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30 boxes of printed materials that have been delivered and stacked under cabinets and desks, most of which are already out of date and useless.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!)
We’re done with a giant push to get this year’s Big Presentation complete, as of this morning. My job has seen me in charge of many details and responsible for lots of things I never bargained for when I agreed to it: Today I was in Virginia doing tech support and tackling Golden Retrievers barking at a deliveryman while the CEO was live in front of 1200+ attendees. Other than that hiccup, everything seemed to go off without a hitch, and I was back at home by 12:30. I’m thankful for Martin Luther King day not only because of who the man was, but because I can use Monday to reclaim 5% of the holiday calm I had before returning to work.
The girls gave me a couple of masks for Christmas, which specifically have a firm metal band so that they mold around my giant crooked nose. My beef with all 700+ masks we have is that none of them keep condensation from forming on my glasses—but these fit perfectly. I wore my new mask to the Boss’ house knowing I’d be able to see what I was doing at all times, but didn’t realize it matched my shirt. I guess if I’m going to be coordinated, I might as well do it in front of the CEO.
I’m now 0 for 3 with waterproof boots. LL Bean sent me a brand new pair of Bean Boots which I ordered a 1/2 size smaller according to their recommendations. They’re a 10 but after trying them on I’d actually need a 9 which seems pretty ridiculous—and there’s no guarantee those wouldn’t fit like a pair of Finn’s baby shoes. At this point I’m trying to decide whether I want to exchange them or just go somewhere to try boots on and get something that fits the first time. I feel like I need to plant a couple of trees or maybe sell a car to offset all the carbon I’ve now burned in deliveries.
So far there have been no bites on the Steinberger; the listing has gotten 800+ views and 4 watchers but no offers. I’m not paying anything to leave it up there, so I’ll just sit on it and see what happens. Update: I got one offer this morning from a guy who wants to trade it for a Rickenbacker 4003 Pearlstar—something I might have been interested in back in my Geddy Lee worship days, but at this point I’d rather have the cash.
At work, I finally completed a torturous process that began two months ago to design and publish a digital report. The report itself launched last month but due to various editorial and review issues I had to update the PDF and then build the digital report. It’s a high-level view of the state of climate action with an eye towards the next 20 years, and it was a challenge to bring together all of the text, graphics, and digital assets. Even though the process is automated, I found myself diving into code at the tail end and fixing a ton of issues by hand, which was a pleasant surprise.
We’ve now made two different batches of Bailey’s, one from the recipe I posted earlier in the week and one from the Betty Crocker cookbook. Before you get the idea we’ve just been pouring cups of it over our cornflakes every morning, we’ve been sipping on each one slowly—the online recipe is lighter and very almondy and the Betty Crocker recipe is much heavier with more chocolate—but neither are a 100% stand-in for the real thing. So we’ll make our way through these and then we’ll try another recipe.
Jen did break out and use the galette iron on Tuesday, filling the house with the smell of Belgian dessert waffles and making it impossible to concentrate on work. There’s now a full batch sitting on the counter ready to eat when the urge to snack hits. She’s not as pleased with this batch compared to the previous one, so the search for the right modifications to that recipe continues as well.
And the duck boots that I ordered over a month ago finally arrived the other day: they are 1 size too small for my feet, which means I’m going to have to brave the crowds at Nordstrom Rack to return them sometime next week (depending on what the return window is). That was a bummer.
I spent the last week crashing on a report layout for WRI, which took a lot of late nights and some weekend work. It’s called The State of Climate Action and it takes a deep look at five different economic sectors to see how the world is doing to limit global warming to 1.5˚C. It’s been a long time since I’ve laid out a longform print document and the process was further complicated because I’m laying it out with a new workflow so that it can be published digitally. That part hasn’t really started yet because the report was rushed and we haven’t had the time to fully build out the online report, but I’m hoping to get that done next week.