I work in a large warehouse type building that was converted (mostly) into office space many years ago. There are very few windows and little visibility to the outside world. The overall environment is commonly known in the industry as the Cubicle Farm.
Cubicle Farm [kyoo-bi-kuh l] [fahrm]
A vast expanse of contemporary office space outfitted with box-like, synthetic personal work environments comprised of approximately 3.3 sides and lacking doors and ceilings.
Our cubicles stand at 5’5″ and are grouped into team suites, like little neighborhoods of people with similar skills and responsibilities. Within each suite is a set of less-traveled walkways, something like residential streets in a common housing development.
The team suite walkways lead out into main walkways. Main walkways are the super highways of fast-footed people navigating to other team suites, conference rooms and common areas throughout the building.
Back in 2011, my team suite consisted of several small teams of people who had completely unrelated functions. I didn’t spend much time at “home” in my cubicle since I was in a project conference room most of my day. As a result, I didn’t interact much with my neighbors that year.
I did have one stand-out neighbor on the other side of my cubicle wall that was affectionately known within our suite as Hummer. Sharing a wall with him was something out of a Saturday Night Live skit.
At about 5’9″ he was a stereotypical IT guy, touting short-sleeved button down plaid shirts, high-water khaki flood pants, white socks, black orthopedic shoes and smudgy oversized metal-framed glasses to round out his stellar IT look.
He frequently wore headphones and would hum freely and LOUDLY throughout the day, thus earning him the nickname, Hummer. Sometimes he even broke into song, bellowing out something that sounded more like off-key church hymns than anything else.
He had a hot temper and was always in a rush, too. Often (and for no apparent reason), he would just slam his fists down on the desk and curse a blue streak in a loud whisper-type yell (like a parent “discretely” reprimanding their child in public), rattling my workstation and scaring the bejeezus out of me!
I knew his whole life story from the multitude of one-way conversations he held from his desk phone. I knew when he was moving, how much his old house sold for and what his new house cost. His step daughter was always in trouble for frequently skipping her college classes. His son was in the high-school band. His wife asked permission for almost everything. And so it went, on and on.
Since I wasn’t around much, Hummer’s crazy antics and poor office etiquette made for little more than good fodder. That is, until the day of our massive collision!
To digress a minute, one of my work responsibilities is to serve as backup to the IT Change Manager. Among other things, this includes leading weekly Change Advisory Board (CAB) meetings with members of the IT Management Staff.
In the CAB conference room, the narrow tables are arranged in a horseshoe shape, with me seated at the center of the head table facing opposite the projection screen (which resides at the open end of the horseshoe). The CAB members then fill in the rest of the horseshoe around me.
I tend to dress up for the CAB meetings since I’m a peon leading the IT Management Staff. Also since, inevitably, my reports don’t load, my laptop won’t connect or the projector is being fussy, I always arrive early to the meetings allowing myself extra time for setup. If I need to crawl around and check connections, there is no pretty way to do it because the area beneath the tables is fully exposed from every angle of the room.
So back to the collision…
One sunny July morning in 2011, I grabbed my laptop and headed towards our suite’s main exit to set up for a CAB meeting that I was scheduled to lead. Barely reaching over 5’2″ tall, I can’t see above the cubicles AT ALL and was completely blindsided when Hummer came barreling at me from the main aisle.
Unfortunately, he didn’t just startle or bump me. Moving full-speed ahead, he totally BULLDOZED me!
After slamming into me (hard), he tried (unsuccessfully) to grab my arm and prevent my fall, but I (successfully) went from vertical to horizontal in one foul swoop like a football player being rushed. Carefully cradling my laptop to my chest (like a football), I fell to the floor, flat on my back.
Even worse, he somehow managed to sandwich his foot between the sole of my (very lovely and expensive) sandal and my foot (which was still under the top of the sandal) as I went down, anchoring the sandal completely flat to the floor.
With no give for the sandal to bend with my foot, it finally split when I hit the floor, cracking in half and sending Hummer staggering across my poor aching foot as he awkwardly stumbled away from me.
Luckily, there were no other witnesses and Hummer was too distracted to catch a glimpse of me when I landed, laptop to my chest and dress all bunched up over me!
Yes, it was every bit as ugly as it sounds.
Winded, bruised, sweaty, disheveled and a little shocked, I quickly managed to get myself up, dust off my black dress, and accept Hummer’s apology before limping over to the conference room (where the CAB members were ever-so-patiently awaiting my tardy arrival).
Quietly wincing to myself and doing my best to discretely wipe away the damp combination of sweat and tears on my face, I connected my laptop (for once without issue) and facilitated the weekly CAB review as if nothing ever happened.
I painfully sat through the entire meeting, presenting from the head table with my half-naked, partially-shoed and bruised foot (which looked like it had bicycle tracks from the tread on Hummer’s orthopedic black shoes) fully exposed under the table.
Afterwards, I cleaned myself up and continued to limp through the rest of my day wearing half of a sandal (and plenty of sore muscles from my fall).
Hummer and I never spoke of the incident again.
And, although we weren’t neighbors for much longer (because I moved on to a different team and suite), to this day I still proceed with extreme caution at all cubicle farm intersections, making a complete stop and looking both ways before crossing, for fear of being rundown by someone else in the neighborhood!