Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let's Do the Time Warp Again

I am currently attending a 2 day training session for work.  I've been looking forward to it since I enrolled a month ago, as I am an academia junkie.   The other reason why I've been looking forward to this particular training session is because of the location.  It's in Burlington, Massachusetts in the same building where I worked in my first post-college job.

It was August 1996 when I first walked into the building and rode the elevator to the 5th floor.  It was just as the wave was cresting.  I wore a suit and heels on my first day, because at age 22 I thought that's what I was supposed to do.  I quickly learned that the mid-90's office attire did not include suits.  I had a window cube, and my cube mate, Tamara, became a fast friend.  On my first day she wore jeans and a Miller Lite T-shirt.  The suit went to the back of my closet, and never surfaced again until it went to it's final resting place at the local Salvation Army.

I worked for a software company that offered training sessions to the customers on how to use the software.  It was my job to set up the training sessions--make sure the training room on the first floor was set up, order catering, make sure the students knew where to go, etc.  On the days that we ran classes I started work at 8, and had my pick of leftover pastries and sandwiches.  Even better than the free lunches was the paid over time.  I got time and a half for the extra hour that I came in early, and for the hours I stayed late.  I skipped lunch breaks to bulk up the OT.  I logged about $4,000 in over time my first year, which was awesome because as a 22 year old I was paid nearly nothing. 

I ended up leaving the company in February 1998.  I was almost 24 and ambitious.  I wanted to move out of the administrative role I was in at the software company.  (Not only did I coordinate all the training, I also did crap like process expense reports, and whatever else needed doing.  One of my big tasks was faxing things because the engineers didn't understand how to use the fax machine, despite the gigantic sign I posted with step by step instructions.)  The company didn't have anywhere for me to move up to, so I decided that "Quit your way to the top" would be my motto, and I left. It was the kind of company that hired a 32 year old man to be the VP of sales, and made a very big deal about how young he was.  But couldn't seem to find a way to promote me, despite my wanting to move up and grow.

I haven't set foot in this building since I left in 1998.  But the sense of "I haven't left" took over as I drove into the parking lot this morning.  I saw a green Jeep Grand Cherokee parked where a former co-worker parked back then and even thought to myself "Oh, Bill's already here."  Then I blinked and thought "No, Bill's not here.  It's been 12 years.  Bill's long gone.  He probably doesn't even have that car anymore, either."

When I walked in, I saw that the atrium inside hadn't changed a bit.  The office fronts had changed only slightly.  I entered on the second floor, and looked down to where the training room was on the first floor.  I was hoping that my class today would have been held in "my" training room, but it's wasn't.  I fought the urge to go up to the fifth floor and demand to see if my cube was still there.  The company is no longer there.  It was acquired and moved out of the building in 2002.

I walked into the office on the second floor where the training was being held.  There was a cafe area where the company put out a spread of cereal, pastries, bagels, and coffees.  There were two bottles of syrup for flavoring the coffee.  There was a fridge filled with sodas, juices and water.  It was the kind of spread that dot.coms used to put out for their employees.  Sandwiches were served for lunch, and at 2 they served us ice cream as well.  I looked around me one more time and thought "Is it 1996? Where am I? When am I?"

After the training got out, I went to the mall near the office.  I shopped a bit, then hit the food court--where Tamara and I went on my first day.  The food court had an Indian restaurant, and it was on that day that I had tried Indian food for the first time.  Tonight I walked into the food court and quite literally jumped up and down at the sight of the Indian restaurant still in it's spot in the food court.  I ordered channa masala for dinner, the same thing I'd had that day with Tamara. 

All these fond memories of my time there came flooding back to me today.  I was working at this job when Todd and I started going out in 1997.  We had eaten a picnic lunch under a tree beyond the parking lot one day.  It was leftovers from the fantastic Italian meal we'd gotten in Boston's North End the night before.  He used to visit and bring goodies for my co-workers--bagels, or cookies.  It was impossibly sweet of him, especially since he was broke and couldn't afford to do that.  He did it anyway.

But it's not just the fond memories of being in that building.  It's the fond memories of that time in my life.  I had my first apartment, in which I lived alone.  I moved to a new city and made new friends.  I played my guitar all the time and played shows.  I was 10 pounds lighter.  I was 14 years younger.  I was more ambitious about my career.  It was my first job out of the 14 jobs I've worked since. 

Everything looks the same around here, just a little more developed since 1998.  And somehow it looks smaller.

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Blogger Taoist Biker said...

I really enjoyed this post, Beej. Makes me want to go back and visit my old haunts in Richmond where I was in '96-97, just out of grad school. I bet they look smaller, too.

January 14, 2010 at 8:02 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Thanks, TB. Last night as I was leaving the mall and walked out to my car I let out a little squeal.

I am so glad that I can look back on that time and know that I so thoroughly enjoyed it back then. I am so glad I didn't just slug through it because it was my day to day life then.

And I hope that I look back on age 35 in the same way that I now look back on age 22-24.

January 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Ginny said...

What a freaky/cool experience! Makes me want to go back to some of my old jobs, see what's what.

January 24, 2010 at 12:15 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Ginny, I totally want to go back to EVERYWHERE I've ever worked now too! I want to go back to the bakery where I worked when I was 15 and see if they still have that awesome frosting.

I want to go back to the online furniture store and see if the office is still decorated like a house. Like, the hub of the office had vinyl siding on the walls to make it look like the outside of a house. We ate lunch on a "patio" and had meetings on the "driveway" where they even put up a basketball hoop over the faux garage doors.

Even the dive shop looks different now too. That's probably the only place I've gone back to.

January 25, 2010 at 11:12 AM  

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