You could’ve knocked me down with a semi-transparent pop-up ident of a feather when I got an email from Bill Gates. To begin with I thought the scrambled syntax, banjaxed grammar, and dubious content was yet another spammer: “C’mon Big Boy see my lake glistens 4 U. All Xs pays bi me if U cum kwik.” But later I was called by an assistant who informed me that the multi-billionaire software tycoon wasn’t trying to sell me Viagra, but rather wanted me and Ralph Steadman to join him at his $97m lakeside eco-mansion for what Gates terms a “Think Week”.
“It’ll be blue-sky stuff,” the MicroWonk said. “How you and Ralph view the future of space – and time – that kinda thing.”
“I’ll tell you that for nothing,” I snapped. “Time will go on, space will get bigger.”
“That’s great, just great.” The WindowsWimp was not to be dissuaded. “First-class tickets to Seattle will be delivered by courier later today.”
“But what if I don’t want to come?” I became querulous.
“Try Viagra,” the MiniMonopolist said and hung up on me.
The trouble was that Ralph adores a freebie of this kind, and even though he was just back from Davos, where he’d been advising the head of the World Bank on corporate re-imaging, he insisted on going. Well, I couldn’t let him set out alone – Ralph may be brilliant at taking a line for a walk, but off the page he lacks basic orientation skills.
Arriving at the serried concrete bobbins of Sea-Tac airport on a brilliant winter’s morning, I couldn’t face climbing into a cab. Instead, I put Ralph in one and told him to break the ice over at Bill’s place, while I stretched my legs. “For Christ’s sake, Will,” Ralph bridled, “what am I going to talk to him about?”
“You both dig Da Vinci – ask to see his Leonardo stuff. He has the Codex Leicester, cast your eye over it, then get out your pen and begin flicking ink – I’m sure he’ll see the funny side.”
I slogged through the suburb of McMicken Heights and Crystal Springs Park, down to the deliriously named Interurban Avenue. Picking up the Green River Trail I trod on beside the rows of poplars screening off the Boeing Plant. The Pacific North West always invigorates me, with its soft, temperate climate and its boundless woodiness. All those trees, photosynthesising like Billy-o – it’s a tonic to the air sacks.
The long tramp into town on 4th Avenue would’ve been dull, but I had work to do. Bill had set up a SharePoint website for the three of us, where we could post sketches, notes, and supplementary information relating to the space/time think week. I had my Tablet PC with me, so using invaluable OneNote and OneWord software I was able to post stuff as I went, such as musings on Bill’s brilliant coinage “Creative Capitalism”, and how it might possibly relate to the man walking ahead of me, pushing a supermarket cart piled with old tin cans and festooned with plastic bags, who couldn’t seem to keep his trousers up.
Past the Qwest Field and on into downtown as darkness was falling, and if it hadn’t been for the unearthly up-light of the computer screen, making of me an ambulatory ghoul, I’m sure some of the shambling homeless might’ve clubbed together to mug me. As it was, I took Madison Street to Washington Park then the long, scuzzy tongue of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge across Lake Washington to the lakeside community of Medina.
It had been a 25-mile walk, and it was now past midnight. I was cold, hungry, and thought the very least I could expect from a man with a net personal worth of $56bn was a cheese toastie and a cup of tea – but not a bit of it. The familiar goofy boy scout’s visage peered through the security louvres, then Gates admitted me to a nerdish bedlam: piles of old Marvel comics and empty Yakult cartons were scattered everywhere, an Atari games console was pinging in the sink. Ralph was in the conversation pit, making paper darts out of pages from the Codex, and I don’t think he can possibly object if I tell you, gentle reader, that he was a little tipsy.
“You tossers!” I cried. “While you’ve been behaving like overgrown teenagers, I’ve been sorting out the whole space-time continuum.”
“Gee,” Bill said. “I’m sorry – I guess. Melinda’s vacationing at the moment, and I kinda let things go. Please tell me your thoughts – I’m sure they’re real inneresting.”
“The shift key – get rid of it!”
“So no one will ever again, anywhere in the world be able to conceive of typing the words ‘SharePoint’ or ‘OneNote’.”
“Or SpaceTime!” Ralph yelled from the pit.