Here's a week that began with a search for duct tape, switched to a scramble for a snow shovel, and ended with a belated Valentine's Day exchange between employees and employer.
Let's begin with that duct tape. A day or two before the nation became obsessed with duct tape and clear vinyl as the safeguard to an imminent terrorist attack, I needed duct tape. My need was more prosaic than that of the rest of the nation -- I needed it to tape down some computer cables that had been rearranged during the installation of some new desktops for my staff.
The desktops were my equivalent of a Valentine for the staff, several of whom have been suffering for years at makeshift desks consisting of particle board straddling file cabinets. Despite knees banging against steel file cabinets and clothing catching on jagged edges of lumber, my staff has managed to turn out some pretty good pieces of writing.
But in recent months, with the economy down and the workload increased, the normally cheerful disposition in our office had begun to slide. Well meaning folks suggested all sorts of make-nice things that could be done -- at least some of which appeared on the cover of last week's Valentine's Day issue of U.S. 1, a slew of touchy-feely suggestions from a human resources consultant aimed at helping companies retain their staff. I couldn't bring myself to initiate even one of them.
I took a simpler approach: I can't make my employees be happy at work, I decided. That's their choice. But I can at least remove some of the barriers to unhappiness. Crummy and crowded workspaces were an obvious target. By last week more than half of the cubicles were done, except for the finishing touches of duct taping some computer cables. Where was that roll of duct tape we always have around the office? Nowhere to be found. By that time, of course, people were standing in line for duct tape and clear plastic at Home Depot -- the computer cables would have to wait.
If the lines for duct tape were bad, they were soon forgotten as anxious people lined up at supermarkets in the face of what we all must agree is the Blizzard of the Millennium. A couple of thoughts on this blizzard:
1.) If Osama Bin Laden and company really want to terrorize America, they can infiltrate the nation's cadre of television weather announcers and forecast a blizzard of Ice Age proportions. Even if not a single snowflake flutters to earth, the forecast alone will disrupt the nation. Ice melter will replace duct tape and clear plastic as the object of hysterical desire.
2.) For whatever reason central New Jersey handled this blizzard far better than it did the last major snowstorm in 1996. Back then, as I recall, the snow started fairly early on a Sunday. By the time I headed off to work police on Nassau Street were pulling motorists over and telling them to go home. I talked my way through that and made it to the corner of Route 1 and Alexander Road (this in the pre-overpass days), where my path was blocked by a car stuck in a seemingly insurmountable mound of snow. With the snow shovel handy, I was able to shovel that motorist free and make it to the corner of Alexander and Roszel, from which point I had to walk to the office. Roszel Road was not plowed until several days after the blizzard.
The bottleneck at Alexander Road and Route 1 continued for at least four or five more days, with the normal two lanes of traffic on Alexander squeezed down to one by a huge mound of snow dropped off by a plow on Route 1. Morning and night, twice a day, rush hour traffic clogged up at the crippled intersection. Articles appeared in the daily papers; politicians blamed each other for the lack of snow removal.
On the fourth or fifth day after the blizzard I couldn't take it anymore. Headed home late at night, shovel still on board, I stopped at the intersection. After 15 minutes of shoveling, and a few seconds of ramming my Subaru into the remaining embankment, the lane was opened.
This year the roads in West Windsor did seem to take longer to get plowed than those in Princeton Borough. But in their defense those West Windsor snow plows certainly have many more miles of road to plow than they do in compact Princeton. On Monday afternoon, at the height of the storm, I easily drove into the parking lot at 12 Roszel Road -- the sole person on duty at that moment.
There I recognized that Valentine. Four people on our staff who normally play critical roles on a Monday in order to prepare this paper for its Tuesday printing -- Kathleen McBride Sisack, Barbara Fox, Diana Joseph-Riley, and Stan Kephart -- all on their own decided to come in Sunday ahead of the storm and do what they normally do on Monday.
I figure that was their unspoken Valentine to me. And I stayed until 11 p.m. Monday and wrapped up most of the job -- my Valentine back to them. But enough of the sweet stuff: Who took the duct tape?