, maybe a trashed repossessed one that some dealer or auction house wants to unload cheap-- given that, I could strip everything out. Seats, carpet, upholstery, the entire works. Strip the interior down to bare metal and start over. I don't consider myself a tradesman, but I know how to rip shit out with a crowbar. I know how to drill holes, and bolt things down, and lay and cut carpet, and hammer boards together so they stay together. A bed, a dresser, maybe a bar to hang clothes on, a desk, a chair. Wifi? Sure. A fridge, a microwave, a sink, a hot plate? Doable. Power? Run an extension cord just like you do with a camper. Or, solar and batteries. Or both.

I spent the entirety of Desert Shield and Desert Storm working inside of squares and rectangles crammed to the ceiling with radio equipment. Ground Radio's motto? "We can fix anything." I once, briefly, worked for a company that installed land mobile radios in cars and trucks. I'm a hacker. Wiring up the inside of a vehicle is something I can definitely do.

A functioning toilet is something else that they make for vehicles, but I should be forgiven for outsourcing that installation to someone who knows what the hell they're doing.  Maybe impractical, but certainly possible. Until technology or my budget advance that far, there's always an available bathroom (that doesn't involve risking a public urination charge) if you know where to look. Or in an emergency, a Gatorade bottle (thank you, USAF, for teaching me practical skills I can use in the civilian world).

PTSD is certainly a factor in all of this. The past year or so, in addition to trying to stabilize myself a little, I've spent a lot of time thinking about where I fit. I'll have to live with my memories wherever I move to-- I can run around the earth again and again, and they'll still be in my head. Moving away from here will help, at least for a while, because I won't have to see all of the places. I won't have to walk past the transitional housing shelter I lived in, or Porchlight's office on Brooks Street, and I won't have to walk past all of the places on the sidewalk where I spent the night at various times.

In terms of dealing with PTSD, there's not much more I can do here. The VA Hospital isn't offering any new solutions. The Vet Center blew me off so severely that you couldn't pay me to go back there. I've tried veterans organizations-- the VFW's mission was getting drunk and trying to convince me to become a life member. The American Legion was also happy to take my dues, but wasn't interested in much else about me. Things that are directed to Iraq/Afghanistan veterans exist, but I'm usually the only Desert Storm vet in the room-- and it's extremely rare that I run into another vet that used to be homeless. I don't know that being in California will solve everything. Maybe it won't-- but I have to do something. I can't just sit here for the rest of my life.

There is also the question of being a software engineer with a disability. Like most of my life, there is no manual for this part (or if there is, I can't find it). I'm doing a lot right now as a developer to learn how PTSD affects me-- what I need to do to concentrate when I'm coding, how to manage the sleep + medication + caffeine equation, development methods like agile that complement how my brain works instead of beating my head against the wall. There are things I've been able to do, like setting up my work hours with a more-or-less open ended finish time so I can take the time I need to bang on coding problems with a mental hammer and using tools like Trello and Slack and Google Calendar and a couple of other apps to keep track of what I'm doing next. That question still isn't completely answered, and maybe there never will be a complete answer, and most important, maybe that's perfectly okay.

Someday, if there is a judgement day, I want the scoreboard to show that I gave life everything I had and didn't waste any of the talent I was given-- that even when I didn't win, as Steve Jobs once said, I still made a dent in the universe. Even if it meant I had to sleep in a van in Silicon Valley for a while.

16 October 2015

Back from Cali. Not for long.

I'm back from California. *sigh*
Get a cup of coffee, this is a long one.

Last week Thursday

On a bus at 1800 to Chicago O'Hare to catch a flight early the next morning at 0600. I've lost track of the number of times I've taken the bus from Madison to Chicago, and added up with the number of times I've either made that drive or been a passenger, there's nothing between there and here that's new anymore. I'm asleep before the bus is off campus. There's a bus change in Janesville, and after making sure the LED sign on the front of the bus I'm getting on actually says "CHICAGO O'HARE", I'm asleep again.

I'd considered exploring a bit in Chicago, but sitting in an empty airport terminal has its charms. I have an e-reader that's holding about 8GB worth of books, so I settle in at the gate about nine hours early with a bottle of diet Dew and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Supper is double cheeseburgers from McDonald's, out of a bag of burgers in my backpack. A sandwich at ORD costs almost $10, where a cold burger from the golden arches costs $1.50.

I like airports-- my parents always made it a point to show me everything about an airport when I was in one as a kid, and I'd flown across the country by myself before I saw my ninth birthday. I'm also a USAF veteran who was trained to work on air traffic control radio, and so I've spent a decent amount of time on air force bases. Airports (and air travel in general) represent a large and intricate system of algorithms and big metal things flying around. There's actually a lot going on at an airport, even in the middle of the night. And, I just like airports, but I already said that.

Last week Friday morning -- early

My 0600 flight is on time-- the plane's been here waiting as long as I have. I'm flying United. I've had my boarding pass since yesterday afternoon, window seat at the back of the plane already picked out. The back of the plane as several advantages, including that no one ever really wants to sit at the back of the plane. This increases the chances that I sit next to an empty seat. It's also easier to get an extra can of Diet Coke since the galley is right there. (I'm not cheap, but I am a broke college student. Gotta survive somehow.) I'm asleep before the plane leaves the gate. Pro tip-- make sure that when you fall asleep, the cabin crew can see that your seat belt is buckled, otherwise they have to wake you up to buckle it.

The flight gets to SFO ahead of schedule, but the guy on the ground with the orange sticks guides the plane to a spot that's four inches away from the jetway. Everyone that's already stood up and started grabbing bags has to restow them and sit back down, and buckle up. As much as I'd like to get off this damn plane, I'm ok with the wait. If the lady flying the plane is doing things by the book, that's a good thing.

Once that excitement is over, I grab my backpack, say thanks to the crew, and I'm in California.

Last week Friday morning -- midday

San Francisco is one of those places where you get off the plane, and within minutes you're pointed in the direction you want to be pointed in. I've been here before, so I go find the train that zips me to the BART station. A stop at the ticket machine, and I'm standing on a platform waiting for the next train. A few minutes later, I'm on a train headed downtown.

I disembark at Embarcadero, and start wandering from there. It's Fleet Week, so the US Navy has several ships in town and the Blue Angels are flying later in the afternoon. The next couple of hours, I'm wandering along the waterfront. There's a lot of history here. San Francisco's waterfront was an important part of the war effort in WWII, both on offense and on defense. Now, it's a combination of warehouses and places for tourists to buy stuff and take boat rides. The ferries to Alcatraz are already booked, but I'm not that disappointed-- at a certain point I start getting hungry, and I've already decided lunch is going to require getting lost in Chinatown.

Getting to Chinatown is a matter of walking back towards the Bay Bridge to the sign I saw that said "Chinatown ->" and turning right. Embarcadero is starting to get crowded with people heading towards the water to see the air show, so it's probably a good time to go exploring elsewhere anyway. A few blocks farther, and I turn a corner and see a sign that advertises hunan chinese food. It's the only restaurant on the block, there's nowhere to park, and if I were a tourist I'd probably never go there-- meaning it's exactly what I'm looking for.

The menu has about 200 items, and instead of having a cute little pepper icon to show which dishes are spicy it has markers to show the ones that aren't. A pitcher of water and a hot pot of tea appear before I figure out where to put my backpack so it's not underfoot. I order the dinner portion of hot and sour beef, and the server smiles and nods. Minutes later I'm chowing down on a huge plate of hot and sour beef, quickly appreciating that there's a full pitcher of water and a pot of tea. Holy crap. Even the carrots are spicy, but damn this stuff is good. I put a star on Google Maps. Turns out this place has been here for a long time, and has a reputation for really good, really spicy food.

Last week Friday morning - afternoon

Chinatown. I wander for a couple of hours, just checking things out-- I've been to southwest Asia, but never the east and I realize I kinda wish I had been. I star about fifty places that I want to eat at someday. At some point I exit Chinatown proper, and I'm downtown around the banks and similar buildings. I figure I need to find somewhere to try to watch the Blue Angels, so I start walking up Montgomery towards Telegraph Hill.

A word about hills. San Francisco is all uphill. My calves still hurt.

I end up very close to Telegraph Hill, technically part way up. A few other people appear with cameras, proving that this was a pretty good spot to pick. I decide I want to live here. The Blue Angels are amazing as always. One of them passes so close overhead I'd swear he'd seen all of us watching and buzzed us to say hi. Those of us with cameras make small talk-- no one's particularly surprised that some hacker from Wisconsin has appeared in the middle of the neighborhood to watch the Navy show off.

After the Blue Angels are done, it's back down the hill-- almost as much an adventure as walking up was. I'm wearing Teva sandals, and walking slowly. No one's trying to pass me on the way down, so I figure I'm moving at a safe speed. I stop for coffee, plot my next move, and figure it's about time to go find BART and start heading towards Berkeley.

Last week Friday evening

I'm about to head downstairs to the BART station-- there's a steel drum band playing on the sidewalk. I'm thirsty, so I stop at a convenience store and get a huge bottle of sparking water, which I don't normally drink, but sounds really good. I'm standing outside the store when someone taps me on the shoulder and asks me how to get to the nearest BART station and how to get to the airport in Oakland. First, you're standing in it (or at least, above it). Second, I'm from a land far, far away. Third, I know the answer so you're lucky. I explain how to get tickets, which train to look for, etc. before I explain that I'm visiting from Wisconsin and this is only the second time I've ever been in SF. Random person remarks that I look like I belong here, that's why he asked me in particular.

Yes, Universe, I'm listening. We're on the same page.

Last week Friday night

I arrive in downtown Berkeley, and find a bagel place to get a bagel and coffee. There will be food at the hackathon. Berkeley is a different city, to be sure-- it reminds me a lot of Madison, only much more so. Downtown is in a tug of war between staying real and gentrifying. I see a lot of yellow signs proclaiming that this or that property is slated to be razed and rebuilt. I also see a lot of signs and posters that indicate that old school Berkeley isn't going without a fight. (Madison's been doing the same thing, although without the fight.) There's a lot of culture that Madison claims as its own that was clearly invented long before in Berkeley.

I find the local Mickey D's-- not because I'm hungry for another cheeseburger, but because it looks like it was put there for the benefit of people who need something familiar. If you're ever in Berkeley, for god's sake, don't limit yourself to Mickey D's.

The hackathon, Cal Hacks 2.0, is at Cal Memorial Stadium-- on the other end of campus. While I'm walking I see a group of guys who look like they're headed to a hackathon. I can't exactly quantify why people who look like they're headed to a hackathon look like they are, but they-- we-- have that look. We do our best to not get lost. I was at Cal Hacks 1.0, and it doesn't look like we're going the right way. Google Maps has the location as the other end of the stadium from where we need to be. After a couple of wrong turns we get there.

I sit at the same table I sat at last year, set my stuff down, and set off in search of sponsors and swag. Several different groups of people sit at my table, and then leave to sit somewhere else. Eventually several people have accumulated, all of us from different schools, and we decide to form a team and get to work.

The next 36 hours are a blur of Red Bull, code, water, code, food, code, coffee, and more Red Bull and code. The rest of the team goes off to get some sleep, I work most of the night.

Last Saturday -- daytime

Code, coffee, pee, repeat. I also talk to a lot of sponsors, companies that are hiring. I collect business cards, I submit resumes, I collect t-shirts and socks and other swag. I talk to a venture capital firm that I've run into at two other hackathons. I see people from Major League Hacking that I know, and bump into a few hackers that I don't really know, but that I keep bumping into at hackathons.

I don't see anyone else wearing Wisconsin colors. Maybe someone I don't know from Wisconsin is here.

At some point I sleep for a while. Once the hackathon starts, things are sort of a blur, due in part to the caffeine and the lack of sleep and the full bore dedication to build something.

Last Saturday - nighttime

Code, coffee, pee, repeat. I take a longer break at some point, and end up talking to one of the Cal athletics guest services people that's there to keep an eye on us. He works Cal football games, and also works at Oakland Raiders football games. This weekend is easy money, we're all well behaved. We tell stories. At one point the cops stop by, they're making an occasional pass through to make sure we're all okay. They think we're a little crazy, and they're probably right.

Around midnight, a shipment of churros arrives. I eat several more than I probably should, the kid in me knowing yummy sugary treats when he sees 'em.

There's no Red Bull or coffee left, so I scrounge around and steal acquire a couple of cans from a sponsor table that's not currently occupied by a sponsor.

Last Sunday - morning

We've taken our hackathon project about as far as we can-- the API we're using just won't do what we want to do with it. I'm dead at this point, so I sleep for a while. When I wake up, it's almost time to break down and get set for judging. The team doesn't want to present the project-- it's vaporware-- but I decide to go for it anyway. I only get to pitch to a couple of judges, who seem to be at least a little impressed that I'm willing to pitch the project without a project to demonstrate.

I don't expect that we'll win anything, and we don't. I'm cool with that, though. We did take the project as far as it could go-- that's one of the challenges of hackathons, that you have to make the right choices early. Those choices aren't always easy.

Last Sunday - afternoon

We congregate outside while the judges deliberate. I'm sitting next to someone from the venture capital firm that I've been bumping into at hackathons the past several weeks, and we're talking about what the firm is doing, about venture capital in general. I'm soaking it all in. A couple of other hackers join in the conversation. I begin to think seriously about venture capital as something to be interested in-- I certainly have plenty of ideas.

Closing ceremonies happen. My teammates and I hug and swap contact information-- we'll all go our separate ways from here, but tech is a small world. Each of them is pretty awesome, I expect to read about what they're doing on Hacker News someday.

Most everyone heads to buses, or towards the airport. I head back into downtown Berkeley, and find a burrito place that smells amazing. The food is even better.

Last Sunday - evening

I'm sort on funds. I left for the trip short on funds, and I've been careful. Still, my plane doesn't leave until tomorrow afternoon and I don't have a hotel room. It's not hard to find a room pretty cheap in a place like Madison, but it's hard to find a cheap room in Berkeley. None of the hostels or AirBnB's I check out actually work out.

I wander Berkeley a while longer, eventually stopping at a Burger Meister for supper. It's a good burger, but it costs more than I really want to spend on a burger. The 49ers game is on, and I'm not sure if this is Niners territory or Raiders territory. The 49ers lose, and although there's some vocal disappointment there's no further emotional display. Life goes on, which is sort of unusual-- if the Badgers or Packers lose, it's noticeably quiet in Madison into the next day.

At a certain point, it's getting sort of late. I'm not having any luck finding a place to stay, and Berkeley doesn't look like a fun place to camp on the sidewalk. After I'm done with supper, I head for the BART station.

Last Sunday -- late evening

There's some adventure involved in getting from Berkeley back across (technically, under) the Bay to San Francisco. I don't have enough on my BART ticket, so I need to add funds and that pretty much taps me out. I have to transfer trains, since there isn't one that goes direct to SFO; the train I need is waiting on the other side of the platform. A little under an hour later, the train is stopping at SFO.

Airports, at least major ones, are open 24 hours even if the stuff inside like stores and restaurants are closed. I set up camp in one of the food courts, and watch TV on my iPhone. There's a meditation room, and I check that out. The quiet is nice, although I'm dead tired.

Monday - morning

I'm at SFO for the day. I sleep, mostly.

Monday - evening

On the plane. I'm asleep again before the plane leaves the gate. I wake up somewhere south of Chicago. My flight arrives an hour after the last bus to Madison left. I spend the next six hours in the bus transit center, where I've been stranded before. I sleep a bit more. I'm hungry, and at this point would buy a $9.00 sandwich from the only place that's open all night at O'Hare, the Starbucks on ground level at baggage claim, if I had $9.00 to spend.

Tuesday - morning

On the bus, asleep. The bus breaks down in South Beloit, and we have to get on a new bus-- on the new bus, the bus driver has the volume on the microphone turned way up. I'm not sure exactly what I said, but "what the flying fuck!!!" is a good guess. Then I'm asleep once the bus is moving. A couple of hours later, I'm asleep in my own bed.


I've said for a long time that when I was no longer happy to be coming home to Madison, that it would be time to leave. I've actually been here a long time now, eleven years. For much of that time, even when I was coming home to sleep in a shelter, I was happy to get back here. That happiness is fading, and it's fading fast.

One important part of my happiness to be here fading is the time I spent on the street, especially after I was evicted from transitional housing. It wasn't just Porchlight that kicked me to the curb-- the city did, too. It's hard to see the way Madison is treating its homeless. It took a lot of effort to get off the street, and I had to do it without help from all of the wonderful social progressiveness that Madison claims to possess. I like a lot of things about Madison, but I've seen the ugly side that most people never get to see.

I acknowledge that San Francisco has a lot of its own problems, homelessness being one of them. I know about some of the other problems-- it's a big city, and big cities have big problems. I'm not trying to whitewash that by any means. San Francisco might, and probably will, get hit by a major fuck-shit-up earthquake at some point in the future. Still, the city is a survivor. I felt that energy while I was there.

Madison, on the other hand, doesn't have that positive. I feel angrier here. I walk past the places where I slept outside, and the places where I hid from the rain and thunder, and while I feel proud of myself that I managed to survive those nights and days-- I feel dragged down by them, too. On football Saturdays, when Madison is busy being the "best college football town in America", I'm just annoyed by the noise and drunken idiots. I love me some cheese and sausage, and even an occasional beer, but there's got to be more to a place than that. I've been looking for the more, and I haven't found it.


A final note, before I go home and go to bed.

I'm sending out resumes and applying for jobs in California. I'm also looking at transferring schools to finish my degree. There's a point on the graph where, once you've gone past that point, you're no longer making forward progress by just continuing in the same direction. While I've been dealing with PTSD and being homeless and all of that, I've also been working my ass off to learn new things and get better at things I already know how to do.

I don't know, exactly, how I'm going to handle managing PTSD in a new city, a new state, and a new job. I do know that I'll figure it out. It won't be easy-- it never is-- but I'm not afraid to try.

06 October 2015

SF Fleet Week (and @CalHacks)

I'm not necessarily tired, but my attention span today (Monday) has been short (OOOOH LOOK SHINY THING!!!) er than it usually is, so getting things accomplished has been difficult. When my brain is in short attention span mode I try to focus on doing smaller tasks that get finished faster, which actually works quite well. This past weekend I was able to fix some bugs in one of my software projects, do some good user interface work, and in general be productive. Today not so much. Last night's lineup of dreams nightmares has a bit to do with that-- it took a good couple of hours and breakfast to get even somewhat dialed in.

I'm beginning my for-reals job search, albeit a little cautiously. I have a few copies of my resume out in the world now, and might have one or two first stage phone interviews in the next couple of weeks. I'm proceeding cautiously not out of fear, but because out of all of the resume, interviewing, and career advice that's available I'm sort of unique. Or maybe it just feels that way. No one ever makes infographics that show how to apply your resiliency in surviving living on the street to software engineering. As always, I have to look at a lot of things and listen to a lot of voices, picking and choosing the things that apply. I'm walking my own path, if nothing else, and hopefully it all adds up to convincing someone that I should be a part of the company they're hiring for. 

CalHacks is next weekend, so Thursday this week I'm headed first to Chicago-- I have an 0600 flight to San Francisco on Friday, and since I live in a place where the transportation network goes to sleep at 1900 (and since I don't own a car) I have to get to O'Hare the night before. This is both kind of a pain, and an opportunity to go exploring in Chicago a little bit since there are trains and they run late at night. I probably won't go anywhere all that exciting, maybe just somewhere for dinner that I've never been before. The 'it's a pain' part comes when I need to get some sleep, because I can't afford a hotel room. The bus transit center at O'Hare isn't the most comfortable place to spend a night, but it's not the worst either, and I'll be asleep on the plane before it leaves the ground.

Leaving so early means I'll get to San Francisco early, and then I'll have more time for exploring there. I don't have specific plans, although I'm trying to set up lunch or coffee with a couple of people I've met at hackathons. Last year before CalHacks I stumbled upon Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (which this year, happened already), so I need to find something new-- which didn't take long, the US Navy Blue Angels will be in town for SF Fleet Week. SCORE.

Intermission while I look for places to watch the Blue Angels on Google Maps. More intermission while I ask Google Maps how to get there on BART and Muni, and get from Pier n to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, and from there to Cal Memorial Stadium. This year I'm going to try to get it right and not end up at a liquor store in Oakland instead. :)


I'm aware even from so far away, of a sort of backlash coming from not just San Francisco, but Silicon Valley in general. It's pretty similar to the 1990's, when the commercial internet was a new thing. People then likened it to a gold rush, as everyone and their brother's dog was setting up a website and trying to get rich. Some of those people did, at least for a short time. I wasn't one of them. I worked for a dot com at the tail end of the madness that was the Dot Com Era, so I saw the carnage. It was ugly. There are a lot of people now trying the same thing-- drop everything, fly out to California, find a mattress to sleep on, fire up a start up, and get rich. I'm quite sure that there are plenty of people in Silicon Valley that are quite tired of kids from back East or the Midwest showing up expecting to be the next Zuck. 

Which puts me in an interesting position, because I'm moving to California next year. It's probable that I'll be working for one of the companies that one of these crazy kids starts up. 

There are a lot of reasons besides tech for me to want to move west, one of the main ones being that I need to be somewhere new. I've taken things as far as I can here, both academically and professionally. I'm looking for a job, yes, but I'm looking for a new school as well. I certainly could stay here, and take one class at a time, and it would take me six more semesters to graduate-- three years-- during which I'll be broke, cold, and unhappy. My love for Madison went away after sleeping on its streets. There's a lot that I really like about Madison, but it's painful to stay here (especially with the way the city continues to treat homeless people). Yes, this is the "greatest college football town in America", but when you don't drink and don't like loud crowds, that kind of thing doesn't matter much.

I'm going to end this rather abruptly. I'm awake later than I probably should be, I've been fighting off a headache for a while now, etc. etc. None of this answers anything, not really, but it's a start. It's also a reminder, to myself and to you, that I haven't given up. I could have, but I didn't.