The arrival in Everett may have been the end of the journey, but not the end of the work.
I managed to complete the journey about one week before my budgeted time, but still had to get things ready to head back home. The kayak bags had to be fetched from David’s warehouse, the kayak had to be packed, the moving company had to be informed that I would need an early pickup, and I had to book a new plane ticket.
In the midst of the rush, I got a call from a local coworker who’d been following my journey. For the past six years I have been at my job, I had only known Zim through his profile picture on Microsoft Teams, so when we agreed to meet for a late afternoon lunch we had a hard time recognizing each other.
“I’ll take you to the office for you to see the place.” He said.
Our company office was in the center of town on Pike street inside a retail complex. We took the elevator up to the thirteenth floor and he unlocked the door from a small hallway.
To say the place was dead quiet on a Thursday would have been to say it was loud.
Before the pandemic, the company rented two whole floors. There were dozens of cubicles, corner offices, and meeting rooms. Places where once were over a hundred employees working on dozens of projects. In some of the cubicles I saw a few names I recognized, folks with whom I had many meetings and conversations over the years.
“Nearly everyone works from home. Almost no one ever comes in anymore. We are getting rid of the top floor, and most of the base floor once the leases come up for renewal.”
We strolled through the corridors where there were aerial photographs of the wastewater plant projects our company designed and constructed over the years, and passed by a pod of cubicles that had been turned into an improvised warehouse for unused file cabinets and desks.
We stumbled on the printer room where we finally saw another one individual.
“Hi Gary, this is Felipe. You remember him. Our coworker I told you was paddling around Vancouver. He’s back today.”
“I figured I’d come buy and see what the office looks like and maybe meet some folks.” I said.
“Ah yes, we heard of your great adventure. Zim showed me the map with your tracker. We were holding our breath when we saw the blue arrow going around Cape Scott and the Brooks. Glad you made it. Maybe one day I will do something like it. It’s right next door after all…”
“So, whom else comes in from time to time?” I asked.
“Not many folks I’m afraid. This is kind of the norm now. Traffic in Seattle is brutal; it probably took you more than an hour to drive from Everett. I’m only here to pick up a set of plans from the printer. I’m old school. I like to see the plans on the table when I’m checking them. Maybe Suzan is in. She lives close by.”
Suzan was in; indeed, her cubicle was hidden in a corner behind a pile of cardboard boxes. If we hadn’t been looking for her, we would probably not have known she was there.. We had a quick chat but she too was not staying for the whole day and was on her way out. In the end, Zim and I were the ones turning off the lights. He later dropped me off downtown close to the Space Needle.
“I’ll talk to you when you’re back in Miami. Great to see you finally! It’s a rare chance to meet other folks from work these days.”
I strolled through the park on my way to the Needle passing by a splash fountain where the locals took a break from the heat in the spray mist. I gave up the idea of taking a ride up the Needle to see the view when I found out the fee was $40, and instead went to the waterfront where a light breeze over the cold waters of Puget Sound dropped the temperature by a few degrees and made the walk more pleasant.
I cannot say I was surprised that the office was so empty, but it felt depressing nonetheless, and only confirmed something I had already come to suspect during the two and a half years of the Pandemic. I’m an oddball for wanting to work from the office.
I’m not married, don’t have kids, or girlfriend, or roommate, or dog, or cat, or even a goldfish. The pandemic made me realize that my life up until now had been parceled into two halves.
One half, Is what I do outside of work. I go paddling and cycling. When I am out paddling in an expedition, I don’t feel lonesome very often, even if I spend several days by myself. There’s almost always something holding my attention; the crash zone of the waves on shore, the tidal races, the overly curious sea lion, the interesting shaped island on the horizon, and even even a bear or two on the trail.
The other half is the office life where I meet my coworkers, discuss the ins and outs of the projects we’re working on, brainstorm on the issues, and come up with solutions. We get lunch together and chat about what we did on the weekend. Spending at least eight hours everyday with other people fills your time and mind.
The pandemic took away that half of my life. I do not like to work from home and spend the days on end in front of a screen without contact with anyone. The pandemic revealed to me that the work alone isn’t emotionally fulfilling enough for me to want to do it for its own sake. If it’s not for the money, then what do I work for? I don’t know the answer.
With the end of the Pandemic, I really thought that perhaps the work part of life would come back, some of it at least. Enough to make it worthwhile. But my days in the Miami office are mostly spent alone. It doesn’t change whether I work from the office or from home. What I saw in the Seattle office only confirmed that even more. The change is permanent.
“Yeah, your case is different from most.” My mother has told me more than one.
“It’s convenient to work from home. No traffic, less daycare, more time with family. You can pick your kids at school, and work from anywhere. It suits most people. You’re the only one I know that it doesn’t. Perhaps you need to find something else to do.”
“Yes, perhaps so. But what can I do?”
“Whatever you want! You don’t have kids, or girlfriend, or dog, or cat, or even a goldfish. Figure out what you want from life because eventually, life ends.”
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation