Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Alternate Universe

Central Park Reservoir
Ok, I'll admit it, I was a little oblivious to all the talk of May 21, 2011 being Judgement Day.  My life has been hectic these past several weeks what with a major meeting and then our office was moving.   When I woke up on that Saturday morning, I did wonder aloud what I should do with my last day on earth.  One would think that I would have wanted to go out with a bang.   Clubbing anyone?

Instead I had a quiet day of the sort I like at home - a lot of photography, a brisk enough walk, a little napping, and a Glee marathon. I don't really get "Glee" when I watch a single episode but i am drawn in if I stumble upon it late on a weekend afternoon and there are oodles of episodes all in a row.  There is something about the zany little Universe that encompasses the show that just captures my attention.  The whole premise is mad genius -- that is for sure.  It is a slightly off-kilter version of high school that hits all the right notes.  

Yangtze Temple (China)
I woke up on Sunday and I was still me.  Or was I?   Maybe Judgement Day isn't about the world ending or the second coming but rather about just small tweaks in each of our lives that add up to our moving to a parallel universe.  One where things were are just a tiny bit different -- off as one might say -- such a small shift that you don't even notice it.  Or maybe there are giant differences but we are different as well.

Many have imagined alternate Universes -- think about the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.  Those are just wonderful tales of plopping a fairly normal girl down into a new world and "letting 'er rip" so to speak.  There is a memorable quote from Alice that sums up what that must be like.  "I wonder if I've been changed in the night?  Let me think.  Was I the same when I got up this morning?  I almost think I can remember feeling a little different, but if I'm not the same, the next question is, "Who in the World am I?"  Aah, that's the great puzzle!"

And then there are those who imagine an alternate universe to the alternate universe.  Case in point, Wicked.   The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch?   And from the novel to the stage there is yet a third iteration on imagioning the land of Oz.  The stage show is less dark than the novel and there is a happy ending for the Wicked Witch (no "I'm melting").   Who needs wizards when we've got great artists to transport us out of our skin even if just only for a moment into the world of imagination.

Lion Roaring (Botswana)
In this post May 21 world, have we all gone down the rabbit hole and just don't realize it?  I tend to think not but perhaps that is because I did not get an alternate universe that is all that much different from the one I inhabited on May 21 .  We still moved our offices on Monday and I still went to Washington today and, as predicted, I am so tired my bones ache.  Surely my alternate universe would have given me a little more energy?  Perhaps I could have also acquired a lover or maybe even two or three.  And while we are at it, could we put the Emack & Bolio's on my corner so the peppermint patty ice cream with hot fudge is a bit closer to home instead of 14 blocks away?

And surely, in this new universe I'd get to travel a lot more than I currently do!  I'd have planned trips to India to see the Taj Mahal and Manitoba (Churchill) to see the polar bears and they'd be paid for!  In this alternate universe, I would own one of the owner's cottages on Mnemba for when I just want to relax and let my cares melt away.  And let's not forget Denali, Antarctica, Egypt, the North Pole, and great swaths of South America, Europe, and Asia.

Lest this be all about me-- I could do all this traveling because the things that I care about are no longer issues that need to be worked on.  Older adults all have access to good care, women have the right to choose, and the environment is clean with no global warming.  The economy is humming along and there is pay equity for all.  In fact, I would have enough money to make grants to develop new ways to solve the world's ills.  Maybe not money on the magnitude of Bill Gates but it would be nice to have a small foundation.

Grey Gingko Leaves (Central Park)
Clearly, I am not thinking along the lines of Frank Baum or Lewis Carroll in this alternate universe that I've imagined for myself.  But then again, I am a heroine of a different nature.  Alice was something of a spoiled brat when you get right down to it and Dorothy was just a sweet girl from Kansas.  They both served as perfect foils for the mad cast of characters that inherited their respective worlds.  

I, on the other hand, am a little older and a little wiser with the texture and layers that the years bring me.  I think I would embrace the adventure of finding  myself in a strange land and played croquet with the Queen and danced with the munchkins.   And surely I would have been the most interesting character around or at least the most snarky!  Obviously, I am well on my way to creating my own little utopia with this alternate universe theory.  

Sadly, since my left knee is really aching from sitting too long on trains and planes today and my train is a full two hours late into New York -- I am pretty sure that I'm occupying the world I occupied before Judgement Day.  It's a quite fine world when you get right down to it but it would be nice to have at least two of the many trips that i have yet to take to far off lands planned and paid for.   And, at 11:30 at night, I would love to be going home to an Emack & Bolio's on my corner.  

Somewhere over the rainbow.......  
Rainbow over Ngorogoro Crater (Tanzania)


Monday, May 23, 2011

11 Years, 5 months, One Dead Chair

It's a little odd sitting in an office that has been denuded of all my personal possessions as we wait for the witching hour -- 5:00 pm when the freight elevators are magically available for our "big" office move. I am sitting in a chair that tilts a little bit to the left.  It's old and worn and being left behind as we march down Manhattan to our new digs.  Hard to believe but we've been here 11 years and five months.  The chair has served me well.

I remember like it was yesterday our move into this office back in December 1999.  We were coming from a space we had outgrown on the upper East side of New York City.  That office -- unlike the office I am sitting in now -- had the advantage of being just across the street from Bloomingdale's and just above Gino's.  Gino's was a great NYC institution -- an all-cash Italian restaurant with grumpy Italian waiters from the old country.  It closed last year -- a victim of a landlord's desire to make more rent money.  I recently strolled by and a cupcake store was just opening.  If Gino's with its full menu and host of regulars couldn't make it -- how can a cupcake store make it?

At that time, what we were losing in location, we were gaining in technology.  We went from shared dial up lines to high speed Internet.  The phone system was upgraded and we got a build-out from the landlord here at the Empire State Building (ESB).  More importantly, we got a FREE pass to the top just because we were tenants on the 8th floor.  A pass that let you bump the line both going up and coming down.  On this last day of our tenancy, our building IDs would get us past the line but we'd only get a 50% discount and we would have to wait in the metal detector line.  What's the fun in that?

The IDs and the metal detectors are a post 9/11 phenomenon.  It felt particularly vulnerable being in the ESB with the new security procedures and the mark of being the tallest building standing in NYC upon us.  Weekly bomb scares didn't help much.  We would set meeting places only to move these further away after each such scare.

I remember the first day back -- the only doors open were the 5th avenue doors and the line snaked all the way around the corner -- on both sides of the building.  Tourists and tenants intermingled.  The building got better at moving people in and up over time and now they have quite a fancy little system going with visitor passes and guards at every door who say "Welcome to the Empire State Building."   I will miss them.  I will also miss Melania, the woman who cleans our offices.  It was sad saying good bye to her today -- she is thinking of retiring next year after 27 years on the ESB staff.  One thing I won't miss is the scrum of tour salespeople in brightly colored jackets selling bus tours and tours of the building.

The lines to the top have changed.  It used to be that the week between Xmas and New Years we could barely get through to our elevators as the line twisted and turned around both sides of the lobby.  Tourists would move aside with a glare -- only after we had assured them that we were just trying to get to our offices.  Every once in a while one or the other of us would pluck an unsuspecting family out of the line and whisk them to the top.  Free and fast.  Now, they've done some renovations and folks come in the front door and head right upstairs.  Same lines, different location.  Leaving us tenants to frolic in the wide hallways of the first floor of one of the grand old buildings in NYC.

The conference room has seen a lot of wedding and baby showers and a fair number of send-offs as folks went back to graduate school or off to pursue their dreams.  It also saw a memorable ruining of the beautiful wood table on the very first day we were in the office.  We had ordered a pizza lunch and placed the very hot boxes on the table where they promptly left very large white spots (heat on wood is not a good thing).  We've spent the last 11 1/2 years covering those spots up with place mats!  I won't miss that.

It is a little bittersweet to be moving after eleven and a half years in the same location but the vagaries of the New York real estate market mean that it makes more sense for us to do so.  We'll save on rent and end up with newer, more technologically advanced offices.  Much like 11 years ago when we first moved to the 8th floor of the ESB.  I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about commercial real estate in NYC, voice over Internet protocol, office furniture, and NYC construction.  I've also learned that an office, like a home, has things hidden away in nooks and crannies.  Things like typewriter ribbons for long-defunct equipment.

Merril just stopped by -- she, like me, moved into this office suite when it was all brand-spanking new with the latest technology.  It's sad she said and I agreed.

Having said that, I think we'll be happy in our new space with the lipstick red file cabinets and the views of the Brooklyn Bridge.  For lunch we'll have South Street Seaport and Battery Park is just a few short blocks away.  Best of all, we've found the Starbucks around the corner.  I know it will take a while for them to learn my name and my drink order.  But learn it they will,  And, at some point, our new digs will feel like we've always been there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011