Circuit Overload

By Mike Bailey


I slouch in the car with the windows rolled up, like the trooper in the Smokey hat told us to. We’re on a highway in Idaho but we’re not moving. Something about a truck up ahead spilling a huge number of bees.

Bob deftly removes the bottle of whiskey from his backpack, takes a single pull, and replaces it. We’re stuck and he at least intends to kick back. I catch the brief whiff of hard alcohol over the car’s old upholstery.

“’Million bees? Is that what he said?” queried Bob.

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“Ain’t bees gettin’ scarce?”

“So they say.”

“Okay, help me out: Ship bees, lose bees. No pollen in Idaho so bees die. Now there’s two places without bees.” He wags his finger, his eyes begin to glow, “So a billion years from now, some paleontology guy finds a bazillion bees fossilized. He shouts ‘Omigod!’ They read the wrong travel brochure and flew to Idaho! -And died! The tragedy!”

I cringe inside. I’m a circuit designer. Gates, diodes, resistors neatly embedded in gold on green. That’s my world. I look the part, like I could sell insurance.

Bob is a web developer. Hand him a tangent and he’ll beat Euclid, Descartes, and Turing to death with it. He looks the part, he loves to look the part. They all love to look the part. Ripped blue jeans. Frayed sweater with shirt tail hanging out. Glasses framed like bistro doors. Hat? Bob wears a hat his girlfriend bought at Disneyland. Bright red with Mickey Mouse over the brim. I couldn’t make this up. And it seems to be everywhere.

One time I walked into a cool bar in Podunk, Nebraska. How did I know it was cool? Everyone looked the part. Worse, I’m there twenty minutes and I overhear ‘….I’m in tech…. I’m in web design…. I’m an app developer…. I’m a software engineer…. I’m a digital florist….’ I left after that last one. When I see monkeys at the zoo. Screaming, careening, throwing dung, I want to scribble ‘New Tech Startup’ over their placard.

I stare reflectively out the windshield. It’s like everyone wants to be a geek, or in a startup, or just look like they belong. To be cool. Somewhere the normal human desire for adoration mutated into a desperate need to be seen as a tech warrior. There’s an Idiot’s Guide to Geekness somewhere, and it’s leaked online:

            Want to impress the crowd in the coffee bar? Pull your shirt tail out, comb your hair with a lawn broom, pull on big, square glasses frames. Stand in the espresso line. Just as the overworked barista asks for your order, answer your phone. Wave her away irritably while spouting meaningless vowels loud enough to drown conversations at the tables across the street. People will think you’re a freaking six-figure genius.

            Dejected from losing that promotion and want perk yourself up? Go to your local brew pub and fake like you just wrote a killer app: Seek out the table where they’re babbling jargon. Sit close by. At a break in the conversation stand up, smirk, and snidely comment ‘I created Zarko the Happy Honey Badger who farts discount coupons on the Sears and Roebuck welcome page.’ Watch them sweat as they struggle to top that.

            Want to be an urban god? Go to a city council meeting. Raise your hand. When called, go to the microphone. Suck in all the self-righteousness you can hold and sagely announce ‘I’m a web designer and I would love to pay more taxes!’ The mayor’s head will explode, killing everyone in close proximity.

Want to pick up women? Do something else. Seriously. They’ve long since seen through this nonsense.

Bob’s ravings intrude on me again. A buzzing like the bees now poking menacingly at the windshield.

“…. So the bees are fossils. But the record is incomplete! The truck is missing! Suppose the paleontology guy finds the truck fossilized, too! Everything changes! He’s screams ‘Idiots! They shipped bees to Idaho?! Humans deserved to go extinct!….” He belches. Waving his hand before his open mouth to share the wealth. Green onions with a hint of Jim Beam.

The trooper in the Smokey Bear hat saunters past and nods benignly. I imagine bears ears and a bear’s nose under the hat. His big paw waving toward me, his gravel filled Smokey voice admonishing ‘Remember, only you can prevent your dumbass coworkers from bumming a ride in your car!’ Bees swirl around him, not stinging. Maybe if they did they’d get arrested.

I grip the steering wheel tighter. Trapped between bees and Bob, with nowhere to run, I force myself to remember what I am: I design hardware. Pure essentialness! No hardware? No software. No software? No web. No web? No web developers! No wannabes! The barista barks at you to get your ass out of line and back to the skateboard park. The party in the brew pub wonders who let the homeless person in. Blank looks and mumbling at the city council meeting as the sergeant-at-arms throws you out on your ear.

I look away, wondering if I’ll be fossilized myself before we get off this highway, when something catches my eye. I squint. A few bees are tracing random circles. But up ahead I see tail lights come on. And farther still there’s movement.

“Progress!” remarks Bob, yawning. The fit has passed. He pulls his hat lower. His frontal cortex now covered by Mickey Mouse.

We start to move, I brighten.

“’Figure out what you’re going to say at the party?” he yawns, stretching.

Gloom again. I shudder inside. It’s not a party, it’s a roast. A web developer is retiring. Roasting a web developer is like standing up in court and delivering a devastating closing argument before a judge and jury consisting of roosters.

“Maybe,” I shrug despondently.

Pleased, Bob thumps me on the shoulder. “See dude?! Take a bazillion pissed off bees, add guru Bob, and voila! IN-SPIR-ATION!” He hoots, pumping his fist. Then yawning again, he taps me on the arm “Hey, that new chipset you guys loaded? It made my app scream! You rock!”

The bees are gone. The trooper fades away in the rear view mirror. Mickey Mouse smiles vacantly as Bob begins to snore.

A lost hour on a road to nowhere with a web developer, a million angry bees, and Smokey the Bear. Inspiration?

I’ll start with patience.


 –Mike Bailey is a retired IT professional in the Creative Writing program at Highline College.

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