A Thousand Miles From Home - Part 04

Ollie took up his normal position whenever Don did his thing in front of a group of people. Don stood at a podium in the center of the front of the room while Ollie sat at the table next to it. Out of the way, but still on display.

Ollie liked to watch Don work. He had a way with people that Ollie envied. Don made friends easily. He could walk up to a complete stranger and strike up a conversation with ease. And he could stand in front of a crowd of people and without expending any effort, completely captivate them just by the way he spoke.

Ollie has known Donald Parker since the third grade. Don was the new kid that year. Not only did his family move in right next door to Ollie’s, but Don was assigned to sit next to Ollie in class. Ollie had few friends, he was a little socially challenged. He was sure they’d call it something else now, something clinical, something that they could medicate right out of him, but back then he was just a weird kid.

Don, on the other hand, was full of life. He was outgoing, quick to laugh and make a joke, and spent a lot of time telling Ollie about the coolest person he knew, Superman. Ollie liked him right away.

It didn’t take long before the two kids were practically inseparable.

By Junior High, the two had started to drift apart. Ollie still thought Superman was one cool dude. He still read comics. Still watched cartoons. Still collected, and sometimes played with, action figures. Don had gotten away from all that. He was playing sports and was interested in girls.

By High School, the two ran in different circles, were each part of two different worlds. Ollie was in band, was a member of the after school Dungeons and Dragons club, and hung out with the computer nerds. Don was the school’s star quarterback, he hung with athletes and cheerleaders, he cruised the square with all the cool kids, and went to all the best parties. Don was top dog. Ollie just tried to keep from getting beat up.

But then came that last week in High School and the incident that would forever change their lives.

Bill Fedders and Hank Johnston were two of the biggest guys on the football team. Big guys with little brains and even less happening in the creativity department. Like Don and Ollie, the two were seniors. One day, Ollie was coming out of the computer lab after school. He’d stayed behind to work on a project, something that looked good for college credit, when he ran into Bill and Hank in the hall.

Bill and Hank had been serving detention for picking on Freshmen. The two were mean and had an almost infinite capacity for cruelty. When they weren’t playing football, the two were always looking for something, or someone, to take their aggression out on. Until that day, they had never so much as bothered Ollie. Ollie never knew why.

“Hey, freak!” Bill called out to him. Ollie froze at his locker. “What are you still doing here?”

“Just working on something,” Ollie said, getting his backpack and closing the locker door.

“Working on what?” Hank asked and they drew closer. “Working on letting Mr. Freemantle give you some of that gay love?” Bill and Hank laughed wickedly.

“I gotta go, guys.”

“Really?” Bill said. “How about, before you go, we kick your ass.” Bill said it as a statement. Not a question.

Ollie began to back away, slowly, carefully. “Why would you want to do that?” he asked.

“Cuz you're weird!” Hank said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all we need,” said Bill.

So Ollie turned and ran. He made it outside and to the parking lot before they caught up to him, ramming him from behind like he was a tackling dummy, causing him to slam into the side of his car, smashing his nose on the window as he fell.

And then Ollie was on the ground on all fours, something dripped from his nose. He tested the area carefully with his right hand, feeling something hot and sticky flowing from his nostrils and over his lips. It tasted salty. Ollie looked at his hand saw blood. He tried to stand, but was forced back down by one of the two thugs kicking him in the ribs. The hair whooshed out of him and he fell hard, spread-eagle on the gravel that made up the parking lot.

“What’s the matter, weirdo?” one of them asked. Ollie thought it might have been Hank, but he was too busy trying to find his breath to give it much thought. At that point, it didn’t really matter. At that point, the two might as well have been one. One giant asshole sharing two bodies.

Ollie tried to rise again, but the world went white around him when something hammered into his head. Everything went foggy. He was underwater. Everything swam in and out of his vision, everything sounding like it was coming in through tin cans.

Ollie rolled over onto his back. Looking up he saw standing over him a pair of trolls in letter jackets. Ollie began to cry, but that just made the trolls laugh.

“Leave him alone,” a voice said.

Ollie looked to his right and Don was there, also wearing a letter jacket. He was walking over from his car, which was parked in the street. Walking, not running. The world started to come back into focus.

“Come on, Don,” Bill said. “We’ve left him alone like you said. But he was asking for it this time.”

“Yeah,” Hank agreed. “He was asking for it.”

“Was he?” Don asked. “How was he asking for it.

“He was being weird,” Hank laughed. Then Bill laughed. They were both laughing.

Ollie just say there, bleeding. Wondering what was going to happen next. Too scared to speak. To afraid to even crawl away.

And then, without any warning, Don suddenly punched Bill in the nose, sending Bill backwards to fall on his butt, clutching his nose and screaming in pain. Don didn’t seem to care. As soon as his fist had connected with Bill’s nose, Don turned to face Hank. Hank was just standing there with a shocked look on his face, his mouth a circle, his eyes were the eyes of a cow being led to slaughter. Don kicked him, hard, right between his legs and Hank groaned, loudly, placing both hands protectively over his crotch and bend forward at the waist from the pain. Don wasn’t finished however. As Hank bent, Don grabbed a handful of Hank’s hair on the back of his head, forcing his head down, straight into Don’s right knee, which Don was bringing up with much force. Hank’s head whipped back, blood squirting from his nose, and he too fell back onto his butt.

It all happened in a matter of seconds, and soon Don was helping Ollie to his feet as Bill and Hank sat, yelled, and bled. Don turned to them. “You two better go get those noses checked out. I’m taking Ollie to the Doc’s. You fella’s need a ride?”

Bill and Hank let loose with a string of obscenities.

“Okay, don’t say I didn’t ask.” Don started off, guiding Ollie across the lot towards Don’s car. But then he stopped, turning back to Bill and Hank who were beginning to rise. “Oh yeah, and guys? Try this again, and I break your hands, then your arms, then your legs. You know I’ll do it too. You’re scholarships won’t mean squat after that.”

“Thanks, Don,” Ollie said, once they were in Don’s car.

“Don’t worry about,” said Don.

After that Ollie went off to college. Don did too, on a scholarship for football. Don dropped out in his first year after suffering a serious injury in his first game.

After that Ollie went off to college. Don did too, on a scholarship for football. Don dropped out in his first year after suffering a serious injury in his first game. Ollie graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology.

The two reunited after college when Ollie was hired on to the IT department of Global Customer Services and found Don already working there. Their friendship was renewed, and Don wound up being the best man at Ollie’s wedding.

Ollie’s mind drifted back to the present as Mike and fifteen Supervisors shuffled into the room and each found a spot to sit.

Mike came to the front of the room and introduced Don, and then Don did his thing.

“Good morning, as Mike said, my name is Donald Parker, but you can just call me Don. Over there, hiding out in the corner is Oliver Jordan, head of IT in Lawrence. He’s going to be liaising with your IT folks and helping to make this transition as painless as possible. Which we all know, just probably isn’t going to happen. I mean, come on, this technology we are talking about right? Since when has technology worked the way we wanted it to?”

Queue the general soft laughter from the group. Don was just warming up.

Ollie’s phone vibrated and he took a moment to check the screen. It was a text from Susan, his wife. Sally was due to lose her first tooth and Susan was just trying to keep him updated. So far, no progress. Susan had suggested the trick of tying one end of a string to the tooth, and the other end to an open door, and then slamming the door, but Sally rejected the idea immediately. She wanted to wait for Dad.

Ollie loved his life. He absolutely adored it. He never would have thought that he would one day find love, find someone who returned his feelings, find someone that wanted to actually spend the rest of her life with him, but he found it in Susan.

Ollie met Susan in college. Kansas University in Lawrence, home of the Kansas Jayhawks. Ollie was all about computers. He knew that if he was going to make something of himself in the world, it would be through computers.

Susan wasn’t doing much at all. She was only attending college because everyone expected her to. She took the required classes, and then spent the rest of her time in various art and literature classes. She would tell people that she wanted to be a teacher, but deep down, in a secret part of her heart, Susan just wanted to be a mom. She never would have admitted that to any of her liberal college friends who all thought that just because a woman could do everything a man could meant that she damn well should be. She couldn’t tell her friends of her secret desire, because to them, to choose motherhood over a career was taking a step backwards for all of women’s rights. Women could be mothers, but they were expected to juggle a career at the same time. Well, Susan just wasn’t interested. Ollie knew that because she chose him to confide her most secret desires to.

“But that’s what Ollie and I are here for,” Don was continuing. “We’re here, in the great state of North Carolina, to help ensure that the transition to Columbus goes as smoothly as possible. What I’ll need from you is a list of folks we can use as ‘Super Users’. These will be eight to ten people who will start working with Ollie and I right away. They need to be quick learners and know their way around a computer. Their job will be to roam amongst the cubicles for the first few days that Columbus is live. They will be available as our first round of defense. When our Customer Service Representatives are having issues, the Super Users will swoop in and use their skills to get that rep through their issue.”

Ollie had heard all this at least three times before. He probably could have handled this aspect of the task himself, but he’s glad it was Don up there, and not him. Ollie still had to meet with the two on site IT people here, but he’s found so far that there really wasn’t much to tell his fellow IT folks that they didn’t already know.

“What if one of the reps have an issue that the Super User can’t handle?” A woman asked. She was thin and bony with bleach blonde hair and had the look of a librarian constantly on the verge of disappointment.

“Great question,” Don paused and gestured to the woman to provide her name.


“A great question, Francine.” Ollie shifted is attention to the rest of the group. “Ollie and I will be online and available by Instant Message or phone for the entire first week. If one of us is on a break or at lunch, the IT department in Lawrence will be fielding calls. However, so we don’t choke up the lines with a constant barrage of calls or IMs, the Super Users themselves will report the issues. They will be given tracking sheets that they will use to record the issue and the impact of that issue. They will then communicate with us, and we will communicate with them.”

While this seemed to satisfy most in the room, there were a few who grumbled and looked at each other with obvious disdain. Ollie had seen this in each branch that they had visited. Grumbling, contempt, and general annoyance directed straight at Don. Ollie asked Don about this and Don told him that regardless of what you present, or how you prepare, there will always be a small, yet quite vocal, group of employees who will regard each and every change made to their daily lives with scorn and fear. They don’t like change, they just plain don’t need it. They don’t understand that there are times in the life of a business when an adjustment in the way the job is done is actually needed, and so they view every change made as change for change’s sake. Don apparently faced this each and every time he stood in front of a group to teach them anything. He’d be met with anything from dour faces, people making backhanded comments under their breath, to downright shouts of anger.

Ollie didn’t know how Don put up with it. He assumed that’s why the guy still smoked.

“I’ll be meeting with you and your folks this week in small groups to train them on Columbus. You’ll be pulling fake applications and learning how to find all the information you need from the application. Columbus has been modified to try and follow the flow of the application itself to make is easier for those who are use to the layout of the application to find what they need. Any questions?”

“What if Columbus just doesn’t work when it goes live next week?” one of the Supervisors asked. He was a stout, bald man in glasses who wore a dour expression of doom and despair. Don didn’t answer right away, Ollie could see what Don could see. This guy had a lot more to say, and Don’s number one rule when dealing with an angry caller or trainee was: Let them get it all out.

“Are we going to be left with no other option than telling our callers that we can’t help them? That’s going to piss a lot of people off. Has anyone thought of that? Are you prepared for that? We could not only lose a lot of money, but we could lose our contract with the Department of Education. Are we prepared for that? Has anyone thought of that? Does the Department of Education have any idea what we are doing? That we may potentially alienate the entire post secondary student population of America? Is the company prepared to deal with the loss of that contract?”

The man finally stopped.

“Those are some great questions,” Don paused like he had done earlier with Francine and motioned for the man to give his name.


“Those are some great questions, Andy,” Don continued. And again, like he did with Francine, Don shifted to address everyone present. “Of course the Department of Education knows what we are doing. They are behind this change one hundred percent and have even had their own people in Lawrence to help with any issues we have encountered. Global Customer Services may have made a decision or two in the time they’ve been in business that have had all of us scratching our heads, but the last thing they want to do is to endanger a contract that brings in such a vast surplus of revenue. In other words, they are getting paid, they ain’t gonna do anything to stop that from happening.”

Everyone laughed.

“And as for your second question, Andy. We have tried to plan for every contingency. The worst case scenario being, of course, that Columbus just doesn’t work once it’s launched. If that were to happen, we have the ability to shut it off and go immediately back to the old system in just a matter of minutes. Columbus will then be down for the next few months while we run more tests.”

“However,” Don said, managing to somehow catch the eye of every person in the room at almost the same time. “We don’t see this as a likely scenario. Our teams have been working with Columbus for the past eighteen months running it through a dizzying battery of tests. And we are confident that Columbus is ready.”

Andy grumbled a bit at this and whispered something to his neighbor, a tiny woman with long red hair and an elfin face. She listened to Andy’s whispering and laughed silently with him, nodding in agreement. Don ignored them. Ollie, on the other hand, wanted to leap to his feet and verbally cut the two down where they sat. But he didn’t. This was Don’s house and Don’s rules.

“Okay, well if there isn’t any more questions then I’ll let you go,” said Don, looking the group over. No one responded. “Alrighty then. I’m sure you will all be seeing much more of us this week.”

The group filed out, leaving Ollie, Don, and Mike behind.

“I think that went rather well,” said Don.

“I have to apologize for Andy,” said Mike. “He doesn’t like change and he’s fighting this will every fiber of his being.”

Don just laughed. “Don’t worry about it, Mike. There’s been at least one at every stop. I don’t take it personally. Once Columbus launches and actually works the way it’s supposed to and the world doesn’t end, Andy will come around.”

“I certainly hope so,” Mike said. “Anyway, you boys ready for lunch, I got just the place for you.”

“We are in your hands, Mike,” said Don and they headed out for lunch.

To be continued . . .

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