One Day I get home from NCO and Phil tells me thereís a message from a guy at the Spherion office in Houston. They have a contract and want to know if I can go down there.

I called him back the next day from work. ďIíd love to, but youíll have to cover the cost of my hotel and rental car.Ē

He went back to talk it over with his higher up and came back to let me know they couldnít. I thanked him for thinking of me and left it at that. Oh well.

A week later another guy from Houston called and asked what it was going to take to get me to come down to Houston. I explained it was going to take a hotel and rental car. I went on to explain that it had been six months since I had heard anything from Spherion and in that time I had claimed unemployment off them and taken a little toast job, so I didnít have a lot of disposable income. If they could cover me for two weeks Iíd be more than happy to pay them back, but other from that, I wouldnít be able to do it.

He talked it over with his higher-up and came back to let me know they would cover the hotel and rental and gave me the confirmation numbers and they were looking forward to seeing me on December twenty-sixth.

So, Christmas night, after dinner with my folks, Phil and I drove down to Houston.

We didnít get there until one in the morning and the hotel was closed. A quick dinner at a Dennyís to plan where we would go from there, and we checked into a Holiday Inn down the street.

The next morning I called the proper hotel, the Spherion office, and my contact at the actual job site. I explained what was going on, received apologies from various people, drove over to the Homestead Suites Hotel, and checked into my room.

The guy from the office came by later to drop off the rental car and Phil started the drive back to Dallas. He sent me e-mail later to let me know he was home okay. I-45 had been under construction or something and it took two hours to move 16 miles.

So, I was in Houston. I had a Mapsco and had plotted out where the closest Dennyís, Albertsonís, Cigarettes Cheaper, so forth were. I packed up my little fridge with groceries, unpacked my clothes and books, set up my radio and alarm, and settled into what was going to be home for the next three months.

The job was pretty cut-and-dry. Spherion was handling the corporate help desk for the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and needed a policies and procedures manual. They had a guy out there to do it in October, but the manual he turned in was apparently not what they wanted and not what the client wanted. By the end of the three months, there would be a completed Service Level Agreement (SLA), Operational Level Agreement (OLA), and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

The OLA was the most difficult because it outlined the agreements between the Spherion help-desk and the other members of the Information Management Systems (IMS) department who were not Spherion but ABS. I think we spent three weeks on the OLA alone.

There were constant reviews. I like reviews because they let me know what the progress is on a project. I wonít spend three weeks on something only to find out in the end that it wasnít what he client wanted, direction they wanted to take, style they liked.

There were some style changes along the way. Spherion has a very particular style they use on policy and procedure manuals and heading 3 is a light gray font. We changed it to black after the first review because the printers at ABS didnít print it as a light gray but a highly pixilated and spotty font. Easily changed.

After three days in Houston, I drove the rental car up to Dallas for New Yearís Eve. Stopped by the apartment to drop off bags and then hauled up to Midpark Dennyís to see how the crowd was doing. Everyone was talking about the Dallas mayoral election and have you voted? And, yes I haveóI voted early. And, how do you think this is going to go and have you seen the construction for the High Five?

And then happy New Yearís with Phil and Dave and Hey, letís look at Jupiter through your new telescope, Dave. Itís right overhead us and we wonít have this clear a look until weíre eighty.

And then down to my parentís for New Yearís Day and a tradition thatís older than I am. Black-eyed peas, ham, handmade bread, wine, beer, and whatever else anyone brought by. Everyone told me I looked great. I looked happy. I felt happy.

And then I made the drive back down to Houston from my parentsí. Back to Houston. Back to the Itchy City.

By now, I had a dial up account on the company-supplied laptop (Dell Latitude LSóvery nice) and could talk to all the folks back home through chat. I think that really helped a lot while I was down there. How can you get homesick when you can talk to your people every night?

My direct deposit wasnít working out, but the bank on the way home was working out okay. I was able to get my checks deposited. Phil was able to get bills back home paid. We had an Excel spreadsheet we were mailing back and forth to each other to keep track of things. My last check had come in from NCO, but it had arrived certified mail and Phil had been unable to pick it up. I had to call the main NCO office in New Jersey to get things straightened out.

The job was buzzing along nicely. The OLA was in reviews and the SLA was getting hammered out. I had found most of the existing documentation for the help-desk and organized it into different source folders. The outline was complete and interviews were moving at a good clip.

By January 15th, Phil missed me enough to make the drive down. We went out for dinner a couple times and spent most of our time in the hotel room. The mayoral election had gone to run-off and the construction on the High-Five was moving at a good clip. The rent was paid; the bills were taken care of on time. They guy who was surfing our couch (in my absence) had left. Edgar had become a nice cat while I was gone and would climb purring into peopleís laps. Things were going well back home and the Midpark crew missed me.

Meanwhile, the job was changing on me. I had signed on for one Policies and Procedures manual, deliverable in six weeks. The OLA and SLA had set me behind and I was going to need another two weeks to get things finished up. Add to that, there was a new project added to my to-do list: a new user manual for 100 machines that would be sent out to surveyors nationwide. The manual included instructions for Lotus notes, Virtual Private Network (VPN), and a brief introduction to Windows 2000. The manual would later be sent internationally and was included on the new user CD in electronic format.

But I was being slowed down by projects that werenít on my original list. The OLA and SLA were nice and I appreciated the confidence they had in me to let me work those out, but it wasnít in the original plan. I was supposed to be back in Dallas by February 15th, and that was slipping further and further away.

Well, I did get to go back to Dallas that weekend. I left Houston the night of the 13th after hanging out with the late-night guy and getting the overnight procedures written out.

And I hit traffic. I am of the strong personal belief that the only reason Houston is the most populous city in Texas is because people canít get out. I-45 is the quickest way to get from Houston to Dallas but apparently it was under construction or there had been an accident or something. Like maybe a 747 full of war orphans and puppies fell out of the sky and landed on a convoy or church buses filled with straight-A students and nuns. Something. I donít know. I know the highway was closed for 10 miles and it took me two and a half hours just to get to Conroe. I hate Harris County. I do. Itís the traffic.

Back in Dallas for Valentineís Day with the husband on the 14th and then the mayoral run-off election on the 16th. Stopped by to see the Midpark crew. My favorite waiter had quit and most of the cool staff had quit with him. The LBJ-Central intersection was staring to look like downtown Thebes in preparation for the High-Five. Edgar was the same little punk he was when I left town. Phil gave me hell for making the cat mean with just my presence. I told him I didnít think the cat could be nice to anyone and he was just making up that ďclimbing purring into lapsĒ crap to make me feel like a bad parent.

And back to Houston. Again.

So, the OLA and SLA were complete and in final reviews. The outline and most of the SOP was complete and I had started the conversion of everything into HTML. The New User Manual had printed and been distributed and just when I thought everything was wrapping up, they threw a new project at me.
The idea was simple. And, in theory, would have been a fantastic resource, but it was going into the middle of March and I was running out of time. I didnít want to stay past Easter.

You have a HTML page that lists all the software used in the company. You click on the name of the software and it takes you to another page showing you where itís stored on the network, who maintains the database, who to talk to when something goes wrong, and basic questions you should ask the customer to include in the ticket.

Itís a great idea. There was no way I would be able to do it in two weeks.

I started an Access database to collect the information. I had most of the basic office tools entered and started on the programming tools, then the accounting software, then the surveying tools, then more programming suites. The database was getting huge. There were people I couldnít get a hold of to answer questions and there was politics on who I could talk to and who I couldnít talk to and the week before Easter, my project manager flew in from San Antonio to talk it over with me.

We went out to lunch and talked about where the project had started and what it was turning into. ďYouíve done an OLA, which wasnít in your original project outline, but you went above and beyond and got that out. Youíve done an SLA, which wasnít in your original project outline, but you went above and beyond and got that out. That new user manual was a last minute change and that set you behind. Youíve got the SOP done, and in HTML, and youíve got a JAVA based navigational menu with nesting folders. If you stop now, no one will hold it against you. Youíve done far more than we asked you to and youíve done a great job.Ē
So, the Wednesday before Easter, Phil came down from Dallas and I packed for the drive back.

On Thursday, I cleared all of my stuff off the laptop and turned it into the PC Lab. Final copies of everything were printed and bound. I turned in my badge and went home to the hotelówhat had been home for three months.

We stopped by Bedrock City to wish goodbye to my comic-jocks and see you at A-Kon and goodbye, itís been fun, and you kept me sane while I was here, thank-you.

And off to the international airport in Houston, which reminds me of Love Field here in Dallas and dropped off the rental car.
And back to the hotel for one last sweep, have we got everything? And that final goodbye to what has been home for three months. Goodbye, little world. Goodbye to part of me again. Goodbye to Houston.

And we hit traffic on the way out, of course. And the drive from Houston to Dallas is bleak and boring.

But when youíre traveling up 45 into Dallas, and youíre at that point where 45 becomes 75 and the city is on you, right there, in your face, Dallas skyline, POW! Youíre in Dallas! Back home after so long, and itís like you never left.

And just continue up 75 past downtown Thebes (isnít the High-Five coming along nicely?) and a quick stop at Midpark to let everyone know I am back.

And it was like I had never left. There was a cup of coffee waiting for me and cigarettes and hugs but everyone is still here and everythingís okay and Iím not in Houston anymore.

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