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At work we've had construction crews building out a new space for the past few months.  Last week they took down the temporary walls, and rigged up "do not cross" lines with yellow police-tape (which, of course, we crossed, trespassing in the new space like foraging deer).  This Monday they formally opened the space, and a wave of people moved from the "old" part of the office (it's about two years old) to the new. 

The size of our office has doubled; it's now one block long and half-a-block wide.

In the months leading up to the opening, we had a land-grab where people could pick five open slots they'd like to move to; the slots were allocated by a committee of directors via some arcane  unpublished process. 

There are several neighborhoods in our office; they all have fruit names based on the color-codes used in the original office map. The neighborhoods have strong identities; they compete to distinguish themselves. 

The people in Lemon have this schtick where they do puzzles; the Lemonites publish a new word-search or double-acrostic every couple weeks, with business-relevant terminology, and leave photocopies of the puzzles lying around on the tops of bookcases for visitors to take.  They have plastic lemons strung around their desks.  They have a small lemon tree, and a lemon-shaped welcome sign. 

The people in Lime have garlands of lime-shaped lights strung up along their walls (each with a tiny "Corona" logo).  Two of the programmers ordered a set of lime-colored beaded curtains to hang in front of the entrance to their little cave.

Watermelon has a big watermelon-shaped pinata hanging from the ceiling with string, and a huge spotlit American flag, and an Illuminatus-style lampshade with the eye-in-the-triangle symbol used on U.S. money.  It gives the space a sort of libertarian Fourth-of-July picnic feel.   It's one of the most coveted areas in the office; only one person moved out -- Watermelon's de-facto mayor, in a surprise defection that left a serious power-vacuum.

The citizens of Cherry have conspired to keep their space dark.  They're close to the kitchen and the victims of constant noise, so they've rigged up makeshift noise-barrier cubicles using cheap plastic dividers.  The people seem very comfortable, but the neighborhood is a dark alley with an unkempt shanty-town feel; they even have a plastic chicken.  (To be fair, all of the neighborhoods feel a little shabby.   We doubled in size in about a year, and kept cramming more and more people in wherever they fit.)

Until this Monday, I sat in Tangerine.  We had a big orange Chinese lampshade hanging from our ceiling.  Our people were crammed together into two star-clusters of five desks each, the inhabitants facing each other, our backs exposed to traffic.  Our desks were the oldest, ricketiest strata of three or four waves of Ikea desk-stylings to colonize the office; the entire cluster shuddered when you typed a deeply-felt e-mail or made any sudden moves.  If I raised my eyebrow or smirked, the programmers to my right and left would pick up the movement in their peripheral vision and look up to see what was funny.  A tilt of the head or a tiny frown could start a long conversation; we could show each other what we were working on by twisting our monitors around or craning our heads slightly.  I like that kind of hive camaraderie if the people around me are awesome (and most of them were), but it was hard to finish things on time.  Most people hated it.

Not surprisingly, all but one of Tangerine's ten open-area inhabitants chose to move to a new neighborhood.  Even though I liked it, I decided to move.  I wanted a wall, and the adventure of a new space, and to get some work done.  Tangerine used to be the major traffic avenue into and out of our office; with the exception of the kitchen, it was probably the busiest area in the place.  Now, with our posh new entrance about half a block away, Tangerine is at the ass-end of nowhere, a wasteland of nine open desks where you can actually hear your voice echoing.  On the middle of each desk is a single neat coil of white network cable.  The space has the feel of some fairy-tale enchantment, as if a witch turned all the workers into identical little tornadoes of network wire.  No one goes back there anymore.

In Tangerine's heyday, the five managers who sat in the area looked out from their manorial offices onto a busy, bustling avenue of secretly-disgruntled workers. They now gaze out at nothing, which must feel to some of them like a failure of personality.  The feel of total abandonment is made even more total by the lone person who chose to stay. Her desk is precisely in the middle of the huge empty space.  She is quiet and self-contained by nature; she just wants to get her work done, she doesn't get many visitors.  The peace of Tangerine is perfect for her -- she's the meek who inherited the earth.  Before I left, I printed twelve copies of her picture, taped them together, and strung them in a ring around the Chinese lampshade on the ceiling, with the legend "Queen of Tangerine."  I thought it would make the place feel more festive after we were all gone.  It didn't really work.  The borders of Tangerine are full of heavy sighs.  When I went back to visit on the first day, the people in Watermelon (adjacent, with a view of Tangerine's devastation) complained that they were lonely and that we had abandoned them and that we sucked.   There was talk of a reunion tour, and musings about whether the former Tangerinos, out of some atavistic hive impulse, might not just spontaneously decide to come work temporarily in Tangerine for awhile. 

My boss's office is in Tangerine; he used to come out and sit on the blue yoga ball we used as impromptu seating because there weren't enough chairs.  He'd bounce around and shoot the shit and spread good cheer among his people.  The Force is strong with him, but apparently not strong enough to keep anyone in his orbit.  Moving wasn't an option for him; everyone with an office had to stay put.  Today, he finally walked the long block from his office to my new desk in the brand-new neighborhood of Banana.  He looked out at our view of the Slopes -- churches and houses on the hillside, a toylike train winding through mid-way up the hill, a busy spur of Carson street -- and said, "This place is fuckin' beautiful.  I hate you people."  He sat down beside the former Mayor of Watermelon, who'd moved into a spot in Banana with the most perfect view of all, companionably called us traitors, and said he wouldn't be forgiving us any time soon.   Then he went back to Tangerine.

Everyone blames the exodus from Tangerine on my boss; they say it was his idea to put the desks into star-shaped clusters where we all had to avoid eye-contact all the time or get sucked into fascinating conversations, where we had no walls, no barriers of any kind and no protection from passing traffic.  These turn out to be things that people really want.   The cube-farm, if we had thought of it first, would have been hailed by everyone in our office as a revolutionary stroke of utter genius. 

Everyone felt a little thrill of justice at the thought of my boss in his lonesome empire, hoisted on his own petard.  But if your goal is to support a hive-mind, the arrangement of desks that he allegedly forced on us really works.  The programmer who used to sit to my right was absent the day we moved; he missed the exodus and came back to crickets and tumbleweeds and those creepy white ghost-coils of ethernet cable on all the desks.  We sit a whole block away from each other now, and didn't cross paths for a full day after he got back.  When we finally saw each other in the kitchen, we hugged like a long-lost brother-and-sister.  We'd both been looking up several times a day to say something or show something to a person who wasn't there. 

Though I'd scored a nearly perfect space in the move, with everything I thought I wanted -- a big wall to my right, open space to my left, a pillar to block peripheral disturbances, a truly gorgeous view -- I felt fucked-up and weirded-out.  I was chilly to my new space-mate; I didn't want to talk to her or look at her at all.  Her laugh made me want to crush something small and defenseless.   She's a perfectly nice person who cares deeply about her projects and the people on them, and I don't think it's like me to be cold or unwelcoming.  What in the world was wrong with me?  Later on the day of the move, two developers I like and admire were having a passionate argument a few spaces away.  I love passionate arguments. I support passionate arguments by having them as often as possible.  But I jumped up and yelled at them -- really yelled -- to keep their voices down or get a room.  I was so inappropriate that I had to go around and apologize later.  My friendship with one of them may never recover.

If we'd been in Tangerine, I would have joined their discussion.  Passionate conversations happened all the time in Tangerine.

People all over the office were tense and miserable for days after the move, adjusting to new suite-mates and trying to fit all their crap onto new desks that were about two inches smaller in all directions than our old ones -- something you can't really complain about after the desks have been bought and paid-for.  I missed my wide, comfortable, rickety old Tangerine desk, and my shitty wooden file-cabinet with its broken wheel -- it had three drawers and the new cabinet had only two!  I was confused about my stuff.  Why did I seem to have so much more stuff than I'd had in Tangerine?   We'd all been given new bookcases -- one bookcase for every two people -- with doors on the front so that people's disorder could be neatly hidden from view....except that now we couldn't browse each other's books without violating personal door-opening taboos.  The cords and cables were too short.  No one had thought about managing the cords and wires that hang down the fronts of people's desks and make everything look like shit ("real" office desks have holes you can push the cords through; what moron was responsible for choosing these kiddie-desks anyway?) 

Late on move-day, after most everyone had gone home, one of the Big Bosses strolled over to Banana to chat with the former Mayor of Watermelon about how disappointing it was that people had been complaining all day, and how shameful that people felt such a sense of entitlement about things like the size and color of their desks, and having their own bookcases and whatnot. 

The Big Boss has a palatial office containing a wraparound desk, a couch, a puffy chair, a conference table, three full-sized bookcases, a full wall of windows, and floor-to-ceiling whiteboards. 

Gazing at our view of the slopes, he mused about how unhappy he was with the view from his office, and how much he envied us.


( 5 comments — comments? )
Apr. 9th, 2007 12:57 pm (UTC)
May we see some pictures?
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
Yup -- I'll try to get some this week.
Apr. 16th, 2007 05:17 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading this. I miss working with you guys. My current desk is in an open space surrounded by offices, like Tangerine, but without the conversations.
Apr. 16th, 2007 08:04 am (UTC)
We miss working with you, too. When are you coming for a visit?
Apr. 16th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
I'll send an email when I know dates for sure. Probably a weekend in May and a week in July (for Mike+Jill's reception).
( 5 comments — comments? )