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My Life in Vallejo: Return of the Ken

I was back. Back in Vallejo, California, the town where I lived for most of my elementary school years. We moved back just before the end of my freshman year at high school. Our new house here was much smaller than our one in Tennessee, and although it was my turn to have the larger bedroom, I still ended up with the smaller one. My parents decided to give me this room because it had an entire wall with built-in wooden shelves, plus small wooden pegs all along the top of the wall for hanging things. I ended up liking this decision, as the shelves provided lots of space, first for storage, and later for displaying all my toys.

Directly behind the house we had a wooden deck where we put our picnic table barbecue grill. There was a covering that shaded the section of the deck directly outside the main bedroom. The backyard area was more off to the left side of the house, and there was only rocks and dirt where the lawn should have been. My sister and I spend a lot of time out there separating the rocks from the dirt so that my dad could put in grass. We did this all summer and into the school year. Even Conor would come over and help out. Eventually we finished, and my dad put down a lawn full of sod. Then once it started growing, I had to mow the darn thing.

Me I met two new friends shortly after we moved into our new house. Conor Vaughan, who lived next door, and Mike Hidalgo, who lived down the street. Conor and Mike had already been friends for awhile, and Mike was always much closer to Conor than to myself. Mike and I would only rarely hang out together when Conor wasn't around. Later on, Mike moved away with his family to another part of Vallejo, so we didn't get to see him too much after that. Together, we would play all sorts of things, outdoors and indoors. I had a basketball hoop in the driveway for the first time ever, so that got a lot of use. When we got tired of one-on-one style, we would play "donut", which was just horse with a better word to spell. And then there were other outdoor games such as military commandos, squirt guns, Nerf stuff, and other such activities.

Indoors, we would have wars with G.I. Joes, Transformers, little army men, and whatever other toys we had laying around. I had a whole bunch of Legos, so we would also play with those. And when I say a lot, I mean like an entire luggage size duffel bag full. Unfortunately, I later traded these Legos to Gary, a friend I met in junior college. I knew in was a mistake shortly afterwards, and my mother really wasn't too happy about it. After all, she's the one that spent all the money buying those for me. And what did I get out of it? A four-disc CD-ROM drive for the computer, which is pretty much worthless now. Since then, I've never traded anything again, and... uh... what the hell was I talking about again?

Anyway, Conor, Mike, and I had a lot of fun, but our number one pastime was definitely video games. I had a Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis with the Power Base Converter, a Game Boy, and later on a Turbografx-16 with CD-ROM and a Sega-CD. Conor would rent games almost every weekend, and when we found one that we really liked, I would usually buy it. And when my parents got their first computer, we would also play games on that. The only two games I remember getting for that PC was Prince of Persia, which my mom bought, and Martian Memorandum, which a friend, Radford (radcastro.com), copied for me.

My Life in Vallejo: Hi, School

Dr. James J. Hogan High School Before long, summer was over and it was time for school. Great. A new school, Dr. James J. Hogan High School, and I didn't know anybody there. But at least I could walk there. And my sister could walk to her school too. In Tennessee, we both had to take the school bus, which was a long and boring ride. I forget exactly, but I think it took around fifteen minutes to walk from my house to school. I used to know it to the minute, so that I could get as much sleep time as possible. I never really was a morning person, and that just got worse as I grew older.

I don't remember too much about that first day of school, that is until my class of the day: Biology. My teacher was a man called Mr. Santos, and as it turns out he was a student of my grandfather, a now retired Biology teacher. Oh wonderful. And I don't even like Biology. But that wasn't the weirdest thing that happened. As Mr. Santos was reading attendance, I heard him say the name of my best friend and neighbor when I used to live in Vallejo, Steve Garcia. And the person who answered did look like him... sort of. It had been almost ten years by now. So I just kept looking at him, trying to figure out if it was the same person I had known as a lad. And as soon as Mr. Santos got to my name, Ken Innes, Steve's head whipped around to see who answered (even though I used to go by Kenny Innes, Ken was still close enough). That clinched it, he was the same friend that I had grown up with until fourth grade.

My High School ID Card It was hard waiting until after school to meet with him and talk about old times. Luckily it was the last class of the day. Wow, this was great! I didn't know anyone at this brand new school when I started this morning, and now I not only know someone, but he's my best friend. When class finally let out, we talked about what had been going on and about old times. Apparently, his family moved to another part of Vallejo. Had they not, he would have actually been attending Vallejo High School instead. He told me that he was expecting me to move back four years after I left, because that's what my parents said at the time. But after our four years was up in Colorado, there was no opening in California so we took Tennessee instead. He asked if I remembered when we played hide and seek with our sisters, and we thought they ran away when we couldn't find them. I asked if he remembered such and such, and the conversation went on like that for awhile. And then came the news... he would be moving away soon, to somewhere in Florida I believe. And soon after, he was gone. I haven't heard from him since.

My High School Diploma Well, high school went on for three more years until I graduated in 1993, and over that time I met a few more friends. There was Radford Castro, Rob Witherington, Will Smith, and a few others whose names escape me. I never really spent much time at school, other than what was required, that is. At first I would each lunch there, as I was still used to doing so at my other schools in Tennessee, but eventually I started going home for lunch break. It was a really weird feeling at first, since in Tennessee we weren't even allowed to leave the cafeteria, let alone the school. When I ate there, I would eat in the lunch room or sit outside against one of the walls. Rob and I used to eat lunch together a lot, then later on Will and I would eat together. I actually think that Rob moved up north somewhere. He wanted to be something like a marine biologist. Haven't heard from him since high school, but he was a good guy and I really hope he succeeded. I'm pretty sure I met both Radford and Rob in gym class, as none of us were really the physically active type of people. I don't remember how I met Will, though, but he was the one who helped me get my first job, and introduced me to heavy metal.

My Life in Vallejo: Ken-tucky Fried Chicken

My friend, Will, worked part time at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and convinced me to turn in an application there. So I did, and I had a little interview with one of the managers. Because I was underage, he told me that if I were called back I would have to bring a work permit with me. So I got the work permit and brought it back to the KFC, where someone else was the on-duty manager. I told her that I was supposed to bring this in, and she kindly signed it for me. The next thing I know, I have a job. Wow, responsibility... and money!

They started me out in the back as a cook... though for the first few days they were too busy to teach me anything so I basically just swept up and kept things clean, which is still part of the cook's job. We definitely had more responsibilities than just making the food. We also had to empty all the trash in the back, organize the cooler and freezer, change the soda syrup boxes and carbonation tanks, wash all the dishes, clean all the machines, and keep the floor looking nice. It was a hard job, but I enjoyed doing it. I worked Saturdays and Sundays when school was in session, and then six days a week when school was on break. I almost always worked the night shift, which I preferred (as I said, I'm not a morning person).

When I left, four years later, there wasn't a single person working there that was there when I was hired. Also, I was still a cook, even though they tried to get me to become a supervisor several times. I was trained on every job, cook, prep, cashier, drive-through, and knew everything in the manuals. Hey, I didn't have much to do on the mandatory 30 minute lunch break to keep me occupied, so figured I might as well read the manuals. I also sometimes brought homework along. So anyway, I could have been a manager, but it just wasn't something I desired. I liked being in the back, and staying in the back. I liked not having to deal with stupid people. I liked not having to do paperwork. I liked not having to motivate anyone. I liked not having to be on-call. Why would I want to give all that up for just a title and perhaps a slight raise?

I got to meet a lot of interesting people come through as cooks. Like Juan, who spoke no English. He and his sister both got hired on, him as a cook and her as a prep person. Even though neither of them could speak English, and I could only speak high school level Spanish, we were always able to communicate just fine somehow. And he was definitely one of the best cooks that I got to work with during my time there. Then there was also Rick and Rick, who were both in the military and got hired at the same time. They were great guys and great workers... only problem is their military duties would often pull them away from their scheduled work time, leaving me working alone. That part was way not cool.

A couple times I went over to help out at the KFC across town, which was always exciting, because it was similar and different all at the same time. At my store, I knew exactly how much of what product I needed to make at what time, depending on how much were in the warmers and how many people seemed to be coming in. At the other store, it was all different and so I had to have the people there try to tell me how much to make. There we also a few times when I worked the morning shift... and although I hate getting up early, I must admit it was definitely much less hectic... which is another reason I didn't like it. For the evening shift, you come in, work like crazy until the store closes, and then clean up. No time to think about how long it will be until you get to leave. Nope, but in the morning shift, all you have is time. You come in, work like crazy, and then see that you still have 6 hours before it's time to go home. Ugh!

My Life in Vallejo: Meeting My Wife

Latrice Hicks I first met Treeses, the woman who would eventually become my wife, in 1998. It was my second-to-last semester at CSUS, and my good friend, Bill Stringfellow, whom I had been carpooling with ever since we transferred to the school, had graduated. That left me to make the two and a half hour drive to and from school all by myself. Going wasn't so bad, but coming back was horrible. Think about it, a day of boring lectures and followed by a boring two and a half hour drive... not too safe. So I started looking into options, like finding a place to stay in Sacramento... only problem is, I wasn't working and didn't have my own car. Makes it kinda hard. My other thought was to find someone in Sacramento who shared similar interests, so we could see a movie or play videogames or something before I had to make the drive home. At least that way I would have something else to think about on the drive home, something that wouldn't put me to sleep behind the wheel.

Making use of the now indispensable internet, I searched out people who were looking for friends, lived in the Sacramento area, and shared some of my interests... and Treeses is, I believe, the only one who even responded. After a few e-mail exchanges, everything sounded good, and so we set up a meeting. It was on a Tuesday afternoon, after my last class of the day. I believe the date was October 6th, and we met at my college, on the first floor of the computer science building at the always-empty information desk right near the stairs. I had a Ranma figuring hanging on my backpack, and she recognized it right away... which seemed like a great start! So we went out to a nearby McDonalds to have lunch and talk. Turns out, we held a lot of interests in common. She liked anime, videogames, sci-fi shows, horror movies, and many other things.

A Night at the Roxbury I believe the first movie we ever saw was "A Night at the Roxbury", but then we saw a lot of movies so I can't exactly be sure. I know we saw Rush Hour, because they messed up the first part and the subtitles were all offscreen so you couldn't read it. Luckily, I had seen it already, so I could fill her in on what was going on. We also saw Orgazmo, which was hilarious. That was the second NC-17 rated movie I ever saw, the first one being Whore which was on Cinemax or one of those movie channels. I still don't know why either of them received an NC-17 and not an R. It just enforces my belief that the MPAA rating system is pretty much useless and should be completely redone. Uh... where was I... oh yeah, Orgazmo, well, just about anything from Trey Parker and Matt Stone is hilarious... except for that one Terrance & Phillip episode they aired when everyone was expecting the episode of South Park that was to reveal who Cartman's father was... 'cause that seriously sucked!

Anyway, getting back on topic, Treese and I quickly became friends. We sometimes hung out on the days after I had class, which was Tuesdays and Thursdays... and possibly Fridays, I don't quite remember. We couldn't hang out every day, though, as I started senior project that semester and thus had a lot of meetings with my group. Each one of my group was living in Sacramento, and we were doing a project for CalTrans at their Sacramento building. Then Mike Smith, one of my senior project team members and an acquaintance from community college, had gotten a job at this company called Anytime Access and recommended me to the company, which snagged me the job. So now I had three major time-consumers going on in Sacramento, and really needed to find a place to stay there.

We didn't see each other at all over winter break, as I had no other reason to go to Sacramento and a lot of work to do on our senior project for CalTrans (all of which could be done at home at this point). We picked up again when the new semester started, however, and since I had less classes I had a tiny bit more free time. Now, besides movies, we were able to go out to some concerts at Arco Arena, the first actually occurred before winter break, on Wednesday, December 8, 1998. It was Depeche Mode, a group that I knew hardly anything about, but one that Treeses was a big fan of. It was definitely a unique experience, and virtually nothing like my first and only other concert, seeing "Weird Al" Yankovic in San Francisco with my best friend Conor. In that one we got front row center and got to remain seated almost the entire time. In this one, the arena was huge, and we were kind of far back. We also had to spend a lot of the time standing, 'cause everyone in front of us would do the same. Oh yeah, and it was quite smokey in there, and I'm not talking about tobacco.

Marilyn Manson & Hole Concert Ticket Stub The next concert was on Thursday, March 11, 1999, and featured Marilyn Manson, Hole, and some opening band called Monster Magnet. This was an awesome concert... or at least part of it was, the Marilyn Manson part. Neither one of us was a Hole fan, and their show didn't impress us in the slightest. Very plain, with them basically just standing there and playing. They didn't sound all that great either. Monster Magnet wasn't bad, but since we really didn't know who they were or any of their songs, it was kinda hard to get into it. Marilyn Manson made up for it all, though. He had multiple excellent stage decorations, lighting, effects, multiple costume changes, and even came out on some stilts for one song. And besides all that, he sounded awesome. I'd have to say that was still the best performance I've seen, though Weird Al comes in at a close second, with Zombie trailing by a hair.

Rob Zombie & KoRn Concert The final concert we saw in Sacramento before heading off for the small town of Redding happened only a month later, on Monday, April 12, 1999. It featured KoRn and Rob Zombie. I was a Zombie fan, and Treeses was a KoRn fan, but both sets kept us thouroughly entertianed. In the end, however, we both had to admit that Zombie's set ruled the show. Not that KoRn was bad or anything, far from it in fact, just that visually all they had going on was a bunch of audience members who got brought up on stage into this giant cage to dance around. Zombie, on the other hand, had an amazing sence of style, color, fog, and setpeices in addition to extremely high energy... and fire, lots of fire... oh yeah, and a giant fire breathing robot! Yeah, that was awesome. Simply awesome. Even in the back we could feel the heat shooting past us.

Anyway, so I really needed to find a place to stay up in Sacramento, since I had a job there, and especially since my senior project now required me to go in to CalTrans to work. Luckily, the people Treeses was living with, Ken and Karen, had a spare room they were happy to rent out. Talk about convenient! They were cool people, as was their son, James, who had a lot in common with us, so we all got along well. That was the first time living away from home, but I was still living in a home, not off on my own, so I felt comfortable there. I only lived there for a few months, until I graduated college and moved up to Redding, but I liked it.

Anytime Access Toward the end of my final semester, I had make my decision on which job I wanted to accept once I graduated, which I had narrowed down to two choices. On one hand, the company that I was currently working at wanted to hire me on full time. This was a good offer, as besides paying well, with benefits and such, it was an easy job. I knew how to do it, the people were great, I was very comfortable there, and it wasn't too far from home. On the other hand was Working Designs. They didn't pay as much, they didn't offer as good of benefits, it was a little bit further from home, and I had no idea what the job actually entailed since I had never worked on a videogame before in my life. So before I made my final decision, Treeses suggested that I go up and check out the company. So we did.

Working Designs We had a hard time finding the place, since there was no sign on the building or anything, and had to stop at a nearby Circle K and call them for specific directions. But as soon as I stepped into the offices, I knew that this was the place that I wanted to work. It was a very laid back environment, with toys scattered all over everyone's desks and computer screens, no cubical walls separating everyone's desks, and everyone was so friendly and just gave off a general sense of playfulness. Now that my mind was made up, we had to come back to Redding latter on to find an apartment, which wasn't too difficult. Then Treeses asked if she could move with me. Apparently she wanted to get even further away from her family than just moving out of the house, though I would find out much later that this wasn't her only reason....

My Life in Vallejo: Team Working Designs

I think it was just pure dumb luck that I got hired at Working Designs. I hit it at just the right time, as they were looking to hire an additional programmer. It started during my last semester at CSUS. I submitted resumes and cover letters to several videogame companies and they were all pretty much identical except for the ones I sent to Working Designs. Those I customized specifically to Working Designs, even going so far as to add a bit of sarcastic humor to the cover letter (which all students were told was a big no-no).

Well, apparently Victor (president of the company) liked what he saw, and so we set up a phone interview. At that time, I had pretty much no phone skills... or social skills, so I was extremely nervous. But I guess it went pretty good because he wanted to hire me afterwards. Unfortunately, I was so nervous that I don't actually remember a thing about the phone call, but apparently I got through it okay because he offered me a job. Talk about awesome!! It's like a dream come true! And so you might think that this would conclude the story of how I ended up at Working Designs. Alas, 'twas not the case.

You see, accepting the offer wasn't as clear cut as you might expect, because at the time I had already received a permanent job offer from the company I was currently working at, Anytime Access. They offered more money, more benefits, and stock in the company. It was in Sacramento, where I had been attending school for the past few years and made some friends, and which was only a two hour drive from home (hey, "only" two hours is still better than three hours). Plus, I not only already knew the people at the company, but I also knew how to do the job. And I was pretty good at it, too.

So, shortly after the phone interview with Victor I had a tough decision to make. Knowing this, and seeing my dilemma, Latrice encouraged me, at the very least, to set up an in-person meeting with Victor to actually go and check out the company first-hand before committing to anything. It really took some convincing on her part, seeing as how shy I was at the time, but she pulled it off, and we set up a date to drive up to Redding and see what Working Designs was all about. Since neither of us had been to Redding before, we let good old unreliable MapQuest be our navigator on the journey.

Yes, MapQuest, the website that is supposed to tell you the best way to get from point A to point B, but usually just ends up telling you how to get from point A to purple to donut. Of course, we didn't know that at the time. Basically, MapQuest told us to get off the freeway two towns before Redding and use a bunch of obscure backway streets to navigate our way all the way the Working Designs' building. We ended up arriving in the general area probably about 45 minutes after we would have had we just stayed on the freeway and got off at the exit that was right near where we needed to be. Come to think of it, we probably could have gotten better directions had we asked a retarded dog.

Anyway, so once we were in the general area, we had a hard time actually finding the building. We had to stop at a Circle K so I could call them and ask for directions. As it turned out, we had actually driven past the building a few times, because there was purposefully no Working Designs sign posted anywhere (apparently they had some issues in the past with crazy people, and decided it was better if people didn't know where the building was). Once they told us were it was, it was fairly simple to find. The actual Working Designs offices were located on the second story, or at least most of them were... and that's even if you could call them offices.

Actually, even calling them cubicles wouldn't be accurate, as there really weren't any sectional dividers at all. It was basically like a giant loft with a bunch of desks, all seemed completely covered with toys, videogames, magazines, and the like. It was amazing to see. I had never witnessed a work environment that reminded me so much of the work environment I had set up at home, and I knew at that moment that I belonged here. I didn't say that out loud, though. I actually don't remember what I said, if anything. I just know that I was in awe the entire time we were up there. Downstairs, there was one room set up as Tim's area. He was the programmer, and the one that I would be working with... if I decided to accept the job (yeah, right, like there was any question about that now!).

So Victor suggested that we go to Starbucks in Barnes & Noble to discuss the job offer, and I obviously agreed since that's where we ended up, even though I don't drink coffee. I should day that some parts of this whole experience are completely non-existent in my brain, which is due to sensory overload that was taking place at the time, and not the onset of old age! Anyway, I rode with Victor in his nice air-conditioned car (yeah, I remember that part, 'cause Redding is HOT!) while Treese followed in my (non-air-conditioned) car. Then, while Victor and I were sitting at one of the tables talking, who should come by but none other than Ashley Angel, the voice of Alex in Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. I think that was probably the high point of his career.

And yes, Ashley Parker Angel fans, I am joking. You don't need to send a ton of e-mail telling me how great he is and everything he's done since then. I know he was on Making the Band, I know he was in O-Town, and I know he has his own reality TV series. I also know that you shouldn't obsess so much. Seriously! I mean, Victor told me... um, this is later on mind you, I'm kind of getting off on a tangent here... anyway, he told me that after one of the Making the Band episodes aired, where it was edited so that it seemed like Ashley and his girlfriend had a fight or something, that some crazy Ashley fan actually went after Ashley's girlfriend right there in a store. Talk about crazy! First off, don't you freaks know you can't trust what you see on TV! And secondly, Ashley isn't a god! He just a guy, though a talented entertainer at that.

Okay, so back at the negotiation table, Victor and I discussed the job offer. This was extremely difficult for me, since I had no self-confidence at the time (as opposed to now, where I have just a smidgen). Apparently this is fairly common, though, where graduating students, being offered huge piles of money for a position in which they feel completely and totally under-qualified, instantly grab at the first offer that is thrown at them. And yes, I would have been the same way, but that should be no surprise. After earning measly fast-food pay and then all of a sudden being offered tens of thousands of dollars per year to do a job that I know nothing about... yeah, my instinct would be to yell "Sold!"

But thankfully, CSUS recognized this some while back, and requires graduating students to take a class about interviewing and negotiating job offers. The first thing we were taught was that, no matter how much we feel like pathetic loser scumwads, we do actually have the skills to do the job for which we are hired. The second thing they taught us was to never, NEVER accept the first offer. Companies will always start low, and even though it may seem like an unbelievable amount of money now, that's only because we're used to minimum wage page. So, that's what I did.

Yes, as much as it pained me, I rejected the first offer, and told Victor what I was offered by Anytime Access. Although he couldn't go that high, and I didn't expect him to because the cost of living in Redding is less than that of Sacramento, he did go higher and I accepted the second offer. What I didn't realize at the time was that the first offer was actually just meant to be temporary, lasting for a few months just to see if I could handle the job, and then it would have gone up to what his second offer was. So I guess I really didn't really have to do that whole negotiation thing, but it was still good experience for me. And I even did good enough to eventually earn several raises!

Anyways, once all that was settled, we then left so he could show me the recording studio, and I think he also showed me the site for the new building that was being planned (but that never happened because of the city wanted to take too large a portion of the property that was being sold). So instead, they rented out space in an existing building, which we moved to about a month after I started working there. But anyway, I don't remember what happened next, so I assume Treese and I just headed back to Sacramento, though we may have driving around Redding a little bit to see what it was like. As I said, I don't really remember. So I guess that pretty much wraps up the story of how I became part of the Working Designs team.

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