Jul 29, 2017


Today was Saori and my last day at work. It may be Saori's day for awhile. It will be mine for over a month.

My normal routine is to wake up at 6:30, throw on some work-ish clothes, grab some museli with milk or toast a slice of bread with butter, brush my teeth, and out the door at 7:00 to 7:10. I walk less than five minutes to the Schwab/Bebelstrasse U bahn and wait about three to five minutes for the Ubahn. The Ubahn takes me to the Hauptbahnhof where I join the masses and change to the S-bahn subway trains. I take it one stop, across the Neckar river, to Bad Canstatt, where I meet Rafa nominally at 7:30, but more often 7:45. I'll often buy a coffee from the cosy Turkish coffee shop Glora and one extra for Rafa. Sometimes, I buy a sandwich there too or a pastry for breakfast.

I did all that today. Today's special at the Turkish coffee shop was a large cappuccino. Definitely with some chocolate shaved on it today. Intellectually I know its my last day. Emotionally, I felt nothing. It felt like a totally normal day, nothing to get excited about, nothing to get sad or nostalgic about. It wasn't until I saw the tents going up for Oktoberfest, and realizing that I was not going to be in Germany when Oktoberfest kicked off, that I felt that twinge of something different, of loss and change.

My last day at the office felt quite normal. Friday's are short anyway. Moll from the construction administration side came up and said we needed to give construction details for the stairs because the structural engineer didn't provide a plan, so I just modified my stair details to include structural information like welds, bolt types, etc. I cleaned out my desk, sorted the loose pile of papers, cleared out the downloads folder in my workstation, set a "That's All Folks!" showcard as my desktop, and  emptied the trash. I wrote an email to my boss, and the two people working on this project all the of the issues, questions, and unresolved items that I knew about, no matter how small they were. I left a note at a coworkers desk who had left earlier in the week for vacation, and who mailed me a card at the office wishing me the best. The office has a pretty rigorous system of file management so everything was already in the right place, and with both my projects in Revit, all the drawings are in one location, so there wasn't much organizing to do apart from clearing out old invalid files.

In the end, as I started to make my rounds to say goodbye, everyone who wasn't already gone or on vacation came out, okay, so six people in total including the boss and his wife, and they all wished me the best and shook my hand, and gave me a wrapped book as a parting gift. I left on good terms, and people I think are really sorry to see me leave. It was gloriously beautiful outside when Rafa and I stepped in the electric car to head back to the city. He dropped me off at the Bad Canstatt station as usual, and I thanked him for the nearly two years we carpooled together. It will not be the last time I see him before I leave, but it was the last time we were to be coworkers.

I've got mixed feelings leaving the office. On the one hand, I was a project architect with the entire scope of the building in my hand, and responsible for all of the drawings. The bosses never draw, they just redline a bit, or make a quick sketch, or make lists of things to check or reference. It's a rare thing for an architect to have complete responsibility for all of the drawings in a project. I will miss that opportunity. I liked my coworkers and we got along really well. We were all friends and we always stepped up to help each other with projects or for advice or resources.

My relationship with the bosses was a bit challenging- one has a really aggressive attitude and the fact we had such hard times communicating meant there was an added level of frustration between us. He sounds angry all the time and not because he's speaking German. It wasn't until I realized that he talks to everyone in that particularly harsh tone that I stopped taking it personally. Boss 2 I got to know a bit better since he spoke English pretty well, and we had a lot of drives on the road back and forth from meetings.

Anyway, in the city center after I was off work, I grabbed a slice of pizza at the main square since I was famished and also to have something to cushion the blow of all the booze I imagined would be thrust at me at Saori's abschied party.

It's a tradition at her office for departing architects and even interns to have lengthy abschied (departure) parties. Depending on the number of people leaving that particular week (there's a revolving door of interns) and the length of time the people had been at the office, these parties range from a few hours to the better part of a day. Invariably, the people leaving cook something from their home country or bring in some food, along with several cases of beer and whatever the local spirit from their country happens to be. In return, the office gifts them the latest monograph of the office's  work, a small gift, and always a giant card made from scratch featuring the a photoshopped scene with the heads of all the project team members on various animals and other people in the scene. There is a short speech usually made by the team leader, and the departing employee also says a few words.  This happens early on, and then the drinking, singing, and chatting usually continues at least until midnight. It helps that the office has a massive kitchen with a beer refrigerator and an electric stove range, which opens out into a terraced garden with lots of seating. The only thing missing are lights strung between the trees, which according to one landscape architect, aren't used because they don't look professional.

Uzi, Saori's current team leader, spoke for her while I took a lot of photos. Her coworkers really loved her, and there were quite a few tears. She was presented with the monograph, a bunch of money pooled from the office, an Adidas backpack, and a penguin rain poncho, which she struggled into and fought her way though thanking the office, even though her voice shook with the emotion of holding back her tears. After she spoke, there was a lone voice from the back, who asked, "Saori, are you really leaving?" I knew it was Constantine, and it is hard to explain here why it was so particularly wrenching. Someday, I hope Saori writes about her experience at the office, where so many exceptional, bright, warm, and eccentric people from all over the world come together to punish themselves in a kind of prison where even the jailers don't know why it's a jail. A strange sort of place where extroverts can thrive on the continual parties and outings in and out of the office, and introverts quickly thaw and feel comfortable unfolding whatever delightful personalities they were holding back.

There are great, warm-hearted, and sparkling people all over the world, and I speak from experience when I say this. And I know we will make new friends and aquaintances in Portland. But more than the lifestyle, access to Europe, benefits, and vacation time, it is absolutely wrenching to leave behind a lot of people who really love Saori and I and are willing to do so much for us.

In addition to my four types of salsa, Saori also preperared Japanese Okonomiyaki, a kind of vegetable savory pancake with potato starch, and that went quickly. People hovered on the salsa, and everyone seemed to like different ones. I took shots of some delicious vodka, had a few beers, tried to convince Olena to stop singing the "Macarena", and played with Ella, one of Louisianan Micheal's daughters who is seven and apparently indefatigable when it comes to parties.  I chatted with a lot of people and talked about our future plans, and our upcoming "yard sale in the sky." I've come to know a lot of Saori's coworkers, and I'm sad to leave them too.

We said our last goodbyes and disentangled ourselves from the party, taking part in a surprisingly large and efficient kitchen cleaning before we went. We got home late, totally drained.

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