So one of our sites, in San Diego, have been complaining about a minor bug in the BSR code. (What's a BSR? Doesn't matter. Just a piece of hardware associated with the system.) So we sent them an upgrade disk, and talked them through installing it. Fine.

Now, one of the golden rules is: don't install stuff on a Friday, 'cos sites are always busy on Friday night and Saturday. Well, we didn't. We installed it on Wednesday, to give ourselves Heaps Of Time; a nice long countdown to Friday.

So on Wednesday afternoon, they called us back to say that 3 of the BSR's weren't working. The reasons are that there's a switch set wrong, and they've got them hooked up in a slightly nonstandard way. But we don't know this.

We leave them like this for the night, 3 BSR's down. That means we'll continue this on Thursday. (Are you watching the countdown?)

So we dig around, and we find a previous version of the code. The wrong version. We don't know this. We dial them up, and install it. Everything breaks. We do our best to avoid entering Headless Chicken mode.

I vaguely recall that there is a "rescue" mode built into BSR's, for precisely this situation. We dig around for half an hour or so, looking for a copy which I had given to Dave of a piece of paper on which I had, six months before, in Australia, written down the way to get to this obscure mode, and which he had brought to the US; and which we all now surround and scrutinise.

It tells us how to dig ourselves out of the hole, for all but the 3 BSR's that caused us a problem in the first place. There's still nothing seriously wrong with these three. But we still don't know this.

So we dig ourselves out, and counter-to-counter three new micro chips for the 3 BSR's that we don't yet know how to fix. Counter-to-counter is a kind of mega-express air freight; we drop the package off at the freight counter at the Las Vegas airport, it flies to San Diego, and they pick it up from the matching counter at their airport.

By this time, it's evening, every Zone's busy time, so we elect not to do any more messing around with stuff until tomorrow. (Are you still counting down?)

On Friday morning, we pick up again. Two of the three BSR chips we have shipped are bad.

Overnight, we have figured out the more-or-less trivial problems that have prevented the other 3 BSR's from working. Before Friday gets busy, we manage to get the original three problem BSR's working. But during all the Headless Chicken running around, we have damaged two other BSR's. And BSR's keep appearing and disappearing for no readily explained reason.

It's Friday night. The site has eleven separate birthday party groups booked tomorrow. We drop to plan B.

I grab a bunch of stuff which looks like it might come in handy, jump in the company vehicle, and head off towards the airport. It's night, I don't have much time before my flight leaves, I'm not entirely sure of the way to the airport, and I've only driven once before on American roads.

It goes surprisingly well: I explore almost all of the strange twisty-turny roads around the airport, drive past the same point three times, and eventually find my way into long-term parking, with about fifteen minutes until my flight is scheduled to leave.

The key will not come out of the ignition.

I struggle with it for a while. I say bad words. I struggle with it some more.

Eventually I realise that I can take the little widget that activates and deactivates the truck's security off the keyring, leaving the key behind.

I grab my bag, and decide to leave the heavy oscilloscope behind.

I press the little button on the security widget. The truck goes "bwip bwip", and flashes its lights. I try to run for the lift. I realise that this is America, and run for the elevator instead.

I reach the Southwest ticket counter with approximately ten minutes to go. There is a queue. Damn. I enquire as to if there is any way I can queue-jump, and the Southwest guy informs me that my flight is delayed.


I pick up my ticket, breeze through the security checkpoint, ride the monorail to my gate, and exchange the ticket for a boarding pass. The flight is further delayed. This will give me time to return to the truck, pick up the oscilloscope, and attempt to remove the key.

I phone Leigh, our office manager, who is organising for me, behind the scenes. She is evidently en route to the office or something, in order to pick up the tech pager that I have been forced to abandon, on the grounds that it won't pick up pages outside Las Vegas. I leave a message on her machine explaining about the delay and the truck.

I discover that rather than ride the monorail, it's quicker to walk back from the gate.

I attempt to catch an elevator back up to the truck, but since I'm on level 2 of the airport, and there are lots of people catching the elevators from level 1, the elevators are always full by the time they reach us. I locate the stairs, and run up to level 6, where the truck is parked.

Where the truck is parked. Somewhere. Somewhere, the truck is parked.

I wander around for a few minutes, pressing the button on the security widget, until I find a vehicle that is going "bwip" and flashing its lights.

I figure out the key in the ignition: to stop the engine, you turn the key anticlockwise one stop, and then you can remove it. But if you turn it another stop, the radio comes on, and you can't remove it. Based on the implicit assumption that this vehicle ignition will work the same as all the other vehicle ignitions I have ever seen in my life, I had turned the key all the way, and then found that it wouldn't come out.

I grab my bag full of random tools and parts, and the oscilloscope, and catch the elevator down again. It's easy to catch in this direction: I'm on the top level of the parking structure, so there's nobody above me to fill it up.

I attempt to breeze through the security checkpoint again, but my bag of tools, although to me apparently the same as last time, is now inexplicably dangerous and full of threatening shapes. The security people get me to take all the various parts I am carrying to pieces, and look dubiously at all my various instruments and meters. Thankfully, they don't ask me to take the oscilloscope apart.

I arrive back at the gate, to find that the flight is delayed further, as the air crew that are to be flying it for us haven't even landed yet.

I phone Leigh's machine, and fill it in on the latest about the flight and the truck.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, Kim from the site has already left for the airport to pick me up.

I watch some American something-or-other on the TV for a while.

Southwest thank us for our patience a couple of times, and eventually let us on the plane. They give us the comedy version of the briefing: "And anyone caught smoking in the toilets will be shot", etc. We taxi around for a while, and then take off. Las Vegas looks extremely pretty from the air at night.

Southwest thank us for our patience again, and we fly most of the way to San Diego through somewhat rough air, a few lightning bolts and a little rain. Most of the way. Sometime during our descent to San Diego, we level out, and keep on flying. The air crew don't tell us why.

As we are descending over LA, they tell us a little about what is going on. Our flight has been diverted to LAX, and on arrival we will be put on a bus to San Diego. The air crew still don't know why we've been diverted. They thank us for our patience.

I get to use one of the telephones that are set into the backs of the seats to make a (doubtless outrageously expensive) phone call to the site in San Diego, to tell them what's going on.

We land, and Southwest have some poor schmuck waiting in the arrival lounge to meet us. Most of the passengers have, by this time, lost their patience, and several of them take the opportunity to bitch extensively at him. Every American regards it as their God-given right to bitch whenever anything goes wrong. I feel sympathy for the Southwest guy: I have found myself in a similar situation several times over the past few months.

Several of my fellow passengers have speculated that the reason that we were diverted because we missed the midnight curfew at San Diego. Southwest tell us that the actual reason is that if our plane had landed in San Diego, it wouldn't have been able to take off again until 11am the following day, and they didn't want their precious equipment lying around doing nothing.

The Southwest guy runs around (literally) making sure that everybody on the plane makes it onto the bus and that we all know where our baggage is. And that's everybody on the plane, including the flight crew.

We spend three hours driving to San Diego, through dark and sometimes rain.

America is for me in some ways an almost mythical land; full of things seen on TV, read about in stories. We drive past signs giving directions to places like Redondo Beach, Ventura Boulevard, and El Camino Real (the Royal Road). I get the same feeling that I get in the supermarket upon seeing some archetypically American product like Twinkies, or Oreo cookies: a desire to grab someone and say, "Look! Twinkies!" (or whatever). I control the urge.

All the other passengers on the bus have gone to sleep. I have stayed awake, in an attempt to remain alert for the upcoming work.

We arrive in San Diego at approximately 3:30am. It is freezing cold and raining; and it has taken me an hour longer to get here than it would have if I had driven. I phone the site, and Kim leaves to pick me up.

I have never seen Kim before. Kim has never seen me before. It is dark. It is raining.

Nevertheless, she manages to find me without too much trouble. There aren't too many people at the airport, three hours after the last plane landed, shivering in the cold, carrying an oscilloscope.

We drive to the site. I feel all brisk and awake. This has alot to do with having stood in the cold all this time.

I get the brief, and extremely disorienting, tour of the site. The arena is deliberately designed to be twisty-turny, easy to get lost in; and this is the first time I've seen it, and it's 4am. I start work, checking out the various BSRs, and get lost several times.

It only takes me about twice as long as it normally would to figure out the problem. We couldn't figure it out because we were looking for a faulty BSR, when all along, it was another piece of hardware altogether, the GCU.

Amongst the random tools and parts thrown into my bag are two complete spare BSRs. There are no spare GCUs.

Luckily, the site has a spare of their own. I swap it in. From here it's all downhill, checking everything out to make sure it all works properly, fixing the minor problems left over with the various BSRs, getting lost in the arena, making lots of those 4am mistakes, etc.

I finish about 7am. Kim takes me to my hotel, a few minutes drive away. She explains that Steve has the details for my flight out. Steve is, of course, at this hour, asleep.

I check in, and go to my room. Now, I could go to sleep, but then I'd have to wake up again in about three hours, and I'd probably feel even worse after three hours sleep than after none. So I lie on the bed, and watch "Sesame Street" and "Pinky and the Brain".

Pinky and the Brain are two genetically enhanced lab mice, who escape from their lab cages every night: "So, what are we going to do tonight, Bwain?" "The same thing we do every night, Pinky -- try to take over the world!"

Their bizarreness is greatly enhanced by my lack of sleep.

10am is opening time for the site, and the manager, John, swings by at about 9:30 to pick me up. I play a couple of games. Strangely, I now feel fine; not hungry, not tired. I nearly make San Diego's local Zone Ace requirements in my second game.

At about 12, John gives me a ride to the airport. This time, airport security are indecisive about my bag full of stuff. They pass it through the X-ray a few times, and eventually decide I'm not a terrorist, and let me through. I fly back to Las Vegas, and drive the company truck home. I've now been awake for 32 hours, and haven't eaten for 28. I eat dinner, sleep for four hours, eat breakfast, and sleep for another fourteen hours. Home. Mission completed.