Have bike, will support

I went to school in 2000, taking a program of network design/support and database design. It was a two year program compressed into ten months – I was 43 at the time and felt that I didn’t have any time to waste. I graduated in November.

I landed a job in February 2001 with a contractor to Shaw Cable doing high speed internet installations. Pretty basic stuff – install the NIC, add protocols and services, set up email and newsgroups, and explain a bit about them and the internet to the customer. It taught me some things about Windows’ version of TCP/IP, IRQ conflicts, and a bit about configuring a BIOS – which I hadn’t had to deal with before on my small home network.

When I interviewed, a ‘vehicle’ was required. I’ve been a cyclist for many years, and spent the last couple of years of the eighties and the first half of the nineties racing bicycles as seriously as I could. I couldn’t afford to own a car, expensive bicycles and the equipment, entry fees, etc. needed to race them – so I chose not to own a vehicle. I was very experienced with working around the limitations imposed on me by my method of transport and Vancouver’s climate. I was also aware of the prejudices in North America applied to people who choose cycling as their only means of transport, which is why I didn’t tell the interviewer that my ‘vehicle’ was a bicycle. After being hired, I loaded my saddlebags with network cards, cables, Shaw ‘Welcome to high speed internet’ booklets, contracts, and the few tools I needed. I double bagged my supplies in Ziplock bags, and none of my NICs were ever damaged by moisture or temperature. I finessed my way around the occasional situation where I might be expected to have a car – I went out to the office to pick up more supplies by bus, and a couple of times when they called me in on short notice – ‘my car won’t start!’

I was new so I would frequently get routes in the suburbs – North and West Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Surrey – once I even went out to Langley. This was easy at first as I’d take a bus with a bike rack to get close to the area, travel between appointments by bike (or a bus with a rack if the timing was right), and then return home by bike rack equipped bus.

Then the bus drivers went on strike. I got up earlier to ride to the first appointment – and my days were longer. I remember one day I left the house at 6:30 AM and got home around 11:30 PM (that was probably the day I went out to Langley – a 35 km trip one way). Another day my appointments were on Heritage Mountain in Port Coquitlam – it took me an hour to get to bottom of the mountain (about 25 km) and 45 minutes to ride from the bottom to the top (9 km). Some days I came home so tired that I’d put on a pair of sweat pants (to cover my road dirt encrusted legs) and a clean sweatshirt and crawl into bed and pass out. I stripped off my dirty clothes and showered when I got up in the morning. But my boss never heard about any of this – he thought that I was driving, and I was getting the jobs done. I actually got a few “Well done!” compliments from the office for getting a customer’s Internet access up when previous techs weren’t able to connect them.

But I got tired of the sneaking around necessary to conceal the fact that I rode my bike. So one day in late May or early June I deliberately let it slip to office staff that I was using a bicycle. The bus strike was over by this time, and I told them that I would use the buses as a supplement to my bike.

Then I noticed I was not getting any routes in the suburbs – only in east Vancouver and Vancouver’s West End. Before I was working 5 or 6 days a week – now only 2 or 3. I had a large debt from going to school, and since I needed to service the debt, I asked the office staff why I wasn’t getting the amount of work that I used to. I was told that my boss had forbidden them to give me any routes outside of the city of Vancouver. There were days when I wasn’t senior enough to get a route in Vancouver – so I sat at home. I talked to my boss and said I’d been doing the job to their satisfaction before they knew about my method of transport, and explained some of my cycling background to him (500 kilometers of training weekly etc.), and he said something that led me to believe that he understood and that I would start getting suburban routes again.

But that never happened. I finally left there to employment with a Shaw contractor who did the CATV side – I was to train a few of their CATV guys to do the computer part, and they’d train me to do the CATV part of a high speed Internet install. Two weeks later, Shaw took back a bunch of work from the contractor and he had to lay off half his work force. Guess who was the last hired? I was laid off in December 2001 and was out of work for a while. I came to Edmonton in March 2002 for a cousin’s wedding, and while I was here my stepdad suggested that I move to Edmonton to start a mobile computer services and repair business – he’d be the office/accounting/advertising guy and I’d be the tech. It sounded like a great idea to me, so I went back to Vancouver, sold some goods, bought a rusty 1985 Toyota van, packed and left.

The van was way overloaded and I drove it too hard – and partly blew the transmission’s first gear. It was very reluctant to shift into or out of first gear. Also, for out of province vehicles to be registered in Alberta for the first time, they must pass a safety inspection. My van needed about a thousand dollars in repairs before I could licence it – and I was on a shoestring budget. So I loaded up my bicycle again and went to work for myself this time – only now I was carrying a laptop, too. Fortunately it’s much drier in Edmonton than in Vancouver. I rode long distances – Edmonton is far more spread out than most cities. I went to Beaumont a couple of times, which is about 25 km from where I live. I also went to the St. Albert airport – the last 5 kilometers is gravel road – that’s the day I had four flat tires in one day.

The day I licenced and insured my van was October 29th – we’d had a snowfall about a week previously. I couldn’t shift the front gear and I finally looked down at the changer mechanism and saw a black circular line in the snow around one of the frame tubes where the tubes all come together. I got off the bike and investigated and discovered that I’d broken the frame there. I guess two years of carrying 220 pound me and 40 – 50 pounds of laptop and computer parts was a bit much…luckily the timing was good. Now my business is a year and a half old and is almost a full time job – except in September which always seems to be slow. I’m still driving the Toyota and it’s going strong. It’s in better shape mechanically as I’ve put some parts on it – but it still looks like hell. Rust never sleeps…

Marc Erickson, Edmonton