Sep 12, 2022

Full (Or Empty) Freeways Ramp Up (Or Down) Thanks To Covid

Why I didn’t need a pandemic to have me work at home

By Ed Goldman

Julie Virga tells me she’s noticed that since COVID changed our way of life, she has the freeways all to herself during the week (everyone’s working at home) but almost certainly encounters gridlock there on the weekends, when everyone is stir-crazy and desperate to go somewhere, anywhere.

Virga is a Realtor, lawyer, former restaurateur, daughter and sister of father-son judges, an animal-care activist and, something that probably won’t make it to her impressive résumé, a friend of mine.  It’s her work as a Realtor who’s always on the go showing homes—but especially on the weekend—that informs her aggravation.

Edgy Cartoon

The morning laughter

“I just want to yell out the window when I’m driving to a house showing on a Saturday or Sunday, ‘Go home! It’s the weekend! What’s wrong with you people!?'” she laments, mock-dramatically but earnestly.

Well, I grok that, as they say—”they” being the people who spent their childhoods reading Johnny Hart’s “BC” comic strip. Grok was the name of the most primitive character among the cast of prehistoric nebbishes, and also the only word he bellowed when angry, hungry, frustrated or having what he probably considered a tea-party chat. 

As I’ve mentioned here—redundantly, I realize—I’ve worked at home for almost four decades. When the rest of the galaxy began to do so as well, I confess to having felt a tad proprietary about the lifestyle I’d created for myself. What right did anyone have to either complain about or savor the notion of not having to drive to a workplace?

The complaining part is what irked me, and I thought for a while of writing a self-help column about working at home. The Business Journal newspapers features one such regular piece called “WFH,” an acronym it took me a while to figure out the meaning of:  “Work (or Working) From Home.” At first glance I thought it said “WTF,” and I was both offended yet charmed that the publisher was doing both a vulgar and hip 180-degree turn in its editorial policy. It reminded me of the moment in “The Odd Couple” (play and movie) when Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison becomes increasingly irritated at finding notes around his apartment from his roommate that all end with “F.U.”  This turns out to stand for Felix Ungar, of course, the roommate.

I wanted to offer the newly-domesticated workers some basic survival tips, along the lines of make sure you designate a specific area as your work station/office and don’t get distracted and mow the lawn; you wouldn’t have left your office to do that, would you?

Ultimately, I realized the difference in our situations. I started working at home so long ago because:

  • I COULDN’T STAND going into, spending an entire day in or even driving home from an office; 
  • I had no desire to chat with “colleagues” (more like “fellow inmates”) or be in an atmosphere where “Okay for a Tuesday” and “It’s almost Friday!” pass for Rabelaisian wit; 
  • I didn’t want to attend office Christmas parties, where Midge in Accounting’s rumballs were considered a highlight year-over-year (and were often reheated year over year); 
  •  I didn’t want to attend retirement parties for Doug from Risk Management nor Samir from the New Delhi satellite office, especially since I had never met either one or henceforth wouldn’t  need to; 
  •  I thought that betting in the annual Superbowl pool was akin to tossing my life savings from the company’s leased Hughes 300 CQ (silent) helicopter; 
  •  I had no desire to have my birthday published in the company newsletter, lest my co-workers give me a present and thereby obligate me to give them presents when their birthdays were announced; 
  •  I feared hitting it off with a fellow employee and getting invited to his house for dinner to meet his wife, children and flatulent pit bull Otto, principally because I knew I’d never reciprocate, even if I stayed at the company until my 112th birthday (which in the company newsletter I’d be described as being 112 years young); and 
  •  I didn’t want to volunteer for the firm’s Annual Foster Adoption of Pink Fairy Armadillos fund drive, for which we’d staff a phone bank in exchange for rancid pizza from Domino’s—but I repeat myself—and pose for a company newsletter photo captioned “Giving back.” The only thing I’d be giving back, an hour or two later, would be the Domino’s pizza.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).