I spent a miserable four hours trapped with no A/C on a MARC train yesterday attempting to get in to work; the brakes on my train stopped working about a mile away from Union Station and we sat on the tracks while they tried to sort things out. When that didn’t work, they brought up the following train with the intention of having it push us into the station. That train then failed and became stranded. So they brought up a third train next to us and disembarked two trains’ worth of rush hour commuters onto the third. I hadn’t had any coffee or breakfast, so when I finally sat down at my desk with some Blue Bottle and a warm burrito, I inhaled it with a couple of ibuprofen. Several of the trains headed north at the end of the day were cancelled but I was able to grab a seat on the first one out.
In happier news some new equipment arrived at the office last week and I was able to get it all organized: a new Sony A7Siii with a pair of new lenses in different focal lengths, as well as a shotgun mic and some other goodies. This doubles the number of Sony cameras we’ve got and almost fills out the full range of lenses we’ll need. I brought it home to set things up and familiarize myself with the menu system, and I think I’ve got things down. The new medium-range Sigma art lens I picked is absolutely glorious. I’m still wary of Sony gear, but we’re locked in now and we’ll see how it goes.
Well, this week has been a real test of my sanity; there were points when I felt like I was doing OK and at other times I was a terrible husband, father, and Co-Acting-Director-whatever. I’m not used to the sheer amount of meetings coming at us now, and the immediate need to be caught up with all of the inside information we don’t know is overwhelming. My friend Lauren comiserated with me last week, saying, one day you’re looking around for the adult in the room to make a decision, and you suddenly realize that’s you. So much truth in that observation.
Stories to Watch launched on time after an intense three weeks of shooting, editing, organizing, and producing. This year’s production was, in a lot of ways, easier than last year’s (and I wasn’t trapped in my bedroom with COVID, which was nice) but other stressors were still front and center up until the morning of the event. The video portion, if I do say so, looked fantastic. We got a lot of great feedback on the presentation, and when I was in the office later that day, my CEO found me and shook my hand to thank me and the team for all our work. That felt very good.
I was in the office not for the event, but because I had to help another team mix epoxy and glue laser-etched plaques to the front of five trophies that had been 3D printed with sand and shipped from Germany. Don’t let ’em tell you different: the life of a Co-Acting-Director-whatever is full of glamour. Due to some internal production confusion we had to source the plaques and some laser-cut felt to complete the pieces in-house, so I brought tools and a pile of nitrile gloves and we got down to business. They made me glue and set the plaques: no pressure. This coming Tuesday I’m headed up to New York City to help produce the awards event itself, where I’ll be shooting video. Two nights in Manhattan ain’t so bad, I guess.
Meanwhile we visited with Jen’s Dad last Saturday, and I got to work setting a subfloor in the common bathroom. This involved cutting and fitting two sheets of waterproof hardi-board, mixing a bed of thinset, and setting them in place before screwing everything down. It went in with only a few small hitches, and should be good to go for the next step: this coming weekend I’m renting a wet saw and laying the tile. It did involve a ton of work on my knees, cutting, fitting, troweling, and screwing, and I felt it in my back that evening. Between that and 9-hour days at my desk my whole body is pretty pissed at me right now. Hazel got her first walk in 5 days this afternoon; it was like we’d sprung her from Solitary.
And the built-in project is moving along. I found a decent 12′ board for the top shelf and cut it into place. Then I cut and fit small insets under each of the shelves that dress up the horizontals and give them a little visual weight. Jen and I discussed how to finish off the top and after some negotiation we agreed upon a solution to box in and frame out the top shelf with a section of moulding that matches the stuff above all our windows. So I’ve got to get a 12′ piece of that from the mill in Glen Burnie on a dry sunny day ’cause it won’t fit inside the car.
It’s been a minute since I posted; it’s been a busy couple of weeks. We’ve been organizing for and shooting the prerecorded section of WRI’s annual Stories To Watch, which is always a huge undertaking. Every year we up our game and this year was no exception. For 2023 we found a studio facility in Chantilly to shoot at with a 40’ wide, 14’ high LED background that we had to fill with content. My video team rose to the challenge and built a looping background from an Illustrator file I made, and we produced an 80 slide, five chapter presentation from a rough deck in four days. Our CEO walked in on the first day and was amazed at the LED wall lit up and running the animations; the whole team knocked it out of the park. We booked the studio for two days, so I stayed overnight in a hotel down the street because the commute home is at least two hours—and we used every hour of those two days.
While that was happening, there have been some changes going on behind the scenes in my department. One of my oldest colleagues and current boss is moving on from the organization, and I volunteered to fill in temporarily with another colleague until they find our next VP of Communications. I’m excited to help keep things moving and slightly terrified of all of the things I don’t know, but a new challenge will be good to tackle. So for now, I’m co-Acting Head of Communications. Wish me luck.
While I’ve been scrambling at work there hasn’t been much progress on the bathroom beyond what I did last weekend. All I’ve got to do is sand the drywall and hit it with a cat of paint and then I can screw the fixtures in for good and take a picture for Cousin Margaret.
On Sunday I’m headed up to PA to look at another Scout 800 tucked in a barn; I’ll detail the details on the Scout site later. Monday I’m going to start work on the built in bookcase in the living room for a change of pace.
Yesterday I was out the door to catch the train at 7:30AM for the first time in 2+ years; I had a full schedule of meetings and a photo shoot in the afternoon, so I dragged some gear with me and set to work cleaning up my corners of the comms area. The first issue I had to deal with was getting online. At some point in the last couple of months the wireless network decided it didn’t like Macs, so I had to cobble together a wired connection to be able to look at my email. Then I had to deal with about 30 boxes of printed materials that have been delivered and stacked under cabinets and desks, most of which are already out of date and useless. The printers all forgot who they are and where they live, and the one next to my desk is completely broken, so I couldn’t print or scan anything. Then I had to sort and organize our video and photo gear, which has been scattered among houses, bags, closets, and locked drawers since lockdown. In the afternoon I set up a photo shoot for the South Korean ambassador, who signed an MOU with us to do climate-related work (they didn’t use the best photo I shot).
It was both strange and reassuring to be in the office for a full day. It was strange to wear a button-down shirt and work pants all day. I’m still navigating mask etiquette from house to train to station to office—I will be wearing a mask on the train, through the station and all the way to my desk—but it’s strange to have it off in the office but put it on to ride the elevator and walk through the lobby, etc. I ran into a handful of colleagues and the social animal part of my brain wept with joy to be interacting with human beings again. And I spent more time on my feet in the office yesterday than I do all week at my house, which was both exhilarating and exhausting.
The word is that we’re going to be going to 2 days a week sometime later this spring, which will be tricky. I’ll come into the office if I know other folks will be there, but I’m not going to spend time and money on the train if I’m going all the way to D.C. to sit in an empty office on Zoom calls. Doing the math, I’ll save money buying individual tickets two days a week instead of a monthly pass, and that makes me happy.
I got a very nice Audio-Technica needle cartridge delivered yesterday, and after dinner I installed it in the Technics turntable. Then I hooked the unit up to the amp in the basement. My Steely Dan album was upstairs on the shelf behind Jen, who was on a zoom call, so I pulled an Elvis album from the pile we saved at the Mildew House and queued up Hound Dog. The result: absolutely beautiful. The platter is smooth, and the sound was ten times better than the Scott—smooth, crisp, and clear. I can’t wait to hook it up to better speakers and a subwoofer.
It’s been quiet around these parts lately. Work is going full-steam-ahead, which means I spend about 80% of my day going from meeting to meeting even though I have the small free spots in my work calendar blocked out with a big purple NO MEETINGS meeting. My organization was pretty immune to the Great Resignation up until the beginning of this year, when a trickle became a flood, and it seems like every all-hands meeting starts out with someone announcing they’re leaving. We’re doing more than we ever have with the same number of people for dumb financial reasons, and it feels like every loss hits us harder and harder. I know it’s sapped my morale but I don’t know how to talk about it with my staff in a way that doesn’t sound like a rah-rah Kool-Aid dispenser or Debbie Downer. I still work for an excellent organization, and I don’t think our morals or mission have changed, but I know we’re strained by manpower and that has taken a toll on our collective psyche.
I’m moving forward with the purchase of two new basement windows but holding off on the larger double-hung window in the hallway for pricing reasons. If I order now it’ll be here sometime in May, which won’t make a difference in our heating bill but should make airing out the basement much easier.
I was in DC yesterday for a work happy hour/meetup, and had a great time catching up with colleagues in person at a beer garden down the street from our office. It was around 30˚ with a slight drizzle but we were in a covered cabana with a couple of gas fireplaces, so the chill was kept at bay. I would post a picture, but the one crowd shot I took was blurred beyond recognition.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been eyeballing a large 4-drawer file cabinet in our basement filled with papers that date back to my first house. We have these huge multifunction copiers at work that can batch-scan documents; I used them to scan all of our BGE bills before COVID. I have binders filled with statements from my old investment accounts, and I figured I’d bring a couple of them into work with me and convert them all to PDFs, then use the recycling bins there to toss the paper. So I humped an entire backpack full down there on the train and fired up a machine to scan them. I got through 1/2 of the first book when I noticed that none of the emails were coming through. I futzed with the machine for a bit and then tried a different copier in another part of the building—with the same result. Somewhere they’ve messed with the network settings and the copiers can’t talk to the outside world. So I had to hump the binders all the way back home.
It’s been almost two years since I sat down on a train to go to work, and I haven’t missed it at all. The MARC train is super handy and served our family extremely well in the first six years I worked at WRI, but if I don’t have to spend 2.5 hours a day commuting and $2200 a year for tickets, I’m a very happy man.
We had a happy hour scheduled after work yesterday, so I weighed the pros and cons of driving and parking vs. taking the train. Driving is a pain in the ass, it’s expensive to park in DC, and given that I’ve cut way back on drinking recently I figure my tolerance is even weaker than it was before. So I really didn’t want to drive. But the idea of sitting in a hot metal tube with a bunch of other people in recirculated farty air wasn’t that appealing either (yes, the train smells like farts in the winter). I had no idea how busy the MARC trains are these days, but I decided the latter was the better option.
The parking lot was relatively deserted when Jen and Hazel dropped me off, and the train was even emptier. Soon the familiar lull of the rails soothed me into a half-sleep. I used to fall asleep on the train all the time. A couple of times I overslept and wound up in Baltimore, and I had to jump the next southbound train. I don’t miss that either. As we got close to Union Station I was dumbfounded by the number and size of the new buildings that have gone up in the H Street area adjoining the tracks—rows and rows of shiny condo buildings in places that used to be full of weeds and homeless encampments. I’m sure that having a bedroom directly adjacent to the busiest rail corridor on the East Coast would be an excellent investment opportunity.
The station itself was dark and quiet—many of the storefronts are still empty and what remains are quiet ghosts of their former selves. I walked outside and was happy to pass Clayton, the ever-cheerful flower vendor outside the west side exit, who was accompanying a Christmas recording with sleigh bells. I’ve wondered from time to time how he was doing—the flower business was his income—so it’s good to see he’s still alive and kicking.
I did some work in the office, swapped out a backup of our family media library into a locked cabinet at my desk (always have offsite backups, kids) and then hiked down the street to the Wuntergarten, an outdoor beer garden a couple of blocks from the office. We had about 20 people show up and it was fantastic to see friends in the flesh again. I caught up with a bunch of folks, had a couple of tasty beers, and ate some farewell cake for my boss, who is stepping down this month. I said my good-byes at about 9:20 thinking I’d make the 9:40 train. When I made it to the station I realized I’d read the schedule wrong and I’d be on the last train out at 10:55, so I texted Jen and apologized for my mistake. I put on a podcast and waited for an hour in a completely deserted station until they called my train. I definitely don’t miss that.
I’ve been at WRI for almost eight years—the longest I’ve ever been at any job in my life—and I’m about to take advantage of one of the excellent perqs of the job: a sabbatical. It’s offered after the fifth and tenth years of employment as a way to recharge, and I’ve been looking forward to taking advantage of it for a long time.
It’s been a sort of circuitous route to get to this point; my fifth year was cancer, my sixth year was recovery from cancer, and we all know what happened last year. I was lucky the HR people let me take this one before I became ineligible and had to wait for the 10-year. We had discussed going to Europe as a family in 2020, but it was difficult getting the finances organized to do so and in hindsight I’m so very glad we didn’t prepay for a bunch of tickets and hotels we wouldn’t have been able to stay at anyway. We were lucky enough to sneak down to Harry Potter minutes before they shut everything down for COVID—it’s a miracle we didn’t come home with anything worse than Finley’s flu—and counted our blessings during the lockdown.
Looking forward into 2021, all hope of a family vacation was again out the window; there was no point spending cash we don’t have on the chance things might open up in the future. When Brian asked me to help with the schoolbus, it sounded like a great idea; I’d be away from a computer, working with my hands, solving different problems, and learning some new skills.
Problem is, there are several huge projects happening at WRI that come to a head in September, and they involve my skillset and input. I’ll be checking in occasionally on some things and putting in a couple days’ work on a big report because I am responsible to my team to finish it.
And most importantly, we’re not getting away to anywhere to recharge as a family. Finley will be 15 when I’m eligible for my next sabbatical, and if I’m still at WRI we can take advantage of it with some more careful planning—and refundable tickets.
So I had something to do with this project but not as much as I might have ten years ago: after eight years, WRI.org has been redesigned and modernized, from a rickety poorly-architected bunch of spare parts to a modern website befitting the largest environmental think tank in the U.S.
Also of note: a data visualization story done by my friend Rosie, who took a pile of gigantic spreadsheets and helped develop a narrative out of them.
We found out Monday morning that Andrew Steer, the President and CEO of WRI, is going to be leaving to run the Bezos Earth Fund, a little foundation you might have heard of that’s going to spend $10 billion dollars to fight climate change in the next 10 years. I came on board WRI roughly a year after he was hired, and in that time we’ve grown from 350 people worldwide to somewhere north of 1400, with four times the funding. In retrospect, 8+ years for someone at that level is a good run, and I can see why he wouldn’t say no to the opportunity. I can’t think of a better person to run it, honestly—he is a startlingly intelligent, humble, and generous man with a wide grasp of the issues and personal relationships with all of the key players. Our loss is Bezos’ gain.
(Moment of personal vanity: This article says WRI has a crack communications team!)