Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

The move to California started off with a bang that I highlighted in my previous post AM San Francisco, but this segment of my life nearing the end of my Second Quarter was all about blending my Passion with my Professional journey in Science and Technology. Yes, I had entered the corporate world of Hewlett-Packard, and I was living the dream presented by the Silicon Valley. We rented a small ranch style house in Fremont, CA and I had 2 children not yet in school. California was moving fast and it was exciting to be onboard for the ride.

It felt like I adapted quickly to the HP environment where I was a Systems Engineer handling the computer side of the Scientific Instruments Division of Hewlett-Packard based in Palo Alto, CA. My initial responsibilities focused around support for the HP1000 computer controlling GC/MS, Laboratory Automation Systems (LAS), and Laboratory Information Management Systems(LABSAM). I was travelling throughout the West taking care of laboratory automation for major companies. I had found my professional passion and I fortunate to have had the opportunity to take advantage of all that California had to offer.

The late 80’s business scene in the SF Bay Area was about the transition to the micro-computer and living in Silicon Valley was like strolling through Byte Magazine. California was beautiful but a bit crowded for my taste. My oldest child, Dylan, would be going to elementary school in another year and California was in the midst of a public education overhaul that started with Prop 13. Home prices were climbing $3000 per week but the area was beautiful. Dylan was also falling in love with baseball during the incredible run of the Oakland A’s with Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Ricky Henderson and many others led by Tony La Russa. We took the BART up to Oakland to watch a number of games. But the highlight was taking Dylan to Fan Appreciation Day which allowed Dylan to experience his dreams

Dylan started playing Tee-Ball where he loved to emulate all of the batting stances of his favorite A’s players, and I was learning how to be a dad helping out with coaching duties.

California also launched our return to church which took us to First Presbyterian Church of Newark, FPCN. My background with a strong Youth Group growing up and involvement with various Christian organizations set the stage for getting involved with the Jr High youth ministry program at FPCN. That is also where we met lifelong friends Pastors Gary and Rosa Ziccardi. The photo slideshow below shows our participation in the Bay Area Bash attended by many churches. But we pulled off various parties and even survived sleepovers at the church.

Working for Hewlett-Packard was awesome, a great company, good benefits, and really cool projects giving me access to leading edge technology. HP used me as a Systems Engineer Consultant supporting sales efforts or technology support for customers. I got heavily involved with the boom of environmental chemical testing for soil and water. This was also the beginning of drug testing for athletes which became the main story of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul South Korea. My most extensive HP commitment, during my time in California, was the automation and data management for the laboratories at 4 naval shipyards in the west. I partnered with a HP Systems Engineer on the east coast to coordinate this laboratory upgrade for 8 of our US Naval Shipyards. My shipyards were Mare Island, Long Beach, Puget Sound, and Pearl Harbor. Needless to say: Pearl Harbor required the most onsite support.

Living in the Bay Area was pretty nice, but it did have issues. As I remember, the weather would lag behind 6 months so you would freeze during evening baseball games and the mornings seemed to be dominated by overcast which made it tough on my kids to take swimming lessons. However, the biggest issue was living in the middle of so many people. The Bay Area was beautiful but it was also a cement jungle that required a couple hours drive to get out of the city. Our favorite escape was Half Moon Bay, where we could get away from the people.

One of the largest challenges living in the Bay area was housing, or cracking into the housing market. Real Estate speculation was out of control, but you had to get in so that you could realize some of the market appreciation. Luckily, we were able to put together a down payment that allowed us to buy a small 3 bedroom condo in Fremont for $110K. One year later, when we moved that condo sold for $144K.

We probably could have been happy in California for many more years, but on October 17 at 5:04 p.m. that all changed. The Loma Prieta Earthquake was a life changing event which definitely influenced our need to leave California. On that day I was working at a pharmaceutical company in Berkley but left early to get home in time for the Bay Area World Series between our Oakland A’s and the SF Giants. So we were all setup on our back patio ready to watch the game when the ground below us moved like water. I really did not know what to do other then surf it out, but Dylan knew exactly what to do thanks to earthquake drills at his school. He grabbed Sidney and pulled her under the dining room table. And then the first tremor was over, and I kept expecting the world series game to be played even though the TV feed went to static. Then we lost power and came to the realization that this was much more serious then we could understand at that time. For the next 3 days, we relied on a transistor radio for the only information we would receive. We had no communication with the outside world who were all watching our eathquake play out on TV. It seemed like we had phone service but we were not able to connect to anyone to let them know we were OK. Our condo did not sustain much damage because everything moved harmoniously. So we spent those days worrying about the aftershocks during which all of the people in our community moved to the center playground area so that nothing would fall on us. On the third day, the phone rang and it was our friends from Colorado. It was just luck that their call got through, but thankfully they were then able to communicate to our families that we were OK.

By H.G. Wilshire, U.S. Geological Survey – Photo by H. G. Wilshire for U.S. Geological Survey. Collapse of the 880 viaduct.

I drove home using the I-880 or the Nimitz freeway a couple of hours before it collapsed as seen in the photo above.

In the weeks that followed, aftershocks caused our hearts to pause thinking that it might be another big one. That was it, and I began thinking about how to get out of California. I was talking to some employers, but it finally came down to telling HP to move me or lose me. Overall HP understood my concerns about cost of living, public education, and the fear of earthquakes. They moved us to Cincinnati, OH, where I continued my Systems Engineering support for the Scientific Instruments Division of the midwest.

About ghsmith76

Backpacker, Grandfather, Volunteer, Advisor, Mentor and still Technologically Aware. Greg retired as a technologist who served as a Chief Information Officer in Higher Education at various universities. Prior to the IT career in Academia, Greg was a Systems Consultant with Hewlett-Packard. Other early jobs included IT activity in the oil shale and coal mining industries along with owning a computer store in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Posted on May 12, 2023, in HP, Personal and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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