Thursday, January 24, 2008

I got you, babe

Probably the worst thing about these trips is the monotony. Day in,
day out, the same thing. We refer to this place as the "minimum
security prison," because, well, that's pretty much what it's like.
There are lots of (what we consider stupid) rules, we're not allowed
to leave except under specific conditions, we're stuck here until our
"sentence" is done, they tell us exactly what to wear at all times,
where to be and when to be there, and how long to stay once we get

Granted, if you know who I work for, and you haven't had any
experience with them, you'd probably expect things to work this way.
But really, it's not supposed to. Yes, there are rules, and that's
fine. But rules just to have a rule? Or worse, rules solely as
tests? (As in, "You may not want to tuck in your shirt, but if I can't
trust you to follow the rule to tuck in your shirt, how can I trust
that you'll do the right thing when it's time to get the job done?")
That's insulting. But my shirt's tucked in, so there you are.

After a short time here, we get what we all call the "Groundhog Day"
effect. Every day is a repeat of the day before, and we know that the
next day will be the same. Hell, no kidding, I have no idea what day
of the week today is, and I have to ask for the date every time I sign
some paperwork. And most everyone goes through that deep trough of
"God, I hate this place" somewhere around the halfway point. The
point where, in that movie, Bill Murray's character started
experimenting with toasters and bathtubs. Well, he didn't see any way
out, so of course he took drastic measures. None of us here have
reached THAT low of a point, but we can certainly understand the
feeling. It seems like we just keep doing the same thing over and
over, and none of it really matters. Then we take a look at the
calendar, and we realize that we're more than halfway done, and there
is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.

It still sucks to be here, but we know we're leaving. We're about to
hit that point, I think. The low point can only last so long, and I
know that, if I'm Bill Murray, then I've got the best Andie MacDowell
waiting for me at home. And that's what gets me through these trips.
Susie, you really are the greatest, and I can't wait to get back home.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Morale boosters

One of the nice things about being down here is that they often do try
to make your life better. It's tough, mostly because they spend so
much time trying to make your life rotten that they get out of

Take Christmas dinner. One of the customs of my employer is that on
big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, they more senior members
"turn the tables" on themselves, and man the steam tables to serve
dinner to the more junior. It's a nice touch, and I've always
appreciated it. But this past Christmas, when I went to dinner, I
saw something that made our custom pale in comparison, at least in my

We all eat in a communal facility, a cafeteria, if you will. This
includes not just the people I work for and with, but those of our
partners from other countries. As I entered on Christmas day, looking
forward to a nice dinner (they do tend to go "all out" on the food as
well) I noticed one of our British brethren, a more senior type,
standing in the door. He greeted me pleasantly enough, wished me a
Happy Christmas, and held the door for me. I stepped inside, picked
up a tray, and headed for the line. I noticed the sounds of jollity
from the room, but didn't think anything of it as I collected my
shrimp cocktail, steamship round of beef, turkey, mashed potatoes,
corn, and brussels sprouts (yes, sprouts! I was a happy guy). The
senior leadership behind the steam tables were cheerful, offering
generous helpings with a "Merry Christmas," but they were also joking
and talking amongst themselves. Now, granted, there's only so much
room behind a steam table, and so when two are serving, where else are
the other 10 going to go? They're going to stand behind, hanging
about, and chatting. I didn't think much of it at the time, as I
headed to a table.

Looking about, and not seeing anyone I knew, I moved toward a
nearly-empty table near the back of the room. It was then that I
noticed that the aforementioned jollity was coming from a group of
tables right next to the one I had chosen. I sat down, and looked
over. There were a group of very junior Brits, sitting at tables,
being waited on (table service, no steam table lines for them!) by
some VERY senior Brits. I mean VERY senior. And the seniors were
having a ball, waiting hand and foot upon the lowest of the low. And
the juniors were laughing and chatting, and ordering the boss's boss's
boss to take back the sundae he had just made, because there was too
much whipped cream on it, or demanding a bigger helping of stuffing.
And it was amazing. The cameraderie was palpable.

It made me jealous.

And then, as I watched, I noticed someone sit down directly across
from me at my table. I looked up, and noticed that it was the second
most-senior person at the whole place. And an American. I waited for
him to make eye contact, to wish him Merry Christmas.

He never looked up. He never said a word. He ate his dinner like a
man on a mission, in silence.

I looked over at the laughing Brits, and thought, "I thought our
leadership was doing a nice thing, but THAT's the way this should be
done." I turned to the very senior American. I'll call his name, I
thought, wish him a Merry Christmas anyway. But he was already
walking away, his tray empty.

I finished my pie, and went back to my room. Someday I'll be in a
senior leadership position. I hope I remember this Christmas when
it's my turn to man the steam tables.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A year? A YEAR?

A post a day for a year?  Yoiks.  And I'm already 3 days behind.  So I'm gonna make this "a post a day, whenever I can, which won't really be a post a day but close enough."  And it's going to have to do.  Oh, the stories I could tell, if I were to break my rule of not telling stories about work...
One downside of posting using this method (by email) is that I can't really include hyperlinks as easily as I'd like.  At least, I don't think I can.  Here's a test.  If you read my blog, and you've not gotten hooked on my wife's, then go over the and check it out.  She's got a good thing going over there.  And since I can't even read my own blog, I'll have to depend on you, my hordes of devoted fans, to let me know if it worked.  Or Susie can tell me, when she starts to see masses of hits on her site from the thousands... hundreds... dozens... ok, both of you.
Cheers, from "an undisclosed location."