Thursday, July 18, 2013

Prairie Dog Town

About twenty-one years ago this autumn I drove over the West Hills to the David J. Newton & Associates office in the 1201 Building along 12th Avenue (...across from the old Jefferson Street Theatre, the one that showed old-school porn, and the Doricourt apartment building where the kids in the basement flat once set fire to the place playing with lighter fluid. Important safety tip; when your kids are playing with lighter fluid its time to buy them some fucking toys).

Deb, the nice office manager, showed me my new workplace - a 12 by 12 beige cubicle on the north interior of the third floor office. I had a desk and a bookcase, a computer that had WordPerfect and Lotus 123 already loaded, and a swivel chair. Plus a regular chair to park my hard hat, viz-vest and to put my steel-toed boots under.

I was in the geotechnical engineering business.

Since then I've worked from converted houses and office parks, in other cubicles and out of trucks. The last two places, though, I've finally moved up to a real office with a door and windows and everything. Still, I'm a "staff" level guy; I do the field work, log the borings, test the backfills...and for most places that means I'm a cube rat, a natural resident of what at Dave's place we referred to as "prairie dog town"; you know how when something loud happens down at the other end of the office and all those heads pop up over the cubicle tops?

Yep. That.

So a short while back my corporate masters announced that there will be cubicles! in the Portland office. Mind you, we don't really NEED them; there's more than enough physical offices for the current staff, including the humble toilers in the vinyards of geotech and environmental engineering.

But, y'know...staff level. They really need to work in cubicles. Not like...well, people.

So it didn't shock me at all when I came in from the field yesterday and found this where the central conference table used to be:

I'm reminded occasionally that because I have deliberately chosen to remain where I am - I like what I do; I like getting my hands in the soil, working out physical problems, building things and I don't like schmoozing and bargaining with clients and drumming up business - that even after 21 years in this business my corporate masters still consider me just another prairie dog.

Twenty-one years of experience, knowledge, and practice is a bagatelle next to my place on the pay scale.

Fortunately many of those of us in prairie dog town still have a sense of humor about it:

Still. Remember this and remind me next time why it is I laugh when some bewattled twat at some conservative think-tank gets up to harrumph about the "dignity of the workingman" and the nobility of the "everyday American".

Because for your lords and masters there's always a place for you common folk.

It's just always going to be somewhere in prairie dog town.


Syrbal/Labrys said...

Someone is getting kickbacks on cubicle walls, I swear.

Brian said...

You don't know when you've got it good... in my office we have cubicles, always have except for the Suits who get walls and a door. Now they want to take our cubicles away, and give us each a small cubby to put our coat and lunchbag, and have us all work at long tables with laptops (except the Suits, they keep the offices).

This might make a shred of sense if we were going out on the road all the time visiting institutions (I work in post-secondary educational administration), but we don't. We sit in our cubicles reading, thinking and writing, and if you make a phone call you don't perforce share it with the rest of the office.

If I worked in a goddamn call centre I'd have more space to call my own, and more ability to concentrate free of distractions. This is ludicrous.