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All Hands

      For as long as I've been at the Garden, we've had the more-or-less regular "All Hands Meeting." All Hands Meeting, not surprisingly, means that everyone in the company assembles in one place and we have a... uh... meeting. Over the past three and half years (yikes, 44 months), we've gone from a 15 foot square conference room, to a larger conference room, through a couple of restaurants, and a conference center at MCC. Most lately, that being last Thursday, we ended up at the Alamo Drafthouse, right down town and in the heart of what some folks affectionately call "The Warehouse District." Way back when we could fit into fifteen square feet it was no problem; at last count we are up around two hundred and thirty employees and finding enough space can be a challenge. A movie theater seemed like a good bet, but even that barely fit the bill. As Cliff looked over the assembled folks at this meeting, he said, "I see that we're not going to fit into here again."
      So obviously, these things have evolved from a rather informal gathering of folks into a logistically involved piece of work. Thankfully, the Garden's realized that if it's requiring folks to pick up from their desks and get somewhere that they should provide some refreshments. So over the past year or two, the All Hands Meeting has mutated into something closer to the All Hands Party.

      As everyone knows, I went skiing the week before last. I came back tanned and rested, but not quite ready, and I spent most of the week trying to get back into the work groove. On Thursday morning, the day of the meeting, Andy gave me a call from the doctor's office where Laurie was getting the LASIK surgery to fix up her eyesight (and it was a resounding success: he called me Friday to tell me she was 20/20 in one eye and 20/40 in the other. Whew!). He was just checking in to see if anything was going on, and asked what I was doing. "Seeing as how the All Hands is in two hours, " I told Andy, "I plan on fucking off until it's time to go." Andy laughed heartily, I wished him and Laurie the best of luck on the phone, and then I hung up.
      So I spent the next two hours, er, fucking off.
      We had organized buses to tote the company on downtown to the Drafthouse. Of course my fucking-off strategy started to fall apart as the first bus was leaving and some actual work came up. Then when Andy celled back to tell me everything was good with Laurie I was pretty sure that I wouldn't make the second bus either - you can never talk to Andy for less than twenty or thirty minutes on the phone. As Gabe came and stuck her head into the cube, I realized with a sinking feeling that there was no chance that I was going to make the bus on down to the Alamo. Ah well. At worst, I could always bike on down there and get a little free exercise.
      As I hung up with Andy ("Laurie's doing great; she's wearing the Roy Orbison shades now"), I gathered up what little I needed and headed for the front door. "The bus", as the Rastaman said, "she was gone." As I was hanging around the front door trying to decide what to do, Beth came walking up and offered to give me a ride downtown. As we were walking out the door six or seven other bus-missing slackers appeared, including an irate Allen who kept hollering, "The bus was supposed to leave at 2:45! It's 2:39!!" Beth kept telling everyone they could get a ride, which was making me a little worried, so I asked her, "How big is this vehicle that you're driving, anyway?" She laughed and told me that she hoped someone else would volunteer also, which someone did, so it ended up that Beth, Allen, and I rode down to the Drafthouse together.
      This year, like last, we're having The Winter That Never Was, and all last week we had highs in the 80's. On Thursday it was cooling off a bit, but it was still around sixty as we blasted down Mopac with the sunroof open and all of the windows rolled down enjoying the pre-spring weather. Allen yakked on the cell phone, Beth and I talked about nothing important, and we cruised on into the Drafthouse in record time.
      By the way: To hell with you if you don't live in Austin.
      We popped out of the car at the Alamo and made our way through the smoking clique in front of the building. To get to the theater you have to pass through the bar, which is just too tempting, so I made a detour for a beer and a glass of water (old lawyer joke: "How did you ever become a lawyer? I've never seen you pass a bar before"). I stopped and talked to Crime and Michelle, made my way over to where Glenn, Brad, Shannon, and Jennifer were standing admiring the "Sword and Sorcery" posters up on the wall. Apparently the Alamo had just had a "Sword and Sorcery" fest and they still had the "Excalibur" and "Conan" posters up. I dropped some random fact I knew about Excalibur (i.e. Liam Neeson happened to be in it), and quoted my one quote from Conan. Nobody really gave a crap, so I went on to the theater to check out the proceedings inside.
      I wandered in and looked around. Since I was little late, quite a few people had already set themselves down. I checked out the different groups of people and thought to myself that in some ways this was just like trying to find a seat in the high school lunchroom. People naturally separate themselves into different groups, which seems to make sense. You don't like, or know, everyone equally and so you will gravitate towards that you do like, or know.
      I don't know why I think about this kind of stuff, but I'm always thinking about those monkey shows that you see on Discovery. Alpha males, young bachelors, group dynamics, blah blah blah.
      I decided to break my monkey mold and not sit with the other developers. I mean, I see these sons everyday, why shouldn't I go see someone else? I figure I'll break into another social group. I look around and I first see Brad, down from Des Moines, so I figure I'll hunker down next to him and see what he's doing. Brad's not doing a damn thing, turns out. We small talk a little, and then Kristin comes over and wants to talk business. "To me or Brad?" I ask her.
      "To Brad."
      "All right." So I sit back, and they start talking business over me. And talk. And talk. I start doing the tennis match turn-your-head-back-and-forth thing between them. And they keep talking. After a while they notice my asinine head movements, stop talking, and look at me in silence. "Uh, I think I'll go," I tell them, and get up and do just that.
      I walk down the row of seats and see Kate sitting by herself. Hah, another monkey tribe I can penetrate. I sit down next to her and say, "Hey, Kate!"
      She's surprised, but seemingly pleased, to see me, "Alan, are you going to sit next to me during the meeting?"
      "Well, for a little while at least," I tell her and smile.
      We talk for maybe thirty seconds and the conversation comes to an awkward halt. After several more seconds, Kate turns the other way and talks to the person on the other side of her. I lean forward to interject some smart ass comment occasionally, but I'm quickly realizing that all I'm going to do by sitting here is make us both feel awkward. So I more or less politely excuse myself to get another beer, and I walk back to the bar thinking about monkey group dynamics. Maybe there is something to all of this, after all. Or maybe it's just these Northern yankee chicks. As I walk back out, I notice tangentially that the seats at the back of the theater are actually stuffed leather couches, and I think that this is where I'm going to end up for the meeting. To heck with my social experimentation, I think, I'm going to sit my monkey butt down in one of those couches with a beer.
      Out in the bar again, and things have gotten more lively. To my surprise, I see Kai Mantsch standing in line. Next to last I had heard, Kai had left old pcOrder to go tripping around the world ("You know... like Kane in Kung Fu"). The last that I had heard was that he hadn't made it quite out yet, but had instead developed a pretty cogent and entertaining defense of the necessity of slacking. Kai has the habit of shooting off the New York with some joker he's just met, so I was wondering what Kai was doing here in the middle of the All Hands Meeting.
      So I asked, "Hey, Kai! What are you doing here in the middle of the All Hands Meeting?"
      Kai looked around, and said, "Whoa, hey Alan, how are you?"
      "I'm doing great, but... what... are... you... doing... here?"
      Turns out that Kai is buying a ticket for some movie. Since we had crushed into the theater (read: bar), all of the staff was upstairs taking care of of business instead of manning the ticket booth. So old Kai had naturally come on up.
      We talked a little while about folks we know in common and what the immediate plans for things are. He asked after coldsmoke, thank you very much, and asked me who I was dating. I told him that I'm a single man these days, and Kai laughed, telling me, "Man, I love that story of yours about driving out into West Texas freaked out over some girl."
      "West Texas?" I pondered for a second. Then it dawns on me: "Lord, son, that wasn't a girl, that was over Kass!"
      So I was obliged to re-tell the story:

      Back in the Trilogy days, there was a son of a bitch that I worked with whom I'll call Andrew Kass. This guy had gone out to Arizona and made a bunch of promises to our clients, one of which was that they would get a complete copy of our code so they could run their own independent center. I told my boss, "Gordo, " for such was his nickname, "Gordo, you know that we're going to be going out to Arizona and supporting that thing."
      "No way, dude," Gordo said, rubbing his balding head, "They're going to take care of it all themselves."
      Well, I didn't believe it. And when a month later it's six o'clock and I'm fixing to walk out and go home at Trilogy (which was insanely early in those days), Gordo calls me in.
      "Big Al," for such was and is my nickname, "Big Al, we've got a meeting at ten o'clock tonight."
      I was pissed. "Why, Gordo? What the hell is so important that we have to have a meeting at ten o'clock at night?"
      "We're going to talk about supporting the [Arizona center]."
      I blew my top. "Gordo, dammit, I told you that this would happen!" I harangued on for a few minutes, and finally calmed down a bit and said, "Why the hell do we have to have this thing at ten o'clock at night?"
      "That's the only time that Kass can make it."
      The camel's back was broken. This was just before I left Trilogy: I distinctly remember because I had that little Nissan truck, which I only had right at the tail end of my Trilogy tenure. I was fuming, stormed out of Gordo's office, went home, grabbed my Therma-rest and a box of tapes, and popped into the truck and headed west.
      I was blasting along 290, with some vague notion of Enchanted Rock. I tore through Dripping Springs and Johnson City. In Fredricksburg a carload of teenagers gave me the finger and threw a liquor bottle at me. I kept cursing and blasting west, through Rockwall and on to I-10 going west.
      All along, I had been listening to old punk rock tapes, screeching along with Government Issue, the Circle Jerks, Rites of Spring, whomever. Whenever one of the tapes ended, I ripped it from the tape deck and tossed it out the window into the Texas night, listening it clatter down the road under the silent staring stars. I remember one of the tapes had been made for me during my freshman year by a girl named Suzanne; I had had an incredible thing for Suzanne back then and I had always loved her tape. I still remember that tape: it had "Little Conversations" by Concrete Blonde, a song called "Vincent Van Gogh," and that Pixies song "Hey."
      "But, hey, where have you been? If you go I will surely die, because we're chained... chay-hained..."
      I was driving along at ninety miles an hour, cursing work and everyone I knew, turning the lights off occasionally to drive by starlight. The wind blew threw the open windows and out the back into the bed. I remember that when the last lyric rolled off of Suzanne's tape and there was nothing left but tape hiss, I pulled it out and, woosh, off into the Texas night.
      I made it all the way to Segovia, Texas, where there's nothing but the biggest truck stop you've ever seen and sign that says, "Grand Junction - 240 Miles." I pulled over, miserable, and called Traci.
      When she answered, I hollered over the road traffic. "Traci, I'm in Segovia!"
      Pause. "Where is Segovia?"
      "20 miles west of Rockwall and 240 miles east of Grand Junction!"
      She asked me what was going on, and I explained, and asked me where I was going, and I told her. I said I wasn't sure, but that "I'm thinking about driving all the way to the coast!"
      "California?" she asked, somewhat sleepily.
      "Yeah, yeah, California!"
      "Well," she said, "just be sure to write me."
      Which kind of brought me back to my senses. What the hell was I doing out here in the middle of nowhere? I'm driving to California because I'm pissed off at Andrew Kass? Hrm. So I said goodbye to Traci, got back in my truck, tucked my tail between my legs, and tried to stretch out the remaining tapes for the drive back to Austin. Needless to say, I missed the meeting. The next morning at work, Gordo told me somewhat sheepishly, "Man, I'm just glad to see that you're back."
      Compadres, this, among other things, is why I tell everyone, "I've had enough drama to last my whole life."

      So this is the story that I re-told to Kai standing there in line, and he laughed some more and told me, "Hey, now that I know it's about Kass it makes an even better story!" We talked some more, he bought his ticket, I introduced him to Cliff as one of our fellow sufferers from the Trilogy days, and then bid him goodbye.
      By this time, I had my beer and thought that I had better secure my cush leather seat. I went back inside the theater and made my way to the back. The back row was filling up, but I still managed to squeeze into a corner seat. Getting settled in, up came Anna and Sunshine Ezell. They plopped down and we started chatting and surveying the crowd. I sipped on my beer and relaxed, looking forward to the meeting.
      The lights go down, the meeting starts, and Cliff's wearing some bizarre green jacket. He's being sly when talking about the jacket, and to all the folks hollering out, "What's up with the jacket?" he just smiles. He continues on with his opening ceremonies and agenda for the meeting. Then he gives up the floor to Jamie to go over some of our accomplishments for the last quarter.
      Jamie rambles on for a minute or two, and then I hear him say "...and for those who have been here for awhile, you know that every year we've tried this, but this year we've finally gotten Multiple Ship-To's live on the site."
      Which of course was my project. Anna turned towards me and said, "Well all right!" as she clapped. I raised both hands in the air, looked down at the theater, and shouted out, "WHAAAAAAZZZZZZZZUUUUUUPPPPPP?!?!!?" Which got a laugh from some folks and confused looks from everyone else.
      And it was, for me, the highlight of the meeting, which lasted much longer than expected or desired. And with Ezell next to me, I didn't have anybody with a positive attitude to commiserate with. After an hour of squirming while folks babbled on and on, Ezell suggested that I get another beer. "Bubba, " I said, "if I get a beer now, then I'll get another one in twenty minutes, and I'll have downed a six pack by the end of this meeting. You've got to pace the buzz, my man. Mark my words: all these people slamming them back down aren't going to be able to hang later."
      So we got through the rest of the meeting (the green jacket turned out to be part of a new tv commercial, which was pretty cool) and it was time to adjourn next door to the Cue Club.

      Cue Club: synonym for "suck." I remember coming here one time with the Jonger during NBA playoffs. She was nut for the NBA and we were looking for somewhere reasonably nice to watch the game. We got there and the only tables that they had were so far away from the TV's that it was like watching midget opera. The staff was rude, the view stank, the menu was overpriced, we beat it out of there.
      The difference here, of course, was that we had a company sponsored happy hour. I walked inside with Madeleine, who insisted on buying me a drink for helping her with something earlier in the week. I told her that I was more than happy drinking free beer, but she insisted so I asked her for a gin and tonic. While she got this I looked around for our dear Anne to give me the free beer stamp. Before I could find her, Jonas and Sweitz accosted me hollering, "Alan, where the hell is the free beer stamp!" I told them to look for Anne, who just then walked up. As I got stamped, Madeleine came back with the gin and I thanked her profusely.
      I took a quick tour of the place looking for my peeps. I was sick of trying to break through monkey dynamics by this time and I figured that I would just go and suck it up with some people that I already knew. I cruised to the back and sniffed over their inadequate happy hour buffet (Lord, but a beggar can be a chooser, can't he?) and cruised back up front. I found Joy, Lisa, Jen, and Michelle all stuffed around a table so I stuffed myself in as well. The gin was having its way with me and I started doing the Silent Bob Dance as I sat there with the girls.
      I had been dying to go dancing, so with sudden inspiration, I squeaked out, "La Bodega!"
      Everyone stopped talking, looked at me, and asked, "What?"
      "La Bodega, mis amigas!" (incredibly, I even talk this way in person).
      I had gotten into my head that we were going to go dancing. I was going to whip up these garden slackers and we were going to go shake our groove holmes at La Bodega.
      Dissension arose. Some folks were going to the Crown, some folks were going home. I was going to have none of this crap, not on my watch.
      "La Bodega!" I squeaked again, reasoning that repetition could replace persuasion in a situation like this.
      Everyone laughed and I got some vague assurances and promises. Ah well, I thought. With things like this it's a numbers game: you start off with a bazillion folks, and you are left with two at the end. I've seen it before, amigo.

      The night proceeded apace, as the bartenders got surlier and folks either disappeared or ended up getting faced. I played pool with Anne for a while to scare off some son of a gun who had been hitting on her. Kate at one point put on those gigantic sunglasses that I wear and goofed around. I went off for a drink and offered to get Zahn one also; I think I drank half of his before I managed to get back (some barbaric concoction like 7 & 7). I was still trying to get the folks to go to La Bodega with rapidly diminishing results. There was a pack of people who promised that they would go dancing as soon as they ate; wise old Al, knowing how these things go, knew that once folks ate a little and killed off their buzzes that they would just be tired and go home. So I pulled hard, but still ended up going to Mezzaluna with Anne, Dionn, and Zahn. The rest of the crew went to Bitter End and promised me that we would hook up.
      In between the Cue and Mezzaluna, I ran into Anna, who was heading to La Bodega with her boyfriend and another friend. I promised we would be there en masse whenever we got done eating.
      We got to Mezzaluna and amazingly got seated right away. I kept popping up to run outside, since someone had mentioned that there would be a lunar eclipse that night. And indeed there was: first full lunar eclipse of the new millennium. I stood on the sidewalk with all the other folks, gawking up at the moon turning dark brown in the umbra and then shifting into a reddish tint at totality. I kept thinking of old Thales, predicting the eclipse and giving birth to philosophy.
      Back inside, there was an argument going on. As always happens when you get two men and two women together, we had gotten onto the subject of relationships. Dionn's married, Zahn's been dating a girl off and on for ten years, and both Anne and I are single. Zahn was in the uncomfortable position of defending his relationship against the rest of us. The conversation went around like:
      Someone: "Why don't you marry this girl?"
      David: "We're not ready to get married."
      Someone else: "But you love her? You've been with her for ten years?"
      David: "I love her, I want to be with her the rest of my life."
      Someone else: "So what the hell's wrong with being married?"
      David: "We're not ready to get married."
      At one point David was appealing to me, "Help me out, man! You've got to get my back!" Like the back stabber that I am, I just cackled and left him to the tender mercies of the ladies. At some point David got agitated and managed to spill wine down the front of Dionn's shirt. Nice.
      So we finally finished eating, got back outside where I pointed out the eclipse, and stood around looking at each other. "LA BODEGA!" I boomed out, helpfully pointing up the street, but the girls were done. They looked a little sheepish, but they were heading home.
      Ah. Okay.
      Zahn was still with me , so we walked across the street to the Bitter End to look for the rest of the party people. We walked around the restaurant, no one. Walked through the patio, no one. Through the bar, then over to the B-Side, no one. As a last shot I walked up the stairs and there were the peeps: Kate, Britni, Gustavo, other miscreants. I had noticed that the group had noticeable thinned.
      Zahn and I got a drink, we started talking to someone, and a few more people showed up. Meryl had obviously drank too much and was laying on the couch next to her brother, barely moving. I was feeling fine, and I finally got antsy enough to boom out, once again, "LA BODEGA!"
      As if on cue, everyone looked at each other, made their excuses and left. Even Zahn. Pathetic.
      So, lost and alone, I wandered out of the B-Side by myself and up the street to La Bodega. I figured that I had been talking the talk all night that I was ready to go and take care of business. By now it was eleven o'clock and the club was filled to bursting.
      As I opened the door to walk in, I se Anna making her way towards the door to walk out. She's surprised to see me, and tells me that they're just packing it in and getting ready to go home. I say "Hi" to her boyfriend and her Danish buddy, and I try to convince them to stay for another hour. They make the cogent point that they're been here two hours already waiting on my sorry butt, so what the hell is wrong with me? They're outta here.
      Ah. Yes.
      I figure I had better cut my losses while I could. I said goodnight and started to walk off to get a cab, but they called me back and told me that they'd give me a ride home. I accepted graciously. So we piled into the back of the Tercell and headed north, back to our homes and our weary beds.
      All Hands done, and I was satisfied. I joked and cut up all the way home. But in my head, I was plotting that next week I'd get all these mothers on back down to La Bodega for some serious dancing.


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