Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sandbagging in Peoria, Illinois

Wow, has it really been more than a month since I last posted? My life has changed quite a bit since then. I've moved 90 miles to the river city of Peoria and begun work as a "real" engineer.

I love my job. No exaggeration. The projects are deeply interesting, and the people are intelligent and motivated. I love it.

Well, except for one detail: Peoria is quite a conservative community--a jarring change from the progressive University community of Champaign-Urbana. It's not backwater by any means, though. I'm working for a Fortune 50 company with tens of thousands of employees. They have nondescrimination policies for race, gender, and--as of two years ago--orientation.

My office is quite diverse racially, but rather homogenous when it comes to gender (all male) and orientation (well, so I assume). I've met a handful of other gay folks, and they have been awesome welcoming me to the company. But almost all of them work outside of engineering. For the most part, engineering seems to still be (at least on the surface), a straight man's job.

I'm thinking about coming out at work to a select few people. I feel I should let my boss know. There are a few people on my team that it might be okay to tell. I don't expect any of them to be supportive, but I do expect they will be respectful. And I just want to kindly correct them so that they no longer ask me about my "wife."

Today brought something new. The rains in upstate Illinois from the aftermath of hurricane Ike have swollen the rivers in the Illinois river watershed. Although the rains ceased days ago, our portion of the river is just now experiencing the increase in water... and it's HUGE.

Already the water is 10 feet above its normal level. It's expected to rise an additional 10 feet. And this is where Peoria starts sounding like New Orleans--everyone's talking about seawalls and levies. Downtown has already flooded. Boats moored in the river are now at or above street level. Houses along my morning drive to work are flooded or beginning to flood.

Today after work, a dozen guys or so from the office drove out to the home of Adam, the old Intellectual Property expert in our group. He lives near the river--well, some 12 feet above its normal level. But his back yard has vanished under deep water. Above the lake that is his backyard we could see a few inches of the topmost branches of the large willow trees he grows by the river's (usual) edge.

The water is just inches below the top of his seawall. Today we filled sandbags to shore up the top edge of the wall. I don't see how it will possibly withstand the continually rising water, but he's hoping it will at least limit the affect of the waves.


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