A few years ago, I worked at Microsoft in a department that was producing a huge product, one that took a couple of years to build.  There was this time, during a release cycle, that we called ‘crunch mode’ – kind of an ‘all hands on deck’ type of a thing, where dinner was brought in so we didn’t feel we had to go home to eat with our families, and could work a few more hours.  Several of us would joke, wryly, that we only worked half days at Microsoft… You know… 12 hours on… 12 hours off… Fridays were greeted with “Thank God it’s Friday, only two more workdays till Monday!”

There are some who would have said the schedule was brutal.

There is every likelihood that they would have been right.

Crunch mode lasted for months.  It was, to put it mildly, very wearing on folks, and their families

Now Microsoft, to its credit, realized that this constant ‘crunch mode’ was hard on morale, and as a result, whenever there was any kind of milestone achievement, they’d have a party.  When we shipped a product, oh Lordy, you haven’t seen a party till you’ve seen Microsoft put on a party.

So after about a year of crunch mode, we shipped a version of Site Server, and had what they called a “ship” party at a park at the south end of Lake Sammamish.

If you wanted to, you could take the afternoon off, go play games, go water skiing, or ride a jet ski, or just hang out by the grill where they were barbequeing herds of formerly wild animals, grilling fields of corn on the cob, and mixing up just-shy-of-Olympic-sized swimming pools of cole slaw.

It was, in a word, impressive.

When I got there, some of my coworkers were slicing through the water behind the ski boat, and all three of the jet skis were out there cutting swaths into the lake.

My boss’s boss (Mike) was eating with a friend at one of the picnic tables, saw me wandering in, and suggested I go play, as I’d been working pretty hard.

I looked out at the jet skis, and realized, with a start, that…

–          while I’d never ridden one,

–          kind of thought they were a rich person’s toy,

–          and couldn’t possibly imagine buying one…

…deep, deep inside, I REALLY wanted to ride one.

And there was absolutely nothing keeping me from riding this one.


So I went out there to see what it would take to make this happen, and it turned out all I had to do was fill out some paperwork, wade out into the water, and get on.

Well, I was wearing a pair of boots, so that wouldn’t do, so I took them and my socks off, then scrunched my pants up so they wouldn’t get wet, signed the paperwork, and waded out to climb on.

Once on, I was given an astoundingly brief set of instructions,

“Squeeze this to go, let up to stop.”

“Go easy on it till you get into the deep water, we don’t want to be sucking rocks into the impeller”

“Don’t do donuts”, and

“It won’t steer unless you’re hitting the gas”.

“You’ve got 10 minutes.  Go.”

Kind of dazed, I chugged out into the deep water, conscious that the three cylinder, two stroke engine sounded an awful lot like my old Saab, and decided to make the most of my 10 minutes.

The waves were lapping gently at the hull, the ski boat was doing a circuit, and I was trying to get used to the idea that this thing underneath me that was moving in such an unsteady way, was actually safe.

“Okay – here goes nothing…”

I hit the gas.




The acceleration was unbelievable.  I was at 50 mph before I knew what had happened.

I reached back and grabbed my eyeballs before they got lost in the lake.

The handlebars, which until moments earlier, had moved freely in my hands, now felt like they’d been dropped into quick drying concrete.

The air, which until moments earlier, had only been something I was breathing, was now trying to rip my glasses off my head.

The water, which until moments earlier, had been something you could dive into, was now the consistency of granite as the jet ski skittered and bounced across it.

And the jet ski itself, which until moments earlier, had been this unsteady, gangly kid at his first time on a bike, was now this fierce monster, ready to conquer anything in front of it.

The speed slowly crept to 60, and I saw I’d be crossing the wake of the ski boat, so I slowed down and tried to turn a little bit.

This was when I remembered the instructions “it won’t steer unless you’re hitting the gas.”

Coasting straight at something while you’ve got the steering turned hard to one side is a little disconcerting.

I hit the gas, and the strange thing was it steered from the rear, like a turbocharged forklift – a little unusual if you’re used to things steering from the front, but the fellow was right, it did not steer unless you hit the gas.

I suddenly understood the allure of these things… I could now say I had ridden one, and, given the price tag, still thought they were a more of a rich person’s toy, and still couldn’t imagine buying one. But wow… I definitely understood why people bought them.

I know I used up more than my allotted 10 minutes, but finally headed back in.  They waved me to slow down early, and I idled in, the adrenaline still pumping, my hair firmly blown back, and a grin superglued to my face.

A line was thrown out for me to catch, and I was pulled the rest of the way to the dock.

When I got off, I had to step into the water again and wade back to shore and then up to the picnic table where I’d left my boots and socks and everything.  When I put my boots on, I noticed that my pants had skootched down a little bit while I was out on the lake, and the bottom two inches or so had gotten wet as I waded back to shore.

–          Now have you ever had a snappy comeback to a question, just perfect, witty, urbane, amusing – but thought of it an hour, or a day, or a week too late?

–          I am the master of coming up with a snappy comeback at least an hour too late.  In fact, sometimes my brain chews on something for months, honing it until it comes up with an amazing, but completely useless comment because it’s too stinking late.

–          For once in my life, I did not have that problem.

Mike was still sitting there with his buddy when I walked by, with my two inches of wet jeans.

“Whatcha been doin?”

“Water Skiing.”

Mike’s buddy’s jaw dropped.

Then Mike, bless him, ‘explained’ with an absolutely straight face, “He’s very good.”

And as I walked away, I couldn’t help but smile.