Executive summary: I’ve ended my fence and gate business for good reasons and am returning to tech as a way to survive. I had a great time, helped a lot of people, got strong and got to hone my woodworking skills. I am looking forward to new challenges. I have over three decades of experience in software engineering and application development. Contact me for a copy of my CV.
On April 27th at about 6pm my van was stolen with all of my tools. That was actually the second time this has happened. The first time was a few months ago, on Thanksgiving day 2022.
The first time it happened my insurance covered the damage to the van which was mainly the key/ignition and a catalytic converter. Had there been a little more damage the van would be totaled. But, it wasn’t. And, my insurance covered about half of the cost of my tools. I ran a gofundme and within about a day people had donated enough to pay for the other half of my tools – over $5K!
It took a while for my van to get repaired and for me to replace all the important things I’d lost, so that I could resume work.
Then we had the amazing winter rainy season of 2022-2023 and I was unable to work for months.
A few weeks after the rain stopped and I was back to work the second van theft occurred, but this time was different.
After the first time I had my mechanic install a security system in the van. I added my own hidden magnetic reed switch so that both the mechanic’s switch had to be on and one had to hold a magnet in the right place to start the van with it’s starter, or so I believed. I also installed an Apple Airtag in the van in a hidden place, embedded in the lumber rack above.
They tried to steal it again, but this defense system worked and they failed. But, not before destroying the ignition again, which I paid to repair because it was $5 less than the deductible on my van insurance.
The third attempt they succeeded again, on April 27th. I called 911 and reported the theft and position of my van. They told me to call the Oakland non-emergency line when the van stopped moving.
It did stop for an hour or more several times, and I called the Oakland non-emergency line, which has a very, very long hold every time. I followed its position. It spent an hour in one location, and and a couple hours in another location. Those were opportunities to catch the thieves red-handed with my van, in the process of breaking through the massive locks to get to the tools inside. There were at least two different opportunities when timely action would not only have saved my tools, but also given the police a chance to catch the thieves who keep stealing my van.
Imagine how I felt waiting on extended hold trying to report timely information about where my van was so it could be intercepted. I felt like I was bleeding to death with a repeating message every minute to keep me company while I died.
I was told by 911 to stay home and wait for the police to arrive and take a report. I did that. I was told emphatically that the police cannot respond until there is a police report and that I should wait for the police to arrive. The police arrived 14 hours later. The police officer was incredibly nice to me and very understanding. I appreciate her.
If my house was on fire and all my property was at risk, the fire department would come right away without waiting for me to check in with an officer at some later time. Well, my financial house was burning down while I was on hold with the only people who could help, but who would not help until their process had been followed. It could have been prevented.
My van had stopped moving and I reported its position several more times and was informed that an officer would have to visit it first. I was told by OPD not to go to the van. I was warned that if I was found inside the van it would be an extremely bad experience whether I was the owner or not. I complied.
A day after the the police report had been taken the same officer who took the report arrived at my door at home. I was hopeful.
It turns out that she and her fellow beat office were there not because of my van theft, but because someone else had reported that their purse had been stolen and they had a tracker in it and they were getting ping near my house. The purse apparently been stolen from a car an hour or two earlier in the Grand Lake area.
So, I invited the officers and the owner with their cellphone tracking the location and we looked around my yard and on the roof and determined that in fact the signal got weaker and weaker the further we went into my property, so we walked out to the sidewalk and the signal got stronger again. Then a neighbor from across the street came out holding the purse. The purse was returned to the owner and everyone was happy about how things had been worked out. Warm words were exchanged.
Then I asked about my van and why nobody had gone over to even check its location to begin the recovery process. My beat officer said she could not go there because it was outside her area and officers from that area would have to do it. Still Oakland, but south, near San Leandro.
To be clear, I believe everything of value had already been taken from the van long before this purse was recovered, but it certainly felt unfair. What I lost, my van and all my tools and my business – the way I make a living, were all stolen, and it did not merit such a prompt and restorative response. I did not see any kind of police report being taken or shown or signed off, but perhaps that had already happened. There was no recovery procedure as is required for a vehicle, apparently.
By the time I was contacted about six days later I was invited to meet the police at what was left of my van, so they could recover it and mark it as “not stolen”.
I have been victimized, but I am not a victim. I adapt. I now recognize that the area I live cannot support the kind of business I operated. It won’t matter if I restore and restart my business. It can be taken away. It doesn’t matter what kind of security system I install, the van can be towed away. That happened to another craftsman in my area. His transit van was stolen along with all of his tools by being towed away. Twice. His van was stolen twice. Twice is enough.
I did all the legal and allowed things a citizen can be expected to do when they are a victim of a crime. I complied with every request made by every OPD representative and officer. The OPD has demonstrated exactly what kind of support I can expect in a case like this. It doesn’t matter that I know where it is when a crime is in progress. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t just a pleasure vehicle, but my work vehicle and my livelihood was stolen too. You take someone’s tools, you take a part of their life away. It doesn’t matter that I kept calling and calling and asking for help with the theft of my van. It doesn’t matter. The OPD cannot or will not help until it is way too late to matter anymore. That is a fact. It happens 100% of the time in my experience.
I can’t afford to garage my van – I was honestly barely even breaking even in my business compared to the expense of living in Oakland. My business was profitable, but the expense of living modestly, cooking my own food, watching my budget still outstripped what I could earn making fences and gates. But, I like helping people and this kind of work helped me a lot too.
Building fences and gates made me strong. Whereas when I worked in tech I used to have aches and pains in my back and elsewhere, all of that went away when I worked on fences and gates. I was getting exercise and I put on muscle. Some days I moved a couple thousand pounds, three times. And, it let me practice some skills with tools thousands of times. I got much better at them.
During my time as the Handyguy I also taught (and will continue to teach) woodworking and tool classes at Ace Makerspace in Oakland. Working with wood every day gave me some insights into the craft that I could share with students. It definitely help to shape the content I teach.
And, I practiced radical transparency as the Handyguy. My estimates contained very clear descriptions of work to be done and choices being made, and a complete bill of materials. No doubt I lost work due to people shopping my estimate around so someone else just had to promise a lower number. But, the transparency saved me headaches and misunderstandings and frustration. I did the right thing and more often than not it cost less than estimated.
So, that is the end of my fence business. I’m in the midst of filing an insurance claim for the van and the things in it that were stolen. I hope for a fair settlement.
It is alright to be good at something and choose not to make a living that way.
What is next for me is to find a job in Tech again. I have 35 years of experience as a software engineer. I was CTO at a couple of companies, VPoE at another. I’ve written well over 1 million lines of code and nearly that many lines of documentation. I’ve written dozens of iPhone and iPad apps, as well as dozens of web-based applications. I approach engineering projects the same way I approach fence projects: find out what is needed first and then gain consensus on a plan to meet those needs within the tech stack the company is willing/able to deploy. It always works.
So, I’m not worried yet about finding a job. I’m sad to say goodbye to the Handyguy, but I can’t do the work without the tools and a van and I cannot defend these myself. The OPD has demonstrated the level of support I can expect, so this choice is remarkably simple, even if it is painful. There is no other way forward unless I sell everything and move away.
So, with that decision behind me, I am looking for a tech job that helps people. Contact me at hoco at timefold dot come if you’d like a copy of my CV.