The small group on the couch sat in animated conversation, as they often did. In the hand of the oldest was a simple legal pad, full of scribbled calculations, bullet lists of seemingly
unrelated items and facts, and hastily scrawled margin notes. The tension in the air was electric, but with this team of thinkers the sensation was a familiar one. The youngest, barely more than a child, stared at a laptop computer with a concentration that could have tied a spoon in a knot. He spoke.
"Do you think people will really buy a computer that only costs one hundred dollars? Will they trust it?"
The father thought a moment, and wrote something more on the paper.
"The warranty will speak for itself. I can't promise anything, but it sounds good so far."
"And we'll always have a supplier?"
"I don't know. I hope so."
The truck rocked and swayed under the heavy load as it struggled up the rocky Oklahoma
hillside. In the cab, father and son were having a little heart-to-heart. Seems a 16-year-old can get scared of the big world rather easily, though you'd rarely hear him admit it.
"It's not easy to change the world, or even to succeed in it. You'll never understand it completely - nobody does; If you spend your life doing what you love, and making sure that you love something worthwhile, you'll be the most successful man on Earth. I promise."
"What you're doing is really quite small. You're operating a small business, in a small town. If you fail, nobody is going to die, nothing is going to be lost forever, and nobody will look down on you. But in another way, it's quite a big thing. You're barely out of high school, living in your parent's house, shaving the peach fuzz off your chin, and looking the American Dream dead in the eye. It's a rare opportunity - nobody does it this way. Nobody drives halfway across the country in a Ryder truck to pick up seven hundred computers for their teenage kid. Nobody. Doesn't happen. But it's happening to you. Don't let me down."
The chilly air of the big, empty room smelt of dust, paint, and electronics. He sat in the center of the brown carpet, his hand on his chin. Lack of sleep and hunger only served to sharpen his mind as he judged, planned, calculated. Feet of network cable, watts of power delivery, gallons of paint, and minds of men were considered, arrived at, and marked off a checklist. Everything must be as nearly perfect as possible, because they only get one chance at this. The massive stacks of cardboard boxes and steel machines in the back room had to be assembled, arranged, and sold... and without much time to spare. In a week the first power bill would arrive, in another week the payment for the yet-unfinished door sign would be due, and little money could be spared. He called out to his son, standing a small distance away. The youth tore his gaze from the pale dawn outside the window, and fixed it on a mouse in the corner.
"Better get some sleep. Your work is just about to begin, you know."
He nodded. Yeah, he thought, this is certainly gonna be interesting. He grabbed a coat off a stack of Dell towers and flopped out on the concrete floor.
A blast of sunlight and warm air rushed past him as he opened the door and propped it with a jar. The red-and-blue neon sign next to him announced a fact he could hardly understand. Didn't seem real after those long weeks of work, intense thought, discussion, argument, dreaming, praying, hoping. This is it, he thought, we're open. He walked back to the shiny counter and waited for the world to come to his feet.
Spring was mind-numbingly busy for both of them, what with a steady flow of customers in the door, an ever-present queue of systems on the repair shelf, and a short waiting list for computer systems... people waiting in line to hand over their hard-earned money for a small piece of the future. In any task, father and son made a capable team, and this was the first time thay had cooperated in their most developed fields. Dad was trained and experienced in marketing and selling, and Son more than held his own as a computer technician, much to the bewilderment of the few customers who were suspicious of a child fixing anything.
As Summer gave way to Fall, and the world became used to the spicy little entity known as Black Hawk Computers, the ceaseless stream of hurried customers and educated fools began to take a toll on both sides of the two-man team. As an idle mind is the workshop of the devil, so their busy minds became the staging ground for a new project; a small diversion, just for the fun (and the publicity could never hurt).
The parish carnival was at the end of November that year, and the Black Hawk booth stood in clear view of the ticket shack. A large television showed a racing game on the screen, its presence reinforced by a powerful speaker system. Behind the gaming computer display stood what appeared to be a chunky man in a gorilla suit. He picked up a big bag of mixed candy and wandered off into the crowd. Across his primate chest, a size XXXXXL shirt read "Free Computer! See Black Hawk booth for details."
As a small group gathered around the big banner, Dad switched on the giveaway system. A hushed murmur arose as a clear plexiglass box, lined with neon light tubing and gold trim lit up, revealing the state-of-the-art computer hardware inside.
A shifting vortex of steam rose from the cup in his hand, silently defying the draw of the earth. He took a sip and shut his eyes for a moment. Man, what a mess, he thought, as he mentally tallied the work in his queue.
Despite their best efforts, the work was becoming overwhelming for both of them. Worse, the business was only dubiously paying for itself. As the weeks passed by, the vague fear deep down inside turned to a sense of dread, and then to resignation.
He lifted the heavy Compaq tower off the workbench and set it on the customer service counter for the last time. For the last time, he pulled the yellow receipt book out from under the counter and wrote his name under the Black Hawk Computers logo.
"I hate that you're closin' down. Y'all are such nice folks, and I been tellin' all my friends about ya. You ain't just gonna stop workin' on computers, are ya? I'd hate to see a smart kid like you give up this easy."
The teenager looked at the smiling old man. "No, I'm not gonna give it up yet. Maybe I'll do computer work freelance."
The gray eyes smiled at him. "Good luck, buddy. Can you help me carry my computer to my car?"
As the last customer drove away, he locked the door and unplugged the neon sign in the window.
I stood in the center of the cold, dark, empty room. Alone with my thoughts, my mind too numb to regret. A thousand faces passed through my mind, all a part of an incredible experience
I wanted both to remember and to forget. Here, in this musty storefront in a forgettable shopping strip in an unremarkable Louisiana town, a childhood dream of mine had lived and died, and I had learned quite a lot about life.
I hid a tear from no one in particular as I pulled the keys out of my pocket and locked the door behind me for the last time. I'm never, ever, ever going to do this again, I thought to myself.
It's been nearly a year since Black Hawk Computers closed down, and I'm still not sure whether I want to remember or forget. The big banner
from the carnival hangs in my room, and sometimes I lay on my bed and stare at it, wondering if I'll ever try again. Only time will tell.