Ten hours, 500-ish miles, and three states later, I think I could be forgiven for not immediately checking in to the hotel and sitting down at the keyboard… still, that’s exactly what I’m doing – A) Because WAJTW is a weekly standard that is near and dear to my heart and B) The universe doesn’t stop pissing me off just because I’m on the road. Those two feel like reason enough to sit down and get this done. So, as always, in no particular order, here they are:
1. White Marsh. The area at and surrounding the I-95/I-695 interchange has been under construction since just after the earth coalesced from stardust. There are places where the interstate in that area is at least 20 lanes wide. At the same time traffic flow has never actually gotten any better there. I don’t know if it’s crummy engineering, worthless drivers, too many people trying to cram through too little geography or some combination of the three, but the only time I’ve ever had a good experience traversing that mess is between the hours of midnight and 4AM. For some reason, that strikes me as less than ideal for one of nation’s premier north-south arteries. I’d love to offer a brilliant suggestion for making improvements, but I’ll defer to the hundreds of professional engineers who are working on that never-ending project to come up with something in that part of the highway network that doesn’t suck so hard.
2. Interstate 81. I-81 gets bad press because of the heavy volume of truck traffic it carries on a daily basis. My experience is that 81 may just have some of the most disciplined drivers in the nation. The left lane was kept clear except for passing and even with trucks and passenger cars intermingled, the average speed never dropped much below 70. It was one small slice of the American highway where everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Everyone except the asshole in the powder blue Scion who couldn’t for the life of him find the accelerator but insisted for driving for mile after mile in the left lane. People like him are the reason I’ve not put a push bar on the front of the truck. If I wasn’t worried about scuffing the bumper I’d be too sorely tempted not to give them a helpful nudge in the right direction.
3. Glory days. As few as 4 years ago I use to jump in the truck and drive the 14 hour, 800 mile run from Baltimore to Memphis while only making two stops for fuel and to give back the coffee I’d rented earlier in the day. When I got there I was ready to unpack, make dinner, and enjoy the evening. Today I drove a little more than half that distance, took 2/3 the total amount of time, and made three stops. When I arrived at my destination, I limped to the front desk nursing a bum shoulder and a sore knee and utterly unable to stand up straight. Honest to God, if I remember my 30s for anything it’s going to be as the decade when my body started to completely disintegrate before my eyes.
I know my sense of how the universe works is probably a little off by “normal” standards, but I find something deeply gratifying about telling Outlook to turn on my out-of-office message. It’s one of those rare bits of the day that feel like I really got something accomplished, namely that I’ve officially told anyone trying to track me down that I won’t be checking voice messages or email for the next seven days.
That’s not strictly true, of course. I’ll still be tethered as tightly as ever to my own electronics, but for these next few days anyone looking for me at my desk or eagerly awaiting a response is going to have to cool their jets while I go do other, more interesting things.
Because there are no free lunches in this life, I know all this means is the pile of things on my desk, jammed into my inbox, and waiting on me to “push three to hear your messages now” will be immense by the time I get back next week. That’s just going to have to be next week’s problem. I’ve only got the RAM onboard to be concerned with so many things at one time and frankly none of the issues on or around my 50 square feet of cubicle are even close to making the cut.
It occurs to me that when it comes to the amount of time we spend at work that it could all come down to tracking the wrong metric. Since early in the 20th century the “standard” has been the 8 hour day and the 40 hour week. That’s well and good I suppose if you’re churning out Model T Fords by the million on an assembly line. In that kind of work there’s no allowance for people working at varying speeds. Most of the people I know these days aren’t working on a 1920s assembly line, though.
Instead of manning the line at the Rouge River Complex, we’re all sitting at our keyboards banging out emails and memos and slides. If I happen to be super efficient and complete my assigned memos and slides in six hours, I’m still at my desk for two hours regardless of whether I’m doing anything constructive or staring blankly at the ceiling. The reverse is true as well. If I’m an utter slacker and can’t get all my emails sent in eight hours, there’s no force compelling me to stick around until they’re done. As far as my unscientific observation of the eight hour day and 40-hour week is concerned, I can only conclude that we’re basing our business model on precisely the wrong metrics. We’re managing to time rather than managing to outcomes.
If I, gods forbid, were a boss, why would I care if someone got their assigned work done to standard in six hours? Maybe in theory I could then assign them 20% more work, but in my experience that almost never happens. If your mission in life is to get X done every day, once X is done, I say go home. Go to the park, the bar, the ball game. The threat of having to do X+20% doesn’t do anything more than make the typical drone slow their roll to make sure they don’t pull too far ahead of the pack. Sure there are a few over achievers out there who throw off the curve, but when I look around they’re the exception rather than the rule.
So there it is – the thesis I should have written for my MBA. A Savage Act of Defiance Against the 8-Hour Work Day: Managing Performance Instead of Time. It feels a little like there’s a “philosophy of management” book in there somewhere… which means I should mention that the thoughts herein expressed are the sole property of the author and protected under the copyright laws of the United States. All rights reserved.
Based on the email that arrived overnight from my domain registrar, it looks like http://www.jeffreytharp.com will be sticking around for at least another year. I suppose that could be good or bad depending on your point of view.
Taken wholly out of context, the email left me thinking about the issue of renewal in more general terms. It strikes me that this is a chance to evaluate where this blog has been and where it’s going, what’s worked well enough, and where I’d like to nudge it in slightly different directions. None of that is the work of a single day and certainly not of a single post.
Lately I’ve been kicking around the idea that I need to tighten up the focus of my writing a little bit. As you’ve no doubt seen, what shows up here tends to be sort of wide ranging, off the cuff ideas and commentary. That’s one of the aspects of this blog that I’ve always enjoyed. It has occurred to me, though, that in order to make it more than just whatever happens to be on my mind at any given point in the day (and to broaden its appeal beyond people who know me and want to see what I happen to be ranting about), there needs to be some kind of method overlain onto my particular brand of madness.
When it gets right down to where the fingers meet the keys, I don’t know exactly what I want this space to say about me and what I’m trying to do with my small slice of the internet. I have a hard time imagining that I’d be able to stay focused on just one or two main themes after I’ve spent the last seven years blogging about whatever notion captured my interest. With all that said, I want to believe it can be more than what it is currently. You might say I have a passion for this kind of writing. The commitment I’ve made to keeping this page current – now racing towards it’s eighth anniversary – is the longest commitment I’ve ever willingly made to anything in my life. If that doesn’t speak to passion for an activity, I’m not sure what would.
Now if I could just gin up a way to make this work a little less pro bono and a little more income earning, we might be on to something here. Then again that one time when I tried to make my living from history, my first passion in life, it quickly turned into work and a situation other than fun. Maybe I’d be best served by not trying to make a buck off of this one and just keep doing it because it’s what I love.
All of that because Go Daddy sent me an email. Sometimes I really do wonder just how the hell my brain works.
I had most of a post written tonight before that rational part of my brain took over and demanded every word of it be consigned to the the electronic trash. It was a good post with an authentic voice, but in the end that wasn’t enough to save it. Throwing those few choice words out to the universe would have made me feel momentarily better. That wasn’t a good enough reasn to hit “post” though.
I let the interwebs get a good look at most of what’s going on in my head, but as it turns out there are a few doors I’m just not willing to open – or more precisely I’m not willing to leave them open long enough for anyone to get a decent look. Some topics I simply reserve to myself not because they’re unfit for publication but because even in the electronic age some thoughts should be private. Some should fester, be mulled over, and chased in that most personal of space between your ears. Although, I’m as guilty as anyone of being in a rush to vent, break “news”, and be a self promoting spectacle on social media there are the occasional thoughts that deserve the right to stay where they are… which is a shame, because writing from one of those touchy areas with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder does make for some damned fine writing. Apparently there are still a few lines I’m not willing to cross just for a good blog post. That’s good to know, but it’s not the cathartic release I was hoping to find at the end of this post.
It seems the Rolling Stones were right all along. Who knew?
1. Being off schedule. I don’t know what it is about this summer, but I no sooner hit “post” on one week’s WAJTW entry and I’m right back here doing it all over again. It feels a little like Thursdays are separated by 60 hours instead of six days. I’m going to blame the unwelcome interloper of physical therapy on the fact that it feels like I’m always on the cusp of being late to do everything. Throwing an extra hour of “stuff” plus the drive time into the mix has really kept things pressed at the margins. It hasn’t been a recipe for keeping up with my usual activities – not surprisingly, cleaning and sleep have taken the worst of it. I’ve been trying to remind myself that it won’t last forever, which is fine, but at the moment it’s annoying the living hell out of me.
2. The Islamic State. ISIS needs but a single, swift lesson – that if you kill an unarmed American civilian anywhere, you don’t get your picture on every news website on the planet. What you get is the wrath of an angry god falling down on your house. It’s hard to bomb someone back to the stone age when they’re living there already, but I’m all for using those pretty B-52s we have and making the rubble bounce again and again and again and again. Every time ISIS pops up long enough to make a statement, a cruise missile should fly straight down their collective throats. I’m tired of pretending that we have to be tolerant and respectful. In some cases there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong and slaying an unarmed journalist guilty of nothing more than doing his job is an absolute wrong. I’m not naive enough to think we can solve every problem with 1000 pound bombs, but in this case I think they’d be a damn fine start until we think of something more permanent.
3. The news. I need to stop watching it. I need to stop reading it. I operate on the basic assumption that bad things were happening all over the world long before the magic of television brought all of those stories into our living rooms. It’s not like mayhem and chaos are a new force in the universe. Most of what passes for news today doesn’t inspire me to action, but it does tend to drive my blood pressure to new and probably dangerous heights. I can’t shake the feeling that I’d be better off on nearly level if I didn’t know (and didn’t care) what was happening around me. Ignorance, I fear, may truly be bliss.
I wish I’d have had the wherewith all to jot down a few notes today. I think it might be instructive in describing exactly why there is currently so much dissatisfaction with the state of things. To illustrate my point, here is my best recollection of an actual conversation that took place just after I got back from lunch:
Other Person: “Uhhh… he’s adamant that we get that random tidbit of information from that guy who doesn’t want to give it to us.”
Jeff: “Yeah. Well, this report has to be sent in by 1:00, I need to finish that thing that was due Monday but no one told us about until this morning, and that other thing that needs approved four levels above me before I can send it out at noon tomorrow needs finished by the end of the day. Oh, and I haven’t had time yet to prep for the meeting I’m nominally supposed to be in charge of tomorrow, so there’s that… but I’ll add the random tidbit to my list and see what I can find out after I managed to carve out some time to hector the Air Force into doing something they’re probably not going to want to do.”
Other Person: “So… Do you want me to look at the slides for tomorrow?”
As far as I can tell, today was mostly about learning to put the right coversheet on the TPS report. Again. And Again. And Again. And again. I’m fairly sure this is real life, but it feels so close to fiction that it’s almost frightening.
I got a real paper letter in the mail this evening telling me that my local branch of Bank of America is closing. Decreasing foot traffic, more people doing banking online or by phone, blah, blah, blah. The only reason I mention this is because I’ve kept an account with Bank of America for the last 14 years. I originated three mortgages with them. And have mostly been satisfied with dealing with them overall. I always liked that no matter where I ended up in the country there was always a Bank of America branch. They’ve taken a lot of flack as one of those “too big to fail” operations, but my list of complaints has been pretty minimal until recently.
About a year ago all of the BoA ATMs disappeared from Cecil County, which was marginally inconvenient, but not onerous since there was a branch a few thousand yards from the office. With that now closing up shop and the next closest being on the opposite side of town from my normal travel route, that pretty much ends all but one part of my business relationship with BoA. There are too many banks and credit unions out there to be bothered with one that doesn’t even compete to be convenient.
I got a good enough rate on my last refinance that I’m not throwing them over the side completely, but I’ll only be funneling enough cash through them to pay the note on time. Reserve funds, and everything else will have to transfer over to another institution. The local credit union may not actually appreciate my nickel and dime banking, but they somehow manage to give me that illusion anyway. So when it comes time to refinance again, someone else will get that business too.
They may be too big to fail. I may be too small to miss. But they’d be well served to know that even out here in the sticks, we still have options. I’ll be exercising mine as soon as practical.
Hard as it is to admit, my inaugural foray into non-fiction was not met with thunderous applause. I can count on two hands and a foot how many copies of Retribution wandered off the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m not saying that with any kind of self pity, although I do think the world is missing out on a fun little short story. Notwithstanding the monumental lack of sales, I enjoyed working in fiction. It’s a refreshing change from the usual 5W’s style professional writing that is one of the many banes of the average cubicle dweller’s existence. Trust me, writing reports, emails, cost estimates, and justifications memoranda does not constitute a rich literary life.
That being said, I think I’ve settled in on my next topic… and it’s one that takes us all back to the future. My bread and butter has always been an apparently bottomless ability to bitch and complain about whatever topic was set in front of me. As often as not, that ability turned itself on peculiarities of working inside the world’s greatest bureaucracy. Time and circumstances have conspired to bring me back around to where it all started.
If Nobody Told Me, was an tribute to a youth lost in service to the machine, I’m starting to flesh out the vaguest idea of the next effort to be more of a deep dive into the mid-career oddities, realizations, and situations that make you really want to consider where it was that your professional life to such a harebrained turn. It’s safe to assume there is plenty to say about those issues and I think I have just the point of view to make them both hilarious and thought provoking.
I haven’t started writing yet. I’ve barely scraped together some notes, a few snippets of outline, and the most ephemeral of notions in my head of where I think this should go, but it feels like the right topic at the right time. It feels like the project that might well keep me on a halfway even keel in increasingly turbulent waters. I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know when I’ll have a draft. I don’t even have a fully formed central thesis. I do have an idea. As dangerous a spark as an idea can be, that’s all it takes to start. The rest will come later.
Stick around folks, I think this next trick is going to be a doozy.
I’ve written before about my love of roast beef for Sunday dinner. It’s the ultimate comfort food that takes me back a few decades in a single bite. Plus, it makes the whole house smell amazing all day long. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the smell of roasting flesh permeating every square inch of their home, right?
As usual, of course, that’s not my point. What I’m trying to figure out this morning, is when a basic rump roast weighing in at a little less than 3 pounds (and needing another 1/3 of a pound of fat trimmed) started costing almost $20. By my back-of-the-napkin math, the steer that roast came from sold at auction for approximately $1.7 billion, or roughly the cost of 1.5 stealth bombers.
While it’s true that I’m probably going to make 4 complete meals from this roast and with sides the average cost per meal will still be about $5 a plate, $20 for a roast is a price point that bothers me on a philosophical level. I’m not what’s called a price conscious shopper. I have a list and I want to cross everything off that list in one stop rather than chase nickels and dimes all over the county. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So look, I’m not going to start having Tofu Dinner Sundays or anything but I am starting to think it may be time to invest in a chest freezer and buying the whole damned cow direct from the source. The chances of it getting any cheaper from here on out seem somewhere between slim and none.