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Freaks, geeks and shoes with leaks



I usually avoid the IBM-Glaxo-Wellcome-Nortel speedways, but the other day, I took a shortcut through the heart of Research Triangle Park and ran smack into an epiphany.

I was headed to Raleigh to gather with my writers group for dinner and to hear a guest author read from his latest novel. I'd taken this particular route so I could stop by the discount mall on the way and look for new sneakers. I'd had a hole in the toe of my current pair for about four months, and payment for a freelance project was finally allowing me to replace them.

I sat in the traffic with my holey shoe, in my aging Grateful-Dead-stickered Civic, surrounded by shiny Jags and Beamers and Lexuses. All the other drivers, I noticed, were shockingly young and hip, wearing that outdoorsy chic especially favored by people who hardly ever step off pavement or carpet. I suddenly had a visceral recollection of how it was to be a part of that world.

I used to be one of the thousands of techies who spend their lives tinkering with stuff that you cannot even touch or see. No that there's anything wrong with that. It's incredibly sexy being on the bleeding edge of the technology infrastructures that run the universe.

I remember the smug security of the career track, the steady paycheck. My colleagues and I used to brag about our 15-hour days, working on labyrinthine projects within the cosmic giant data machine, speaking in shoptalk languages so complex they could have been sit-com jokes.

We had a world-class café (never referred to as a "cafeteria") with a concert pianist playing for our pleasure. We received free snacks in the lounges, lavish parties, discount ski trips and cruises, even daycare and schooling for our children. We were given a company-sponsored lifestyle of work and recreation so that we needn't be bruised or distracted by the outside world. Except, of course, in manageable amounts, if we wanted to join in the corporate charity projects.

I bought my shoes and met my writing group at a restaurant. As it dawned on me that these were now my new work colleagues, I glanced around the room, surreptitiously trying to measure what I had traded for my previous life. Not one hotshot dot-com millionaire in this group; no aggressive, in-your-face whiz-kids with perfect hair and designer clothes.

Instead, here were a bunch of quirky, struggling dreamers, slightly frayed around the edges. Funny, erudite, opinionated, they gaze with clear eyes unblinkingly into the realities of life. With mixed success and great courage, they follow their Muses, showing the world the amazing, necessary beauty of the ordinary.

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