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of supermodels and food courts
offices of the damned
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

Let me tell you something - when I found out that my company was moving from our posh location on Newbury Street in downtown Boston to a cubicle-farm in Burlington, MA, I was pissed. I'm sure many of my managers, and possibly some of my readers, might argue that I'm just acting like a typical designer. I should shut up and be thankful I have a job at all - the market's flooded with people like me, right? But that's another article. For now I want to focus on the dramatic impact that my company's lame-brained decision will have on the lifestyles of its creative employees.

Let's examine a day in the life of the downtown office worker vs. that of the suburban corporate slave. Imagine, if you will...

You're working in one of the trendiest areas of your favorite city. Each morning you grudgingly walk to the bus, but by the time you make your connecting train you're absorbed in whatever book you may be reading, or eavesdropping on somebody's conversation. You are happy that you aren't stuck in traffic somewhere. After you've arrived at your stop, you admire the city's architecture as you walk a short two blocks to your office, grabbing a delicious caffeinated beverage along the way. The Supermodels are just starting their day too - walking their little yappy dogs up and down the street. You don't mind the little yappy dog because, let's face it, it's walking alongside this beautiful, dressed-for-shopping, iced-vanilla-latte-drinking supermodel. Anyone familiar with the area knows what I'm talking about - they're everywhere.

"Boston is your campus." That's how the Berklee College of Music Handbook reads, in a laughable attempt to glaze over the fact that you've just forked over forty grand to study in an ancient, beat-up hotel. After a miserable three-hour orientation, the first useful piece of information that Berklee freshmen learn is this: There are no women at this college. You must periodically cruise up and down Newbury Street to remind yourself what a beautiful woman looks like. You may want to buy a neck brace, because they'll be coming from all directions.

There is a dark side to the forces at work on the Retail Runway. I've seen the 'older' versions of the supermodels - the dogs are a little ratty-looking, and the ladies look a little out of place in their Betsy Johnson and their Guess jeans. they look, in fact, like they'd be more at home in a Vegas barroom, smoking Pall Malls and drinking highballs.

I've also seen streams of salesmen, busy on their cellphones, enjoying hundred-dollar lunches at the Armani outdoor cafe. They always wear suits - even in 95 degree weather. The funny thing is, they never seem to sweat. Not a drop. One of my designer pals is convinced that the reason these guys don't perspire is because they have no souls. If you've ever seen James Brown in action, then I think you'll agree it's fair to say that soul sweats. It stands to reason then that one lacking a soul would be Arid dry twenty four/seven. Anyway...

So you're in the city. The beautiful, the bad, and the ugly are all around, the air is motionless, you're hot and it looks like you're gonna have to work late but YOU DON'T CARE because by God, you're working Downtown, and ain't it grand?

It's costing your company a fortune, but it's an inspired existence. When clients visit you, they're impressed with the diversity and energy of the employees - people who bust their asses so they can afford to live near the city, people who are inspired by urban culture. Sure, it's about a hunnid-fitty per square foot, and everyone's cramped as hell using doors propped on top of file cabinets for desks, but man, you can feel the energy of a living, breathing company here. You're there.

Yeah, I've glorified my job life a bit. It's not all ham and plaques in Downtown Designerville - but at least it's not this:

You're working in one of the most boring, uncultured suburbs - a suburb of a suburb - 15 miles outside your favorite city. Each morning you grudgingly walk to your car, which is covered with the overwhelming evidence that the pigeons have marked you as their personal target. You drive one block and then stop for the first of many red lights on your way to the expressway. If you're lucky, you've managed to tune in to Stern before his obligatory forty-five minutes of commercials.

There's no Starbucks before or after the onramp, and the single Dunkin' Donuts is on the other side of a congested four-lane highway. You grimmace at the thought of the Bunn-O-Matic coffee waiting for you at the office. Giant SUVs and souped-up low-riding Hondas are cutting you off left and right, their drivers either waving their fingers at you or probing their noses with, apparently, no shame. You haven't even hit the ramp yet.

You finally shoot out onto the expressway, caught in the thrill of accelerating over ten...twenty...thirty miles per hour! Then you brake. Then you wait. Eventually you crawl your way onto the Interstate, which is a parking lot steaming with road rage. Twenty to thirty minutes later, you pull into the giant parking lot behind the office park your company has chosen as its bunker. You look around for a space near the building, but no luck - it's already nine-thirty, and the manager-types that live in the 'burbs have snaked all the good spots. You park next to a dumpster baking in the sun at the farthest corner of the lot.

When you walk into the building you're greeted by the receptionist, who is a young, pretty temp named Jenny. You don't get too personal with Jenny, because, more likely than not, she'll be gone in less than a month, replaced by someone with a greater tolerance for the sloppy middle-aged men who've been hitting on her.

The overhead fluorescents burn your morning-weary eyes as you walk through the low corridors formed by cheap, gray cubicle fabric. You wave hello to a few people you like, you casually ignore those you don't relate to. The few 'cool' people who have decided to try out the new location all have a look of 'oh well, what can we do?' on their sleepy faces. You all silently acknowledge with your eyes that none of you belong in a place like this. You gather together and exit the building as quickly as possible, heading over to The Mall for some reasonably decent coffee.

You'll be back at The Mall later for lunch. At the Food Court.

Not the most inspired location, but hey! It's cheap cheap cheap! And in this economy, this terrrrrrible economy, you can't go blowing dough like mad on things like the environment. When clients visit they are bored to tears by a sea of middle-aged, khaki-clad cube-dwellers who, for the most part, haven't had a creative thought since the last time they bought a motivational cat poster at Spencer's. At The Mall.

The recycled air feels sticky around your collar. The room is utterly devoid of energy. You feel the oppressive weight of corporate failure looming over you. The vending machine in the kitchenette is making an irritating grinding, buzzing sound. You feel like peeling the skin off of your face. You do your work, and get out of there as early as you can.

Again, I've gone too far. It's not Hellraiser or anything, it's just a typical office park. Really.

My point is this: The location of a company's headquarters will be reflected in the types of people who are willing to work there. It will have dramatic impact on the company's perceived value. By moving into a cheaper area, a company may save money - in the short term. In the long term they will lose productivity and probably some valuable employees.

I've ranted long enough here, I think. While I can, I think I'll go grab an espresso at 'Buck's, and maybe do me a little girl-watching. I've got a lot to do today, and I could use a quality break.


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


if sardines could talk
the pros and cons of commuting
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 4.14.04

desperation games
certain doom for startups
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 3.25.02


matt morin
8.17.01 @ 12:34p

The flip side to this is the article written by some tax lawyer who just moved into a sweet Newbury Street office and is actually rich enough to date all those models walking around outside.

mike julianelle
8.17.01 @ 2:26p

This article is right on. Having done both, I can honestly say working in the city is so much better. Duh. But, I do prefer driving rather than the T or the bus. But seriously, there is NOTHING WORSE than going to The Mall for lunch. NOTHING.

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