Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Downtown Life

The Capital Square building in downtown Des Moines. The inside of the building is a giant atrium with the offices ringed around the edges. At lunch I sit by one of the trees in the lobby in the picture on the right.

  I’ve been working for the last 5 months at the Capital Square building in downtown Des Moines. It is an cool building to work in. I drive 50 miles to Des Moines, park in a 4 story garage (paid for by the company), walk 2 blocks to the building through the Des Moines Skywalk, (an interconnected series of above ground walkways connecting all of downtown) or just walk the 2 blocks on the street to the building lobby and take an escalator to the elevators that bring me to my cubicle on the 8th floor.

  The elevator and escalator can be a site of unspoken aggression. Were you ever late and tried to walk up the escalator while it’s carrying you only to have to stop, stand, and wait behind some sedentary person who looks like they couldn’t climb a flight of stairs if their life depended on it. Or how about taking a leisurely trip up the escalator only to have some fool that’s in a hurry to brown-nose their boss vault up the steps only to come to a screeching halt right behind you and give you a look like you couldn’t climb a flight of stairs if your life depended on it? Been there, done that. But since I work on the top floor of the building, I reserve my scorn for those people who insist on turning my express elevator trip into a local by getting on the elevator at the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th floor. I can never make these people wait for me, so I have no recourse and just have to grin and bear it.

  In my other jobs in Des Moines, I’d spend the occasional lunch hour going to the parking lot and using my car to attend to errands, but with a 2 block walk (plus elevator and escalator rides) to the parking garage, I’ve rarely gone out of the building during my lunch break. Instead I prefer to head down to the lobby of the building and take advantage of the free internet and use my amazing iPod to check email and view chess games on the Internet Chess Club’s iPod App. Once in a great while, there is an attraction like a book sale or wine tasting in the lobby, but mostly there is just people walking back and forth to get lunch at the Big City Burgers that is off the building lobby or just getting outside to have a smoke.

  I’ve had a turkey burger ($3.95) at the Big City Burgers 3 times in 5 months. Twice a customer paid for my turkey burger and once I bought Jose lunch while we talked about our chess camp. You can easily spend $10 for lunch but the turkey burger is really big and tastes great. There is a Mexican restaurant on the second floor that has a $5 lunch menu (standard fare only) that my boss has taken me to twice. Both restaurants are only open 3 or 4 hours a day and seem packed all through lunch time. It must be nice to own a restaurant and be able to make a living without having to deal with weekends and night shifts, but there is little room for expansion as well.

The News Depot store doesn't have a lot of newspapers, but thanks to yours truly, there is more than enough fresh chewing gum on hand.

  I’m a much more frequent visitor of the small newsstand/convenience store in the lobby. I think that the lady that works there is the owner since she hasn’t missed a day since I’ve been there. The little store is open from 6 to 4 and has the normal assortment of snack foods, cigarettes, and sodas. Even though it’s called the ‘News Depot’, there are only a couple of newspapers there. When I first started working there, I would buy a pack of 35 cent Wrigley Doublemint gum at lunch. The gum was so old that just opening the wrapper would cause the sticks of gum to crack and desiccate. I kept on buying it until there was no more Doublemint gum. Every time I went in after that to see if she had gotten any more Doublemint gum, the lady would see me come in and glance at the many dried out packs of JucyFruit gum that were available, but I would just put on a disinterested face and leave the store.

  After a week of this staredown, the gum supply was replenished with not only new Doublemint gum, but JuicyFruit and Spearmint gums also. I bought a pack of gum from her for the next week, but then the Hy-Vee Drug Store put their Doublemint Gum on sale and I haven’t bought any gum from her store since. For the next couple of weeks, I got some pretty dirty looks from her when I went down to my lobby for my lunch break. I didn’t even go into her store for a while but when the weather turned warm, I went back in and bought an ice cream sandwich from the tiny freezer in the back of the store. The only ice cream sandwiches she had were about a dozen frostbitten chocolate and strawberry of the Blue Bunny brand. I bought about 2 a week and they had that gritty taste that ice cream gets when it melts and refreezes. I counted the sandwiches so I knew I was the only one buying them. Eventually I bought all the sandwiches leaving only some lonely ice cream cones, Eskimo Pies, and Snicker Bars in the forgotten freezer.

  I didn’t want the psychic pressure of another stare down over the ice cream, so I stayed away from the convenience store for a week. When I went back in there was a new stock of ice cream sandwiches and the store owner and I have resumed our tenuous relationship. After I went through the first box of Good Humor treats, another box made its way to the freezer within 2 days even though I was starting to work my way through the Good Humor ice cream bars. I think I’ve even seen a few dents made in her gum supply (but not by me, I still have a large supply of gum, thank you).

On the left is the freezer before I bought the last lonely freezer burned Blue Bunny Strawberry ice cream sandwich on June 17th. On the right is the freezer today after I got yet another fresh Good Humor ice cream sandwich. Notice the Swiss Miss, frozen Snickers, and Eskimo Pies in both cases. Either they are very popular or very old.

  Our company will be moving to its own building just off the parking garage in October, so I’m trying to remember to enjoy my last few weeks working in a downtown office building. I’m not sure what my lunch plans will be at the new building, but I think I’ll know where to find a ice cream sandwich in case I need one.

  One of the things I think I’ll miss most is not seeing all the blind people walking around. The Iowa Department for the Blind is only a couple of blocks away. When I was carpooling, I’d wait for my ride outside the building and see half a dozen blind people making their way down the street. I have a lot of admiration for these people. If I was blind, I doubt I’d ever leave my house, and these people are even crossing the street. I captured this video of two blind men making their way around during my lunchtime. I’m not sure if they were taking a walk or playing tag or what, but If I had to put my money down, I’m betting that the dark haired guy lifted the other ones wallet.