Commentary

Granados: He has a funny way of seeing things

CommentaryJune 1, 2014 

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JOHN ROTTET — jrottet@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

I feel a special affinity for 77-year-old North Raleigh resident Jerry Harris. He moved to the city around the same time I did: 1985. And he, too, has seen its transformation.

“Raleigh has grown by leaps and bounds,” he said. “When we moved here, they were building Millbrook Road between Mini City and Six Forks.”

It’s what I think of as “old” Raleigh, though for those of you who’ve lived here much longer, that probably seems a ridiculous statement.

Harris is a character around the Sola Coffee Cafe in North Raleigh. In a short time of talking to him, I understood why. He is full of humor and good stories.

He grew up in a small town in Indiana, and after spending a few semesters in college, decided it wasn’t for him and embarked on a tour in the Air Force.

It was the heart of the Cold War, in the relatively peaceful years after the Korean War and before Vietnam. Harris’ job was to perform maintenance on the radar systems used by fighter jets, though he never flew on one.

“We had some two-seat fighters, and considering the types of things I was doing, I could have probably conned a flight out of the pilots. But I knew some of the pilots and I wouldn’t fly with them,” he joked.

Even then, during the serious business of military preparation, he was in good humor. He told me of an instance when a pilot was about to go up for a flight.

“I asked him, ‘Do you realize this plane that you’re getting ready to fly was built by the lowest bidder?’ He wasn’t appreciative,” Harris said.

He spent about five years in the Air Force where he gained a solid background in electronics. That led him to a job at a small electronics company in Texas. He and his wife eventually returned to Indiana, when the reality of age set in for her parents.

“Her father and his prized heifer tried to go through the same door at the same time,” Harris said. “And he ended up with some bad ribs.”

He and his wife moved back to their home state to care for his father-in-law as he struggled with his broken ribs. And then a fateful connection got him a job at an organization that would later become a ubiquitous presence in the American workforce.

“I was looking for a job and my mother’s cousin said something about his brother working for IBM. And at the time that didn’t mean anything,” Harris said.

In 1963, IBM computers were a massive construction, built with tubes and sitting in buildings much larger than the coffee shop where I met Harris. Harris recalled the excitement when a smaller model computer came out a few years later.

“I was there when the 360 came out, which was the first commercial, widespread, everyone-needs-one kind of system,” he said.

The base model had 32k of memory. The big system had 256k. To put that in perspective, the phone that you’re perhaps reading this on dwarfs that size by many magnitudes. The 360 would fit into a space about the size of a bedroom, and its energy output could heat a subdivision or two in North Raleigh.

By the time Harris left IBM in 1974, IBM computers were still large, but could fit on a desk – a rather large one.

Harris bounced around with a variety of computer outfits before moving to North Carolina in 1985. He was working for a company in Florida that sold the division he worked in. Jobs were hard to come by in Florida at the time, so when a company called Paradigm called him a short while later, he jumped at the opportunity.

“They called and said ‘We have a hardware territory in North Carolina…’ and they didn’t finish saying it and I said, ‘I was there.”

Harris worked for that company and a variety of other computer organizations before retiring in 2000. Since then, he’s enjoyed retirement, with a side gig at the State Employees Credit Union just for fun.

He enjoys the changes he’s seen in Raleigh. He is eager for downtown to offer even more for the pedestrian peruser, but he says that as far as he’s concerned, North Raleigh is just right.

“North Raleigh is pretty good the way it is. Between North Hills and Triangle Town Center and this strip (Greystone Shopping Center) and Creedmoor and a couple others like it, there is plenty to do,” he said. “We could go to a different restaurant any night of the year and not get five miles from home.”

And you should listen to him. He’s from good stock. He’s a genealogy buff and learned that he is a distant relative of Daniel Boone. If that’s not a southern seal of approval, I don’t know what is.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at agranadoster@gmail.com.

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