another day in the rat race
The winds were very bad last night. A storm system was moving in over the mountains from the distant Pacific Ocean.
Since, on average, only a few people read each essay, we can be free to say what we want in this one. (If we wrote mainly on marriage and sex, and posted to the many related tags for those subjects, we would have many more active readers.) As well, only a few people are thus deriving any benefits from our efforts. So, how long can such efforts continue?
It is difficult to work in San Francisco (California, USA). It is more difficult for many of us as political correctness is taken to such an absurd and grotesque extreme in that city.
But, the thoughts expressed below relate to working in any major business center in the world today. Similar experiences can be had in London, Rome, Mumbai (Bombay), Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne, Toronto, New York, Chicago, etc. The below experiences and thoughts are culled from the many years (1980s and 1990s, through 2001) that I did work in the financial district of “downtown” San Francisco. (Photos are at bottom. It pays to have a friend on a top floor of an office tower who can snap several pictures and then kindly email them on to you on very short notice.)
another day in the rat race
As the doors of the street car or the train (depending on what year we are recalling as my commute to work went through various permutations as I, and then we, moved from home to home over the years) open, we commuters walk out on the platform towards the escalator that takes us up to the exits of the underground station. (The trains are one level lower down than the street cars.) Many of us move to the right side of the moving stairs so as not to be run over by those individuals who will run up the moving escalator. (This social phenomena necessitates more frequent maintenance to the escalators at the public transit stations in San Francisco as the uneven weight distribution from so many people standing on one side of the metal steps serves to wear out certain parts of the escalator faster.) The thought enters more than one brain each morning in the form of a question. “Just what is the rush? What is the hurry? Your work will still be there for you if you walk to the office.”
How many times was this repeated over the years? No exaggeration, it was experienced thousands of times. The morning commute. More of an adventure when there were breakdowns to the street cars or the trains.
We, eventually reaching the level of the street, fan out in different directions heading to different concrete, steel, and glass monoliths also known as office towers or “skyscrapers”. Upon entering the ground floor lobby of the building I work in and walking to the banks of elevators, the thought occurs to me: is this how a termite feels in one of those very large earthen mud works of theirs that rise from the savannah in Africa?
Upon entering the elevator, a glance at the faces of fellow company (corporate) employees reveals the look of resignation on some of their faces. The younger workers, still having some enthusiasm for life, chat away, on, what is for them, very important topics. One boyfriend gave one young woman a “wild” time this past weekend. (Fortunately, we were spared the specifics. But, one or two of the other passengers did grin or smirk at the innuendo.)
Reaching my workspace, and hanging up my business suit’s jacket, I ponder: How many floors of concrete and steel are above our desks or tiny cubicles? How many floors, full of worker bees or worker ants, are below us? Some of these towers during the day are home to a thousand or many more employees. The more favored of us, the “royalty” amongst us, reside on the top 2 or 3 floors, bearing impressive titles. These individuals achieved their favored status either through merit (hard work, long years of service, talent and good abilities), or because they were very adept at playing office politics over the years.
It does seem to be a physically dehumanizing environment to work in, doesn’t it?
In the modern office workplace, in our fast paced, post industrial economy, one is confronted with a million details (ok, a slight exaggeration), constantly shifting priorities, numerous deadlines, and many, often conflicting, demands from within one’s own department and from other departments. We have to work both hard and work smart so as not to fall even further behind. Adding more employees to help out only cuts profits and exceeds budgets, and thus reduces the bonuses managers receive at year’s end. We must not disappoint our managers (both male and female, perhaps we might also say “womanager”(?)).
The only suggestion I can make for those in that situation where there are multiple deadlines and conflicting demands and priorities, is for you to talk with your immediate supervisor and politely remind him/her that you can only do one task at a time, and that he/she needs to decide what the priorities are (and in what order of importance). Do not let yourself be set up to fail. “Multi-tasking” is a misconception where you fool yourself by doing several tasks (one at a time) in quick succession. (This point was driven home for me in 1985 when a contract systems consultant, when he had had several demands made of him on a conference call, calmly replied, “There is only one of me. Now, what do you want me to work on first?” The assorted managers got the message. Internally, I chuckled, and thought “Way to go, Jerry.”)
Some days, I would think about the men on horseback herding the cattle in Nevada that we had seen from the highway while on vacation in the summer. What stress have they?
The stress of the workplace did get to me at times. There were good bosses that were a pleasure to work for. As well, there were a few supervisors that so completely lacked people skills that it was inexplicable how they were chosen for their positions. Similarly, there were good co-workers, and there were some miserable wretches to deal with.
The best that I could do on many occasions was to get out of the cubicle and exit the building at lunch time and walk the several blocks down to near the bay, not far from the Rincon Annex Post Office. This is near to where the Bay Bridge makes landfall and becomes an elevated highway running between the bay and the financial district (at a distance). In those days, Alameda (Naval Air Station) was still in service. A few times a year, one could see a modern aircraft carrier sail by, either coming in to port, or leaving for the Pacific. In either case, such a ship sails under the Bay Bridge. (During “Fleet Week”, in the early autumn, the “Blue Angels”, Navy jets, would buzz at high-speed the downtown area with their loud jet engines.) The modern carrier is a self-contained city with thousands of sailors. It is also a sardine can with each sailor having only a very small number of square feet to live in.
Some days, however, I had to get out of “the City” at lunch time, and rode the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains under the bay and over to Berkeley for a change in scenery. From the windows of the train, one sees the concrete “tube” while under the bay with small flourescent lights flashing by in a blur. Then, coming out above the water and then above the ground, one sees the huge cranes of the Port of Oakland in the distance. Nearer the tracks, you can see the cargo containers (stacked) in various freight yards, waiting to be placed on trucks. (Major railroads also serve the container port.) Then the train descends underground once more for the stations beneath Oakland’s “downtown”, much smaller than the City’s downtown. Riding around for a while on a train, that at midday was mostly empty, allowed me to put some distance between me and my frustrations. It was a temporary, but helpful, respite for me.
Returning to the office one day from such an excursion, a co-worker, Helen, said, “What’s wrong, Larry? You look so distressed.” Her hands were on the keyboard, shoes kicked off. (She, slim and trim, would sometimes walk the 20 feet or so to her supervisor’s office in her shoeless feet (wearing nylon stockings) and (at times) her short skirts. None of the numerous heterosexual men on the floor failed to notice Helen.) Cannot recall my exact words in reply to her query, but I did convey that frustrations were plentiful that day.
It is trying, difficult, stressful, working in an office.
Why did I write this essay?
Is there a “moral” to the story here? Not sure. If so, it is this. While we are caught up in the daily grind (to survive), we can fall into a number of mental “traps”. One of which is that we identify too closely with our occupations. I was always hesitant, when asked, to tell people what my line of work was because there is so much stereotyping of individuals based on what they do for a living. We are all more than the jobs we do! (As well, I did many things, worked different types of jobs, in my working life. And, I walked out of job interviews, to the chagrin of the interviewer when he/she was an asshole in the conduct of the interview.)
A worse mental trap is this. We can and do, in the heat of battle (so to speak), forget that the other “rats” running the (rat) race are human beings (much like ourselves!) suffering and enduring the same pressures and frustrations as we are. You, be the rare rat that sees above the wall of the maze and thereby gains a broader perspective. Try to make things WIN-WIN if you can. Approach the difficult boss or co-worker one on one and in private discuss what is eating them so much that they cannot be a team player. Do not shame or embarrass them in front of others as that is needlessly mean, and will just provoke an even more defensive attitude.
Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all! Do not let the stresses of every day life get you down (easier said than done).
Now, here are the pics from this morning through the glass in San Francisco. The fourth, fifth, and sixth ones are the best!!
The San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge
Now, seen between the buildings.
Another angle (sunburst through the clouds).
More of the sunburst.
Nearby buildings, on the easternmost edge of the financial district, in the early morning.
Later in the morning.
One last view.