Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Cold (and Hot... and Cold) (Office) War


It’s 7:30 in the morning. You walk into your office when the temps outside are already 75 degrees. You think to yourself, “Ahhh, the comforts of a programmed thermostat,” as you sip on your hot coffee, almost happy to be at work where the air conditioning hums softly and cools you down until you no longer feel like you took a steam bath walking the two blocks from the parking garage to the building.

A couple of hours later you notice your toes feel a tad chilly, but you brush it off because – hey – you’re not going to complain about a little chill when you can look out the windows facing the street and see passersby crawling through the heat vapors, begging for water or beer from some kind soul. Even going down three floors to the lobby to check the mail sounds like too much of an effort… what if someone opens the lobby door and sweltering temps grasp the walls, causing instant heat exhaustion? No, no – best to stay in your office and find some non-arduous task like tackling that three-month-old box of shredding, or drafting your 12th email to coworkers with a list of what not to put in the recycling bin.

Your boss, whose office has a large window and a deck that overlooks the water (actually, overlooks the roof of a building next to a wharf, where pigeons in droves tend to…. unite), is fanning herself with your recycling email and asking you to “bump the air on” because her room has been subject to the morning sun which is deceptively strong, and maintenance just came in to check out a report of smoke wafting out the deck door.

An hour or so into the frost cycle a coworker comes out of her nearby office in an LL Bean parka and mukluks and asks (as she is reaching for the thermostat), “Mind if I turn it down a bit?”

What have we got here, folks?

Summer in Maine, where you drive to work with the air conditioning on, have your heater going on the way home, and put the ceiling fans on high as soon as you enter the house. At least in your own environment you have some control of how the temperature is set. At work, not so much. We have so many different zones in our office that someone can walk in and start sweating (less so now that we have a new programmable thermostat that cranks up the ac at 7 a.m.), turn the corner toward a hall where you dare not wear open toed shoes for fear of frostbite, proceed a little further to what is sometimes referred to as “the conference sauna” and finally come to the end offices, otherwise known as Siberia. Prior to the new thermostat when the lobby was often beyond what you would call balmy, clients experienced a strange mix of various tolerances.

“Hello, have a seat here in our lobby. Would you like a glass of water while you wait?”

“Yes, please… sure warm in here.”

“Haha, yes – I think people are bringing all the hot air from outside in with them.” (This may have been slightly illogical considering we are on the third floor of a building, and chances are the client took the elevator, thus leaving the hot air far behind, I would think. But hey, small talk is small talk.)

After three glasses of water and a towel to wipe the sweat from the client’s brow, we proceed to the conference room.

“The others will be right in. Is there anything I can get for you?’

“Maybe a cup of coffee, or even hot chocolate? That walk down the hall was a bit brisk… and do you happen to have a sweater I might be able to borrow?”

“I can see if we have anything that will fit over your suit jacket, but I should warn you, this room doesn’t cool off as well, so you may find yourself a little too warm after the coffee.”

“I’ll take my chances (blowing on hands).”

By the end of the meeting part of my duties is typically to revive the client from a heat-induced nap and send them on their way – into the building hallway that is 15 degrees cooler and will have him high stepping (and needing a bathroom) onto the sidewalk.

Why don’t we have these same issues the other nine months of the year? Granted, it’s not like we always agree about what the thermostat should be set to in the office, but from late September until June we are pretty balanced, with only an occasional adjustment needed. Something about summer triggers stronger preferences. Then again, maybe it’s simply the idea of working through the summer in a place nicknamed “Vacationland” as hordes of carefree tourists and anxious vendors line the streets and sidewalks and the only access you have to the outside world for the majority of the day is to mail a letter.

Fine, back to temperatures. Here’s my theory. You can always put more clothes on. You can only take so much off…. at least in most countries.

I am not heat tolerant. Sweating does not feel good to me. Now S on the other hand will sweat with the best of them. He can tolerate temps well above normal without withering, while I am whining as soon as it hits 80. Our girls are also opposites. OK, who is more like her father, lives in a city where a breeze is a luxury, and while she may not enjoy walking home from work when the temps are in the high 90s, she is not leaning against buildings on the way, frothing at the mouth, whites of her eyes showing, as I would be. Her sister YK would rather keep the air conditioning cranked and have to put on four layers than take a chance on opening windows and feel a smidgen of humidity. As much as I prefer to have the windows open and feel the breezes throughout our home, I am with her when it comes to this. And yet we all managed to live in the same house for many years with very few arguments about what temperature to live with. Of course, agreeing on who does the laundry is a completely different story.

But summer in Maine is short, and so we are forced to make the most of it knowing these fickle temperatures – inside and out – won’t last very long. We are off to enjoy the weekend before heading back to the office and preparing for the cold and hot wars once again.

I just have to make sure I packed gloves – and maybe a bathing suit – for Monday morning.

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