Running The Gauntlet
The mornings when I'm
hauling the laptop into the office with me are the trickiest.
additional fifteen pounds of line cords, batteries, floppy disks and
outdated Toshiba technology, slung over my left shoulder ... on top of
the 43,897,621 metric tons' worth of cosmetics, feminine hygiene
products and emergency pantyhose I'm already carrying in my purse,
which is slung over my other shoulder.
With my keys and my electronic key card in
one hand, and my bag of
fruit and Slim-Fast in the other hand, that leaves me with zero free
hands to carry anything else.
(Like an extra- jumbo can of
David routinely lets me
out of the Subaru in front of my office building every morning, even
though technically all employees in this building are supposed to use
the rear entrance. I don't care very much about technicalities, in this
particular instance. Using the rear
entrance means walking through the parking lot behind the
building -- a vast, inhospitable no-woman's-land filled
with old cars
and young men, neither of them looking at all trustworthy --
and that's NOT
how I'm interested in starting my day, thankyouverymuch. Coming in
through the rear entrance also means being forced to use the auxiliary
elevator in order to get to the third floor, where The Dirt Company
offices are located. The auxiliary elevator is slow, creaky,
notoriously unreliable, makes funny noises, and smells like 20th
Century urine. Plus it is totally isolated AND totally devoid of
So sue me. I'm entering
through the front door.
As I trudge along the
dim and forbidding corridors each morning, lugging another day's worth
of food, electronic equipment and girl stuff along with me, I have to
admit I feel a little vulnerable sometimes, even on the non-laptop
days when my hands are free. To help me feel more secure, I stay
focused on my surroundings at all times.
Are the lights burned out
at the end of the hallway? Is somebody
getting into the elevator behind me? Is that a man's voice I hear,
coming from the ladies room?
recall the lessons we learned in our Self-Defense For Women class, back
when I worked at the Benchmade Knife Factory. (Lesson #1: Always carry
with you, OK? Preferably one of the higher-end BENCHMADE
models.) And I'm always updating my defense strategy in my head,
walk along. If somebody jumps
out of a dark corner at me right now, what will I do? Swing my bag of
Slim-Fast at him? Poke him in the eyeball with my key card? Drop
everything, scream "NINE ONE ONE" at the top of my lungs, and run like
hell? It's a little bit like
running a Fun House gauntlet, except of course that this isn't a house
... and it isn't all that much fun,
actually ... and it isn't a
gauntlet, it's a dark spooky hallway in a dark spooky office
in one of the darkest spookiest parts of Oakland.
(But other than that,
it's EXACTLY like running a Fun House gauntlet.)
Once I am safely inside
The Dirt Company offices, the peculiarly heightened security measures
do not end. I spend most of my workday sitting at a reception desk in
front of a large glass door, where I am clearly visible from the public
hallway outside. (It's a little bit like being in a fish bowl, except
that it's not a bowl ... and I'm not a fish ... etc.)
As I answer phones and type groundwater monitoring reports, all day
long, a steady stream of people wander past our door. 99.9999% of
them are looking for the Unemployment Office upstairs. At least a dozen
times a day, somebody will stop and peer through the glass door at me,
uselessly jiggling the doorknob. When they realize that the door
locked, they give me this surprised stoopid look that says Hey!
Your DOOR is LOCKED, lady!
Usually, if I pretend I'm engrossed in a Very Important
Conversation and ignore them, they'll go away eventually. If they
persist, I'll grudgingly open the door and point them in the direction
of the elevator. I don't care
if I seem snooty or unapproachable or paranoid. I run an
extremely tight -- and secure -- front desk. No
one gets into the
office unless I open the door for them: not the UPS Guy, not the Fed Ex
Guy, not even the 1-800-Flowers Guy delivering my beautiful Valentines
All Dirt Company
employees are trained to take their keys with them, everywhere we go,
even if it's just a routine trip across the hall to go
on this floor is locked: the file room, the kitchen, the lab, the front
and back doors, even the entrance to the stairwell. Most of us have
also gotten into the habit of taking our cell phones with us,
in case we find ourselves unexpectedly locked out. More than once I've
had to phone my boss from the lobby downstairs because I went outside
to drop off the mail and forgot to bring my key card with me.
All of this paranoia and
precaution may seem excessive, but it's a fact of life around here.
Our building is averaging one break-in a week these days, according to
a memo issued recently by the property owners. (WOW! There's
a ringing endorsement for us to renew our lease!) A legal firm
hall had all of their computers stolen last month. Just last week,
somebody drove off with a Dirt Company truck in broad daylight: the
police recovered it the next day, abandoned ten miles away. The week
before that, one of my co-workers called 911 after he witnessed a man
stuffing another man into the trunk of a car, downstairs in the parking
And of course we all
remember the infamous Gansta
in the Ladies Room
incident from a couple of months back.
So why, you may be
asking, do I subject myself to this kind of workplace menace and
apprehension? Why don't I just find a safer, less dangerous place to
work? How can I function efficiently in a state of constantly
The answer, of course,
is that I put up with it because I like working at The Dirt Company. I
feel that the benefits of having a job that doesn't
make me grind my teeth into little pointy stubs every night vastly
outweigh any minor inconveniences. I put up with it, also, because I
know this is a temporary situation: we'll be moving our offices out of
the Oakland Coliseum area and back into downtown Oakland proper
sometime before the end of the year. (Ironic, isn't it, that this
nervous white woman from the suburbs will actually feel safer
working in downtown Oakland??) JoAnne and Scott The Office
actively searching for new office space, even as we speak.
But mostly I put up with
it because I refuse to allow fear to dictate the way I live my life.
There is a difference, I think, between being "on alert" and being "on
edge." I choose to live my life with the awareness that disaster could
strike at any moment -- and with a reasonable amount of preparedness
against that possibility -- but also with the expectation and the
hope that it probably won't.
After all, that's how
I live my life in general. Why should my work life be any different?
throw a rock