Monday, July 12, 2010

The Hardest Part About One’s Hard Drive

You never, ever think it will happen to you.  Ever.
Years of bliss.  All the travel and trips in tandem.  And late nights and too many all-nighters together. 
The infinite projects we coupled; witty emails and shared photos…

There was no warning.  No lover’s quarrel.  Not a hint that it would soon rip the heart out of my MacBook – and me with it…
Like a spouse who finds out too late about the cheating partner, I never saw it coming.

But it did happen.

I was blithely finishing up writing some gardening notes and had hit the “Send” button.  And while it was taking forever, I still didn’t suspect anything more than the usual silly and frustrating wireless internet connection problems we experience (sorry, Verizon), heightened only by the fact that we live in the lee of the mountain.

Then the screen was blinking a white ?

Hmmm, this is new, I thought. 
A big white question mark.
How telling. 
One’s life becomes one big “WTF” when the nether world “?” appears.  (You can’t help but think, am I in a Batman episode?)
I looked up the ? on my Google phone (sorry T-Mobile – you did know everyone would refer to the phone by its Google brand didn’t you…?)

After some Ring Around The Rosy search attempts with Apple, I got a link and phone number for Apple Tech support but it was “after hours” and was directed to call back. 
If one is calling directly for support, I am of the firm belief that it’s rather a critical plea for help and some immediate remedy would best serve the customer…
But don’t get me started on “Customer Service.” 
Is there not a more poignant oxymoron?  Oh wait, we can have fun with this too – e.g. “who put the moron in… “  Never mind, we’ll save that for another, less crisis-plagued episodic blog entry.  

Back to what was then a late night search to find out how to get back online.
Ha!  The riddles imbedded in the La Turandot opera were a snap compared to what I was in for…

But I was still thinking this was readily fixable – a hassle to be certain – but not life threatening.
The link did say to insert the original software disc back into the computer to restore everything. 
I keep all the tech stuff in a basket in the home office such as it is – and go through the basket’s contents once, twice, three times. (at what point does idiocy take precedence over desperation?)
No disc.
It must be at the apartment in Gotham.

At 4 am ish – I kinda call it a “night” and resolve that all will be resolved in the morning, or Apple’s morning – as I’m not paying for the ferry on a Thursday just to get the disc.

I get a great Apple Tech Service Support pro – Jason -- and he walks me through all the steps – several times as he can’t quite grasp why the Mac is not restarting and reloading.
I start my file on this.  Not unlike terminally ill patients who need to carry their files with them, I have learned to have all the instructions and names in one place for easy reference.  Sigh…
He finally capitulates and suggests I take it in to a local Apple store for diagnostics.
After giving him my zip code, he suggests a location in the Bronx or Staten Island ^:^ Not local…
I thank him and start my own search for Apple stores in the Garden State near me. 
Guess what?  Not all Apple stores are created equal. 
Some are not “allowed” to service Apple products… Really?  And that makes sense in what universe?

I finally identify an “approved” Apple store to service the MacBook. 
But it was the day of the new 4G I Phone launch – what are the chances?! (and I can’t win the lottery…) 
The on-site customer service woman tells me they can’t help me… Sheesh.
They are in line for entertainment. I tell her I have a book on the MacBook and NEED serious help.
I beg.  They relent. 
“OK. When you get here, come to the head of the line and tell them you have an appointment at the Genius Bar.”
Which I interpret as more code for I am totally stewed…

It’s also the beginning of the record-breaking heat wave in the east/Tri-State area. 
It’s like a bazzilion degrees and humid and with thunderstorms and hail predicted.
I am convinced it could truly be the end of life as we know it..

And yet, this was the least of my worries.
I am calm beyond belief.  Maybe I am catatonic – or in a nightmare from which I will surely awaken. 

Get me back to my life in the bubble!

Toting the MacBook and a golf umbrella (I’m prepared for sun or hail), I fight for a parking spot at the Freehold Mall.
That is, once I found the Mall – my GPS aka “Ellen” named for my British great grandmother - wouldn’t take a mall “address” -- smart Brit that she is.
So with a printed MapQuest and repeated calls to the store, I got there.

The queue for the phone was the same as all the images on the news – eager first adopters anxious, straining for the must have product. 
In my Sony days, we would have kissed each and every person on the red carpet. 
This day, they were just so much detritus…
The silly “security cop” thought he’d stop me. 

The store was jam-packed.  A celebrity premiere that I’m sure everyone there will be recounting to his or her friends and family and Facebook friends for ad nauseam…

I made my way back to the Genius Bar and was lucky to get served right away and by a real pro – compassionate too, far as I was concerned.
Rob the Genius ran the diagnostics and said I need to get to seven. 
Craps came to mind.  Baby, please, oh please roll a seven. 
We get to five.
The bar is not moving.  
I am praying. 
“Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.”  Need a seven.

I am afraid to watch. Afraid not to watch.
I find myself quietly telling Rob that I am writing a book and all of the book’s text and images are on the MacBook.
He is sympathetic but I can read his expression that seems to say, “If it was all so god awful important, why didn’t you back it up?”
I am ashamed and embarrassed. 
Without exchanging any words about this, I am already wearing the Scarlet Letter.
I feebly try to explain that I had been backing up till a month or so ago and then things got well, so busy and …
I start to shed more than a few quiet tears.
“Next to my father dying, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me” I hear myself saying…

Rob waits what must seem to him like an appropriate amount of grieving time (I wonder how often has he done this?) and then very politely tells me he has no problem running the diagnostics as long as I want to, but there is nothing more he can do.

Am I still dreaming I wonder…
He suggests he put in a new hard drive, pack up the existing, two-timing disc and take the MacBook and the two hard drives to the Data Doctors.

What can I do? 

I have to go out of the store to get any reception (Steve Jobs, I feel your pain..) and talk to there.  After a few phone calls with me and Data Doctors and halted calls with Jim from  Data Doctors and Rob from Apple Genius Bar, I head out to what I consider the Emergency Room.

I have no idea where I am and where I’m going but follow the phone directions from the techies and after pulling over to use the Google phone GPS, I find I am, in fact, in front of the entrance to the strip mall where Data Doctors is located.
…Blessed day as I am just about out of battery on the phone and it is my only lifeline.

Upon arriving at Data Doctors, I am resolute.
No one but a technician in the store. 
I determinedly take my duct-taped plug for the Google phone (hey, duct tape got the astronauts back from space) and plugged it into an outlet on the far wall.

Immediately, the entire Data Doctors came to a halt.
I am not joking.  There was suddenly an eerie silence and darkness in the store.
Nothing.  Nada.

The technician there at the computer screen  (turns out is was Jim) asked, “What did you do?”
“Ummm. I tried to plug in my phone, “ I oblige.
“This can’t be happening” the bubble over my head is reading.  “This tech center is my lifeline and I just brought it to its knees”
What karma is this?

OK, Jim is so kind.  Not unlike the absent-minded professor, he puts his eyeglasses back on from where he’d pulled them off to rest on their chain around his neck in order better get a bead on me. 
After perusing me and determining I am not here for sabotage, he says he will be right with me once he gets everything back up and running…
We bonded.
I feel safe again. 
They will help me.  I must believe…

My husband calls for the first time since the early morning status and I tell him of the dire circumstances.  Even he can’t believe it.
I start to quietly cry again.

In the other world that is now my seeming reality, I hear Jim whispering into the Data Doctor phone, “Yes, she’s here. She’s over by the window on the phone. Crying.” 
Oh, he’s talking about me, I think.
“Gotta go, Bill. And oh, can you find me a place where to buy a new plug for the Google er T-Mobile phone.”
(I wasn’t going to mess with the tech or brand gods now. Call a spade a spade, I say.
T-Mobile knows I am a loyal-Capricorn customer for eons)

Taking the phone from Jim, this is my first encounter with the Blessed Mother or at the very least, an angel, aka Kelly – my customer service account contact.
And I mean this in the truest sense.
Not unlike a good old-fashioned hospital RN, she is authoritative and compassionate.
She could also be the soothing voice of HAL in “2001 Space Odyssey.”
I am hers.

She explains how Data Doctors is entrusted by the United States government, corporations and businesses around the world to recreate or capture data from corrupt or damaged hard drives.

She really did have me at hello.

Time is of the essence as I am on deadline for the Long Island Homegrown cookbook about the area’s master chefs and their inspired gardens, farms, and other local farm to table sources.
I had just completed all the first drafts of the Master Chefs and a number of the finished profile texts to send to my editor. Another angel, Kari..

As a writer, one does not have a formula.

There are those inspired moments that allow me to honor my chefs and write their profiles to capture the essence of their personality and culinary art. 
I can’t recreate the profiles despite being intimate with each and every word…

Kelly, my new best friend and Angel was now outlining and describing the sliding price scale for their miracle tech services.
My “can-do” no-holds barred spirit was kicking in to say, “Whatever it takes” when a higher power reined me in.
I heard Kelly say, “and overnight or within three days, the cost is anywhere from $5,500 to more than $9,000….” 
I don’t have that kind of money to make that kind of miracle happen so I was grateful I kept listening and didn’t shout out, “Overnight repair.”
I had to balance the need- the overwhelming need and desire --to get this horror over with and fixed so that I’d wake up from the nightmare with the available funds to make this right.
I opted for the two-week lowest cost option…
I am now assigned a case number.

A kidney scheduled for transplant surgery couldn’t have been more carefully prepared and wrapped.
We called Fed Ex – I splurged on the overnight delivery costs to get it to the Data Doctors center in Arizona.  I would’ve guessed the destination as Silicon Valley or Austin but Arizona it is…

All is complete.  I chat with Jim who in a twist of karma turns out to have been a chef in a number of New York City restaurants, including Bouley’s where I did volunteer kitchen prep after the attacks… 
When I tell him what the book – the book that is lying comatose on the hard drive that is packed up for its emergency rush to the Doctors – he is even more sympathetic and we bond over restaurant kitchens and food stories.
That has to be good luck, right?  How many chefs end up at Data Doctors?  Maybe he is a geekie angel too who traded in his toque for tech…

Armed with the FedEx tracking number, I promise to phone him tomorrow to make certain the drive was picked up.  Kelly will call when it arrives there in the Grand Canyon state.

All were asked to pray.  I did share my predicament and Scarlet Letter on Facebook and felt a teeny bit better that it has happened to others. 
I implored my tech, consumer electronics Friends in the industry -- Why can’t they invent or develop an early-warning signal like a gas gauge that tells you when you are getting low on fuel. 
There must be early degradations that could trigger a sign on the computer. 
Just think of the business opportunities, not to mention preventing the heartbreak – or suicide ^:^ of creators everywhere.
Think about it, engineers.  There must be an App for That!

My Facebook Friends also recommended the automatic back up – with automatic being the magical, operative element. Paraphrasing Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor’s adage (Duchess to Duchess: how’s that for a link to karma?!), my sister admonished that “you can never be too rich or too thin or back up enough.” 
Words to live by.

So Friday, June 25th was Day One of the vigil: The prayers, the waiting for the updates from Data Doctors’ Kelly.

At the same time, I had to focus on moving forward – to complete the chef profiles from the outline texts I did still have. And think about recreating all dozen of the new ones for the Long Island book…

Essentially, the method I have found that works best for me in writing the profiles is to either do the interview in-person or over the phone. Either way, I record the interview.
I explain to the chefs that my handwriting is so bad that I need the back up of the recording and also, there is a lot of nuance in conversation that comes through better “live.” 
That is Step 1.
I then write up the profile from my notes as Step 2. 
Fill in or add from the recording as Step 3.
I put the profile into chronological order and an understandable narrative. 
I have learned more often than not, the chefs’ stories are unknown to them, or they jump around in telling of their training, their leadership and the expression of their art. 
It undoubtedly makes for a fascinating discovery and I have learned so very much from them about the early days of the locavore movement and their role in doggedly bringing fresh homegrown food to their customers and to their part of the world; impacting the world of restaurants irrevocably – and for the good of all of us. 
In terms of taste – and better health.

Finally, I write the profile.
I write what I hope is a profile that honors the incredible work of the chefs and their inspired gardens and/or farmers and fishermen and dairymen, vintners, and artisanal food makers.

And I write a profile that I hope will compel the reader to turn the page to find out more – to learn about the chef and what made him or her fight so hard to get fresh-picked, local food to the plate vs. picking up the phone and ordering common, and rather tasteless ingredients when that was – and is in many, if not most cases, the norm. 
They are all master chefs and fascinating culinary artists.
And interesting personalities who have overcome a lot of hurdles to follow their dreams. 
Curiously, and somewhat surprising to me initially, all find time to give back – to volunteer for some charity or cause that celebrates teaching children to garden and cook, to fight childhood obesity or preserve the environment, work to improve business development for the towns, their farmers and their way of life by organizing Farmers Markets, cooking classes, tourism. 
I was gobsmacked by their vision and for eking out the time to impact their slice of the world and changing us all in the meantime.
Each profile is utterly unique and writing it is akin to what I imagine giving birth must be like…

Losing those profiles is not an option. 
And we are on deadline.

I let my editor Kari know of the situation.  She is wonderful and understanding and encouraging.  Just what I needed. She lays out the schedule for me with drop-dead dates. 

The first Angel Kelly report was encouraging. 
In her smooth as silk voice, she reassuringly walked me through the process. 
I get like every third word and honestly, the only thing that registers every call is the “So, it’s looking good.” 
However, there are lots of steps: reviewing the hard drive, finding a hairline crack in it, sending out for materials to fix it, rebuilding the data…
Like Gunga Din, I end each update call with a litany of prostrating “thank you’s” to her and a special appeal to “please thank the team.” I want them to know how very grateful I am and how much my life is in their hands…

I am haunted by that big blinking ?

I will keep you updated on our progress.  Please say a prayer for the book and the hard drive?

Thank you.