CEAN PARK — Chris Eros exhibits a sense of contentment when he talks about his home based business, Chris’ Custom Computers. It took him years to realize what he was destined to do, but somehow he was always subconsciously aware.
“My personal Zen is figuring out what makes computers work,” he said last week, sitting comfortably at his work space in front of two big monitors and a variety of neatly arranged equipment.
Yet in this sunny space with all the windows, in an area adjacent to his kitchen, there are no computer parts strewn about, no cords hanging here and there, no tools scattered on the oval wood table that supports the monitors. It’s all neat as a pin. Sure, he repairs and builds computers, upgrades them, removes viruses and a list of other tasks, but somehow, he does it all in an uncluttered setting. And he truly loves working from his home.
A single dad of two teenagers, not only is he readily available to his customers, but also to his son and daughter. It’s a win-win situation.
Other jobs in the past, but none as fulfilling
Perhaps some people will recognize Eros from the 17 years he worked in the hardware department at Jack’s Country Store in Ocean Park, where he also served on the board of directors. He’d also had other employment over the years but readily admits, “I’d never been completely satisfied. The jobs never really completed me.” And yet experience in working with people at those jobs helped to mold him into the patient person he is today, especially when he gives training sessions to customers who need help understanding their computers.
Therapy at the keyboard
Starting about 1996, when he purchased his first computer, he was immediately hooked. Of course, video games were involved, but the experience was much broader. It challenged his mind. “I’ve always been real mechanical and pretty inquisitive,” he said. So it’s not unthinkable that he went to work on his new state-of-the-art $3,500 custom computer and successfully made it even better.
“I was always upgrading and starting to alter it. I just wanted to learn about computers, so I’ve always been tinkering with them,” he said. A couple years after that first purchase, at the time when Windows XP came out, Eros recalled, “I did months of research on the Internet, which was in its infancy. I decided to build my own computer. I picked out all of the components that I knew were going to work together. I bought all the parts and pieces and put it together by myself. And I’ve just been building my own computers ever since.”
He noticed what working on computers did for him. It was his therapy. He went through some challenging times over the years, including a divorce. But whether he was happy, sad or depressed, where did he go? “I always had my nose in my computer. That’s my outlet. Some people like to work on cars, some like to garden, some like to drive on the beach.” But for Eros, computers were definitely his thing.
The ah-ha moment
Eros became so skilled at computer upgrades, repairs and building in general, that he began working on them for family and friends. When he left a job across the bridge, on his birthday no less, he came right home and immediately “had my nose in my computer.” It was then that he knew this was his calling. “The light bulb came on,” he said. He was recently divorced and felt “like the world was falling down around me,” but then he realized, “I have no more restrictions in life. There’s nothing holding me back from doing what I want to do at this point.” He thought to himself, “I’m just going to go get a business license and start fixing people’s computers. That’s what set me off.”
His experiences in a rather unusual upbringing, plus working with the public at previous jobs, helped him develop the people-person persona that works so well for him today.
Across country on a regular basis
Though his family moved here in 1980, they were from Ann Arbor, Mich. and before that, Capitola, Calif. But when Eros was growing up, the family spent about six months out of every year on the road. He came in contact with a lot of different people in a lot of states, probably unconsciously building his people skills.
“By the time I was 14, I’d already seen 48 states of the Union,” he said. And while he admits to feeling “through with travel” at that age, he confesses that afterwards, he did make a trip to Alaska. “The only place I haven’t been is Hawaii.”
So, why all the travel? He explained, “My parents were basically traveling sales people. They sold American Indian art when I was growing up. We used to drive to New York and back twice a year, once during the spring and again in the fall. We’d stop through Wyoming and Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas City, Missouri and then we’d wind up in New York. My dad would start buying and selling art all the way and then when we’d get to New York, he’d do a major transaction and then he’d buy and sell all the way back.”
Building even more people skills
Ocean Park resident Judy Schlotman recently praised Eros’ instructing and explaining skills. She had taken her computer to him for help with understanding some new programs. “He didn’t make me feel like a dumb old person,” she recalled. “He explained everything so well.”
Eros attributes some of his ability to work this way on the 17 years he spent at Jack’s. “An awful lot of what I did was to troubleshoot and explain things to people. and in order to explain something to a customer, you had to be methodical. You had to be clear and precise and make sure that not only would people understand what you were telling them, but that they’d also remember it. And throughout a day, I might have the same question asked of me 25 or 30 times from different people. I would have to repeat that same answer 25 or 30 times and be sure that the last time I presented it was done just as well as the first time.”
Now, he said, “When I work with people that aren’t as affluent in computers — and I’ve done some training sessions with people who were confused — they’ve actually come to the house and we sat here while I showed the how to run their computers. But I sit back and let them do the motions. I let them have the computer and explain, ‘Here’s where you want to click’ and sometimes, ‘Well, let’s try that again.’ I have to be slow and methodical.”
This is a far cry from what he experienced when he was learning. “At the very infancy, when I was new to computers, I would ask someone a question. That person would take control of the keyboard and mouse and say, “See, look. It’s easy — blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You got it? How come you couldn’t figure that out?” That is quite opposite from the way he teaches his own customers.
Private and business clients
Many of his customers have their computers for personal use, but, he stated last week, “I’m picking up more and more commercial business customers.”
One thing he enjoys, when working with the businesses, is being able to pick up and head out to make what are basically house calls. He recently did this for Box K Auto Repair in Seaview, when they were unpleasantly surprised by a computer glitch. Box K owner, Millie Showers said that Eros came to the shop “in an instant and helped us out of a bind.”
And when he’s at home, he doesn’t hesitate to answer questions over the phone, when customers call. Often, a problem can be worked out with simple verbal directions.
If someone brings him a computer to check out, Eros said that he doesn’t charge for a diagnostic exam. Typically, the customer will leave the computer for him to check out. “If you bring me a computer and it’s slower than molasses in January, I can pretty much determine what’s going on with it and what it will cost to fix it.” He gives an estimate and once he gets into it, “If it’s going to cost you any more, I’ll tell you. That way, there’s never a surprise for the customer or myself.”
Almost all viruses and Malware, he explained, come from downloads, such as free ones that seem like the computer owner is getting something for nothing. Yes they are — viruses and Malware.
Working on three systems
Eros has the ability and equipment to work on Mac, Windows and Linux. Sometimes, Mac owners have trouble finding someone to work on their machines. But when Eros first started up his business, he became prepared. Situated behind the two monitors on his table is a tall white tower. “This is a very special one, because you don’t often see Apples that are a tower. They’re usually an all-in-one or a laptop. But the reason I bought this was because I can disassemble it. I can take the hard drive out of another Apple computer and insert it into this one, which gives me the ability to diagnose Apple computers. It was a pretty good find and I’ve upgraded it.”
Another machine, an older top-of-the-line model, he said, “has what is called a triple boot. It will actually run Windows 7 and Windows XP if I need it. It also runs Linux, so it’s got three operating systems.”
And then there’s FRED
Resting on the floor under the table, near Eros’ feet, is FRED. This stands for Forensic Discovery of Evidence Device. It’s designed, Eros said, “for cracking computers confiscated in criminal cases, when they have a computer that’s all locked up.”
But no, Eros isn’t using FRED to put people behind bars. It also serves an important function of recovering information not actually related to crime. He gave an example. “I’ve got a hard drive in there that was reformatted, so it’s wiped out completely.” Or so it was thought. Eros said that some hard drives which have been deemed as failed, with everything supposedly lost, might be recoverable with FRED. “As long as the hard drive isn’t physically broken,” he explained, “I can still get the information off of it.”
Life now as he knows it
So now, with his dream profession, Eros does what he calls, “everything computer. Not only do I build computers, I fix them, rebuild them, remove viruses, do system optimization, remove old dead programs” and the list continues, to include remote access and in-home networking. He even fixes cracked cell phones and tablet screens. His still has his “nose in a computer” almost constantly and he loves all the challenges this brings. and though he doesn’t really know the differences between nerd and geek, he proudly calls himself “a computer nerd.”
And as he leans back in his chair at his home work station, he smiles and readily admits, “I’m still a video gamer.”