Brisbane, QLD, Australia: The Hunt For Another Life

I got to work immediately. First things first, I needed a phone. Zorba and I biked into town and visited a few shops around the Queens St Mall in the CBD. In one Dick Smith Electronics store, I spotted an O2 smart phone that had been marked down to less than half price. Drooling at the prospect of owning a cool new gadget to play with, I made the decision and bought it. By the end of the day, I was already annoyed with the thing, and had plans to return it. I did my homework online, decided on a simple Nokia candy-bar style phone. It happened to be the most popular phone in Brisbane, because I had to go to 3 different stores before I found one that had any in stock. They had only one left, the red-coloured model. I smiled and slapped down my credit card.

Zorba had set up a meeting with the Managing Partner of the Systems Division of his company, The Kobold Group. According to Zorba, Kobold Systems had a couple projects on the plate and was in desperate need of some software engineers. I had only one more thing to buy before the interview: black shoes.

Four days after I left my life in New Zealand I borrowed Zorba’s car and set off for the Brisbane suburb of Ipswich to take the first step in setting up a new one. The company had done psychological profiles of all their Managing Partners in an effort to show them and their bosses the most efficient way to work and communicate. Zorba had given me the Systems MP’s profile a day earlier and I had spent much of the time since then memorizing it. To an interviewee, it was gold. The two-page report told you everything you needed to know about the best way to talk to Chris, what he looks for in employees and how to get on his good side. The conclusion I drew was that this was gonna be a¬†challenging interview, Chris was tough and demanding, and he didn’t like BS. I mean, come on, I was sooo good at BS!

Zorba didn’t own an iron, so the morning of the interview I had the local dry cleaner do a rush press job on my pants and shirt. I changed in a parking garage near the Kobold office and strapped a tie around my neck that I borrowed from James, Zorba’s ex-wife’s cousin.

The interview started with Chris asking me about what I had been up to. I talked about traveling to New Zealand, working in the bar and wanting to get back into the engineering game. Chris explained the projects they were currently working on and what type of work was involvd. After he brought in his lead Software Architect, they asked me about my responsibilities at NASA and what I could do for them. It was a quick and easy interview, I was pleasantly surprised. I sat down with Daniel, the software architect on their biggest project, and he took me through the design and use of the application.

And wouldn’t ya know it, turns out Daniel is a huge space buff. He asked me several questions about working for ISS. I walked out feeling good about the interview and confident that they would bring me onto their team. Chris told me he’d think it over and let me know the next day.

The next morning Chris offered me a job for as long as it takes to complete the project. This meant that I would have to stay in Brisbane until at least mid-year. In my desperation to make money and reconnect with my engineering roots I bid farewell to my Europe plans and agreed to stay in Brisbane until the delivery of the application. The best part was that the employmet was classified as ‘casual’, so there was no contract and I could leave at any time. Now I know that I wanted to be in Europe in the summer and do some more traveling, but I never doubted that those plans might change on a whim. After hearing the salary number Chris gave to me, it was a pretty damn appealing whim.

Zorba was beeming with pride when we celebrated that night. He has a dream of starting a business supplying Australian companies with talented engineers from the US, and I was his trial run. And so far, it was a complete success.

Now since this post has been filled with boring accounts of interviews and phone shopping, I’ll end with a funny story about a shopping trip Zorba and I took to the local Coles supermarket.

Zorba and I went out to drop off some DVDs, pick up some supplies at the liquor store and the supermarket, then go out and get something to eat. When we got to the checkout lane of the supermarket, this loud alarm started going off. At first i thought someone was trying to walk out without purchasing something, but then the alarm kept going … and no one was doing anything! All the customers were still browsing the aisles and the employees were just going about like nothing was happening.

Then I’m thinking ‘does anyone else hear that??’ Finally Zorba turns to me and says “I can’t believe they’re doing a fire drill right now.” But still no one was doing anything. I was dying with laughter, cause there was even this old lady who was just staring out into space while this incredibly loud fire alarm was going off. As the alarm kept sounding off, our cashier says to no one, “I think it’s broken…”, and I kept looking around and asking everyone, “should we be … you know, fleeing the building?!” Everyone was still just strolling around like it was any other day, and new people were even coming in to do shopping. The cashier shrugged her shoulders and just said, “I don’t know, I guess they’ll tell us.” The cashier next to her kept shaking nervously and saying, “I think we should evacuate. I mean, it’s an alarm, I think we should be leaving!” I thought to myself, “Damnit woman! Calm down!!” Zorba was no help at all because he just looked around and concluded, “I don’t see any smoke, we’re probably OK.”

I kept thinking about those disaster shows on TV where they show the security tape from a building that burned down, with the narrator in the background going, “And even though the building was collapsing around them, the customers kept shopping!” Then they cut to the tall Indian guy swiping his credit card.

The alarm then turned into this whooping, air raid-type siren, mixed in with some recorded message saying, “EVACUATE THE BUILDING!!.” It was really intimidating. And still, the cashiers kept scanning things through!! I was literally doubled over laughing, saying, “OK, now even the robot alarm guy is telling us to evacuate.” And every now and then people would look around, shrug, and pick a box of crackers off the shelves. “EVACUATE THE BUILDING!!” The cashier next to ours was about to start freaking out, but my cashier was still quite calm, which was rather eerie.

Fortunately we were the last customers that were served before some old woman finally came around yelling at everyone to leave. She even kinda yelled at my cashier to stop working. I grabbed the bags, signed the receipt as quickly as possible and Zorba and I high-tailed it out of there. There were people all around the shopping area standing outside and looking around for whatever fire set the alarm off. Most of them were really bitter and gave us the evil eyes when they found out we had made it through the checkout with our groceries before leaving. Zorba didn’t make it any better by yelling, “So long, suckers!!”, as we went down the stairs to the car park. A bit later, when we passed by again we saw a fire engine parked outside, but still no fire …



  1. although i’m now addicted to having a full keyboard and internet access on my phone, i fondly remember my old school nokia. that thing was so basic, but worked so well.

    i make it a point to never listen to fire alarm messages. this might cost me one day, but i’m with zorba – no smoke/fire, no worries.

  2. I agree. No smoke, no fire, no worry; besides an “astronaut” should be smart enough to get out of a burning building. Funny blog. Tell Zorba hello.

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