Wed 11

Travel Diary: Days #11-13 (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Melbourne)

Writing I wake to the aroma of banana loaf. I’ve made barely a dent in Katrina’s goodies, and my hotel room smells as if Momma’s been a-bakin’. It’s quite delightful. Hotels should consider leaving out banana loaf instead of chocolates, I think.

Take two for Google. This time I seem to have the right day, and Ricky leads me through the campus to do my talk. And oh my God. The stories are true. It is the most wonderful place in the world. It’s like the company is saying, “Just come in, hang out, and I’ll give you everything you could possibly want. And if, you know, you have a minute free and want to do some work for us, that’d be cool, too.”

There are endless cafeterias; free, of course. Snack and drink machines everywhere. Massage chairs. A laundromat. A beach volleyball court. A wave pool. Grass, trees, open space. A full-scale model of SpaceShipOne. A T-Rex skeleton being attacked by a flock of pink flamingos. And geeks, geeks, as far as the eye can see: young, free, happy geeks. I want to weep for the years I spent at HP: why did I waste a single minute of my life there when this exists? If I didn’t already have my dream job, I swear I would throw myself on the Google doorstep and beg for employment.

Which makes things a little ridiculous, because I am here to preach about the innate evil of workplaces, and Google’s campus is so wonderful that I expect bunnies to frolic amongst the cubicles while chocolate donuts rain from the sky. Still, I’m not persuaded that my thesis is wrong. I strongly suspect that Google will never be as good a place to work again as it is right now. Today, Google’s corporate identity is dominated by the personality of its founders. I expect that as it ages, and outlives the people who started it, the corporation’s natural inclinations will gradually take over. After all, one time, long ago, HP was something like this.

The good thing about speaking to a room full of people who have probably never heard of me is that I can dredge out old stories I no longer tell on book tour out of fear that everyone who cares has already heard them. I also try to make the most out of the sensation that I am a Person Worth Listening To, because I know that in 24 hours I will be back to Person Who Needs To Do Those Dishes.

[Update: Here’s the full Google video of my talk.]

The very first question is whether I am wearing the same shirt as in my author photo on the back of the book. I confess that I am, and use as my excuse that it’s all I have clean on my last day of tour. But hey, I’m at Google. There are guys here who probably consider it unnecessary and inefficient to own more than one shirt.

Back to my hotel, and as I pack for the last time I begin to feel like I might miss this. I dunno; there’s just something about people rushing to open doors for you and delivering hamburgers to your room at 1am that’s fairly easy to get used to.

The desk clerk asks if he can fetch me a cab, and I say, “No thanks, I’m catching Bart.” I am quite excited about my plans to catch Bart, and being able to use the sentence, “No thanks, I’m catching Bart.” I was meant to take a cab, but when I mentioned this to Katrina last night she was horrified at the idea, since Bart pretty much runs direct from my hotel room to SFO check-in. So I trundle my suitcase down Market St to the station. Unfortunately it’s 5pm and a lot of people are doing the same thing, only without suitcases and with annoyed looks at people standing around with suitcases trying to figure out where they’re going. I know that most public transport systems don’t make much of an effort to tell newbies how to use them, but Bart seems to take that to a whole new level of mystery. It even leaves up to me how much the ticket should cost: at first it suggests $20, I bargain it down to five cents with the down arrow, then we compromise on $5, which sounds about fair to me. I hope any transit police I encounter feel the same way.

The train is packed and disappointingly not covered with Simpsons characters or, really, remarkable in any way. It’s just a train. So sitting there with my 50-pound suitcase biting into my thighs, I’m thinking I probably should have caught that cab after all. But I don’t want to leave you with the vague idea that this is all Katrina’s fault. I want that to be clear. It totally is.

On my ninth journey through airport security screening in eleven days, I find myself appreciating how polite and serene the staff are. They deal with the exact same situations about a million times per day. I am already shouting in my head: Hey, you! Shoes off, idiot! You there, a laptop in your bag? What are you, stupid? Whoa! Where do you think you’re going with that jacket? Hey! Yes, moron, you! Shoes! SHOES!

For the flight home I am reaquainted with my old friend seat 48G, which no amount of begging, calling, and mouse-clicking over the last two weeks has been able to budge me from. But it turns out that the seat beside me is miraculously empty—one of only a handful of spaces on the entire flight. This allows me to angle my legs diagonally under the next seat along and, oh sweet jesus yes, straighten them. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing you can fall asleep without risking Deep Vein Thrombosis.

We touch down in Melbourne and before long I’m through Customs. At first I can’t see Jen and Finlay, and do a big circuit of the arrivals hall. Then I spot them from behind. I yell, “Hey!” They turn and grin. Jen sets Fin down and she stumble-runs toward me across the floor. It’s like the day I left, except instead of leaping into my arms, she pulls up right in front of me, looking suddenly shy. I sweep her up and hug her tight, and after a second I feel her little arms hug me back.


This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Tim Ashwood (#595)

Location: Sydney
Posted: 4838 days ago

Awww! Welcome back.

Robert (#2152)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Posted: 4838 days ago

Congrats! I guess the USA was nice and all, but now come to Europe! But do those dishes first!

Machine Man subscriber Katrina (#847)

Location: SF, CA
Quote: "Good sex is like good Bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." -- Mae West"
Posted: 4838 days ago

I suppose I should have actually asked *when* your flight was. >_> Rush hour isn't exactly the best way to experience BART, no. Given you didn't complain about where it put you down though, I'll assume the connection to your flight was decent at least. :) Sorry overall for the less than enjoyable ride.

And Google is truly amazing. Hopefully the people that leave Google also spread some of that vision/work ethic to the companies they go to so people actually enjoy working where they work.

Machine Man subscriber Barry Mitchell (#1001)

Location: Saukville, Wisconsin
Quote: ""A hamster's like a small camel" - Ben Katz"
Posted: 4838 days ago

Glad your trip went well and you got back safely. I enjoyed reading your travel diary. Thanks for sharing your trip with us!

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @:"
Posted: 4838 days ago

wait i got confused there at the end are you saying jen as t-rex arms? :) o fin does ;) heh just playin'...

Machine Man subscriber Greg (#1742)

Location: Norrisville, Maryland
Quote: "But Gram, I don't like brusselspouts!"
Posted: 4838 days ago

"Today, Google’s corporate identity is dominated by the personality of its founders. I expect that as it ages, and outlives the people who started it, the corporation’s natural inclinations will gradually take over. After all, one time, long ago, HP was something like this."

That's your next book? 'The Firm' meets 'A Brave New World'/'1984' meets 'Office Space'?

"But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Google".

Machine Man subscriber Bushra (#36)

Location: Fremont, California
Quote: ""
Posted: 4838 days ago

I remember the first time I went on BART when I was little, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. We would take people from out of town to Chinatown and so get off at the Powell station in SF. There was a mall connected to the station! It was so cool!!

Yeah, BART during rush hour is indeed not the best time to experience it. Everyone is rushing to and from work and now that they have increased bridge tolls, I'd imagine it's even more crowded. The rare times I've taken it to work haven't been much fun (although it's a good time to catch up on reading). It's fine on the weekends though :)

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4837 days ago

That brought a tear to my eye...

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 4837 days ago

I agree with the awww. I got my signed copy from Austin. Didn't get to see you Max. Oh well. Here's the link for your [email protected] talk just in case you or anyone else wanted it.

Rene (#2458)

Location: Austria
Quote: "To live is to die - Cliff Burton"
Posted: 4837 days ago

I aggree with Robert (2nd from the top right now). Come to Europe, please, and if you do, please don't neglect Austria.

Machine Man subscriber Ness (#244)

Location: Lorne, Vic
Posted: 4836 days ago

Thanks for sharing your trip with us Max, especially those of us not lucky enough to see you on tour. Though I have had a craving for banana loaf recently...

Happily, I finally got my hands on a copy of Company yesterday during my brief stop at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne. Who's have thought I'd badger my local bookstore about it for months, and then find several copies in passing?

Machine Man subscriber Tim (#2866)

Location: Brighton, England
Quote: "How much do you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight?"
Posted: 4835 days ago

Bart sounds awesome. Bargaining for tickets! Genius. Come to the UK, I'll put you up for the night. And you can do a book reading at the local... pub?

Jack (#2443)

Location: Australia, Bendigo
Posted: 4833 days ago

Max! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Hey! Im reading, finally, one of your books. At the moment Im reading syrup, and the first thing that struck me about it, is that it reminds me so much of Douglas Adams, and his Hitch-Hikers guide to the Galaxy and other stuff. Scat really reminds me of Zaphod for some reason. But honestly, so bloody hard to get copy of your books here in Australia. Im from Bendigo, which is right near Melbourne by the way, and the biggest library in town has a single copy of Syrup and Jennifer Government, which I thinks pretty lamezor... aaah, finally, after reading your blog for so long I get to read one of your books. Im just suprised I was allowed to borrow anything considering I have 9 books, 2 months overdue..

Chris Hale (#3030)

Location: Adelaide
Quote: "As 'tis optional, I choose not to participate!"
Posted: 4830 days ago

before you tour Europe, how about doing Australia?

particularly South Australia.

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