Monthly Archives: April 2012

The hidden benefits of carpooling with jerks


There’s always somebody at work who keeps getting those bonuses for bringing their old colleagues aboard.  Not only have they cashed in with an instant army of work friends, but they also have a cute little carpool group that HR points to when hiring new people.  You reluctantly agree that it is, in fact, a cool idea and you’re saving the environment and maybe a bit of stress in not having to focus on driving every day.  Now, what your wise colleague didn’t tell you is that there’s a woman named Ronda in her carpool group who she recently brought  to the company.  She doesn’t like Ronda personally, but if Ronda brings in a $2,000 bonus she’s worth the hassle even if you’ve got to put her in your carpool group. What’s better than getting a bonus check?  It’s getting a bonus check and offloading a less desireable carpool buddy onto somebody else. Ronda seems nice and you don’t really understand why they don’t want her in their carpool group.

The key term there is ‘group.’ If you carpool with one other person you might as well just ask them to drive you directly to the doctor’s office.  Of course, they won’t because they will have some excuse as to why they can’t drive that day.  Maybe you could ask Ronda for a doctor’s note and a note from her mechanic stating that the car is in working order and maybe like four forms of ID.  She’d probably give it to you because Ronda is so thoughtful in the office.  She puts new paper in the copier.  Sometimes she’ll slide a little note in the suggestion box.  She cleans out the fridge and best of all she lives three blocks over and her schedule is about the same as yours.  Fantastic! If you could sign up to have a lingering cold it would be like matching yourself up with Ronda.

The first week Ronda has driven twice and you’ve driven three times.  The next week she’ll do the majority.  Actually Ronda’s got a deadline on Thursday so you’ll skip the carpool that day – no biggie.  That first week everything’s going great.  You’ve talked about your crappy commutes in the past, the places you’ve worked at – man, Ronda knows a lot of gossip about the office.  You give her that knowing wink when you see her in the copy room with the VP of Sales.  Even Ronda’s car is basically what you would expect.  She has a couple of books and cds on the back seat, but not too cluttered.  She’s not an insane driver.  Though you were hesitant, this setup is not as bad as you thought.  Then it happens, an innocent remark about stiffness in her knee.  Now she’s made this thing personal and there’s no going back.  You’ve been snookered in by a thoughtful person.  Be prepared for the arrival of a mysterious spouse and the litany of responsibilities that this spouse has that requires Ronda’s car on days when she’s supposed to drive.  Suddenly Ronda has a cat that has some sort of flesh eating bacteria so instead of leaving at 5:30 Ronda needs to be out by 5:05.

She, of course apologizes every single time, but it doesn’t stop her from asking if you don’t mind if she runs into Walgreens.  She’s also taken to having you just drive directly to your house in the evening and she’ll walk the rest of the way home (because its good exercise and it’s easier on you, right?).  Once she starts showing up on foot in the morning it’s clear she’s turning into Kathy Bates from Misery.

You’ve done your due diligence around the office to blacklist Ronda from any future carpools.  There are muted comments on Facebook.  You even thought briefly about accidently deleting her from your Linked in network, but that would go against your blood buddy promise you made on that first Tuesday as you sat in a jumbled mess of cars in Waltham.  And when there are no escapes left, save for stabbing her with your Blue Cross Blue Shield card, (you can feel how sharp that thing is against your own palm) you start making excuses as to why you can’t drive tomorrow and the next day.  It’s going to work.  We’ll just let the carpool fizzle out.  No, because nice people are needy.  Every time you deliver an excuse to Ronda she smiles and says “not a problem.”, but the phases of her eyes have gone from optimistic to realizing you’re trying to break this off.  Hopefully for your sake she’s not a crazy, overbearing, nice person who will show up at your door on weekends.  Let’s assume she’s somewhat normal and will take whatever goodwill you once had and stab you with it metaphorically by badmouthing you around the office. Eventually she will show the balls to call you out to your face on trying to end the relationship – the carpool relationship.  This exchange, of course, will be on the day traffic is backed up everywhere and you have to sit in your car alone thinking about what you’ve done to this poor, nice lady with a diseased cat.

Carpool with angry people  (as characterized by the Onion News Network) because initially they’ll be frustrated with the traffic and say funny things.  Eventually they’ll wonder why you’re not so angry and they’ll have the balls one day to tell you how soft you are and kick you out of the carpool that you suggested in the first place.  Kids, if a stranger asks you to get in a car with them – don’t. Adults, if a coworker asks you to get in a car with them – don’t.

Have you ever been part of a carpool that’s gone horribly wrong?  Are you on the run from your former carpool buddy? Do you want to start a carpool group with me?  Tell us about it.


When five year olds give you the finger


Random Daily Cubicle Activity #96 – Find the one meandering road that doesn’t have traffic on it and shut down your computer before the road does get traffic on it.

I believe traffic was invented somewhere around 1994.  We were ahead of the curve here in Massachusetts and continue to lead in traffic related death every year.  Not actual fatalities because the roads are so pot-holed and seeming with traffic that the few that do die during the day did something dumb like stand outside their car and stare at their flat tire on Route 2.  No, I’m talking about the flakes of sanity and vitality that fall off you each day like crumbs onto your car floor. So while we admit that we are bad drivers, all of the statistics are rosy and paint us almost in a human light.  Its kind of like the statistics you see when you buy a printer and it says it can print up to 50,000 sheets in a month. Then you’re 2,000 sheets in and it’s 6:00 PM on the 29th and the blood is running out of your face only making that red light on the printer console redder.

Most days traffic is like that red light. Yes, there is something that will soothe the stress and make the light go away, but eventually the light will refuse to go off.  This mental breakdown probably comes the day your engine light comes on, a five year old just gave you the finger when you tried to pass his minivan, and the highway is merging down to one lane because they’ve been working on the same bridge for seven months while conveniently closing your exit off of the highway.

What do you do to calm yourself down?  I turn on the radio and then I hear songs like “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and I want to throw something out the window.  Unfortunately somebody’s beat me to the punch and there’s debris in the road that I have to swerve around.  My tie and my hair are probably cartoonishly going one direction while the rest of me is going the other.  Allow me to regale you with an actual story.  Have you ever seen that show I Survived?  So I was driving to work one morning down Route 128 which has got to be top ten worst roads in America.  I was actually moving that day (it must have been a holiday!) probably close to the speed limit in the passing lane.  To the right of me is a box truck.  Up ahead of us also in the center lane is one of those sketchy Ford Econoline vans.  You know the ones that are all white with the tinted windows in the back.  It’s driven by a guy named Uri who doesn’t really work for the company legally.  The owner’s mom from one of the former Russian states was like “Here is brother Uri. He needs job to find wife. He drive for you, yes?” So you see these vans every day with something sticking out of the back of the vehicle (which, I guess is better than not knowing what is inside it.  Uri’s van had a big rug sticking out the back until the big rug was nestled snuggly in the summer morning air on the pavement of 128.  After eleven years Uri might have a job again, but my concern in that moment was that the box truck that I was attempting to pass was torpedoing itself towards this rug at around 60 mph.  The best analogy I have for the moment the box truck hit the rug was that it looked like an elephant up on its hind legs.  The truck did come back down to put all four tires back on the road, but lets just say the driver left a little more than crumbs on the floor of his truck.

So if you survive your two plus hours on the road each day you’re doing OK.  Of course there’s the one person in the office who that’s not good enough for – Dan Direction.  He’s the guy that’s lived or crashed on couches in every town in your state.  If you’ve got to meet somebody to buy a meat grinder off of Craig’s List Dan will give you directions from the office, from your house, from the nearest Dunkin Donuts.  You might not even be sure what Dan does in your office, but he is the reference for directions.  Just don’t ask him to fix your commute because it will probably involve you driving through private parking lots, making illegal turns and sitting behind school buses. 

There’s also one person in the office who actually has a short commute and yet they seem to be late most days.  Why is that?  Maybe they got directions from Dan.  Who knows? 

How can we ignore the most important character for some of us in our daily lives – the carpool buddy?  I’m going to reserve this subject for the next blog entry because I’m going to get too fired up and say something I’m going to regret.  See, this is what commuting does to you.  Take a breath, you made it through another ride. What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen during your commutes?

At least they didn’t give you the weird cubicle


Everywhere I’ve worked they have a group of cubes that are all built the same way and then there are one or two odd ones.  Maybe they are galley style which are nice because nobody can sneak up on you, but every time you get up your chair hits the file folders sitting on the floor behind you.  Nothing makes you feel more like part of the team than to be squeezed into an area initially reserved for file cabinets. Now that we’re paperless we’re building cubes like we own Mediterranean and Baltic Avenue.  Squeeze ’em in there! Maybe you have a special cube with a sliding door for privacy.    Or one that has a peek-a-boo window at the top – your nose picking days are over, but that leaves room for a new OCD hobby! 

When you’re 23 the cubicle is a fantastic place.  You explain to your unemployed fellow grads, if we had cubicles in our dorm rooms I could have spent hours making out with my girlfriend while my dorky roommate was doing whatever creepy thing he was doing and I wouldn’t have to know he was watching me.  When you’re 33 the cube is, at best, a claustrophobic vacation from being maligned by your boss or a place to toss your stuff between meetings when you have to pee.  When you’re 43 you’ve hopefully given up hope of moving beyond the cube and it’s your 401K emergency center.  It’s got a phone and an internet connection to help make hasty stock market decisions and you’ve given up caring who sees you do it. 

You know how they talk about a ‘window of opportunity’? Well, at age 33, mine was kind of grimy and stuck, much like my actual windows at home.  After years in corporate America I finally pried the damn thing open and fell out.  I’m writing a novel tentatively called Cubicle Envy and once I serve my community service for blasphemy against life in a square box somebody might actually give me a job again.

Did you know the cubicle was actually invented by Henry Ford?  Yeah, it was for his grandkids.  They’d drive their little mini cars to the side of their mini office, make calls on their mini phones, dig around in their mini file cabinets.  Edsel would call Henry and he’d be like “have you seen the kids?” and Henry would say “The cube is four feet high and the kids are only three – they can’t see me, ha ha!” So, I guess the only difference between us and Henry Ford’s grandkids is that once they outgrow the cubicle they get a billion dollar trust fund.  Hey, when you grow tall enough to see over your cube you get a clear view of your neighbor’s shoulder acne – that’s pretty good, right?

The cubicle was not invented by Henry Ford lest you think I have a degree in history.  I’m sure you’ve got a guy (it’s always a guy), we’ll call him Andy Internet who has three internet windows open at all times.  One, of course, is ESPN to track his fantasy college football, one is a music sharing site where he’s probably downloading Rush.  Does it even matter which Rush songs? No, it doesn’t.  The other window  is probably left on the search he did 20 minutes ago to find out where Chuck Norris was actually born.  Even though he has headphones on Andy’s bat ears hear every query ever.  He’s also got download workarounds so when your company blocks certain sites he’s got the Contra code taking you to the next level.  Doris likes him because he helps her unjam the copier and he never says “Doris, your God-damned colored paperclips stuck in the feeder are keeping me from downloading more Tom Waits songs”.  Anyway, Andy would know who invented the cubicle and he’ll be in the office until like 7:00 trying to actually get his assignments done.

You’re saying, ‘Geoff, what are your qualifications for talking about cubicles and corporate life’.  Let’s just say I’m starting to get some gray in my beard.  Not enough to actually blend in to the static shade of gray fabric that lines the cubicle walls, but I’m getting there.  Years of accounting will do that to you.  The bright side is I don’t have asbestos poisoning! Now that I’m writing, though, I can take a break and scout out class action lawsuits to jump on by watching the lawyer commercials that play during the Judge Ray Parker show.  Have you been forced to work in an inadequate workspace?  Do they make you eat lunch at your desk?  Have you ever questioned whether the printers at your workplace have actually been programmed to hate you? Don’t fix it yourself.  Call the law offices of Shady Lowlifeski. Of course, just as I start dialing another commercial comes on: Do you feel like your internet searching skills are giving you a competitive advantage?  Is your name Andy Internet? Come to A.S.S. Tech and let us show you how to take those skills and make you a workforce powerhouse for a real company (not a minimum wage consulting job like most of our graduates go to).

Remember before they started giving kids drugs and they’d just plop them in front of Mr. Rogers’ Neighboorhood and old Fred Rogers would dope the kids down with his goofy smile and slow talk?  Well, think of this as Mr. Jarok’s  Cubiclehood here to calm you down until your loud cousins show up with candy and punch you in the head waiting for you fight back (whatever the office equivalent of that is).