The Days of Wine and COVID, Part II: Working from Home

As stated in my previous post, this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home save for that time I thought being a freelance proofreader would be the way to go (I ended up doing one project).

As such, there was much to get used to – like, everything. And being my wife is also working from home and starts at an earlier time than me, I’ve kept my alarms set to 6 am so that she can get up and start her day an hour before I start mine.

But after about a week I had my schedule in place and it goes something like this.

6 am: Alarm goes off on iPhone. Hit Snooze for the next few rounds.

6:30 am: Ann gets up and prepares for her workday in the kitchen where her home office is set up. I roll around in bed a few more times before deciding to get my running clothes together.

6:45 am: Laced up and ready to go. My daily goal is 5 miles which has become easier by the day. I get home in about 1.5 hours, 1.25 of which are moving (I take a few breaks along the way).

7:00 am: Out the door I go.

And before you ask, yes, social distancing is in order. In my city, outdoor exercising is one of the few things you can actually do that does not require wearing a mask. I take full advantage of this because, frankly, running with one really, really sucks. (And ladies, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have facial hair, put your mask on – just pretend you have a hole for eating and speaking – and imagine wearing it all the time. Yeah. Really. That’s why I no longer have a goatee because it’s freaking hot and I don’t care to constantly maintain the goddamned thing. Plus, gray hairs. And ew, facial hair.)

Here’s a small section of where I run (about 1 mile in length).

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There is a dirt path next to the San Gabriel River bike trail but with all the foot traffic, maintaining social distancing is next to impossible. I’ve been running on the right side of the picture because there was never anyone over there – then some figured it out and traffic has increased. So now I run alongside the river to avoid people, COVID-19 or not. And on the way here, I run in the street if there are people on the sidewalk.

8:10–8:20 am: I return home with just enough time to take a shower and have breakfast. During this time before I start, I also charge up the case for my new – they are about a month old – JLab Air Icon earbuds so that I have juice for the day in case I need it. (Not a paid endorsement; for a mere $59 they have held up to my daily workout abuse and get me through most of the day on a single charge. Plus Apple earbuds don’t fit my ears and have abysmal battery life, and Beats are overpriced and uncomfortable.)

Wearing running shorts, a t-shirt, flip-flops and no hair gel I make my way to my home office in the den. I light a candle and turn on the computer.

9 am: Work until 6 pm.

The reason I started doing this daily cardio was because I was eating way too much and at the start my WFH tenure, things were still kind of sketchy with this COVID-19 thing, meaning there was a time when it was nearly demanded that we stay indoors for a week in order to reduce the chance of spreading it. So I did Wii Fit “workouts” until we were cleared to exercise outdoors once again. They were goofy and fun but being indoors all the time really sucks.

Now that I’ve been doing this I’m down 7 pounds, eating better, gaining muscle and losing fat. Not bad.

WFH definitely has advantages. For one, I’m not driving much if at all anymore, as if I did to begin with since I was taking the bus to the office. Now whenever I open the door to my car, I have to yank on it a bit because it’s practically sealed shut and air-tight like a sarcophagus. I think I may have put gas in it twice since mid-March – we alternate cars every week when we do have to drive – and that’s okay by me. I don’t even know how much gas costs anymore.

Not dealing with traffic or a long bus ride to the office are great. While working at the office, by the time I walked home from the bus stop it would be around 7:20 pm. Now I just turn off my computer and walk from the den to the living room to get “home” at 6 pm. Plus I can have dinner and lunch with the family instead of dining solo long after their meals have been consumed. It’s a win-win.

But it’s still working. Messaging apps and conference calls have become the norm for my daily work life, respectively replacing phone calls and daily meetings. And being we’ve had some layoffs and restructuring, there have been plenty of conference calls.

For now, this is how it will be. My company is getting things in order for our potential return to the office, which will be based on local government recommendations (we won’t talk about the federal government’s plans or, more precisely, lack thereof). It has been stressed that by no means will anyone be required to return to the office if they do not wish to do so, and I’m kind of leaning in that direction.

And that’s the only thing that has me torn.

The office is in a great location. I’ve spent many a lunch hour walking or riding my bike around town and on the beach, taking pictures of interesting things. There’s so many cool buildings, fun events, and interesting people in the area. It spawns my creativity. In that respect, I miss being there.

But since we’re still under safer-at-home orders (indefinitely it seems), there’s almost no point in going back. Many businesses are still closed and several restaurants have shuttered permanently. All major events that I enjoyed attending were cancelled this year and who’s to say if they will happen next year. In fact, I’m holding off on registering for this year’s half marathon since everything is still up in the air – there goes my 10-year streak of participating. And since people like me are working from home, there’s no downtown vibe.

So I don’t know what I’ll return to downtown if I decide to go back. If working from home has proven anything, it’s that my job can be successfully done from a darkened den with a candle burning for ambiance instead of a fluorescent bulb-illuminated office where I’m tied to a desk all day.

There’s a certain freedom being home.

And I really like that.

Next episode: The Days of Wine and COVID, Part III: The Return to the Office

The Days of Wine and COVID, Part I: Black Friday

Back on April 4, I was walking along the side of the house and came across a patch of clovers. Keep in mind I’ve walked past these things many times in the past and never gave them much thought but that day I decided to go looking for a little luck.

And I found it.

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Count ’em. This isn’t a four-leaf clover, no. Look closer and you’ll see that there’s a fifth leaf on the other side. They say that the fifth leaf is supposed to represent money and extra luck. Little did I know that over a week later, I’d really need it.

Up to this point, because of all the coronavirus madness, I had been working from home since the middle of March and we had gotten a few emails from the company President explaining what the next moves were going to be. Nothing too drastic – until one stated that layoffs and furloughs were coming. The only thing I could think of was great, here we go again.

I had been laid off from several jobs in the past and figured this would just be another notch on my résumé. But being we had gotten our stimulus money a week prior, I figured we’d be okay for little bit while unemployment kicked in. We had it all planned and were ready.

And on Friday, April 10, it happened – but not to me. Several people were let go but not entirely because of COVID-19. We lost a big client due to a really stupid business decision on their part so people who were a part of that team were transitioned to other teams while some people on other teams were let go entirely. But some of the blame most definitely falls on COVID-19 as markets around the world try to rebound from this economic crisis.

We lost a person in our department who accepted the company’s offer for a retirement package. While we all thanked him via email and Slack messages, it sucks that we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye in person. I wish him the best in his retirement.

The rest of us are still hanging in there as we continue to plug along in this strange new working world, strange to me at least.

I was never ready for this to happen and hadn’t made room for or given much thought to where my work computer would go. In the end, I put it on my old drawing table in front of my personal computer which, as you probably know, doesn’t get much use these days because it sucks.

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This is my workspace (the calendar on the screen covers up the company name). I’m pretty much crammed in the corner of the den but I’m making it work. And yes, it’s dark and those are the only lights I have on most of the time while I work but I turn on another lamp occasionally in case my eyes start to feel strained.

For now, the stimulus money sits in the bank untouched and although you can’t see it, the five-leaf clover rests under the monitor in a Ziploc bag because it worked for me the first time.

Let’s hope it continues to do the trick.

Next episode: The Days of Wine and COVID, Part II: Working from Home

 

They Really Do Like Me

English sentences with red penThe job of a proofreader is often the least appreciated at any organization and goes far beyond the scope of making sure the word public isn’t mistakenly spelled pubic.

Don’t laugh. I’ve caught that error in the past.

We are fact-checkers, legal liaisons, and basically a safety net between the organization or its clients and the public. In my case, the public is the auto-buying consumer who will review details of specific models in order to make an informed decision. After all, a car is a big purchase and things have to be right in general and in the eyes of the Legal Department.

But often the job demands ridiculous requests from any number of internal people who don’t realize or understand how the Creative Services Department operates. Sure, it’s easy for them to add a copy block to the middle of a brochure and think nothing of it – unless that block requires disclaimers, in which sometimes everything will have to be renumbered from that point on. You should see my notepad on my desk with said renumbering notes scribbled all over it. A real work of art.

And it takes time – a lot of time – to get this done right along with other changes and sent back to the Production Artist. A pat on the back for getting it done under a time-sensitive deadline? Forget it, pal. Just take your lunch and be back in an hour.

Flash-forward to today’s daily huddle in which Project Managers, Production Artists, and Proofreaders go over projects currently funneling through so that we all have an idea of our priorities. It’s also a time to make any other announcements that might affect the team.

Once projects were discussed, one PM spoke up and informed us that she had given her two-week notice and when her final day would be. Shocking to say the least as she has been with the company for some time now, and we lost another PM last week. We’ll be down two experienced PMs come July and will have to start the onboarding process with two fresh faces at that point. No pressure with everything we have going on.

When she was done with her announcement, I spoke up in order to bring attention to a recent change in the formatting of the websites we build.

“Before y’all run away, I’ve got something to say too.”

And the looks on the faces of everyone in the room were priceless. There were gasps, sighs, and other sounds of disapproval before someone said something.

“No no no, don’t even tell us you’re leaving,” one PM said, mouth agape. There were other mutterings in the background I couldn’t decipher but I can assure you they weren’t expressing joy. All eyes were fixed on me – and looking rather bulbous. I laughed, smiled, and paused a moment to build up tension – but didn’t really answer their question.

“You’ll know when I’m moving on,” I said. “But that’s not what I want to talk about.”

Always leave them guessing.

I then went into detail about the topic I wanted to discuss and gathered some input. In fact, it’s such a mess that it will require a second meeting tomorrow in order determine how to streamline the process.

With that, the meeting was over and all were relieved to learn that I wasn’t going to be the next one to make a hasty exit and they expressed it nervously. It makes me wonder what’s going on or if I should see what else is out there, but a longer commute would hardly justify the difference in pay, if any.

But just based on the reaction of all in the room it’s safe to say that, despite my impressions of being part of the most unappreciated department in the office, I’m a little more respected than previously thought for the job that I do.

And being in a position where kudos and thank-yous are rarely expressed, it felt good to get that kind of feedback and to know that we are an integral part of the machine.

Lyft Lyfe

CLICK ME IF YOU USE LYFTI had been silent about this since the moment I considered it. Why, I don’t know. Maybe I was being too critical about all of the negative aspects that may come with being a driver for one of the many ridesharing services which, in this case, is Lyft.

But I guess the only way to find out was to get involved. So back in October, shortly after my scooter accident and the purchase of my car, I signed up to be a Lyft driver. And I’m not gonna lie – I also applied for Uber. I figured now that I was driving again I might as well see what this was all about.

I ended up with Lyft for many reasons. Their vetting process, vehicle inspection locations, and customer service (for drivers) were all superior to Uber. I have yet to have my car inspected for Uber because their nearest location isn’t really convenient and frankly, I’m not doing this as a full-time gig. If it were then I wouldn’t have a problem with finding the time to get it done.

(Side note: I was also a vetted driver for the short-lived Sidecar service.)

Anyway, I was approved to hit the road way back in December but never bothered to go out to try to make some money. But that changed today.

Shortly before the start of the Super Bowl, I decided to give it a shot. I ended up parking for a little bit by our local airport – it’s about 5 minutes from home – to see what was going down. I figured having an airport in close proximity would prove to be a goldmine, but it depends on many factors.

Not a single ride request showed up on the app. Besides, this airport currently only allows drop-offs for ridesharing services but I see people waiting all the time across the street. It’s a way to skirt around the rule since you aren’t on airport property to pick up your ride.

After waiting about 15 minutes, I decided to drive down to the gas station then go home since it didn’t seem like a lot was happening. But on my way to the gas station, I got an alert for a pick-up which was only a mile away. I had been so hesitant to try this whole thing out and like new every job, there’s a bit of nervousness when you start.

Long story short for my first rider, it went well. They were on their way to a Super Bowl party and had a bag of goodies they were taking. The destination was 8 miles way so we had a good chat on the way. I dropped them off and thanked them, rated them, and drove away.

Simple, painless, and paid. I could probably get used to this.

Still in Online mode while driving away, I got another alert for a rider that was close by. And here’s the thing: although I was a little bit farther than I had preferred to go, Lyft requires that drivers be at a 90% acceptance rate or they are penalized or something. It’s all new to me. I had completed one ride with another waiting. If I had turned this one down, 50% acceptance. Why mess with things?

Lesson 1: Always accept new rides when you’re starting out. It’s just smart.

So I accepted the ride and picked them up. The difference here was that they weren’t sure of the physical address; just a general area. I can see why: it was condo complex and having delivered pizzas in the past, they can get confusing. Another easy pick-up and drop-off.

By now, I was out for about 2 hours (1.25 of actual Lyft-ing) and had completed two rides, the second one with my fuel warning light flashing. Remember? Low on gas? Fortunately, my car is an econobox that gets great mileage so it wasn’t a major concern but I stopped and got some nonetheless.

Afterward I figured I had put in enough time for the day and headed home to have dinner with the family. Shortly after I arrived, I got a text from Lyft stating that my first rider may have left something in my car. I checked the back seat and sure enough, they did.

Lesson 2: Make sure your ride has all their personal belongings at drop-off, checking either visually or by asking.

So I called them and verified that their items were in my car and I would drive back to deliver them. But rather than drop them off at their destination, they told me it would be fine to leave them at their house which I thought was a nice thing to do. They could have been mean about it being Super Bowl Sunday and all but they weren’t. I appreciated that.

So let’s get to it. Is driving for one of these rideshare companies worth the effort?

Lesson 3: This will not make you rich.

There are so many variables involved that can make or break you: time of day, time of year, local events, weather, etc. all have an impact on what you are paid. If you rely on this as your sole source of income, you’d best hustle and alternate between Uber and Lyft apps when the other isn’t busy. I don’t plan on doing this full-time but it’s nice to know that should I need it, it’s there.

In the end, before Lyft’s fees, I ended up with about $20 after 1.25 hours of driving. By comparison, I make more at the office but I’m sure others probably don’t. Once Lyft deducted their fees it dropped to about $16. Then, of course, factor in the daily wear-and-tear on your car, gas, and everything else and chances are I made much less.

But I suppose there’s more to it than that.

It’s the freedom to go online when you please to make a few [extra] bucks. It’s meeting new people and helping them get where they need to be, especially on a day when many probably shouldn’t be driving. And while I don’t deal with the public at the office, it was a welcome change to do it again and have conversations about whatever came to mind.

Would I give up my job for this? Perhaps if I was making much less money at, say, a grocery store I probably would. This freedom is so much the opposite of the shackles of retail but if you’re working there part-time to keep your affordable health insurance, this is a great way to earn a few more bucks.

Do I plan on doing it again for extra money? Sure. It’s easy and pretty fun, and Lyft no longer requires that unsightly fuzzy pink mustache on the front of your car.

And I’m sure there’s more I will learn along the way but for now, it’s not all that bad.

 (Note: Already use Lyft? Click the logo at the top!)

Happy Holidays!

Ah, the holidays always bring out the “best” in everybody.

We made a quick stop at our local Dollar Tree for some stuff we needed. As usual, we ended up with more than we had come for and spent much more than the name of the store implies.

Anyway, at checkout, there was a guy arguing with the cashier about his lost receipt. Apparently he was trying to show her that he was overcharged for the Thanksgiving card he just bought.

At Dollar Tree. Three days after Thanksgiving.

The cashier continued to ring up the customer in front of us while she tried explaining the cost of the card, with tax, to the other guy. But he wasn’t hearing any of it, and he just kept arguing.

It was going nowhere and I had had enough.

“Hey man, if I give you $1, will you shut up?”

Mind. Blown. The dollar would have covered twice the cost of what he was arguing about. But he insisted on getting his proper discount. Not only that, he then got pissed that I got involved and called me an asshole in front of my family.

I smiled and turned to Ann.

“Reminds me of our neighbor — an angry drunk.” Then I looked at him, still smiling.

“Happy holidays, sir. And Happy Thanksgiving.” He didn’t know what to say and by then the manager had come over to smooth things out with him. And Thanksgiving had long passed, so in your face, Tipsy McStagger.

Look, I don’t normally get involved in petty shit like this but dude was being a complete jerk to the Dollar Tree employees, none of whom make diddly-squat at that job and none of whom should have to deal with bullshit from people like this any time of year.

But at the holidays, the number of idiots increases exponentially. Come on, dude. Dollar Tree. You’re arguing over a lost receipt and fifty cents at FREAKING DOLLAR TREE.

So I had to say something. And in the end, I didn’t offer him the dollar because that would be better spent elsewhere.

Like on these killer candles!

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So to all of the employees at my local Dollar Tree, I’m sorry you had to deal with the moron. But I’m not sorry for saying something in your defense.

Because I’ve been there. It’s not pretty.

And now you have a story to tell when you get home.