Excuse me while I recall a week inside of a day, all blurred together as it seemed to occur to me as time went by. Everything changes all at once, and somehow, stays the same. It's all separate events, all one thing, and it's both overwhelming, and somehow completely right all at the same time.
The stripper, a tall blonde with a 1911 tattooed across her rib cage, gyrates in my lap as I lean back on the sofa. Pounding R&B provides the backbeat as somewhere behind me, an Asian stripper with badly-concealed stretch marks writhes on the stage.
She leans over, breathing softly in my ear, "he's watching you, you know."
I laugh softly at her, amused. "That's funny," I say. "I just had dinner with his wife and in-laws on Sunday." Leaning back, I enjoy her deer-in-the-headlights look as she breaks her undulations across my knee. Behind me, the music flips over to Nine Inch Nails.
Umatilla, Oregon is a town notable for strip clubs, dive bars, trailer parks, and now, datacenters. The town is surrounded by sand dunes on three sides and the Columbia River on the fourth. Further up the road, the McNary Dam pumps water, salmon, and power in unequal measures, taming a formerly narrow confluence into a wide, easily navigable river. I-82 bisects the town neatly in two, sectioning away the bad part of town from the "good" part of town. Truck stop from trailer trash. Strip club from stripped onion fields.
Talking shit, talking trash, four or five of us are at the bar: technicians, network engineer, and our weapons of choice. Long Islands, IPAs, Washington Apples. Drunk as fuck half of us are, laughing back and forth, trading stories. The network engineer is talking on about music, about his wife (a whip-smart Russian software architect), his inlaws, his son. He shows me pictures, says how much he misses her, but says also, it's nice to get away sometimes.
On the other side, my other coworker is describing his AR with great, animated gestures, and discussing Kazakhstan, where massive amounts of rare earth elements are being drawn from the earth, and where Western interests are investing heavily on friendly ground.
We're all gun-wielding, sand-maddened fools building the Internet. Some of us are here for a week or two, others have signed ourselves away to a shining new thing, to a cheap cost of living, to good beer, better wine, and a land where you can cash and carry AK-47s out of the local Ranch and Home after work. Welcome to the Wild West, NOC style.
I'm driving the engineer's Lexus down I-84 at unreasonable speeds as the sun sets. He's half out of his mind on morphine, I'm grinning like a fool on adrenaline. We both smell like gunpowder and cheap beer and the back hills where we've been playing with coworkers and friends and not nearly enough ammunition. We're going to be up until 1AM again configuring the next piece of the Internet, bringing online the network.
As we've said, as we keep saying, this is just how we roll.
A week, a week, a week.
I'm standing on the edge of a manicured lawn under the trees as rainstorms roll in over the desert, over the Tri-Cities. On a hill over it all, I take in shining ribbons of river, take in the canals, narrow strands of gleaming glassy water in the green and grey of unusually wet ground. Thunder roars, engines roar, and inside, wine is being set out and Russians are toasting as they put a six-month-old to bed. It's Sunday night or Thursday night, and here I am again...
Open accounts at hotels mean walking in, saying you're with The Company, getting a room key, and getting trashed in the hotel bar, secure in the knowledge that someone's expensing your Long Islands. It means contractors giving you strange, shrewd looks and crowding in after you've had a few to ask questions about The Company. It means coworkers shifting, getting pissed and protective. It means cutting out to the bottle of absinthe or the wine, or the strippers.
It's another night in the Wild West, another week gone by. Welcome home.