Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Life In A Cube Farm

Sam comes running in, "Dave’s asking for the document," he says unhappily. "It’s not even due this week." "I will talk to Dave," I assure him.

I just got in. It’s 8:50 on a slightly overcast morning. I drove to the mountains through a thick fog. It hung soft, gray and still. Feist was singing on the stereo about how she finally figured out why winters are lonely. I drop my purse on a chair, snap my laptop onto the docking station and pick up the phone.

"Hey, have you been scaring my people?"

"Well, yeah, you know. I got up this morning and asked myself how I can give you a hard time." Which is probably true enough. Dave and I have a slightly flirty, slightly competitive relationship.

"And that was the best you could do?"

"I am slipping." He admits regretfully.

We play verbal ping pong for a few minutes. Then I tell him he can’t have the document.

"You were in the planning sessions. You signed off on the schedule. You know the dates. I am not going to randomize my team unless this is on critical path. Is it?"

"Define critical path?" he says wishy-washily, which is code for no. If it was urgent he would have said so.

"Sorry. You will have to wait." I take a moment to relish the satisfaction any normally sweet natured girl gets from occasionally putting an alpha male in place. Then I yield in the interest of maintaining workplace harmony and because I am feeling gracious at having won the previous battle, "But I will make sure Sam sends you a draft by the end of the day."

"You are much too kind," he says, half-sarcastically, half-teasingly.

After I hang up I realize I am smiling. I like this part of my job. I am one of the three women in a group of 40. All three of us are managers. I keep the card I got from my team last year on my desk. It says "You are the best Boss!" When I hear some people pontificating on whether women have progressed in sixty years or calling other women sell-outs for choosing a professional career I look around me at my women colleagues. The circle I move in does not define itself by designer shoes or handbags or any other status symbol. We do not frown upon motherhood or women who have chosen a different path. But we do take pride in our jobs and make sure we do it damn well. Maybe this is why despite my occasional longing for a greater purpose or for horizons unknown I am still here. Sure Big 4 was different. More competitive, more politics, more emphasis on appearances. It was partly the reason I don't work there anymore although I could have and did handle it while I was there.

At lunch I don’t feel hungry so I decline a couple of invitations to join people for lunch and go for a walk. Winter day is not the best time to walk around in the mountains but there is no snow here. It’s chilly but the sun is out. I make my way to a Starbucks several blocks away. Unlike the city where there is a Starbucks crammed 3 to a feet here you have to walk almost a mile to get to one. But the walk is invigorating and when I get there I notice they have these mini plastic shotglass type cups filled with a sweet caramel concoction topped with mounds of whipped cream. I sip one. It's Heaven! I finish my mini glycolic overload, order a Short (which is the unadvertised small size baristas don’t tell you about because they want to sell you more) to go and head back to work.

At work the afternoon goes by in a blur of meetings. Issues meeting, risks meeting, synch meeting, review meeting, tech meeting, spec meeting. Then someone from finance comes over to discuss some budget issues. Very soon it is dark outside. The bustle of end of day fills the corridors. People start powering down laptops, gathering up their stuff, putting on their coats. You hear the shuffle of feet as one by one they leave.

Sam comes by and says, "I sent Dave the draft like you asked." I smile at him. He’s a solid worker. I say, "Thanks Sam! Good work. Have a good night."

A minute later Dave calls and says he got the draft. It looks good.

My coworker Beth stops by on her way out and asks if I am ready to leave, we can walk out together. We make our way down the serpentine corridors, the 4 flights of stairs, the ½ mile stretch of now empty parking lot. We laugh about some ridiculous suggestions someone made in one of the meetings, discuss a persistently annoying rep she works closely with who is driving her crazy and make fun of bad movies. "God! Was that boring or what?" "Tell me about it! I would have gladly shot them both just to end my own misery!"

On the drive home I half listen to Tom Petty singing "Learning To Fly."

Life in a cube farm has its moments.

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